Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale
Life in the pastoral world creates a false identity which consequently leads to a fabricated reality, where the cycle of madness increases.
There is no such thing as perfect nature, but Shakespeare is mending the situation by combining elements of nature and the arts to create the pastoral setting reminiscent of unresolved elements. Shakespeare's The Winter Tale represents losing one’s mind which causes one to seek a pastoral escape. However, this escape lacks any resolutions. Leontes, as well as some of the other main characters including Hermione, Florizel, Polixenes, and Camillo, convey an endless cycle of realism with ambiguous unsolved situations. The function of this royal escape into nature evokes characters into a state of delusion. As a result of losing one’s mind, one’s misunderstandings of actuality activate the pastoral drama, leading up to unrealistic beliefs that shape reality to one’s own fantasies.
The role of escaping to a pastoral setting in The Winter’s Tale correlates to losing one’s mind. Leontes revels in accepting his dear wife Hermione to be guilty of cheating on him:
Leontes: Make that thy question, and go rot! Dost think I am so muddy, so unsettled. To appoint myself in this vexation? (I. ii, 325-327)
Leontes abuses his authority as a king, ruler, and jealous husband who willfully becomes green-eyed of his wife’s and Polixenes’ supposed affair. He disproves of any soul to go against his word. In addition, he becomes mad with passion and vulgar. Thus, the pastoral ambiance permits disturbing characteristics to arise out of internal chaos and outwardly displaying it. Jerry Bryant, author of “The Winter Tale and the Pastoral Tradition”, comments on Leontes being delusional. He states, “Suddenly, without warning, he (Leontes) is seized by an unreasoning, unfounded certainty of his wife’s infidelity (Bryant 395)”. Bryant regards Leontes as being psychologically unstable. Leontes’s anger is deep rooted and has no evidentiary basis, which is what the pastoral drama provides. Leontes is committed to his own beliefs, disregarding anyone’s opinions whatsoever.
Leontes disregards all things obvious. Blinded by his own jealousy, he starts to rant. His use of the word “nothing” implies that he is obsessive with “nothing”. He is slowly but surely going mad to the extent that nothing in the world means any kind of value to him. Leontes disregards his wife, the sky, his country, life.
Leontes: Is whispering nothing?..That would unseen be wicked? Is this nothing? The covering sky is nothing. Bohemia nothing. My wife is nothing, nor nothing have threes nothings, If this be nothing. (I. ii. 284-296)
Leontes’ royal aura deludes reality given the state of the pastoral setting. Leontes’ jealousy happens before going to the pastoral setting, in Bohemia. Leontes experiences a series of downward spiral of events, due to his extreme superstition, emptiness, and idealistic views on reality. In Peter Lindenbaum’s journal article, “Time, Sexual Love, and the Uses of Pastoral in The Winter’s Tale”, he stated, “It was Leontes’ diseased “affection” which so blinded him to the truth. (Lindenbaum 18)” Leontes’ desire was unnatural to actuality.
Practicality is forgotten amongst all the chaos in The Winter’s Tale before Shakespeare introduces you to the peaceful pastoral setting. The pastoral theme evokes a test of time as a situation evolves. The fusion of the past and present combine and thus inhibits a resolution from being able to occur.
Paulina: But yet, Hermione was not so much wrinkled, nothing So aged as this seems. (V.iii. 27-29)
This passage suggests an element of irrational nature. Hermione, Leontes' wife, suddenly reappeared after 16 years of isolation, simply. This is a positive redemption of sin, it seems. This chaotic aspect of nature to replenish what has happened in the past seems artistic and natural. Practicality introduces the idea that there is no need for pastoral escape. Nonetheless, the pastoral effect implies that nature is wild, irrational, and does not provide a clear resolution. In Philip Weinstein's "An Interpretation of Pastoral in The Winter's Tale", he directs his attention to the pastoral theme’s stimulation. He states, "Indeed, from this lack of resolution the scene attains its vivid and conflict-breeding realism (so unexpected in pastoral). (Weinstein 97)" In addition, pastoral scenes ironically provoke isolation and incomprehension to others:
Hermione: Sir, You speak a language that I understand not: My life stands in the level of your dreams, Which I'll lay down.
Leontes: Your actions are my dreams. You had a bastard by Polixenes, And I but dream'd it! (III. ii. 77-82)
Leontes verbalizes passionately his desire while confronting his wife Hermione. His mind is unrealistically thinking, as his fantasies are taking over. However, he speaks honestly of his internal distinctions. Leontes is becoming increasingly delusional. Weinstein adds that "Dreams in this case lead to illusion and madness"(Weinstein 100). Leontes is going through a psychological disturbance in a pastoral setting. Nature, thus, does not bring out the peaceful connotations we imagine it to do.
In Act V, scene iii, the "statue" of Hermione is revealed to be Hermione herself, after being isolated for 16 years. She reappears, and is first witnessed to resemble a statue. When this statue comes to life it shocks all of the people in The Winter’s Tale. The bear matches up with the conclusion of the play as well. When the bear kills Antigonus, the chaotic setting permeates throughout. This influences Leontes’ madness. The madness in turn occurs for the play to come back to a normal position and state. The ultimate interaction between art and nature is evident in the pastoral life. Hermione’s reemergence creates complications and confusion when her husband Leontes finds her alive.
Leontes: Oh, she’s warm! If this be magic, let it be an art Lawful as eating. (V. iii 109-111)
Surrounding the nature is a vivid underlying feature that permeates throughout the play: a cycle of bewilderment. Gurr states, “Hermione’s statue and its restoration to life is a thoroughly unShakespearean theatrical shock tactic. (Gurr 1)” In essence, Hermione’s recovery initiates a time freeze, where it is common to question the reasoning about everything in life. The pastoral elements are dark and disturbing in various ways.
Madness is a characteristic common in this play. Pastoral scenes often give the illusion and impression of easing anxiety, however, in The Winter’s Tale, madness arises, psychologically and externally.
Camillo: Be advis'd.
Florizel: I am: and by my fancy. If my reason Will thereto to obedient, I have reason; If not, my senses, better pleas'd with madness, Do bid it welcome.
Camillo: This is desperate, sir. (VI. iv. 540-542)
Camillo and Florizel express a form of madness with their communication in the pastoral setting. There is relationship between fantasy and reality, once more. On the one hand, Florizel is not able to fully commit to his responsibility in the public. Still, he realizes that he has certain obligations to family matters and expectations which he must oblige by. His private expectations and desires, thus, do not forgo accordingly. Weinstein states that, "Rather than assimilate he (Florizel) will discard, and he chooses the less demanding stance of either-or. (Weinstein 104)” In addition, in the midst of this pastoral drama, Florizel is not able to fully evolve and grow as an individual. He is in a cycle of madness, where his life path is determined by discounting progress and development. His decisions that he communicates to his father are vague and indirect.
Polixenes: Reason my son Should choose himself a wife, but as good reason The father (all whose joy is nothing else But for posterity) should hold some counsel In such business.
Florizel: I yield all this. (IV. iv. 407-411)
Florizel exhibits an indirect mechanism when he converses with his father. Florizel's response is ambiguous and defensive, in the ways he addresses his father. Florizel generates suppressive answers as he feels he cannot alter his father’s decisions. Florizel was already calm and cool, but his father intensifies it by ordering him to make certain sacrifices. Thus, Florizel cannot escape into the pastoral setting. The pastoral air is minimizing his authoritative spirit and hindering his internal desire to fully advance and resolve his situation. As Florizel experiences an intricate dilemma, he ignores it altogether. Weinstein states, “Faced with a situation too difficult to resolve, he chooses flight rather than integration. (Weinstein105)” Polixenes has concerns for his country and it’s the overall state, yet his son is not able to be confronted with this information unshakably. He would rather dismiss it than focus on it. His reason is that he would rather live in a state of peacefulness and serenity, much like it is in the pastoral template. However, his mind set is not fully capable of making decisions that are applicable in the real world. The pastoral theme in The Winter’s Tale generates individuals to exhibit egocentric characteristics, surprisingly, rather than uniformity.
Florizel is not able to resolve his status when he falls in love with Perdita. Florizel and Perdita are both present and amidst the pastoral setting all throughout the play, with flowers, art, nature, and the shepherdess due to everyone else’s chaos. However, Florizel compliments Perdita on her beauty and grace when she is surrounded by the flowers. On the other hand, Perdita tells Florizel that she believes common flowers and royal flowers should not mix in the work of love and life. Ironically, she referred to the royal and common blood mixing. They are both born royal, however:
Florizel: "mend nature--change it rather"(IV.iv.96-97)
Florizel and Perdita have a moment in The Winter’s Tale, during the spring time, to be amidst the pastoral setting and communicate about their feelings.
Without the dramatic cascade of detrimental everlasting events, the characters would not be encouraged to seek out pastoral setting in an effort to release their anxieties. The main characters from The Winter’s Tale visually portray aspects of the unknown, of uncertainty. They initially escape the royal world, expecting carefree interactions which consist of sex, shepherds, and flowers (nature). However, the proceedings lead up to events which are unresolved in reality.
Pastoral settings commonly alleviate tension and suspicion. On the contrary, in The Winter’s Tale, suspicion increases as does the tension. Thus, one causes the other to occur. The characters go mad, experience jealousy, disregard reality, and ignore public responsibility. Pastoral themes tie every previous element together, to incorporate the vast majority of unresolved consequences. The characters communicate to one another and connect on a superficial level, however. Thus, there is an internal need to escape into the pastoral setting. Despite being in a pastoral setting, we see no solution being resolved. The problems are just forgotten or masked.
Life in the pastoral world creates a false identity which consequently leads to a fabricated reality, where the cycle of madness increases and resolution decreases. The characters are afraid of growth and improvement so they stay in a pastoral cycle of acceptability, where dreams are accepted as truth. While the character’s intention is to solve their problems they escape to a pastoral setting. However, while it does make the characters forget about their problems, their problems do not get solved. Leaving the pastoral escape initiates Leontes’ jealousy and equals his delusion. Leontes’ total psychotic state forces the character to seek a pastoral setting. This physical setting is the complete opposite of the psychological setting in Leontes’ mind. This causes him to rethink everything yet still leaves his problems unsolved.