Feminist Reading of Shakespeare’s The Winter Tales

The term paper on Feminist Reading of Shakespeare’s The Winter Tales

This paper delves into Feminist Reading of Shakespeare’s The Winter in order to explore the role of women in the play; what types of role women have given by the writer, how they are treated by males and how they transform themselves throughout the play. In this play, we can see that males have the superior position in comparison to females. Females are treating as animals. They even do not have right to speak for themselves. They are totally controlled by the male figures. However, the writer of this play, William Shakespeare has tried to give justice to the females throughout this play. In the prologue, we can explicitly see that how King Leontes mistreats his pregnant wife, accuses her of committing adultery without any absolute truth. On the other hand, Paulina has tried to give justice to Queen Hermione. She tries to convince the King Leontes, but he ignores her and uses bad words “Out! A mankind Witch!” (45) for her and he puts queen into prison for the punishment. Though, she presents herself as strong as she could be. But unfortunately, her appeal was so smaller in front of the arrogant King. Female’s voice used to be ignored at that time. The same thing happened with Paulina and Hermione.

Feminist Reading of Shakespeare’s The Winter Tales

This play was written during the renaissance period where women were not given proper place in the society. Males were only in the higher position and they used to advocate for the sake of males only. Females were subjugated and they were in the margin. In the English Literature in Context, Anderw Hiscock has presented that:

“Renaissance society clearly attributed superior status to the males, it had also inherited from the medieval period an ongoing debate about the role of women. This debate was conducted mostly by male authors and debaters- eloquence and public debate being perceived since classical times as preeminently a male preserve.”(173)

The renaissance society was filled up with the power of males. Women did not have space in the field of art, literature and other genres. They were only limited in private spheres. They were so much oppressed by the patriarchy that they were not given major roles in literary works too. However, here in this play, William Shakespeare has tried to give some major roles to the women through Paulina. In the beginning part of this play, we can see how males have dominated the women. The king Leontes mistreats and abuses his own wife Hermione who was very innocent. He sent her to the prison on the basis of male’s false nature of doubting on the things. Queen Hermione though, tries to convince him but she could not strongly present herself in front of King Leontes and obeys the command of her husband. “Hermione: Who isn’t that goes with me? –Beseech your highness . . . Adieu my lord . . .”( 34) at that moment also she talks so politely and gently. The king Leontes discards her cruelly, addressing her bad words.

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In this play, William Shakespeare has presented two types of women 1) submissive, nurturing, passive, innocent, fragile, emotional type woman 2) bold, courageous, outspoken, and logical type woman. Hermione comes with first one type woman. Though she is a queen of Sicily, she could raise voice for her own rights. She tolerates all the wounds which were given by her own husband. She follows the order of King Leontes and ready to be imprisoned without any fault. While King Leontes accuses her committing of adultery and calling her traitor she was trying to say that she is not guilty of all these accuses but with her low voice and due respect towards her husband. He was so arrogant that he even did not try to get her voice once. Paulina strongly presents herself in front of the king:


Not so:

I am as ignorant in that as you

In so entitling me; and no less honest

Than you are mad; which is enough, I’ll Warrant,

As this world goes, to pass for honest. (46)

This dialogue justifies her ability to talk in front of male figures. She seems very outspoken. The writer has given the very strong role to her. We can take her as a main leading figure of this play too. She has advocated for queen Hermione. She tries to give her justice but when she fails to melt the heart of Leonten. Then also she does not lose hope and she takes Hermione with her very wisely. She declared the death of Hermione and takes her away from the palace in order to save her life from Leontes. In this sense, Paulina is a very strong character and she never gives off the things, no matter how the things are difficult. She always takes challenges and talks for right and justice.

In Gender Bias in Attitudes and Practice, the writer has shared an event that “ a team of male scientists told me that women do not rowboats to fish but I pointed out a photograph taken earlier by other team members that showed a woman rowing” (88).  It shows that the preoccupied mind of the males who thought that female is only for household work but here a writer is able to break their false notion of the males. Likewise, an Indian writer Chandrakala Padia in her book Theorizing feminism she explains that “by virtue of their very natural functions and capacities of production, peacemaking nurturing and sharing women are superior to men who are competitive and aggressive by nature” (17). In this way, we can say that in both novel women have great roles though some of them seem weak they are very powerful and aggressive by nature.

Different reviewers have reviewed their opinion on The Winter’s Tale.  Paul Taylor, one of the best reviewers of this play, said that  “.  . . Leontes’ psychological hang-ups long before the devastating moment when he takes a running kick in the stomach of his heavily pregnant wife . . .” He has criticized the role of Leontes in his review because of his fragmented psyche and his heinous behavior with his pregnant wife. Another reviewer, Lyn Gardner has reviewed that “ . . . Hermione is so remote: always queenly but oddly unsympathetic . . . This male jealousy is a disease and a kind of tyranny. Not a good trait, because it makes for an unwise ruler.” Here, Lyn Gardner tries to criticize the jealousy factor of males who create problems in female’s life knowingly. And females, they are so tolerable that they even cannot speak for their own sake. Hermione is one of them.

Feminist Reading of Shakespeare’s The Winter Tales

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Though at the beginning of this play, males have the powerful position and they seem so hypocrite that they think themselves right and oblige their thought to the women like; Leontes behavior with Hermione, Paulina, and his daughter Perdita. But eventually, women get justice. The chaotic environment of palace settled down peacefully, Widow Paulina got married to a gentleman Camillo and, Perdita and Florizel both of them love birds. They also got united and arrogant and boastful king Leontes realizes and regret his mistakes and beg for an apology with Hermione and she too forgives him and again accepts him as a husband. These things prove that William Shakespeare has given proper place to the females in his writing by showing the boastful and arrogant nature of males and its negative consequences to the reader. This play also has contributed to the society where females were subjugated and punished by males without any guilt.

Recapitulation of Feminist Reading of Shakespeare’s The Winter Tales

Thus, we affirm that The Winter’s Tale is the superb masterwork of Shakespeare that portrays the exploitation, humiliation, and deprivation faced by the women in Renaissance. Not only illiterate but literate knowledgeable, sophisticated, elite class people like Hermione, Paulina Perdita, king Leontes also guided by the sense of traditional gender role. Patriarchal ideology is deeply rooted in the mind of Renaissance people that compel them to take women merely as an object. Therefore, women were exploited, tortured and humiliated in Renaissance. However, Shakespeare has successfully presented the gradual transformation from traditional gender role of women.





Work Cited

Krishna Sumi, Gender  Bias in Attitudes and Practice. New Delhi:   Zubaaan,2009.

Padia Chandrakala, Theorizing feminism. Delhi: Rawat Publication, 2011.

Poplawski, Paul. English Literature in Context. 1st ed. London: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 173. Print.

Shakespeare, William. The Winter’s Tale. San Diago, CA United States of America: ICON Group Tnternational, Inc, 2005.


Written by Deepa Bhatta




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