The characters like the Shepherd and Autolycus.
The Winter’s Tale: A Pagan Perspective. Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale depicts a family torn apart as a result of the jealous actions of Leontes, the King of Sicilia.
The actions and personality of Leontes can also be observed in Greek Tragedies by Homer and Sophocles. The relationship between the members of the royal family portray direct and subtle parallels to the Classical works before it. Louis Martz comments on the parallels between The Winter’s Tale and Greek tragedies in his article: Shakespeare’s Humanist Enterprise: The Winter’s Tale. Martz draws several subtle parallels to Greek Tragedies with references to location, religion, syntax, speech, chronological actions of a character and the concept of the tragic hero.
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Comparisons are drawn to the tragedies of Agamemnon, Oedipus Rex and Antigone. Martz places emphasis on the characters of Leontes and Hermione, but also to more subtle characters like the Shepherd and Autolycus. The concept of The Winter’s Tale as a trilogy is also introduced by Martz. The defiance of the Oracle, the death of Mamillius, and the miraculous rebirth of Hermione are also vital aspects of the tragicomedy discussed by Martz. In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, King Leontes is introduced as a jealous ruler, acting as a good host. His jealousy and suspicion toward his Queen Hermione and to his guest, King Polixenes is rooted in the fact that Hermione is expecting a child. Leontes does not trust his Queen’s faithfulness and suspects that the unborn child is the son of Polixenes.
Martz argues that the jealousy in Leontes was present even before the opening of the play, but none-the-less, escalated to it’s heightened state during the course of act one. Martz comments: “Leontes has been in the grip of jealousy before the play has opened, and that the play is best presented when he is shown to be so gripped by disease, the madness that…
destroying his deepest affections and turning all to hate, as Clytemnestra or Medea.” (129). Leonte’s rage is the cause of the actions throughout the course of events in the play, and can be considered his tragic flaw. Much like the tragic heros of Oedipus, Agamemnon, or even Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, Leontes too, will suffer as a result of a flaw. Leontes deliberately defies the Oracle in a fit of rage and dismay.
He speaks: “There is no truth at all i’ th’ oracle. The sessions shall proceed. This is mere falsehood.”(3.2.152-153.) Much like Oedipus in Sophocles’ tragedy, Leontes cannot escape the prophecy of the Oracle.
In the end, Leontes makes an effort to repent, but his tragic flaw has already caused him to suffer great losses: Apollo, pardon my great profaneness ‘gainst thine oracle. I’ll reconcile me to Polixenes, New woo my queen, recall the good Camillo, Whom I proclaim a man of truth, of mercy; For, being transported by my jealousies To bloody thoughts and to revenge,..
) Martz explains the chronologically parallel sequence of action by Leontes: “Blasphemy against the gods has been preceded by crime against a guest, the attempt to kill Polixenes, and this has been followed by crimes against a family, the attempts to kill his wife and daughter.”(126.) As all deviance from piety results in punishment, so must the actions of Leontes. “The death of Mamillius becomes the punishment for blasphemy.”(126.) Another important aspect in The Winter’s Tale is the character of the Shepherd. Similarly to the myths of Hercules and the tragedy of Oedipus, Perdita is taken in by a stranger and raised in a lower social ordered family.
Oedipus later discovered that he is nobility, while Hercules discovered his semi-godlike heredity, Perdita too, is of nobler birth than those that raised her. The Shepherd subtly hints toward a pagan tradition in his speech during the festivities in act 4. He speaks: “Where no priest shovels in dust.”(4.4.
540.) Much like the efforts of Antigone to give her outcast relative a proper burial, against the King’s orders, the Shepherd too, fears a sacrilegious burial. Martz comments on the worries of the Shepherd: “the old shepherd’s fear is that he will have ‘no priest’ to ‘shovel in dust’ on his corpse. Fear of lying unburied was a deep aspect of Greek religious feeling, as Antigone demonstrates.”(135.) Another important, but subtle character in the play is Autolycus.
He not only brings comic relief to the stage, but also divine intervention. He assists Perdita and Florizell during the festival with disguises. Similarly to Athena and other Grecian deities, Autolycus is more cunning and omniscient than he appears. Martz argues the true character of Autolycus: “he knows all, he overhears all, and thus he helps the prince by being true, as he says, to his own prinicples of knavery.”(134.) Finally, a vital aspect of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is the statue of Hermione in the final act of the play. With this final step, Leontes is redeemed in a sense for his grief and suffering; the tragedy is over, order is restored and the play is brought to an end.
Martz draws a parallel between The Winter’s Tale and the Orestillian Trilogy: “Orestes, in the third play of that trilogy, is lying at the foot of the great stature of Athene in Athens. Then the goddess herself enters, a living presence, to redeem Orestes from his hereditary curse. Should we add this reminiscence to the other allusions to Greek tragedy and myth that have long been felt in the statue-scene of The Winter’s Tale.
) The tragedies of Homer, Sophocles and Aeschylus draw important parallels to William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Although many parallels are subtle, they can be observed through careful examination of both the texts and historical data.Bibliography:Bibliography Works Cited. 1) Martz, Louis L.: Shakespeare’s Humanist Enterprise: The Winter’s Tale. Chelsea House Publishers, New York. 1987 2) Shakespeare, William: The Winter’s Tale.
Washington Square Press, New York. 1998 Word Count: 943