Critique of The Winter's Tale

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Critique of The Winter's Tale The Winter's Tale is a perfect tragicomedy. Set in an imaginary world where Bohemia has a seacoast, and where ancient Greek oracles coexist with Renaissance sculptors, it offers three acts of unremitting tragedy, followed by two acts of restorative comedy. In between, sixteen years pass hastily, a lapse which many critics have taken as a structural flaw, but which actually only serves to highlight the disparity of theme, setting, and action between the two halves of the play. The one is set amid gloomy winter, and illuminates the destructive power that mistaken jealousy exercises over the family of Leontes, King of Sicilia; in the second half, flower-strewn spring intervenes, and all the damage that the King's folly accomplished is undone--through coincidence, goodwill, and finally through miracle, as a statue of his dead wife comes to life and embraces him. As the force behind the tragedy stems from Leontes's belief that his wife, Hermione, and best friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia, are lovers, so Leontes has attracted more critical interest than any other character in the play. An Othello who is his own Iago, he is a perfect paranoiac, convinced that he has all the facts and ready to twist any counter-argument to fit his (mistaken) perception of the world. Perhaps because of its uncertain origin, Leontes's madness is a terrifying thing: he becomes a poet of nihilism, demanding, when told that there is "nothing" between Hermione and Polixenes, "Is this nothing? / Why, then the world and all that's in't is nothing, / The covering sky's nothing, Bohemia nothing, / My wife is nothing, nor nothing have these nothings, / If this be nothing"(I.ii.292-296). The roots of his jealousy seem too run to deep for the play to plumb--there are hints of misogyny, of dynastic insecurity, and of an inability to truly separate himself psychologically from Polixenes, but no definitive answers. Indeed, the only answer is his own--in one of Shakespeare's finer images, Leontes says "I have drunk, and seen the spider"(II.i.45).
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