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    Shakespeare’s portrayal of women in Act 3 scene two of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ Essay

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    Shakespeare’s play ‘The Winter’s Tale’ was written in the Victorian era. At this period in time there were many etiquette laws that dictated a person’s actions in every situation. These laws were mainly manners and morals, such as how a gentleman should treat a lady. Throughout the 1800’s and even into the early 1900’s upper-class citizens in both the United States and some parts of Europe followed such rules. They existed for things such as courting, weddings, business, visits to the home and every type of social engagement.

    Etiquette laws told people how to behave ‘properly’ and how to act when with other people. Women were expected to be weaker than men, having timid and very ‘girly’ characters. They had to be loyal and obey their husbands, treating them with great respect. On the other hand men had more power and were stronger than women. In ‘The Winter’s Tale’ Shakespeare uses these ideas in his portrayal of women. He created contrasting females, showing one character to be a typical Victorian lady who followed the etiquette laws and another lady who is very different to the stereotypical 17th century woman.

    This can clearly be seen in act three scene two of ‘The Winter’s Tale;’ Shakespeare portrays all of his female characters as strong minded and confident people, however his depiction of women also shows strong contrast. This can be seen when looking at Hermione and Paulina. Hermione conveys her feelings and personality as a well mannered lady whereas Paulina presents herself as a much more outspoken, confident person.

    Hermione is a typical 17th century lady and throughout this trial scene she is portrayed as a very calm and dignified character, “I doubt not then but innocence shall make/ false accusation blush, and tyranny/ tremble at patience. ” In this quote Hermione is saying calmly that when Leontes finds out the truth he will be embarrassed and ashamed that he did not believe his wife. Shakespeare is showing that although Hermione has been falsely accused of having an affair with Polixenes, she does not loose her temper and instead she protests her innocence with a polite attitude, “what I am to say must be but that which contradicts my accusation.

    Once again in this quote you can see that Hermione speaks with great dignity and this shows that she behaves like a ‘proper’ lady despite the position and situation that she is in. Throughout the play Shakespeare portrays Hermione as a respectable, loyal Queen. This is shown in act three, scene two when Leontes is accusing Hermione of adultery, “you, my lord, best know… ” Shakespeare shows that Hermione does not get angry. Alternatively she pleads to the King using her charm to be persuasive and get what she wants.

    This point is emphasized earlier in the play when Hermione successfully persuades Polixenes to stay in Sicily for one more week, “you shall not go, a lady’s ‘verily’ is/ as potent as a lords. ” In this quote Hermione is saying that her opinion is as important as a lords, she is being clever and using her charm. Hermione wants to be treated with great importance and respect, which she is and I think that Shakespeare has created Hermione to be like many other women at that time in the 17th century.

    Shakespeare shows Hermione to be very loyal to Leontes throughout ‘The Winter’s Tale’ and during act three scene two she is pleading Leontes to believe her, “I appeal to your own conscience Sir” she desperately wants to be believed and this shows the love and respect she has for her husband. As a Queen she also wants to be treated with respect, like a lady and she reminds him why, “before Polixenes/ came to your court, how I was in your grace” and “A fellow to the royal bed” Hermione believes she deserves better and she wants everyone to trust her innocence. She reminds the court that she is, “the mother to a hopeful Prince.

    This once again emphasizes the love she has for her family. Hermione’s character is also demonstrated by her behaviour towards Leontes, and although her persuasive charm works in act one scene one, during the trial she is unable to talk Leontes round. Usually towards other people Hermione is quite confident, “Nay but you will” this shows that she has the confidence to tell people what to do, however when faced with Leontes she is unable to stand up to him and all she can do is use her charm, “A lady like me” she speaks very highly of herself. This also shows the respect she has for her husband.

    This is very similar to the stereotype of a 17th century woman, at this time women would always respect and obey their husbands, they would never be outspoken, but be charming, polite and act ‘properly. ‘ This is exactly how Shakespeare portrays Hermione. Shakespeare shows that when put under pressure Hermione is very patient, she is persistent and continues to remind Leontes of who she is, “The emperor of Russia was my Father. ” and “A moiety of the throne, a great King’s daughter. ” This emphasizes how Hermione thinks of herself and they are reasons why she should be treated with respect.

    Despite Hermione’s persistence Leontes still refuses to believe his wife. Hermione’s character is very similar to many other women at this time. She is portrayed as a typical lady and this is prominent in act three scene two, shown through her behaviour and attitude during the trial, “with such a kind of love as might become/ A lady like me” This quote tells us that Hermione knows she is a loving person and she tries to persuade Leontes that she is not guilty of the outrageous affair she has been accused of.

    The queen does not become angry, instead she puts her point across with pride, and “Sir / you speak a language I understand not. Also despite Leontes’ failure to trust she still does not want to offend him. Shakespeare shows this personality by making Hermione address Leontes with “Sir” and “My Lord” she also says to Leontes, “My life stands in the level of your dreams. ” This shows how much she relies on her husband which is also very typical of a 17th century women. Shakespeare portrays Hermione as a very honest woman and she does not want anyone else to be blamed for betraying Leontes. She says, “Camillo was an honest man. ” This shows what a good woman Hermione is.

    Hermione is happy and content with her life, “My past life/ Hath been as continent,” she does not want to be treated like a commoner or spoken to rudely by her husband, “Sir spare your threats. ” Shakespeare shows how Hermione is a very good person and is a very stereotypical woman in the 17th century. Firstly she is a loving Mother, “the Mother to a hopeful Prince. ” Secondly Hermione is a lady who is confident and can stick up for herself but at the same time she can follow many rules of etiquette that the Victorians had. This point is very clear in act three scene two when she does not loose her temper with Leontes and get angry.

    The etiquette laws I the 17th century included ways in which ladies should behave and act, in many cases these 17th century rules reflected Hermione’s character. According to the etiquette laws women should always respect their husbands, be polite, well-mannered and generally quite timid. Hermione was all of these. In contrast to Hermione, Paulina is portrayed in a very different way. Shakespeare shows her to be a very confident, outspoken character who isn’t afraid to speak her mind and let her opinions be known. Paulina thinks a lot of the Queen, she says, “A brave innocent soul,” and she stands by Hermione throughout the play.

    Paulina’s strong personality is shown during act three, scene two when she comments on Leontes’ mistake, “That did but show the fool inconstant. ” This shows that she is not scared of the King despite his position in society. Also Paulina is very sure of herself, “I shall do good,” this emphasizes her confidence and bravery, she is willing to stand up to Leontes even though he has the power to take her life away, she says to him, “Woe the while” and “I do repent! ” This shows how Paulina is constantly trying to make Leontes see sense.

    Shakespeare portrays her as being confident enough to shout at the King, “Look down/ and see what death is doing. ” This quote gives the reader/audience the impression that Paulina is smart and opinionated. Secondly Paulina is very loyal to Hermione as a servant; she is willing to do anything, even risking her own life as a result of confronting Leontes. Paulina respects the queen and you can see this when she says to the King, “I say, I come/ from your good Queen,” and once again she tells him, “good Queen my lord, good Queen” this shows that Paulina will say what she thinks about the Queen even though Leontes disagrees.

    Unlike Hermione, Paulina is not afraid of the consequences. Paulina is very different to the usual 17th century lady, she is much more confident, outspoken and strong minded towards men than women usually were. True ladies were expected to be respectful towards men, also they had to be charming, polite and good mannered. However Paulina is not portrayed like this, throughout the trial she speaks harshly and with confidence, “o cut my lace, lest my heart, cracking it, break too! ” She also says in act three, “He must be told on’t he shall! This shows that in contrast to Hermione, Paulina is not intimidated by Leontes therefore she will argue with him to protect the Queen.

    The contrasting characters of Hermione and Paulina are shown throughout the trial in act three scene two. Hermione pleads for her husband to trust and protests her innocence with charm, acting polite and well-mannered, “I appeal/ to your own conscience Sir,” also Hermione’s timid lady character is prominent when she faints during the trial, “Hermione faints. Alternatively Paulina shows her anger towards Leontes’ opinion and argues for Hermione with confidence, “Thy tyranny/ together working with thy jealousies. ” This shows that Paulina is willing to let her opinion be known, she is saying how she thinks Leontes is wrong and jealous.

    Hermione can seem to be a charming well-mannered Queen whereas Paulina is very harsh with her words and very opinionated. The contrast can be seen in the trial, Hermione says, “Sir spare your threats” she addresses him kindly whereas Paulina says, “Woe the while,” clearly putting across her point. 7th century women are generally expected to act extremely pleasant and well behaved and Hermione is exactly like this. On the other hand Paulina is the opposite, she is strong willed, almost masculine and during the trial scene she admits this, “I have showed too much/ the rashness of a woman. ” Paulina is saying that she has behaved in an extreme way and she knows that she shouldn’t. The relationship between Paulina and her husband, Antigonous, also helps to highlight the contrasting personalities of Hermione and Paulina.

    Paulina acts very differently as a wife, she does not obey everything that Antigonous says, this is shown when Leontes asks, “What? Canst not rule her? ” Leontes is surprised that Antigonous does not control Paulina like he controls Hermione. Paulina and Antigonous are a very close couple who trust each other, Paulina replies to Leontes, “From all dishonesty he can. ”

    Paulina, in contrast to Hermione wants to lead her own life, “He shall not rule me” however Antigonous and her have a good relationship, Antigonous trusts her judgement and stands by her, “When she will take the rein, I let her run. But she’ll not stumble. ” By this Antigonous means that when she takes control of a situation he is happy to let her do so because he knows Paulina will not make a mistake. This shows how much trust and admiration there is between Paulina and Antigonous. In contrast to this Hermione and Leontes have a very different relationship, unlike Paulina, Hermione is not willing to lead her own life and she obeys Leontes as best as she can.

    “I do confess I loved him as in honour he required. In this quote Hermione is saying she did love Polixenes but only for her husband. She loved him as a friend to please Leontes. She is very loyal but at the same time she will not stand up to her husband. Hermione is not on control. Also the King and Queen do not have the trust that Paulina and Antigonous have; this is shown when Leontes accuses Hermione of having an affair with Polixenes, “you had a bastard by Polixenes,” the King wrongly believes that Hermione became pregnant as a result of the affair.

    Paulina is a very royal servant to Hermione and Leontes, she is willing to risk her life to try and make him see sense, she is not afraid to stand up to him, “woe the while! ” This shows that she will stop Leontes when she thinks he is wrong. She will speak her opinions. In contrast to Paulina, Antigonous Polixenes will not stand up to Leontes, he is loyal, “I will my Lord,” and he will obey orders but when Leontes asks Antigonous to abandon the baby he leaves it in a place where it shall be found.

    However he does do it because unlike Paulina he cannot persuade the King, “Anything my Lord,” he agrees to do this task because if he refuses it will result in the death of Paulina, so this shows the love in their relationship and it also shows that Antigonous is not as strong-willed and outspoken towards the King like his wife. Camillo is also very loyal to the King; he is a good person who tries to do the right thing, “good lord be cured/ of this diseased opinion,” This shows he is honest and has the nerve like Paulina to let his opinions be known.

    Camillo’s good nature can also be seen when he warns Polixenes that Leontes is trying to kill him, “I am appointed him to murder you. ” However in contrast to Paulina, Camillo is not brave enough to face up to the consequences. This can be seen when he runs away to Bohemia with Polixenes to hide, “Come, sir, away” Polixenes says to him, “let us avoid. ” Overall on this play, ‘The Winters Tale’ I think that Shakespeare portrays all of his female characters as strong minded and much more powerful than the male characters.

    With Paulina this point is obvious, she is outspoken and opinionated, Hermione is also very strong minded and as a loving wife she must be strong, this is shown when she forgives Leontes at the end, despite what he has done. Shakespeare portrays women with great importance in contrast to the male characters such as Leontes who is crazy with accusations, Camillo who runs away from his problems and Antigonous who is afraid to disobey. Shakespeare’s portrayal of the sexes in ‘The Winter’s Tale’ is very different to the typical men and women in the 17th century.

    He shows women to be the stronger sex whereas in the 17th century it was the men who were stronger and more powerful than the women. All of these ideas can be portrayed clearly when the play is performed on stage. The lighting, dialogue and positioning of the characters all help to show how Shakespeare portrays women in Act three, scene two of ‘The Winter’s Tale’. Firstly, during the trial scene Leontes should always be in a higher position on stage than Hermione. This would emphasize the relationship between the Queen and King showing that Leontes is in charge and has more power.

    It would also convey the idea that Hermione is weaker and obeys her husband because she is lower and is looking up at him. This would help to show the audience Shakespeare’s ideas, that Hermione is a typical, well behaved lady. When Hermione makes her speech in court she should speak in a calm, soft, quiet voice facing upwards to Leontes with a dim light covering the stage. On the other hand when Paulina enters and talks to the King she should be level with Leontes, speaking in a loud, clear voice with a spotlight shining on her.

    These differences in how the women are shown on stage would help the audience to see Shakespeare’s contrasting Portrayal of women in act three scene two of ‘The Winter’s Tale. ‘ Hermione’s performance would show she is weaker than Leontes and is a calm, caring lady, very similar to a typical woman in the 17th century who followed the etiquette laws. Alternatively Paulina’s performance would show she is a strong female character who is outspoken and equal to men which is very different to the usual 17th century lady. This conveys the audience the contrasting ways that Shakespeare portrays women in his play.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    Shakespeare’s portrayal of women in Act 3 scene two of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ Essay. (2017, Oct 28). Retrieved from

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