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The Characters of Hermione, Perdita, and Paulina in The Winters Tale
Although Hermione is one of the main characters, we see very little of her in the play. She is horribly betrayed by her husband, but we never really see her feelings on the subject. In many other plays, Shakespeare uses asides and soliloquies to give insight into the characters mind. Hermione must be having complex and very troubling thoughts, but we never see them. Hermione is in Act I Scene ii where she plays the perfect royal hostess. In Act I Scene iii, she is accused of adultery with Polixenes by Leontes and taken to prison. She is not seen agian until Act III Scene ii, where she stands trial for her treason. Immediately after this scene, she dies, or appears to die, offstage. The audience is given no indication that she is still alive until Act V Scene iii, where the statue becomes flesh.
Hermione is portrayed as an innocent victim throughout the play. When her husband fist becomes jealous, she is puzzled by his behavior and wonders if affairs of state are bothering him. Her lack of knowledge about his jealousy gives credit to her plea of innocence. She had obviously never been an unfaithful wife, therefore she had no reason to worry that her husband would suspect her. Polixenes flees in fear of death, but he leaves Hermione behind. If she had known that she was guilty and was facing punishment, she could have left with Polixenes. When she comes back to life as a statue, she says that she has preserved herself in the chance occurance that Perdita was alive. The audience is never given any further explaination, so we cannot conclude that she even saved herself in an illegal or false fashion.
The character of Perdita is a wonderful study in the sociological theories of nature versus nurture. She leaves the royal court when she is only days old and is raised by and old shepherd and his son, the Clown. Although the family found a great deal of money when they found the baby, the upbringing she recieved could not have been equal to a traditional royal upbringing. Nevertheless, Perdita seems to be endowed from birth with a royal manner. She has been crowned Queen of the sheep-shearing feast when we first see her again, and she has won the deep love of a prince.
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Like her mother, we never see what Perdita is thinking. She makes several comments about her love for her father the shepherd, but we never see her thoughts on her father the king. She forgives the man who ordered her killed and thought her a bastard without any seeming inner conflict or outer hostility. From the time that her mother comes alive from a statue until the end of the play, Perdita stands there and never utters a word. Her mother asks her several questions, but Paulina interupts before the two women ever get to talk. This silence leaves Perdita's reaction completely up to the interpretation of the actress, because there are not lines to guide this innocent child's reaction to a day filled with miraculous occurances.
Paulina is a completely different type of character than the other two women. She is a strong woman in a time that very few women, especially married women, had any power. Because she is a mid-wife, she has a trade and could be seen to gain power from it. As a doctor, she is in constant contact with birth and death, both of which were seen as extremely powerful events. Paulina is the only one who really stands up to King Leontes. Her husband, Antigonus, refuses to silence her because he agrees with what she says. Perdita actually owes her life to Paulina and Antigonus, because Paulina manages to sneak her out of the prison and Antigonus disobeys his king by saving her life.
Paulina's role in the preservation of Hermione is unclear because the nature of the preservation itself is unclear. If Hermione was only pretending to be a statue in Act V Scene iii, then Paulina has been hiding her for sixteen years. If Hermione has been under some sort of spell which can only be broken by the return of Perdita, then we must speculate about Paulina'a role in the spell. She can be put in the role of magician or sorceress who would have cast the spell on Hermione, or she can be seen as a caretaker who understood the spell, but did nothing to prevent or cause it.