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The Winter’s Tale Theme of Art and Culture

The Winter’s Tale participates in the ages old art vs. nature controversy. At the heart of the debate is the following question: Is artfulness (the creation of paintings, sculptures, plays, songs, etc. to represent the natural world) a good thing? Or does artfulness distort nature? Shakespeare also extends the debate to consider artifice in general, which has some pretty major implications in a play that takes a very self-conscious look at its status as a work of art.

Questions About Art and Culture

  1. Why does Perdita refer to “gillyvors” (gillyflowers) as “nature’s bastards? What does she have against these flowers?
  2. Why is Perdita self-conscious about dressing up as the “Queen of the Feast”?
  3. What happens after Paulina unveils the life-like statue of Hermione? How does the statue scene participate in the “art vs. nature” debate?
  4. At what points in the play does Shakespeare draw our attention to the fact that we are witnessing a dramatic work of art?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Although Perdita is uncomfortable with the artificiality of dressing up as the “Queen of the Feast,” the audience understands that Perdita’s festival costume actually speaks to her true nature or identity, which is that of a Sicilian princess and not a lowly shepherd’s daughter.

Throughout The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare draws our attention to the fact that we are audience to a play that uses artfulness to portray nature.

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