Misogyny in TheWinter’s Tale: Queen Hermione’s role The Winter’s Tale by WilliamShakespeare, is an early example of tragicomedy. In the play, King Leontes ofSicilia, accuses his wife, Queen Hermione, of having an affair with his closestfriend, King Polixenes, and becoming pregnant because of it. Even though KingLeontes seems certain that his wife was unfaithful to him, Shakespeare nevergives the reader any cause to suspect the claim to be true, in fact all of theother supporting characters, rally behind Queen Hermione, Paulina most of all.In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Queen Hermione serves as prime example ofthe subordinate role women were forced into in the world of The Winter’s Tale.Although Queen Hermione had an upstanding reputation it did not matter once aman, King Leontes, found her to have committed an offence.
King Leontes’ misogynisticnotions about women is prevalent at the start of the play. In Act 1, scene 2,when Leontes is trying to convince Polixenes to stay, Leontes remarks toHermione “Tongue-tied, our queen? / Speak you.” In the beginning of this sceneLeontes is asking Hermione to convince Polixenes to extend his visit, this statementis tinged with sarcasm, in a way he is implying that Hermione and other womenusually speak too much without prompt. Also, the statement could actually beseen are more of a demand than a question, since it doesn’t give Hermione a chanceto refrain from speaking. And when she does speak and manages to convincePolixenes to stay, King Leontes is filled with unfounded jealousy. He goes asfar as to question the parentage of his son, Mamilius:Thou want’st a rough pash and the shoots that I have,To be full like me: yet they say we areAlmost as like as eggs; women say so,That will say anything but were they falseAs o’er-dyed blacks, as wind, as waters, falseAs dice are to be wish’d by one that fixesNo bourn ‘twixt his and mine, yet were it trueTo say this boy were like me. (I.
ii.163-171) This quote further demonstrates Leontes misogynistic view towardswomen. In his mind, Leontes, believes that all women are untrustworthy and “sayanything” to fit into their agenda, which Leontes probably believes to betricking their unsuspecting husbands. When Leontes becomes convinced thatHermione and Polixenes are having an affair, he complains that an unfaithfulwife has been the qualm of many men: There have been,Or I am much deceived, cuckolds ere now;And many a man there is, even at this present,Now while I speak this, holds his wife by the arm,That little thinks she has been sluiced in’s absenceAnd his pond fish’d by his next neighbour, bySir Smile, his neighbour: (I.ii. 239-244) Leontes makes a metaphor comparing women to ponds that could be”fish’d” by any other man, unbeknownst to the owner of the pond. In thismetaphor, Leontes makes it clear that he sees women, wives in this case, asbeing the property of their husbands. He sees women as inanimate objects thatneed to be guarded by even those a man would consider friends.
In this case SirSmile probably refers to Polixenes since Leontes believes that his friendshipis just a facade because he is having an affair with Leontes’ wife. Later whencomplaining to Camillo, Leontes says “My wife’s a hobby-horse, deserves a name/ As rank as any flax-wench that puts to / Before her troth-plight: say’t andjustify’t.” (I.ii 338-340) In this statement Leontes compares Hermione to ananimal, because he now sees her as a creature unable to control her basestimpulses. He also compares her to a “flax-wench,” by saying this he is implyingthat Hermione should be stripped of her titles because she has made herself worthless,like a commoner. Camillo pleads for Leontes to stop slandering Hermione, “Iwould not be a / stander-by to hear / My sovereign mistress clouded so,without/ My present vengeance taken.
” Maybe because he sees her as being solowing ranking it makes it easier for Leontes to imprison Hermione. In Act 3 scene 2,Queen Hermione, is brought to trial, after being imprisoned and having givenbirth to her daughter in jail, for allegedly being unfaithful to the KingLeontes and trying to conspire with Camillo to have Leontes killed. Hermionehas several long monologues throughout this scene. She carries herself withgrace and sophistication through the whole ordeal and speaks on her own behalf. Right of the batQueen Hermione is aware that whatever she has to say will seldom make adifference in King Leontes deciding if she guilty or not:Since what I am to say must be but thatWhich contradicts my accusation andThe testimony on my part no otherBut what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot meTo say ‘not guilty. mine integrityBeing counted falsehood, shall, as I express it,Be so received. (III.ii.
22-26) In this quote Queen Hermione is saying that whatever she says willbe in her defense, but that if her only defense is coming from her, and she isbelieved to a lying adulteress, then there is really no point in her trying todefend herself. This shows how powerless an accusation from a man in power, herhusband, the king, makes Hermione and leaves her with very little options. Nevertheless,Queen Hermione continues in her defense and comments about how ludicrous it isfor her to even be in this position.
…For behold meA fellow of the royal bed, which oweA moiety of the throne a great king’s daughter,The mother to a hopeful prince, here standingTo prate and talk for life and honour ‘foreWho please to come and hear. (III.ii. 37-42) Hermione cannot believe that even though she slept at the KingLeontes’ side for many years she is still being treated like a common criminal.She also brings up her status as the daughter of a king and the mother to thefuture king.
She is incredulous to the fact that she has to defend her life andher honor to whoever cares to listen. Hermione maintains her honor throughoutthe scene and refuses to give in to Leontes’ constant jabs. Although it mighthave been easier on her to lie and pretend to be remorseful, Hermione decidesto stand up for herself, “More than mistress of /Which comes to me in name of fault, I must not / At allacknowledge.” Hermione admits that she is not perfect but her pride is toostrong to acknowledge faults that are not hers.
Leontes is furious that hecannot get Hermione to confess and retorts, “As you were past all shame,— /Those of your fact are so—so past all truth…” By that he meansthat like all unfaithful women without shame, she is also without any truth.After this misogynistic comment, he threatens her with unimaginable punishment. Hermione address her husband’s threats.
She uses a metaphor in reference to them, “The bug with which you wouldfright me with I seek.” The use of the word bug in place of threats or deathseems like an interesting choice. It paints an image of a child chasing anotherchild around with an insect of some sort. Because at this point in the play hersituation seems hopeless, this feeling of hopelessness leads to a cynical andbiting tone within the rest of the speech.
Hermione does not fear death anymorebecause at this point she believes it would be a break or release from hersituation. She has been lost the favor of her husband and is being kept awayfrom his first-born child, Mamillius, “like on infectious.” Hermione feels likeshe has been cast away, isolated, like a quarantined leper.
And much like aleper, Hermione feels like she has been demoted in society and somehow markedas being impure. She further confronts Leontes, and sarcastically asks him whathe thinks she has to live for. She knows that Leontes had made his mind upabout her and that life hold little prospect for her after losing favor withthe King. She knows that her husband’s prejudice toward her and all women won’tlet him see the truth and implore the god Apollo to judge her. As they arewaiting for the oracle to appear, Hermione makes that comment that she wishesher father, the Emperor of Russia, was alive to see his daughter being treatedlike this. This is very interesting, because it shows that Hermione recognizesthat the world she is living in is male-dominated and that in order to get outof the predicament she currently finds herself in, she needs the support orsponsorship of a man in a position of power.
When the oraclefinally enters and proclaims Hermione’s innocence, King Leontes refuses tobelieve it. The death of Mamillius is soon announced after that and Hermionedies of grief. In the Winter’s Tale, by William Shakespeare,Queen Hermione is falsely accused of adultery, by her husband, King Leontes.Even after being shown with proof of his wife’s innocence, King Leontesmisogynistic believes impede him from accepting his wife’s innocence. Afterbeing put in jail, losing her children, and being forced to defend her honor,King Leontes’ misogyny ultimately causes the death of Hermione in the thirdact.