How does Shakespeare portray Hermione as a sympathetic and respectable character?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is hard not to sympathize with Hermione, who is falsely accused by her husband of having an affair with Polixenes.

First, it is clear to the audience that her husband's jealousy is irrational. As Hermione herself notes, she is simply doing what her husband commanded in being hospitable to...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

It is hard not to sympathize with Hermione, who is falsely accused by her husband of having an affair with Polixenes.

First, it is clear to the audience that her husband's jealousy is irrational. As Hermione herself notes, she is simply doing what her husband commanded in being hospitable to her guest. As she puts it when on trial:

For Polixenes,
With whom I am accused, I do confess
I loved him as in honour he required,
With such a kind of love as might become
A lady like me, with a love even such,
So and no other, as yourself commanded . . .

Third, she shows a great deal of poise and self-possession throughout her ordeal. Frustratingly, too, her husband holds all the power and has already made up his mind as to her guilt. No matter what she says, he twists it into words of guilt. He is both judge and jury, and he is determined not to believe in her innocence.

Anyone can imagine how frustrating it is to be falsely accused, especially when the accuser is more powerful. Further, Hermione is so loving a mother that the death of her son causes her, we are told, to die of grief. We feel for Hermione because of all she suffers unjustly and because of the grace she exhibits under pressure.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Despite everything that's thrown at her—all the lies, all the slanders, the attempts at character-assassination—Hermione still manages to retain her integrity. Hauled in front of a court on trumped-up charges of adultery and treason, she remains calm and dignified throughout the proceedings, refusing to admit to something she hasn't done, irrespective of the terrible consequences she will suffer.

The audience's sympathy for Hermione is heightened further when it is revealed that she's died of a broken heart over the death of her young son, Mamillius. Hermione is clearly a loving mother whose children mean everything to her. This reinforces our suspicions that the charges leveled against her are completely false.

Shakespeare presents Hermione as a dignified, saint-like figure, a woman of even temper and exceptional self-control. There's already something statuesque about her long before she actually appears as a statue towards the end of the play: perfectly proportioned, balanced, and unchanging, despite her numerous trials and tribulations.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team