Deception in 'The Winter's Tale'

A.P. Riemer


Deception is the keystone of The Winter's Tale. 1 Paulina's sixteen-year torment or testing of the contrite Leontes gives shape and purpose to the play's diffuse and wayward progress. Far from being an afterthought, as many have suspected, Hermione's return in the last scene provides the necessary and inevitable conclusion to the many narrative strands brought together in this improbable tale. No other ending would satisfy, nothing else could achieve the unique effect of The Winter's Tale: the play reveals itself to be a unified artistic whole, despite its prolixity, despite the apparent lack of a central narrative thread, despite the patent absurdity of its sensational finale. Hermione's 'resurrection' fulfils more than the promise of the oracle:

Hermione is chaste; Polixenes is blameless; Camillo a true subject; Leontes a jealous tyrant; his innocent babe truly begotten; and the king shall live without an heir, if that which is lost be not found. (III. ii. 132-6)

It also fulfils the formal, emotional and perhaps even philosophical implications of this complex and disconcerting play.

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