The Winter's Tale | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Winter's Tale | Act 5, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

Leontes and the other principals gather at Paulina's gallery (or perhaps it is a chapel) to view the newly fashioned statue of Hermione. When Paulina draws a curtain to reveal the statue, all are struck by the vivid likeness. The sculptor seems even to have accounted for the passage of time, carving the image to resemble Hermione as if 16 years have passed. Perdita kneels to entreat her mother's blessing, and Leontes is moved to tears. He wants to kiss the statue, but Paulina insists that he not do so, saying that he will mar the fresh paint. Asserting that she is not dabbling in magic, Paulina calls for music and commands the statue to descend. To the amazement of the onlookers, Hermione returns to life. She embraces Leontes. Then, amazed herself, she shares a reunion with her daughter Perdita. Amid general rejoicing, Leontes urges Camillo to take Paulina, Antigonus's widow, by the hand and then to marry her.

Analysis

The preceding scene has prepared the ground for the play's climax, the so-called statue scene. The staging of the play's final scene presents unusual challenges and opportunities to directors. Setting, pacing, sound effects, and the actors' movements may all be manipulated for magical and intensely emotional effects.

For the story of a woman's statue come to life, Shakespeare is in debt to the tale of Pygmalion, recounted in Ovid's (43 BCE–17 CE) Metamorphoses. This myth focused on the love conceived by a brilliant sculptor for a statue he created. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, rewarded him by bringing the statue to life.

However, the question of how to interpret this scene is a fraught one: it may be a miracle, but the statue's representation is of an older Hermione, Paulina's insistence that Leontes not kiss the statue, and the stage-y quality of the statue's sudden animation, all suggests that the magical event is fabricated. If so Paulina and Hermione may be attempting to provide Leontes with a "miracle" to allow him to feel more fully redeemed—or they may be trying to cover up a 16-year-old plot to hide Hermione until Leontes had learned his lesson.

The play's conclusion conforms to the time-honored formula of Greek New Comedy and its Roman descendants, whereby the finale of a comedy featured one or more weddings. Here the unions are of three different types: young lovers (Perdita and Florizell), an older couple (Paulina and Camillo), and an estranged pair now reconciled and restored to one another (Hermione and Leontes). However, this happy ending is conditional: Hermione and Leontes's son and heir, Mamillius, is permanently dead, and 16 years have still been lost.

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