“The larger, unspoken question is – what do we do about, how do we cope with, our inescapable sexuality?”

The Winter’s Tale

Act One, Part Two

By Dennis Abrams

————————-

From Bloom:

the winter's tale mckellen“Ideologues do not cluster around The Winter’s Tale, as they do around The Tempest, so neither performance nor commentary is much politicized, even in these bad days. I treasure my memory of seeing John Gielgud as Leontes in Edinburgh in the summer of 1951, superbly incarnating the madness of sexual jealousy, while subtly hinting that his paranoia stemmed from too close an identity with Polixenes. My inner ear still retains Gielgud’s troubled rasping of the monosyllables that constitute Leontes’ first words in the play, spoken to Polixenes, supposedly to delay his departure to his kingdom of Bohemia.

     Stay your thanks, a while,

And pay them when you part.

(I.ii.9-10)

The crucial foreground of The Winter’s Tale emerges from a famous declaration of Polixenes that describes the boyhood he shared with Leontes:

We were as twinn’d lambs that did frisk i’ the sun,

And bleat the one at the other: what we chang’d

Was innocence for innocence: we know not

The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dream’d

That any did. Had we pursu’d that life,

And our weak spirits ne’er been higher rear’d

With stronger blood, we should have answer’d heaven

Boldly ‘not guilty,’ the imposition clear’d

Hereditary ours.

(I.ii.67-75)

What was this ‘innocence for innocence/” The ‘imposition…/Hereditary ours’ has to be Original Sin. Does Polixenes know exactly what he is saying? Presumably he means that, could they have been cleared of the sin where they began, which Christianity insists is their sin, though it was done long before them by Adam, then they could have pled ‘not guilty’ to heaven. But Shakespeare has Polixenes say more than he means, and an actual freedom from Adam’s sin thus is suggested. The love between the two pre-adolescent boys seems not to have marked Polixenes, but it may well be the root of Leontes’s madness. Leontes’s wife Hermione playfully suggests that ‘Your queen and I are devils,’ hardly the opinion of Polixenes, but we wonder about Leontes, who asks his wife, ‘Is he won yet?’ She jests about their courtship, but the equivocal quality is there again in Leontes’s response:

     Why, that was when

Three crabbed months had sour’d themselves to death,

Ere I could make thee open thy white hand,

And clap thyself my love; then didst thou utter

‘I am yours for ever.’

(I.ii.101-5)

There is a sly grudge still in that ‘crabbed’ and ‘sour’d,’ and the image of the betrothal handshake immediately grates against the image of Hermione’s hand extended to Polixenes in friendship. Leontes’ aside inaugurates the true action of the play:

     Too hot, too hot!

To mingle friendship far, is mingling bloods.

I have tremor cordis on me: my heart dances,

But not for joy – not joy. This entertainment

May a free face put on, derive a liberty

From heartiness, from bounty, fertile bosom,

And well become the agent: ‘t may, I grant:

But to be paddling palms, and pinching fingers,

As now they are, and making practis’d smiles

As in a looking-glass, and then to sign, as ‘twere

The mort o’ th’ deer – O, that is entertainment

My bosom likes not, nor my brows. Mamillius,

Art thou my boy?

(I.ii.l08-20)

the winter's tale mckellen 2Leontes, quite mad with the illness of sexual jealousy, represents a more refined version of that grand malady than Othello manifested. Shakespeare, the world’s obsessive authority on cuckoldry, perhaps was a little mad on the subject himself. Proust, who went to school with Shakespeare to perfect his own comedy of sexual jealousy, surpasses even Shakespeare in the humor of the obsession, but not in the murderous madness of it:

Affection! thy intention stabs the centre:

Thou dost make possible things not so held,

Commicat’st with dreams, — how can this be? –

With what’s unreal thou coactive art,

And fellow’st nothing: they ‘tis very credent

Thou  mayst co-join with something; and thou dost,

(And that beyond commission) and I find it,

(And that to the infection of my brains

And hard’ning of my brows).

(I.ii.138-46)

‘Affection’ here means both lustful desire and sexual jealousy, each active enough to encourage Leontes’s deep need for betrayal. ‘Nothing’ is the key; the repressed longing for, and active horror of, betrayal by Hermione with Polixenes is founded upon a nihilistic sense of the abyss of personal nothingness. Nothing is but what is not, and dream yields an amalgam of imposture and irreality. ‘Your actions are my dreams,’ Hermione will be told by her husband. Leontes advances on both Iago and Edmund in his nihilistic worship of what is not. Shakespeare evokes both our horror of falling into the hell of jealousy and our fellow feeling with Leontes’s sense of having been outraged, even though he alone is the outrager.

     Gone already!

Inch-thick, knee deep; o’er head and ears a fork’d one.

Go, play, boy, play: thy mother plays, and I

Play too, but so disgrac’d a part, whose issue

Will hiss me to my grave: contempt and clamour

Will be my knell. Go, play, boy, play. There have been,

(Or I am much deceiv’d) cuckolds ere now,

And many a man there is (even at this present,

Now, while I speak this) holds his wife by th’ arm,

That little thinks she has been sluic’d in’s absence

And his pond fish’d by his next neighbour, by

Sir Smile, his neighbour: nay, there’s comfort in’t.

Whiles other man have gates, and those gates open’d,

As mine, against their will. Should all despair

That have revolted wives, the tenth of mankind

Would hang themselves. Physic for’t there’s none,

It is a bawdy planet, that will strike

Where ‘tis predominant, and ‘tis powerful, think it,

From east, west, north, and south; be it concluded,

No barricade for a belly. Know’t,

It will let in and out the enemy,

With bag and baggage: many thousand on ‘s

Have the disease, and feel’t not.

(I.ii.185-207)

The wonderfully dreadful zest of this is infections; the energy of Leontes’s diseased sexual imagination is endowed by Shakespeare with an irresistible force. Male fear and resentment of women emerge with comic genius in the vicious eloquence of

That little thinks she had been sluic’d in ‘s absence

And his pond fish’d by his next neighbour, by

Sir Smile, his neighbour.

Leontes, in his rage, gives all crazed husbands their permanent mottos. ‘It is a bawdy planet,’ and the vivid ‘No barricade for a belly.’ His nihilistic transport, at once a frenzy and an ecstasy, reaches it sublime in a litany of nothings:

     Is whispering nothing?

Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses?

Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career

Of laughing with a sigh (a note infallible

Of breaking honesty)? horsing foot on foot?

Skulking in corners? wishing clocks more swift?

Hours, minutes? noon, midnight? and all eyes

Blind with the pin and web, but theirs; theirs only.

That would unseen be wicked? is this nothing?

Why then the world, and all that’s in’t, is nothing,

The covering sky is nothing, Bohemia nothing,

My wife is nothing, nor nothing have these nothings,

If this be nothing.

(I.ii.284-96)

Leontes’s tonalities have a rising intensity matchless even in Shakespeare. Though he will subside into sanity and repentance in Act III, Scene ii, his enormous interest for audience and readers is what vivifies the first half of the play. The second half will have Autolycus, and Perdita, but until we reach the seacoast of Bohemia (created to infuriate Ben Jonson), Leontes carries The Winter’s Tale. Whether his madness or his nihilism counts as the truer starting point, he is one of  Shakespeare’s high priests of ‘nothing,’ a worthy a successor to Iago and to Edmund. Frank Kermode rightly speaks of ‘the more intellectual torments of Leontes’ as compared with the inarticulate sufferings of Othello. Leontes is intellectual enough to have become a nihilist, but why does Shakespeare also confer upon the King of Sicilia the dark distinction of being the outstanding misogynist in all the plays? The alliance of misogyny and nihilism is one of the greater Shakespearean insights into male nature, and prompted aspects of Nietzsche’s uncannier broodings. Leontes, in his greatest tirade, opens with ‘Is whispering nothing?’ and then follows with ten more rhetorical questions before the word nothing returns in the twelfth question. ‘Is this nothing?’ His answer will give us seven more nothings in three and a half lines.

Why then the world, and all that’s in’t, is nothing.

The covering sky is nothing, Bohemia nothing,

My wife is nothing, nor nothing have these nothings,

If this be nothing.

(I.ii.293-296)

Leontes, nothing himself (as he secretly fears), beholds what is not there, as well as the nothing that is. Shakespeare’s winter’s tale gives us a mind of winter unable to cease its reductions until the deaths of others (deaths both real and apparent) shock it back to reality. I remember Gielgud, needing to cope with the decline of his role into endless repentance, playing Leontes in Act V with a kind of gingerly alertness that brilliantly suggested a man who fears sudden engulfment by a tidal wave of nothingness. Whether or not there is repressed homosexuality in Leontes’s aberration, Shakespeare’s principal clue to us for the king’s jealous madness is the idea of tyranny, which is the judgment of Leontes’s courtiers, and of the oracle of Apollo at Delphos:

OFF: [Reads] Hermione is chaste; Polixenes 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.132-36)

To see sexual jealousy and metaphysical nihilism as modes of tyranny has its own interest, but it still leaves dark the cause of Leontes’s madness. Cause and effect are fictions, according to Nietzsche, who again follows in Shakespeare’s wake. As our profoundest student of the dangerous prevalence of the imagination, Shakespeare takes a final step beyond Macbeth’s proleptic genius in Leontes’s phantasmagoria. Where there is nothing, everything is possible. Schlegel, made uneasy by this irrationality, presumed to lecture Shakespeare on his omission of some provocation for Leontes. ‘In fact, the poet might perhaps have wished slightly to indicate that Hermione, though virtuous, was too warm in her efforts to please Polixenes.’ Coleridge was nearer the mark in saying that Shakespeare’s description of Leontes’s jealousy was ‘perfectly philosophical,’ which I take to mean that Shakespeare had isolated the metaphysical basis of sexual jealousy, the fear that there will not be space enough and time enough for oneself. Proust charmingly compared the passion of the jealous lover to the zeal of the art historian. The tyranny of an insatiable curiosity becomes an obsession with the possible, in which one tries to fend off one’s own mortality and thereby risks the hideous immortality of Spenser’s Malbecco, whose fate Shakespeare certainly had pondered:

Yet he can never dye, but dying lives,

And doth himselfe with sorrow new sustaine,

That death and life attonce unto him gives.

And painefull pleasure turnes to pleasing paine.

There dwels he ever, miserable swaine,

Hatefull both to himselfe, and every wight;

Where he through privy griefe, and horrour vaine,

Is waxen so deform’d,, that he has quight

Forgot he was a man, and Gealosie is hight.

———————————–

And from Tanner:

winter_1969_small“Thunder from a clear sky. For the ancient Greeks, it bespoke the gods – was the gods speaking. It is the sign given to Odysseus before he re-enters his home. Oedipus knows the gods are calling him to his mysterious death by ‘harsh and constant thunder.’ It is heard again in this play by Cleomenes and Dion on their visit to the oracle:

     the burst

And the ear-deaf’ning voice o’ th’ oracle,

Kin to Jove’s thunder

(III.i.8-10)

But there is thunder out of a clear sky among mortals, too. Leontes’ sudden jealousy is not animated, motivated, precipitated by anything at all – not even the insinuations of a Iago or the goadings of an Iachimo. Nothing. It just erupts, explodes, bursts – thunder from a clear sky. E.M.W. Tillyard refers to the ‘god-sent lunacies’ of the Greeks – Ajax, Heracles. This is apt enough, but Shakespeare makes it clear that there is no influence working on Leontes outside his own sick mind and ‘pestered’ senses. His destructive outburst is another ‘great fail’ – perhaps the greatest one in Shakespeare. What might be involved in effecting any kind of restoration after the damage he has caused (not least to himself) occupies the rest of the play.

As in Pericles we have three acts showing the destruction and scattering of a royal family; a fourth act centering on the long-lost daughter; and a final act dedicated to recognitions and family reunion. But Pericles was quite blameless for what befalls him and his family; whereas Leontes is the absolute author of, and exclusively responsible for, the disasters that destroy his house. Not that Shakespeare is offering a dramatization of the etiology of jealousy, a psychological tracing of its inception and its workings. He simply starts with the final explosion, and an incredible feeling of out-of-nowhere-ness. It is instructive to compare this opening with that of his main source for the play, the romance Pandosto by Robert Greene. (In part, Shakespeare follows Greene very closely – there are more echoes of his source than in any other play; but he makes some absolutely crucial changes, to which I will come.

Greene starts his tale with a long paragraph moralizing on the dangers of jealousy: ‘Among all the passions wherewith human mindes are perplexed, there is none that so galleth with restlesse despight, as the infectious soare of jealousy,’ and so on. The story starts with a description of the growing affectionate friendship between Bellaria (Hermione) and Egistus (Polixenes), beloved friend of Pandosto (Leontes). Bellaria is very friendly indeed with Egistus, ‘oftentimes coming her self into his bed chamber, to see that nothing should be amiss to dislike him.’ There is never a hint that this is other than chaste courtesy, though I supposed there are quite a few husbands who might raise the shade of one eyebrow at such demonstrative concern. Their intimacy develops – long walks together, ‘private and pleasant devices’ – until ‘a certaine melancholy passion entering the minde of Pandosto, drave him into sundry and doubtefull thoughts.’

First, he called to minde the beauty of his wife Bellaria, the comeliness and braverie of his friend Egistus, thinking that Love was above all Lawes, and therefore to be staied with no Law: that it was hard to put fire and flaxe together without burning; that their open pleasures might breede his secrete displeasure. He considered with himselfe that Egistus was a man, and must needes love: that his wife was a woman, and therefore subject unto love, and that where fancy forced, friendship was of no force.

These and such like doubtfull thoughts a long time smothering in his stomacke, beganne at last to kindle in his mind a secret mistrust, which increased by suspition, grewe at last to be a flaming Jealousie, that so tormented him as he could take no rest. (my bolds)

And now the story gets under way. Pandosto’s jealousy is very reprehensible, no doubt, and he pays for it. But it is prepared for, explained if not excused, and given a relatively long incubation period before it grows at last to be a ‘flaming Jealousie.’ In Shakespeare’s play there is none of this – we are confronted with spontaneous combustion.

There are two other major changes Shakespeare makes to his source which is worth noting before we consider the play. When the oracle proclaiming Bellaria’s (Hermione’s) innocence is read out, Pandosto (unlike the more deranged Leontes) instantly accepts it, and is ashamed, repentant, apologetic – though it’s too late, of course. His son dies, and then Bellaria dies, and dies in good earnest…[MY NOTE:  I’m skipping a few lines in order not to give away certain plot elements.]

The Winter’s Tale opens in Sicilia, and this marks another, smaller, change which Shakespeare makes to his source. The play moves from Sicilia to Bohemia; in Greene, it is the other way round. (Though Shakespeare gives Bohemia a coast – probably because he wants a shipwreck: it doesn’t matter, any more than it matters that in a play set in a pre-Christian era there are references to an Emperor of Russia, a Puritan, a Renaissance artist, Whitsun pastorals, the betrayal of Christ. This is romance.) Sicilian and Bohemian lord are discussing the very close relationship and amity that exists between their two kings:

Camillo:  They were trained together in their childhoods; and there rooted betwist them then such an affection, which cannot choose but branch now. Since their more mature dignities and royal necessities made separation of their society…they have seemed to be together, though absent: shook hands, as over a vast; and embraced as it were from the ends of opposed winds. The heavens continue their loves!

Archidamus: I think there is not in the world either malice or matter to alter it.

(I.i.23-35)

They conclude by emphasizing the importance of the child, Prince Mamillius, Leontes’ son and heir. The emphasis is both on the two boys’ closeness and near inseparability; and on the inevitable separation occasioned by their ‘more mature dignities and royal necessities.’ What these mature necessities amounted to is indicated by the consequent discussion of the child. Kings must marry and breed. The ‘malice and matter’ which will indeed ‘alter’ the two men’s loving relationship is going to stem from that simple fact.

The second scene opens with Polixenes saying that ‘Nine changes of the wat’ry star’ have passed since his arrival. Here, he mentions the fact to lend force to his insistence that it is high time he returned to his own kingdom. It will soon take on much more importance, since a sojourn of nine months will afford Leontes some ‘matter’ to back up his paranoid insistence that Hermione’s new-born child was fathered by Polixenes. This detail is not in Greene, but is in Ovid in a very different, but perhaps not unrelated context. Metamorphoses includes the story of one of Diana’s nymphs, Callisto, who was raped by Jove. After ‘nine times the crescent moon had filled her orb’ she gives birth, and Diana – thinking Callisto was a willing partner to her unchaste act – is so furious she turns Callisto into a bear. ‘She was a bear, but kept her woman’s heart.’ She is always having to flee from hunters, and is nearly killed by her own son out hunting – Jove intervenes and turns them into stars. It wouldn’t to do make too much of this; but there is an important bear in Shakespeare’s play (probably also being hunted when he kills Antigonus), and I think Bate has a point when she says that both Callisto and Hermione are wrongly accused of conceiving a child out of their own wantonness and lust. Shakespeare uses the bear, but he turns Hermione into something else.

As if to emphasize the importance of breeding, Queen Hermione enters, visibly pregnant. There have been a few pregnant women in Shakespeare’s previous plays: Tamora must be pregnant at one stage in Titus Andronicus; Jaquenetta is mentioned as pregnant in Love’s Labour’s Lost; we are told that a babe has been ‘molded’ in Thaisa, in Pericles, and it is the evidence of sexual activity ‘grossly writ’ on the almost completely silent Juliet that prompts Angelo to initiate his reign of terror in Measure for Measure. But there is nothing like the central focus that there is on the pregnant Hermione who, we soon hear, ‘rounds apace’ and ‘is spread of late into a goodly bulk’ (II.i.16, 20) That growing, unborn babe is, and will provide, vital ‘matter’ – in every sense. ‘Birth’ is what Carol Neely calls ‘the play’s central miracle.’ The word ‘issue’ occurs fourteen times, far more than in any other play; seven times it refers more specifically to children, and seven times more generally to outcome – though, of course, it invariably glances at both. As Cleomenes and Dion return with the ‘sealed up’ oracle, they hope that when the contents come out –

    something rare

Even then will rush to knowledge…

And gracious be the issue!

(III.i.20-22)

The ‘something rare’ will turn out to be the knowledge of Hermione’s innocence, and the  birth of her daughter Perdita – both come in a ‘rush’ and the overall ‘issue’ will, finally, be ‘gracious.’ ‘Thou met’st with things dying, I with things new born’ (III.iii.112-13) is, rightly, a famous and memorable line, but the whole lexicon of pregnancy, birth, breeding, delivery – used literally and metaphorically – is pervasive. The birth of the baby, Perdita, is described in a way which, potentially, generalizes it enormously.

This child was prisoner in the womb and is

By law and process of great Nature thence

Freed, and enfranchised.

(II.ii.58-60)

The ‘law and process of great Nature’ will have to do a great deal of freeing and enfranchising, outside the nursery as well… ‘The metaphors emphasize the fundamental components of the process of reproduction; union and fullness, labour and separation, creation and loss, risk and fulfillment, enclosure and enfranchisement.’ Certainly, the reproductive repair of the damage caused by the two kings is entirely dependent on three women – Hermione, Paulina and Perdita.

The scene proceeds with courtly courtesy as the Queen is enlisted by Leontes to persuade Polixenes to defer his departure. Hermione takes Polixenes back to his childhood relationship with her husband – ‘You were pretty lordlings then?’

     We were, fair Queen,

Two lads that thought there was no more behind

But such a day tomorrow as today,

And to be boy eternal.

(I.ii.62-5)

Psychoanalysts – not that I’m eager to draw them in – recognize what they indeed call a ‘puer eternus’ syndrome, the arrested mental and emotional condition of a man who wishes to remain ‘boy eternal’ and avoid growing up with its attendant responsibilities. Leontes and Polixenes clearly have some of that disposition. Polixenes looks longingly back to when ‘we were as twinned lambs’ and only changed ‘innocence for innocence’; and if, he says, our spirits had ‘ne’er been higher reared/With stronger blood’ we would have remained untainted by original sin (I.ii.67-74). Hermione is quick to see the implication – ‘By this we gather/You have tripped since/’ ‘tripped’ being a nicely polite way of saying ‘fallen.’ The exchange which follows is conducted at the level of decorous banter – but, in retrospect it is heavily ominous:

Polixenes:

     O my most sacred lady,

Temptations have since then been born to’s, for

In those unfledged days was my wife a girl,

Your precious self had not then crossed the eyes

Of my young playfellow.

Hermione:

     Grace to boot!

Of this make no conclusion, lest you say

Your queen and I are devils. Yet go on,

Th’ offenses we have made you do we’ll answer…

(I.ii.75-83)

By Eve man fell – so the Good Book says. Polixenes is blaming the irresistible temptations and compulsions of sex (that ‘stronger blood’ that comes with growth) for the loss of his and Leontes’ ‘innocence’ and their consequent separation, eternal boys no longer. Hermione laughingly points out the damning implications for the two Queens in this line of thinking. This is all courtly playfulness – the sort of poised and witty courtesy appropriate in a regal group. But Hermione is about to be turned into a ‘devil’; and both she and her daughter will be made to ‘answer’ for imaginary offences attributed to their sexuality, or rather their sex. For somewhere in these boy-king, there is a fear of woman as such – a fear which can turn to loathing, as Leontes is about to demonstrate (Leontes is, of course, the guiltiest in this respect, but Polixenes is not exempt, as a later outburst to Perdita will reveal).

Hermione ‘grace-fully’ – and she is, and will prove to be a figure of ‘Grace’ – persuades Polixenes to stay, and Leontes is well pleased. And then, quite suddenly, he is something else.

[Aside]    Too hot, too hot!

To ingle friendship is mingling bloods.

I have tremor cordis on me; my heart dances,

But not for joy, not joy.

(I.ii.108-11)

winters tale art leontesJust what his heart is dancing for is hard to define. His next three speeches and then his soliloquy after Hermione and Polixenes have left to walk in the garden, are among the most extraordinary that Shakespeare ever wrote. I know nothing else in literature which so telling dramatizes a mind procuring its own unease. At times seeming to talk to his uncomprehending young son, but really talking semi-coherently to himself in what Tillyard called ‘hot and twisted words,’ Leontes is driving into the unfathomable depths of self-generated jealousy, the perverse, male, masochistic relish of imagined sexual betrayal which Shakespeare has keenly eyed in previous plays. To Leontes’ willfully disordered perception, courteous and friendly exchanges become ‘paddling palms and pinching fingers’ (I.ii.115). Having lodged the sick-sweet thought in his mind that his wife is betraying him, Leontes scratches the sore and tongues the wound.

Inch-thick, knee-deep, o’er head and ears a forked one!]

Go play, boy, play; thy mother plays, and I

Play too – but so disgraced a part, whose issue

Will hiss me to my grave

(I.ii.186-9)

Children’s play, sexual play, theatrical play – Leontes’ overheated and distempered imagination is melting everything into a scorchingly self-tormented synthesis. Sexual nausea is fuelling the fire.

And many a man there is, even at this present,

Now, while I speak this, holds his wiffe by th’arm,

That little thinks she has been sluiced in’s absence,

And his pond fished by his next neighbor, by

Sir Smile, his neighbor…

    Physic for’ there’s none;

It is a bawdy planet…

    Be it concluded,

No barricade for a belly. Know’s

It will let in and out the enemy,

With bag and baggage.

(I.ii.192-206)

Foul, unspeakably foul, but what a pleasure to spit out the words – sluiced, fished, belly, in and out, bag and baggage. Who can understand the mind’s, and the mouth’s, strange self-mortifying satisfactions? The larger, unspoken question is – what do we do about, how do we cope with, our inescapable sexuality? Shakespeare really is going for the big ‘issues.’

As can happen in the broken and disjunctive self-picking mutterings of an erstwhile sane (majestic) mind, the murmured roving ravings of Leontes happen on an enigmatically and confusedly illuminating core:

    Can thy damn, may’st be?

Affection! Thy intention stabs the center.

Thou dost make possible things not so held,

Communicat’st with dreams – how can this be? –

With what’s unreal thou coactive art,

And fellow’st nothing. Then ‘tis very credent

Thou mayst co-join with something, and thou dost,

And that beyond commission, and I find it,

And that to the infection of my brains,

And hardening of my brows.

(I.ii.138-46)

Starting by considering whether his son’s mother could possibly be unfaithful, he embarks on a semi-unintelligible yet curiously revealing musing on the power of lustful passion (‘affection’): it ‘stabs the center’ – of women, certainly; but also of a man’s heart; perhaps it goes to the heart of the world itself. It makes it possible for people to dream of impossible (prohibited) things (sexual acts), and then to make the dream seem real. So when there is something (someone) real there, it is easy to believe that lust will actually commit unthinkable things – as it is doing now, and it’s driving me mad as I feel myself becoming a cuckold. That – filling in the lacunae left or jumped over by his inconsequent thinking – is one sort of sense. But if you hear it as Leontes (unconsciously) saying that my passion is coactive with unrealities, is communicating with dreams, and is peopling a vacancy – he is revealing no less than the deep truth. His brain is self infected, and his head is hardening indeed.

Now determined beyond doubt that his wife is ‘slippery,’ he speaks of her in foul terms to Camillo, who bravely responds – ‘You never spoke what did become you less/Than this’ (I.ii.282-3). But, for Leontes, the ‘evidence’ is now so obvious and overwhelming – how fertile is a fixated mind! – that anyone who cannot see it, or attempts to gainsay it, is a liar and an enemy. Ordered to poison Polixenes, Camillo – seeing that Leontes is now beyond reach in an insanely distorted world of his own making – instead tells Polixenes of Leontes’ grotesque delusion, which occasions a telling exchange:

Polixenes:  How should this grow?

Camillo:   I know not: but I am sure ‘tis safer to

Avoid what’s grown than question how ‘tis born.

(I.ii.432-4)

This is, at present, the best wisdom at court. They make a stealthy departure for Bohemia.”

I’m loving this play.

————————————————–

Our next reading;  Act Two of The Winter’s Tale

My next post:  Thursday evening/Friday morning

Enjoy

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4 Responses to “The larger, unspoken question is – what do we do about, how do we cope with, our inescapable sexuality?”

  1. GGG says:

    Polixenes doesn’t have a problem with leaving Hermione to Leontes’ wrath….Is this recognition that Leontes can’t be reasoned with–or a little weasely? Or maybe Polixenes was flirting with Hermione?

    I’m not sure I understand the critics who think that there is no provocation–for a jealous man, just a misunderstood glance would be enough. Jealousy is not always rational, so why do these critics feel there must be an explicit reason? However, regardless of their physical movements or their easy banter, Polixenes won’t stay for Leontes, but does agree to stay for Hermione–maybe that alone was the trigger to unhinge Leontes?

  2. artmama says:

    You are loving this play, and I am understanding this play. Your help in the effort to read all the others is truly paying off. I find real enjoyment and comprehension in the reading of the works. Many thanks to Dennis!

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