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Write on Nature and Art in The Winter’s Tale. Your essay should consider their roles in the plot as well as their thematic presence.

Write on Nature and Art in The Winter’s Tale. Your essay should consider their roles in the plot as well as their thematic presence.

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In this essay I analyse the art/nature dichotomy of Shakespeare's 'Winter's Tale'.
In this essay I analyse the art/nature dichotomy of Shakespeare's 'Winter's Tale'.

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Student Name:
Robert Kiely
Student Number:
Word Count:
1,700 (not including quotes)
Course Code:
Write on Nature and Art in
The Winter’s Tale
. Your essay should considertheir roles in the plot as well as their thematic presence.
The Winter’s Tale
is a play which is resolutely ambiguous in many ways;for example, on the theme of art and nature. In the overall scheme of the play,certain characters embody either art or nature:Leontes, in his absurd, unfounded, self-generating jealousy and hate,represents art. His jealousy is artificial in the sense that he has constructed it outof so little; merely out of Hermione’s ability to convince Polixenes to stay, andholding hands. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy with not basis in reality (i.e. thenatural world). In this sense, his jealousy is
.Hermione and Perdita, meanwhile, embody nature. They are virtuous,innocent, wholesome, patient, and are ‘passive agents of redemption’ who do not‘initiate any action’.
They are the idealised feminine, and nature is always personified as a woman, a goddess (Persephone, Demeter). Interestingly, Leontescalls Perdita a ‘goddess’ when he first sees her (Act 5. Scene 1. Line 130).Autolycus, who plays numerous roles, from beggar to noble, symbolizesthe power of art. He is, however, ambiguous – he steals from people, but he alsokeeps it a secret that Florizel and Perdita have run away to Sicilia, although for the wrong reasons (4.4.675-8). He imitates, cons, lies, and counterfeits – allnegative aspects of art. Yet this deceptive character facilitates a happy ending.There is a moral ambiguity about this comic figure, which seems beyondresolution. Notice that in the general scheme of the play, it seems that art is negative; ittries to usurp nature, imprison it, imitate it. Art appears to be founded on lies andimitation; it is not the thing-in-itself, but a thing which is not what it seems.
It isdeceptive, and based on interference with nature. But nature, far from beingcompletely positive, is at work in the bear and storm too (3.3).
Can thisdichotomy between art and nature be resolved? It appears to be in the statue,which will be discussed later.
Dolora Cunningham, ‘Conflicting Images of the Comic Heroine’, in Maurice Charney (ed.)
“Bad” Shakespeare: Revaluations of the Shakespeare Canon
(London: Associated UniversityPresses, 1988), 120-9: 127.
However, art also leads, by way of the statue, to a resolution.
Cf.: William Shakespeare, and Stephen Orgel (ed.),
The Winter’s Tale
(Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press, 1996), 39: ‘…the bear assures us that nature in this play is no kinder thancivilization.’
3In the first section of the play, the conflict between Leontes and Hermionehas a thematic resonance with the conflict between art and nature. When Leontesspeaks of nature, it is in the following sense:
How sometimes nature will betray its folly,Its tenderness, and make itself a pastimeTo harder bosoms! (1.1.150-2)
 Nature here is spoken of in negative terms. It has a ‘folly’ to ‘betray’, and it provides ‘amusement for those who are more hard-hearted’.
. It is obvious thathe is making being derogatory towards ‘nature’, and specifically, Hermione, towhom he is speaking. Here ‘nature’ is also referring to a demeanour or character-trait, but the thematic link between the oppositions of ‘art vs. natureand‘Leontes vs. Hermione’ is being made very clear.This tension is heightened in the scene where Hermione and Mamillius arehaving a moment of wholesome family discussion, which is broken up byLeontes’ artificial contrivances. Leontes severs the natural bond of mother andchild (2.1). However, Leontes cannot halt the flow of nature; he can imprisonHermione, as he does (2.1.102), but he cannot stop the birth of the child whomhe considers a ‘bastard’ (2.3.73). Nature is intimately linked with Perditathroughout the play, from her birth onwards. Paulina highlights this:
This child was prisoner to the womb and isBy law and process of great nature thenceFreed and enfranchised, not a party toThe anger of the king nor guilty of,If any be, the trespass of the queen. (2.2.58)
Perdita in birth transcends the current conflict. The artifice of the prisoncannot stop natural processes; art proves to be weaker than ‘great nature’. Naturehas also provided Hermione with company in prison she ‘receives muchcomfort in’t’ (2.2.26) – and it offers a possible resolution – Paulina believesLeontes ‘may soften at the sight o’th’ child’ (2.2.39).When Paulina attempts to reason with Leontes, she appeals to nature – again emphasizing the fact that Leontes is in opposition to it.
And, might we lay the old proverb to your charge,So like you, 'tis the worse. Behold, my lords,Although the print be little, the whole matter 
Ibid., 103: footnotes 151-2.

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