Shakespeare presents women in the play in a number of guises, most of these promote women as the superior sex. For example he presents Hermione as essentially the heroine of the play. In the court she stands up to the mad tyrant that is Leontes in the face of almost certain death. She doesn’t lose dignity in her defence and is willing to die to make sure her love can show him the error of his ways. Leontes is a man teetering on the edge, she says to him, “Sir, spare your threats,” she shows herself a hero as she faces the king in a court that would certainly be biased and she doesn’t lose her dignity at all.
She is the only person to stand up the king, none of the lords make a stand as he is clearly mad and Camillo cowardly runs away. She is willing to become a martyr to her cause, she may have lost her son and daughter because of Leontes but she chooses to face him which shows her to be the bravest of the play. He also portrays women as persuasive and somewhat manipulative in the person of Paulina, who exerts huge control over Leontes as she gets him to swear, “never to marry until my free leave,” she controls him enough that he allows her to choose a women for his wife.
What’s more impressive is that Paulina was just Hermione’s lady n waiting and she now controls the king of Sicily. Hermione at the start of the play manages to persuade Polixines to stay, the ill fated event that led to Leontes jealous spiral. All she says is, “You shall not go,” and Polixines is swayed. Not only does Shakespeare present women as heroic and manipulative, he portrays them as clever, the best example is of Paulina again, who comes up with a bold and daring plan to use Hermione’s newborn baby to sway Leontes, this is quite clever of Paulina, but it does fail, she also comes up with the plan of faking Hermione death.
Paulina is the puppet master of the play, many of the situations of the play are her influence and interference. Women are presented as figureheads, Hermione is the figurehead of Sicily with many parallels to Elizabeth I, Hermione is much loved and respected throughout the kingdom, she is also the daughter of a King of Russia. There is also Perdita, she is the one chosen to be the “queen” of the feast, and Shakespeare consistently chooses women to be the representatives of the situations that occur in the play. Shakespeare presents the women in an another way, as symbols; for example there is Perdita who represents rejuvenation and spring.
With the introduction of Perdita changes begin to happen, the unity of the heirs of Bohemia and Sicily. She brings Hermione back to life. She brings a new lease of life to both kingdoms, which unites Leontes and Polixines together. She fulfils the oracle and rejuvenates a desolate Leontes. Hermione represents love and caring, mother nature. She carries on loving Leontes even though he actually killed both her children. She says at the trial, “My life stands in the level of your dreams,” she loves him enough to let him kill her. She doesn’t blame him for the deaths of her children, and she still cares for him, she feels orry for him.
Shakespeare presents women with key roles in the play, for example Paulina was added to play as it was copied, and her role is quite significant in key events, such as the court case, the hiding of Hermione. She also controls the king which means she essentially controls the country. Hermione’s role is key, she played a hero’s last stand during the trial where she became a martyr. She is a figurehead of the novel. The heroine of the play for the strength and bravery she has shown. Perdita’s role is also key in the play, a number of events would have not occurred without her being there such as he uniting of the two kingdoms again.
Shakespeare presents the role of women as contrasting with that of men, the role that women play are the heroes of the play, such as Hermione’s last stand against Leontes, while Camillo has run off and taken a cowards way out to avoid death unlike Hermione. Men are portrayed as cowards and jealous tyrants, like Leontes’ jealousy that came from no where, it has no logical reasoning whereas Perdita is perceived as having a lot of common sense, and it’s this trait that stops her from being one dimensional.
Polixines also portrays this illogical madness, for example the party where Perdita is ost and he finds out his son’s intentions to wed a commoner, he looses control. He says, “I’ll have that beauty scratched with briers,” Shakespeare is making out that men do things that make no sense while women think things through in their head. He believes women are better leaders. Another contrast is that men are perceived as less intelligent; the shepherd and his family believe in fairies. There is the very dishonourable Autolycus, and when you compare all these male characters with the female ones are outclassed by superior females.
Shakespeare portrays the role of women as being emotionally mature in comparison to he male leads of the play. For example Hermione’s stand on the trial she showed herself to be a dignified women who commands respect, she didn’t resort to begging. The same goes for Paulina who keeps her composure when talking about her dead husband Antigonus, whereas Leontes breaks down after the trial and cannot contain himself. The way he deals with his jealous urges shows how emotionally immature he is, and cannot deal with it reasonably by confrontation.
There is huge contrast of the roles of women in the play compared to that of women in actual Stuart life, he gives women significantly more freedom and independence that hey would have in real life at that time. Look at characters such as Paulina, she controls the king. There is strong women in the play which immediately refers to Elizabeth I. In real life women had minor roles, they had no rights, they were not allowed their own property and men could rape them without fear of any consequences.
Women were second class citizens and the contrast here is incredible, a heroic queen who goes up against the king and a lady in waiting who can manipulate the king to her pleasing and her moral views. Shakespeare shows the role of women in the play as blame and pity figures, Hermione s accused of adultery and then of carrying a bastard child, Paulina loses Antigonus, she says, “As my Antigonus to break his grave,” Paulina makes Leontes suffer along with herself at the loss of a spouse. Hermione looses two children, and Perdita is persecuted by Polixines for bewitching his son.
Throughout the play women are hurt by men blindly and purposefully. This is reflective on real life then for men could just accuse their wife of something they didn’t do like Leontes in the trial and beat them, there is message here then that Shakespeare thinks all chauvinistic men of his day are mad. The role of women in the play is also a message, it is very pro women so it’s a memorial to Elizabeth, the first female monarch, which means it’s also very anti King James as it portrays the male kings as not as strong as women, it is comparing James to Elizabeth.
It is an attack on the new monarchy which it appears Shakespeare dislikes. It shows women as political players which were unheard of in that time, Shakespeare is promoting women’s rights which was very unusual in a time of female suppression, he expresses his view that women are equal to men, and in some ways superior. The men n the play are portrayed as people who don’t think with their heads, and act as jealous tyrants, expressing that maybe James is jealous of Elizabeth’s success.
I also think that all the women in the play represent quality of Elizabeth’s, Paulina’s cunningness and intelligence, Hermione’s bravery. In conclusion the role of women in “The Winter’s Tale” is an important part of the book as it expresses some key ideas of Shakespeare’s and the period. The role of women is however shown to be more important than that of males throughout the king and they outclass kings in their superiority. The play is however a political statement.