Student Question

Are forgiveness and reconciliation convincing in The Winter's Tale?

Quick answer:

In The Winter’s Tale, both forgiveness and reconciliation have unconvincing and convincing elements. It seems incredible that Leontes and Hermione are reconciled, considering how badly he treated her. His willingness to be reconciled with his wife and daughter is convincing in that he had years to regret his actions. Because Hermione is a good and noble person, her ability to forgive her husband is more believable than her taking him back.

Expert Answers

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The ending of The Winter’s Tale is unconvincing in many ways, but William Shakespeare’s characterization of the key figures involved makes it possible to believe that they would forgive the other and be reconciled. Both the degree of credibility and the actions of forgiveness and reconciliation can be separated according to the specific characters.

Through much of the play, Leontes is a despicable character whose unreasonable jealousy and distrust lead to the destruction and, apparently, the death of his family. Shakespeare shows the king as a man who lacks self-control and is governed by his passions. After his actions cause him to lose both family and friends, he begins to reconsider his attitudes and behavior. The remorse that he develops over the years make it convincing that, in the end, he wants to be reconciled with his wife and daughter as well as Polixenes, the friend he once accused.

Hermione stands in sharp contrast to Leontes. She is pure and virtuous, but also naïve. Her trusting nature does not mesh well with that of her suspicious, insecure husband. He abuses her and their baby, and his actions directly or indirectly cause the deaths of their son and of close associates and friends. Given the excesses of his bad behavior, it is unconvincing that Hermione would wish to be reconciled with Leontes. Because she is a good person, however, it is convincing that she would find it in her heart to forgive him; otherwise, she could become bitter by harboring resentment.

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