The Winter's Tale

The Circle of Life: Art vs. Nature in Achieving Natural Order in the Winter's Tale

The debate between Perdita and Polixenes about the merits of beautiful, but unnaturally crossbred flowers condenses Shakespeare's discussion on man-made art and God-made nature (represented by physical, ecological Nature as well as the characters' human nature). Their arguments dispute the efficacy of art as re-expression, renewal and creation of truth. The clashing ideas that art is futile because it is an imperfect imitation of nature, and that art is sublime because it improves on nature's flaws using godlike creative abilities dominate The Winter's Tale. However, the play's joyful culmination suggests that art and nature are equally valuable because together, they achieve 'natural order', regeneration, and ultimately, balance.

Polixenes claims that art is man's imaginative power, the ability to "mend Nature" and perfect it (4.4.96). Through art, men can "conceive" better things than nature by "marry[ing] a gentler scion to the wildest stock", thus challenging God's exclusive ability to create (4.4.92-4). As a playwright, Shakespeare is like a god who can manipulate seasons, personalities and fate in the fictional universe he created. He can idealize life and...

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