In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, the playwright introduces his audience to a world blending natural imagery with that of ancient religion. Appearing as nature’s child, Perdita fails to realize her own identity and does not recognize that the flowers she describes mimic her own image. Just as gillyvors are a result of crossbreeding, the shepherdess is essentially one of nature’s bastards since she eventually discovers Porrus has been an adoptive father for her, and Leontes is her biological father. Perdita not only shares her natural image with the goddess Proserpina, but also shares in the goddess’ fate as a lost daughter.
Much like Proserpina who represents the springtime, Perdita exemplifies the natural growth and prosperity that accompanies the season. When Antigonus agrees to take up Perdita and leave her to chance, he understands that she is nature’s child since “Some powerful spirit instruct the kites and ravens / To be thy nurses. Wolves and bears, they say, / Casting their savageness aside, have done / Like offices of pity” (II.iii.185-8). Nature then raises the infant as her own when Perdita takes on natural attributes uncommon among humankind. Before Antigonus abandons the infant Perdita in accordance with Leontes’ orders, he addresses the babe, “Blossom, speed thee well” (III.iii.45), as though Perdita resembles a flower in full bloom.
As Perdita grows older, the shepherdess imparts her “blossoming” image on others, particularly on the courtiers who greet her in the country. After asking Dorcas to “Give [her] those flowers there,” she distributes “rosemary and rue [which] keep / Seeming and savor all the winter long” (IV.iv.73-5). The flowers ...
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...u might well enjoy her” (V.i.214-5). Perdita’s beauty surpasses her lowly stature to the point where she is not regarded as a shepherdess to Leontes, but rather as a higher power.
Perdita ultimately takes on the natural image of Proserpina as well as her role as a lost daughter. Through the flowers Perdita mentions, she effectively manages to describe not only her own identity, but that of the goddess. Even though Antigones abandons the shepherdess at birth, Perdita’s missing person and questionable identity causes others to also lose the ones they love and opportunities they could have had. Because the loss of Perdita creates significant loss for others, it is as though the maiden has a hand in others’ lives, much like the gods. Thus her indirect intervention, image, and role as a lost daughter all play a key part in her representation of Proserpina.
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