Winter’s Tale – Act I & II

Wow, Shakespeare really does have a thing for themes of infidelity and irrational men. Before this class, my only exposure to Shakespeare had been his sonnets, so I am reading these plays with no previous context. My immediate reaction to the Winter’s Tale was that it was a lot slower than Much Ado and didn’t provide as much of a hook. Rather than being introduced to a bantering couple, love interests and odd scheming, Winter’s Tale is leans more towards dialogue than action. There are several moments where people are simply talking about other characters or being in conversation without obviously contributing to a storyline. Also, again with the infidelity? In Act I, Scene II, when Leontes professes his jealousy and suspicions of Hermione and Polixenes, it didn’t have the same effect as our previous play. Not only did Leontes have zero proof or reason to stake his claim, it also just seems like an old plot point. In the next Act we see Leontes unravel even further and so, as the reader, I would be more interested in the play talking about Leontes delusions and a possible mental illness rather than focusing on the outcome of this. Does Leontes have a backstory? Would the topic of mental illness have been well-received among Shakespeare’s audience? Why is Shakespeare compelled to write male characters that abuse their status and power for personal gain (outside of commenting on gender roles)?

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