What makes King Leontes become jealous of King Polixenes and suspect his wife of adultery?

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Leontes is by nature a fiercely jealous man, so it doesn't take much to raise his suspicions that his wife, Hermione, is having an affair with Polixenes. The two seem to get on so well, enjoying pleasant conversations with each other. All very harmless, we might think, but not to...

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Leontes is by nature a fiercely jealous man, so it doesn't take much to raise his suspicions that his wife, Hermione, is having an affair with Polixenes. The two seem to get on so well, enjoying pleasant conversations with each other. All very harmless, we might think, but not to Leontes. He's got it into his head that this is absolute proof of adultery, and so he immediately plots to have Polixenes poisoned.

Fortunately for the king of Bohemia, he's able to get wind of Leontes's dastardly plot and quickly sets sail for home. Deprived of revenge, a furious Leontes angrily throws Hermione in jail, where she gives birth to a daughter. Leontes's jealous outburst is so sudden there appears to be no rhyme or reason to it. But there are one or two clues.

For one, Hermione is nine months pregnant, and we know that Polixenes has been staying at Leontes's court for that precise length of time. A further source for Leontes's jealousy is the competitive nature of his relationship to Polixenes. Once upon a time, the two were very close friends, but now that they're both kings, power has corrupted that friendship, making it entirely plausible in Leontes's eyes that Polixenes has seduced Hermione as part of some kind of power move.

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