The Winter's Tale
Twentieth-century criticism of The Winter's Tale has varied widely in emphasis, reflecting the broad scope of topics suggested in the play. Since Victorian times, commentators have struggled to define the genre of the play because of the unique two-part structure. While some modern critics, such as Northrop Frye, have praised Shakespeare for achieving unity and balance in the two parts, controversy still surrounds the general design of the play. For example, Charles Hieatt has contended that a two-part view of the play represents only a portion of a larger, more complicated scheme; he focuses instead on the influence of humans over their own destiny, a principle which unifies the individual segments. Joseph Lenz has divided the play into three sections, "each associated with a specific genre and each reflecting one means by which closure can be attained." Howard Felperin has praised the "imaginative environment" constructed by Shakespeare out of the conventions of older dramatic traditions, which, he maintains, can support the lifelike characters of The Winter's Tale.
The relationship of Perdita and Leontes is often explored in modern criticism. Many commentators, including Patricia Southard Gourlay, have viewed Perdita's return to the Sicilian court as the key to Leontes's new life. Similarly, Bruce Young has commented that Perdita is consistently "associated with divine regenerative power and is even described as a life-giving goddess." Scholars have also focused on her role in Leontes's redemption; Robert Watson has asserted that "only Perdita's return can rouse into life the latent nature in Leontes's and Hermione's artificial poses."
Another topic of particular interest to critics is the genesis of Leontes's jealousy, which has resulted in two primary positions: that Leontes is not jealous until Hermione convinces Polixenes to stay, a position held by Rene Girard; and that Leontes's jealousy is simmering from the onset of the play, then finally erupts. Several critics, such as Martha Ronk, have also compared Leontes to another jealous Shakespearean character, Othello. Ronk argues that the sixteen-year gap in time "offers Leontes an experience denied Othello . . . . [He] is allowed time to settle and be still." Lawrence Wright has discussed yet another approach to this topic: the distinction between "the inception of Leontes's jealousy and the start of the tragi-comic disruption."