Monday, 8 October 2012

What role do prophecies and the gods play in the The Winter's Tale?

In the play, The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare, the life of King Leontes of Sicilia is displayed as he battles the trials of love, friendship, marriage and regret. Leontes has accused his wife, Hermione of adultery with his child hood friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia. This claim dissolves throughout the play as Leontes breaks apart his family due to his jealous impulse and highlights the influence of Greek mythology, prophecies and gods. The Oracle of Apollo played an essential role in the play, as Leontes relied on the judgement as proof to his claim that Hermione was an adulterous woman who conspired with Camillo to have him killed. He was sure of his wife’s guilt and was only interested in the Oracle’s solidification of his perceptions. He therefore, sent Cleomenes and Dion to Delphos to receive the judgement. The doubt of those around him, such as Archidamus and one of his lords, who both swore that Hermione was truly innocent, Leontes pushed for the celestial input. Leontes’ lack of proof for his claims against Hermione is greater reason for him to seek the aid of the Oracle of Apollo. Hermione in despair called out for the assistance of Apollo, in order to escape the adulterous crimes that restrained her. Hermione cries out
“I do refer me to the Oracle: Apollo be my judge!”
in desperate hope to reassure her innocence and regain the respect of her husband and reunite with her two children. Moreover, In Act Three, Scene One, the audience witnesses Cleomenes and Dion returning to Sicilia. The two comment on their trip to Greece and express their dislike for the charges that are forced upon their noble Queen, Hermione. Both men hope that the judgement of the oracle will truly prove that the King was mistaken and the Queen ever faithful, true and virtuous. In Scene Two, Hermione is put to trial by her husband. The judgement from the Oracle is revealed:
“Hermione is chaste; Polixenes blameless; Camillo a true subject; Leontes a jealous tyrant; his innocent babe truly begotten; and the king will live without an heir, if that which is lost be not found.”
The Oracle divulges the true characters of those in question and helps to foreshadow the upcoming events of the play. The news of Hermione’s innocence after word from the Oracle does not change Leontes’ mind however, his jealousy takes full control of him as he dismisses the judgement. The prophecy made by the Oracle however, quickly fulfils with the death of the Sicilian prince, Mamillius and the death of the queen Hermione following. The King is left without a family and no knowledge of his begotten infant’s location. Furthermore, the love of Florizel and Perdita surrounded itself with many symbolic references to gods. In Act Four, Scene Four, the fresh and youthful love was symbolic of spring, and is seen in the line
“But Flora peering in Aprils Front...”
as Flora is the goddess of nature. Moreover, the reference to Flora could also be symbolic of Perdita’s innocence and beauty. This reveals to the audience that the characters in the play were very superstitious, and deeply believed in honoring the gods, this is highlighted in the line
“this your sheep-shearing is as a meeting of the petty gods,”
as the sheep shearing was a pagan festival, and was a celebration of the gods. Florizel claims that
“ the god’s themselves humbling their deities to love”,
which is seen as his way of persuading Perdita to fall in love for the gods will allow it as they do among themselves. He continues to compare the beauty of gods, such as Jupiter, Neptune and Golden Apollo to the youthful beauty of Perdita, claiming that they cannot compare to her. Even the love that is shared is influenced by the prophetic gods that are sovereign. Prophecies and gods, play a key role in the play, The Winter’s Tale. The plot is based on Leontes attempt to prove his wife an adulterer, however the influence of the prophecies and gods prove otherwise and deter the outcome hoped by the king. The many comparisons and references made to the Greek and Roman gods throughout the play solidified their influence in the play’s plot but also the lives of the characters.


  1. Wow!! what a wonderful review. It is important to note in this time period seeking help from gods was very important. I enjoyed your review and you exceeded expectations of the assignment. Please when you are quoting that you place the appropriate scenes and place a reference spot at the end.

    N. Buffonge

  2. I like the fact that your essays are very lengthly and the content is as well composed and filled with information. And again,great use of language. :)