Parenting is a main element of “The Winters Tale”
As parents Leontes and Hermione have very different qualities as parents. Hermione is a strong character within the play and this quality helps to make her a strong and good mother. Leontes however has very different qualities. His jealousy and mistrust of his best friend Polixenes and his wife Hermione, along with his severe paranoia, make Leontes a poor parent. It is this attitude that makes him a poor parent. He mistrusts his own wife and this has a detrimental effect on them as a unit. However Leontes begins to redeem himself as the play progresses. In contrast to this couple the shepherd and the clown are extremely good parents. Even though these two are the same sex and much less well off than Leontes and Hermione they are much more effective as a parental unit. This is because the child that they are raising is a natural princess and it is in her genes to be a princess. I find it very interesting that Shakespeare chose to attribute the best parenting qualities to the parents who are of a lower social class.
Leontes is the king of Sicilia. At the beginning of the play Leontes has one son named Mamillius and Leontes sees his son as the best thing in his life. Shakespeare portrays Leontes as an apparently stable and good parent who is as effective as Hermione “go play Mamillius; thou’rt an honest man” and “why, that’s my bawcock-what hast thou smutched thy nose”. However as the play progresses we see that this is definitely not the case. In a sudden switch Leontes slips from being a good stable person and parent to being a jealous tyrant and paranoid king. This switch happens over a matter of thirty lines, from “to mingle friendship far is mingling bloods” to “and hardning of my brows” in around thirty lines, and is much like Leontes turns the jealousy on a good quotation to show this is “I have tremor cordis on me”. This is reflected in his parenting and his thoughts, which become irrational. Shakespeare did not need to ratify this as it is just a characteristic in Leontes and does not need to be explained, especially in such a folk tale. Hermione on the other hand is different.
She manages to keep her head and her good qualities whilst all the while being persecuted by her own husband “gentle my lord, you scarce can right me thoroughly then to say you did mistake”. “Give me the boy, I am glad you did not nurse him” is a quotation from Leontes that shows his jealously and lack of thought. This lack of thought continues until the jealousy ‘switches off’ again. Harassment from Leontes continues throughout the next couple of scenes, “away with her to prison” and “she’s an adulteress”. The harassment ends when Hermione apparently dies after it is found that Mamillius is “gone” or “is dead”. This is a major turning point in the play for the part of Leontes as he doesn’t know or understand why or what has happened to him. It is also where the play begins to change from a tragedy to a comedy.
Leontes from this point guided by Paulina tries to show real repentance which pays off at the end of the play. At this point the reader believes Hermione to be dead and the parenting role of this part finishes. This is interesting on Shakespeare’s behalf as she was the only royal character who could have been classed as a good parent at the time of her death. Previously to this however Hermione was an excellent mother and the arrival of the second child may have been her chance to really shine but fate would have it that Leontes had the “bastard-child” sent away. The way that Shakespeare writes shows us that Leontes cannot cope with the responsibility that another child brings “that thou commend it strangely to some place”. In Leontes fragile mental state, he seems prone to doing extremely irrational things. More irrational than is regular character suggests. The question that needs to be asked is that would a loving father say that about any child never mind one that he knows deep down to be his own. This jealously is switched off just as quickly as it is switched on. Leontes seems to realize that, when everything has been taken away from him, he is a lonely person and that it was his actions that drove both his wife and children away.
In comparison the clown and shepherd are not the kind of parents that people see everyday. Neither of them is female so Perdita ends up having a substitute mother. Shakespeare does not make it clear which of the characters plays this role but it is clear that the combination of the two of them works well. Perdita, the child Leontes sent away, grows up with a group of poor shepherds’ and this has a good effect rather than a bad one. Shakespeare did, however, write that there was “Gold, all gold” in the basket with the child. This will have helped the Shepherd and clown come to a decision about what to do with it. Shakespeare could also have meant this as comedy. Two people find a basket with gold in it and decide to take the baby so no guilt is felt.
The fact that Perdita grows up in a stable environment is probably the reason that she turns out the way that she does it is an irony which Shakespeare writes well. Again it is intriguing the way he gives the best qualities to the lower class citizens. Their beliefs of her background are not entirely accurate. Shakespeare tells us that the shepherd and clown believed that the gold was “fairy gold” and the child was “a squire’s child”. This is a girl who has much decorum and is very dignified even though she has grown up with a group of shepherds and shepherdesses. She seems to have all the airs and graces which a princess would have but also has the humility of the shepherds group “the prettiest low born lass…smacks of something greater than herself, too noble for this place”. The shepherd and the clown show characteristics that are not present in all parents. They are loving from when they find the abandoned child. When the clown finds the child he immediately is concerned for its safety and where it has come from. There is no form of animosity or jealousy between these two parents as there is between Leontes and Hermione.
Polixenes is another parent in the winter’s tale but one, which is not mentioned by Shakespeare very much. This may be because Shakespeare wishes to leave Polixenes as a watered down parallel between the two kings and to bring him forward would destroy the comedy that he brings. He has a child named Florizel who is, by the end of the play, in love with Perdita the girl who has been brought up by the clown and the shepherd. Polixenes however is also a bad parent. The very fact that he can’t recognise his own son at the old shepherd’s party. Florizel even tells his father that he is in love with Perdita, who at this point is thought to be a shepherdess. “More than ever a man’s, I would not prize them without her love”. Any other father would have been pleased for his son when he found this out but Polixenes seems to do the opposite.
He is so angry with his son that he not only banishes him from his own home but also disowns him as a son “not hold thee of our blood, no, not our kin, far’r than Deucalion off”. This is the point where Polixenes completely disowns his son and tells him that he is no longer heir to the throne. There is a parallel here between the ways that the two kings in the play act. Shakespeare uses this as comedy. The difference between comedy and tragedy is this, in a comedy; a situation starts badly then gets better and finally finishes up with a happy ending. Whereas in a tragedy the situation gets worse and a sad ending occurs. Earlier in the play Leontes disowns his daughter, Perdita, through jealousy, at a very young age. Again though not through jealousy Polixenes disowns his son through spite. This watered down version of the earlier happening is comedy to people in Shakespearean times as the situation begins to worsen but all ends up fine.
In conclusion I think that the change between tragedy and comedy is a confusing element of “the winter’s tale” However Shakespeare uses the parents in the play for both tragedy and comedy. This use of parents is the main factor in “the winter’s tale”. Leontes At the beginning of the play seems to be the villain. However as the play progresses He switches from being a Jealous tyrant to becoming a respected father figure. Hermione, On the other hand, even though she is not a big part of the play is well respected throughout. It is this respect which Shakespeare uses for all intents and purposes as comedy and tragedy. Shakespeare’s use of the shepherd and the clown is ironical. Shakespeare wrote both rich parents and poor parents, in the winter’s tale is the poor parents who seemed to be the better of the two sets. I particularly like the way That Shakespeare uses many different types of parents to Portray Different styles of parenting.
Leontes Switches from being a good King to being a jealous tyrant and back again to being a respected figure. While Shakespeare was writing this play as a tragedy it suited the play to keep Leontes as a jealous tyrant However As it switched back to being a comedy Leontes needed to revert back to being respected figure that he was. The same goes for Polixenes; he also did the same as Leontes But not to such a great extent. His tyranny came after the play had switched to comedy. The way that he banned his son from seeing his love would have been funny in Shakespearean times. However once again we see a reformer in the parent. He ‘comes around’ to the idea of his son marrying the shepherd’s ddaughter He rrealizes that she is actually a princess.
So Shakespeare really uses the parents for both comical and tragic purposes. In my personal opinion on thing that this works best for comical purposes. As for parents being the main constituents of “the winter’s tale” I disagree. There are many influences on the story; Parenting is only one of them I believe Shakespeare used parents to assist him in telling the story.