To what extent would you agree with the view that Shakespeare’s central theme in his last plays is reconciliation, looking specifically at The Winter's Tale?

The theme of reconciliation is important in Shakespeare’s last plays, but it is not the central theme of The Winter’s Tale. The Winter's Tale reveals the destructive force of obsession by focusing on Leontes’s jealousy and its harsh consequences. He rejects and tries to kill his own child. The healing power of forgiveness is the play’s central theme. Although he is ultimately reconciled with his wife, child, and ex-friend, it is their forgiveness that enables the reconciliation.

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Reconciliation is an important theme in William Shakespeare’s last plays, but it is not the primary theme of The Winter’s Tale. Rather, the redemptive power of forgiveness is its key theme. Shakespeare’s final three sole-authored extant plays are Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest. All of them address ruptures and reunions within families, notably between parent and child and husband and wife.

The Winter’s Tale is in many ways the most harsh of the three. Reconciliation between Leontes and all the people he wronged is finally achieved, but only at the very end. It is not so much Leontes’s actions as those of the people he wronged that enable the reconciliation to occur. His wife, his daughter, and his former friend all must forgive the horrible things he did—or tried to do—to them before he can realize the harm he caused them and himself.

In some ways similar to Othello, The Winter's Tale reveals the destructive power of jealousy when it becomes an obsession. Leontes does not actually kill his wife, as Othello did. However, through much of the play, both the characters and the audience believe that she is dead. Leontes’s jealousy drives him to suspect Hermione, his wife, of infidelity and to scheme to kill his close friend, Polixenes. Even worse, he rejects his baby daughter and orders her to be killed, then continues to live believing that she is dead and that his actions also caused the deaths of his wife and son.

The goodness, kindness, and generosity of many other characters play important roles in saving the little girl, now called Perdita. Serendipity (or fate) also helps bring her together with Polixenes’s son, Florizel. As Leontes ages, he experiences remorse, and in the end, he realizes that neither Hermione nor Perdita is dead. The fact that they and Polixenes can forgive him has healing power, and they can all be reconciled.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

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