Like many of Shakespeare’s plays (Two Gentleman of Verona and The Merchant of Venice, especially) and The Sonnets, The Winter’s Tale examines the nature of male friendship. Bromance was a pretty big deal in the Renaissance and was valued above marriage and other male-female relationships. In the play, the friendship between Leontes and Polixenes is portrayed as an ideal bond that developed during the innocence of childhood and was interrupted by their adolescent interest in women and sex. As adults, Leontes’s friendship with Polixenes is characterized by rivalry and Leontes’s jealous fears that his wife has come between them. There are examples of female friendship in the play (most notably, Paulina’s fierce loyalty to Hermione), but bromance is given much more attention.
The friendship between Leontes and Polixenes is competitive from the very beginning of the play – this rivalry culminates in Leontes’s jealousy, which places Hermione at the center of his competitiveness with his best friend.
Paulina is the only character in the play loyal enough (to Hermione) and brave enough to stand up to Leontes’s tyranny.