Analysis of King Leontes' Transformation

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Analysis of King Leontes' Transformation

Jealousy and judgement, or rather misjudgement, seem to be major themes in Shakespeare’s plays, in which most judgements are assumed by no logical basis or intellectual wit. King Leontes, unlike Othello, comes to his conclusion by his own means, without any outside verification of truth or logical explanation for his jealousy. However, there are many similarities, based on their situation, between him and Othello. Both men transform, emotionally, into beast like figures whose actions ultimately end their lineage. Although Perdita remains alive, and is able to carry on King Leontes’s bloodline, his name will die with her marriage to Florizel. Othello and King Leontes also adapt a diction that transforms their language into something that resembles the baseness of humanity by the presentation of bestial images and rape that signify the personal anxieties of each men. However, King Leontes’s transformation is different in that his jealousy and language seem to adjust abruptly and without warning. In act one, scene 2, lines 180-208, of The Winter’s Tale, one can see King Leontes’s complete alteration into a desperate man who eventually kills his wife and son. Through an analysis of these lines, it is easy to see the desperation and hate King Leontes develops towards his wife and Polixenes by the treatment of nature and property as a means to talk about sex and betrayal.

From the onset of this scene, Hermione maintains her womanly virtue by inviting King Leontes to accompany her and Polixenes on their walk. Despite this proof of fidelity, King Leontes wishes to disprove her devotion to him by witnessing her interaction with Polixenes from afar. King Leontes asserts that ...

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...uman kind altogether, through a false syllogism that is only supported by jealousy and misinterpretation. Shakespeare’s treatment of this transformation reflects social anxieties that deal with notions of power, property, relationships, and the need to maintain power or control over those things. Nonetheless, although these lines serve as an important proponent for gaining insight to King Leontes’s irrational, emotional, and even misanthropic state, they by no means advocate the king’s actions or decisions. Furthermore, these lines demonstrate Shakespeare’s ability to use language to its highest potential as well as reflect the social conditions and underlying concerns of his era.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, William. The Winter’s Tale. The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997. 2883-952.
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