Key Themes

Quick revise
Jealousy
  • The first part of the play introduces Leontes' jealousy immediately, it contrasts with noble feelings of purity and loyalty in the play.
  • His jealously is fast and furious it appears to be inexplicable and somewhat of an ‘infection’, something he cannot control.
  • It makes him appear as mad as everyone else in the play knows and protests Hermione’s innocence.
  • Paulina says Leontes has betrayed "the sacred honour of himself".
  • Antigonus tells him: "You are abused, and by some putter-on that will be damned fort. Would I knew the villain".
  • The villain becomes Leontes jealousy. To prove his jealousy is purely subjective the gods themselves speak against his belief in the form of the Oracle.
  • Divine Intervention takes the form of the message from the Delphi oracle.
  • Apollo's oracle is read aloud in the court of justice: "Hermione is chaste; Polixenes blameless; Camillo a true subject; Leontes a jealous tyrant; his innocent babe truly begotten...".
  • In his fury Leontes dismisses this divine intervention and is punished for his jealousy.
  • As both his son Mamillius and Hermione die. Leontes’ self induced jealousy is counteracted by the integrity of Paulino and Camillo and Perdita .
  • The noble attitudes of these older characters bridges the gap between the evil of Leontes and the innocence of Perdita .
  • Away from Leontes mind and the bear there are no other examples of essential evil in the play.
  • The court and country are good and honourable intentions rules.
  • Every characters maintains that he or she means well.
  • The lack of motive for Leontes’ jealousy is criticised as a weakness in the play.
  • Leontes slow repent becomes as a growth form within, rather than from an outside source.
  • It could be argued that Shakespeare does not wish to analyse jealousy but use it as the onset to the evil cycle in his play, which is quickly followed by repentance and reconciliation.
  • Shakespeare’s audience may have accepted this sudden emotion more easily than by a modern audience who actually search for psychological answers to problems.
  • The Renaissance audience might have seen it as an attack of a melancholy humour; one of the four bodily fluids believed to shape one's temperament.
Regeneration
  • Another significant theme which pervades the play.
  • It is emphasised on the fertility in the figure of Perdita. In many ways the whole play can be read as a fertility myth or allegory.
  • Both Perdita and Hermione are lost – Hermione dies and goes to the underworld (Hades), also does Perdita as in the Proserpine myth.
  • When the ladies discuss Hermione’s pregnancy it is discussed as a joyful experience and the renewal of life.
  • In act IV Perdita expresses the same joy in creation and fertility.
  • Perdita represents the powerful force of nature which is uncorrupted by civilisation.
  • The marriage between Perdita and Florizel symbolizes the meeting of civilsation and nature and symbolises the cycle of procreation, regeneration and fertility.
  • The restoration of Hermione and Perdita moves the characters lives from winter into a new spring.
  • Polixenes and Leontes and Hermione thus achieve immortality through their own children. All characters experience a new sense of regeneration.
Forgiveness and Reconciliation
  • The many themes found in The Winter’s Tale often seem to centre around the basic idea of forgiveness and reconciliation.
  • At the onset the evil arrives suddenly through Leontes’ mind as he causes the death of Mamillus and Hermione and loss of Perdita. It is at this point that evil seems to have conquered all for Leontes.
  • In order for Shakespeare to provide reconciliation and orgiveness for Leontes a long period of penance and mourning must be serve, hence the sixteen year lapse serves its purpose.
  • This remorse is indicated in Act V when Leontes explains how he has mourned and never remarried.
  • This repentance is followed by forgiveness and mercy as Hermione is restored.
  • Her death represents her retirement from the world and a punishment for Leontes, once he is truly sorry and repents he can be forgiven.
  • Leontes is ultimately made to suffer for his sins.
  • The restoration of Hermione and Perdita is almost a miracle. As a result the cycle is complete as repentance brings for forgiveness and forgiveness brings reconciliation.