Feminist Reading of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale Essay

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A Feminist Reading of The Winter’s Tale

In the Shakespearean tragedies we have studied, we have been exposed to tragic male protagonists who create their own downfall. Within these tragedies, Shakespeare's female characters are vested with varying degrees of power in relation to the tragic heroes. In looking back at Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, The Winter's Tale can be seen as an extension of the exploration into the nature of women and power broached in his earlier tragedies, as well as an amendment for the misogynistic attitudes they contain.

In our class discussions, we were vexed by a condition we found prevalent in both Othello and King Lear; both of these plays end with the deaths of two innocent women: Desdemona
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Perhaps, it was Shakespeare's recognition that his tragedies imposed limitations on the nature of his female characters that caused him to branch out and experiment in new forms.

The Winter's Tale allows for a more true-to-life exploration of its female characters because they must live in order for the drama to achieve its resolution. The emphasis, then, changes from portraying female characters as "good" or "evil" to understanding what they are about psychologically. In doing this Shakespeare revives the themes he was forced to kill off in his earlier tragedies, namely a wife's betrayal and women's relationship to power, and explores them from a perspective that is more sympathetic to women.

The first three acts of The Winter's Tale are reminiscent of Othello. Leontes, like Othello, falls into a jealous and groundless accusation of his innocent wife and provides the audience with the same type of misogynistic language we encounter in his earlier tragedy. In The Winter's Tale, however, Hermione is publicly accused of her transgressions, giving her the opportunity to eloquently defend herself. The defiant warning that Hermione gives Leontes is indicative of the extent of the emotional damage that she is suffering and Leontes will suffer as a result of his false accusations: "How this will grieve you, / When you shall come to clearer knowledge, that / You thus have published me! Gentle my lord, / You scarce can right me