In ‘The Winters Tale’ there is arguments for both sides of this statement. The play starts off with Leontes watching his wife, Hermione, and his best friend Polixenes talking to each other, he seems to think they are flirting and becomes jealous. He even worries that he is not the real father of his son Mamiillius. He says “Why that’s my bawcock. What! Hast smutched thy nose? Leontes sees Hermione some how as his possession. At the time when this play was being written women did not have very many rights.
This is shown by a quote which explains how suspected witches were treated, this treatment was inhumane and shows the lack of women’s rights “Having taken the suspected Witch, she is placed in the middle of a room upon a stool, or table, cross-legged, or in some other uneasy posture, to which if she submits not, she is then bound with cords; there she is watched and kept without meat or sleep for the space of 24 hours. . . A little hole is likewise made in the door for the imps to come in at; they that watch are taught to be ever and anon sweeping the room, and if they see any spiders or flies, to kill them, then they may be sure they are her imps.” (John Gaule, 1646) Leontes thinks that Hermione shouldn’t be talking to Polixines without his permission.Order now
The fact that Leontes is challenging the honesty and fidelity of Hermione could be very damaging; if this had happened to a woman at the time of Shakespeare it would have been devastating to her. In an essay written by Michael Hattaway entitled ‘Drama In Society’ it says “The virtue of a women depended on her chastity and fidelity” This means that if the sort of accusations Leontes is making were made then her life might as well be over.
At this time many writers thought that women were inferior to men Sean McEvoy (2000) says “Many writers of the time asserted women’s inferiority to men. Some drew on the medieval tradition that blamed mankind’s fall on eve” Leonties thinks that Hermione is being tempted by Polixines, the way Eve was tempted. Another quote from Sean McEvoy showing the inferiority of women or at least how it was perceived by that society is ” Others thought a women was an incomplete man.”
The way in which Leontes brings Hermione to trial shows that he thinks of her as a possession. Male adultery at this time was acceptable but for the women to be the adulterer was very uncommon, and they were seen as being dangerous.
At this time women did not get very much education, at least not in the formal sense, they were taught to sew and cook. This would have meant that it would be difficult for Hermione to defend herself when she was put in front of the court, as she would not be experienced in that type of environment This is apparent when, according to Sean McEvoy “She never once responds to her husbands mad behaviour with a counter charge of gratuitous cruelty. When first accused she blames the configuration of the planets. The main reason that Hermione is not afraid of Leontes putting her on trial is the fact that she has lost the main source of joy in her life, her love.
The fact that Hermione is so calm on stage convinces everyone, except Leontes that she is innocent. This would have made the audience turn against Leontes and make him look stupid. According to “Sean McEvoy ” Indeed in the case of Hermione, chastity is closely connected with saying little, with suffering everything but doing nothing.” The fact that Hermione is quiet during the trial makes her seem good and pure. At this time Military and legal powers were completely at the hands of men. Although Hermione doesn’t do this according to John Webster who comments about the ‘The White Devil’ (1612) “O Women’s poor revenge which dwells but in the tongue” He is saying that the only way in which women could defend themselves was talking, this was because men were bigger and stronger.
The Oracle says that Hermione is not guilty but Leontes insists that she is the point in the play when the women get the upper hand. The fact that Leontes is going against the Oracle makes him less credible. The Oracle is the divine power so Leontes should not be challenging it.
When Hermione hears the news about the death of her son Mamillius she faints and is taken away by her friend and servant Paulina. This point in the play marks the entrance of the strongest female character of the play in Paulina. Paullina takes Hermione away and then comes back with the news that she is dead.
When Paulina starts to shout at Leontes about the way in which he treated Hermione she is quickly accused of sexual infidelity because of her outburst.
Leonties ridicules Antigonus Paulina’s husband about her outburst and tells him to keep her quite, it is as if Leontes thinks that that Antigonus owns Paulina and can control her, as Leontes soon finds out it is not easy to control Paulina.
After this incident in the play Paulina seems to be able to control Leontes in every thing he does, this would have been very unusual at the time when this play was written. Paulina seems to have a lot of control over Leontes she uses this power to manipulate him and make him do what she wants. Although what Leonties did was wrong the way in which Paulina is using Leontes guilt to manipulate him is not very moral, this explains why modern audiences may not have much sympathy for Paulina.
At this time it was not unusual for people to remarry after the death of a partner, in fact it was very common, this was because of the low life expectancy. So the normal thing for Leontes to do would have been to remarry, but because of Paullina’s constant reminder of Hermione he cannot do this.
In Shakespeare’s time shaming rituals were directed at houses where women were in charge so it would not of went down too well if the people of the country knew that the king was being controlled by a women.
According Michael Hataway “Women tended not to be portrayed in dramas but were there in available indices of virtue, modesty sexual chastity and wifely constancy.” However Paulina seems to go against this trend, she plays a big part in the play and in the end she is in control of the outcome. This would have been unusual according to Sir Thomas Elyot. In his book “The book of the Governor” it shows how powerful men were at this time.
Paullina is acting out of the character of a typical woman, as quoted by Oregal (1996) “The good nature of a women is to be mild, timorous tractable, benign, of sure remembrance and shame fast. However Paulina seems to completely contradict this quote, she is very strong and is in no way ‘mild’
At this point in the play it seems that it is women in control, according to Michael Hattaway, “Writers tried to put across their opinions in their plays.” Perhaps Shakespeare was trying to say that women should have more rights.
Perdita the daughter that Leontes rejected falls in love with the son of Polixonis, Florizel. According to Sean McEvoy. ” In Shakespeare’s romances it seems to be the role of the children to make good the errors of their parents and bring harmony were once there was discord. He also says “For the future to be better than the past in Shakespeare’s plays daughters must fall in love with other men’s sons- with or without their fathers permission. Women and their relationships with men are therefore central to these plays.” The other play that he is describing is ‘The Tempest’ where the romance of Miranda and Ferdinand reconcile the courts of Milan and Naples.
At the end of the play Paulina tells Leontes that a statue of Hermione has been made. When he goes to see it he kisses the statue. This makes the statue come alive. When Hermione disappeared after fainting Paullina was the only one who saw Hermione when she took her away.
No one knows how the statue of Hermione came back to life, but it looks like Paulina had something to do with it. The first explanation is magic. If this were the case, in Shakespeare’s time she would have been charged with witchcraft. This interpretation of Paulina’s behaviour is one that the audience in Shakespeare’s time would have been familiar with, but a modern audience would find it ridiculous. On the website ‘http://www.suu.edu/ced/distance/hist4440/topic16.htm’ it says “Across early modern Europe, somewhere between 100,000 to 200,000 people were tried for witchcraft, and of these slightly more than 50% were executed. The common punishment for Paulina would have been for her to be burnt at the stake.
Another conclusion of how Hermione has remained unseen for so long is that she was not actually dead but in fact Paulina was hiding her. If this was the case it would not have been very moral and something that a woman would have been unlikely to do. However this is probably the view that a modern audience would take.
In the end Leontes gets his wife back and also his daughter. Although he was very unhappy during the time Hermione was dead he will now be happy. However Paulina who seemed to be in control of Leontes now has nothing to manipulate him with. Her husband Antigionus is dead and she has not remarried either.
This is were Leontes takes over again as the strongest character in the play. He pairs Paulina off with his servant Camillo. He doesn’t even ask her. At the time when the play was written this would no have been socially acceptable, however it could happen and would not have surprised a Shakespearean audience that much. It would have been like a strange movie plot in today’s terms, and could be believed but a modern audience would find it very hard to believe.
In conclusion there is a lot of ideas in the play, which show the opinions of women at the time which this book was written. At the start the man is in charge, this is how it would have been in Shakespeare’s time. However in the middle a women seems in charge this would not have been the case in the 17th century, but in the end it is Leonties who is in control and ends up with the best outcome, I agree with the title that the winters tale confirms contemporary attitudes towards women in the 17th century.