The Winter’s Tale: scattered opposites

In Shakespeare, you’re always going to find dichotomies, oppositions (you know, to be OR NOT to be), that’s not a question. Now, Macbeth is filled with verbal oppositions (so fair and foul a day, etc.). The Winter’s Tale, however, contains some incredible situational oppositions as well.

  • Court/Rural (civilization/nature || Sicilia/Bohemia)
  • Leontes/Polixenes
  • Death/Life
  • Artifice/Art

From the beginning of the play, we are told of a “great difference” (I.i.3-4) between Sicilia and Bohemia, with implication that in comparison, Sicilia has “magnificence” (I.i.12) while Bohemia has relative “insufficience” (I.i.14) in … sophistication(? Heck, even Archidamus “know[s] not what” [I.ii.13] to call the comparison).

In the first half of the play, we never leave Leontes’ palace; in Act Four, after a scene (end of Act Three) in the country, the chorus, and a brief Bohemian palace scene, we are in the country…until we return to Sicilia and the palace for Act Five. It’s not even a matter of indoor vs outdoor–though that’s there, too–it’s a dichotomy between the court and the wilderness. (Though there is a slight fly in the ointment, but I’ll get to that tomorrow).

We have our “twinned lambs” (I.ii.68) of Leontes and Polixenes. While friends, they do seem rather different: Polixenes, guileless, trusting; Leontes, unwilling confront the man he thinks is his wife’s lover, instead creating a plot to have Camillo poison him. (of course, it’s not like Polixenes isn’t prone to a Leontes-style meltdown, as we saw in Act Four)

The two settings are also places of two opposite forces: death in the winter of Sicilia; life (as seen in the sheep-shearing festival) in Bohemian midsummer. In Sicilia, Mamillius and Hermione die. In Bohemia… well, there is Antigonus, but of course, there he is killed by a force of nature, the bear; the son and wife die due to the court/king. [It is interesting, though, that what brings death even in the court, is named for a beast from nature, the Lion.]

And then we have artifice and art, in a sense, deception and natural beauty. Leontes’ plot against Polixenes’ life as opposed to Camillo’s revelation and assistance. The sham trial of Hermione vs. the definitive judgment of the Oracle at Delphos. The purposeful disguises of Polixenes and Camillo (and to a certain extent, Florizel) juxtaposed against the unknowing disguise of Perdita as a shepherd’s daughter (though some could say that this is artifice as well, only one created by the Shepherd and Clown). The faked embassage of Florizel and Perdita to Leontes followed quickly by Polixenes’ actual visit.

And that’s it.

Just kidding. Even in my scattered thoughts today, I couldn’t forget this:

Hermione’s re-entry into the play.

Here, we have both artifice and art. If Paulina has kept Hermione secret these many years, we’re talking major artifice here. If it’s a miracle, what could be more beautiful than that?

Sorry for the scattered thoughts today (and recently). I really have no excuse.

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