The Winter’s Tale Gender Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition.
The crown and comfort of my life, your favour,
I do give lost; for I do feel it gone,
But know not how it went. My second joy
And first-fruits of my body, from his presence
I am barr'd, like one infectious. My third comfort
Starr'd most unluckily, is from my breast,
The innocent milk in its most innocent mouth,
Haled out to murder: myself on every post
Proclaimed a strumpet: with immodest hatred
The child-bed privilege denied, which 'longs
To women of all fashion; lastly, hurried
Here to this place, i' the open air, before
I have got strength of limit. (3.2.5)
Hermione points out the injustices she’s suffered as a woman grossly abused by her jealous husband: she’s lost her position as queen, she’s been rejected by her husband, she’s been barred from seeing her first-born child (Mammilius), and her second-born child (Perdita) has been torn from her breast and is probably dead. What’s more, Hermione wasn’t even given the “childbed privilege” (she wasn’t allowed to rest and recuperate in private after giving birth).
History Snack: The “child-bed" privilege is also called a “lying in” period. It refers to a mother’s right to rest and recuperate in seclusion (only her closest women friends, relatives, and servants were allowed to hang out in her private chamber) after giving birth. This was a huge deal in Shakespeare’s England, especially given the fact that people thought outside air was harmful to mothers who had just delivered babies. The fact that Leontes allows Hermione to deliver her baby in prison and deprives her of her lying-in period speaks to Leontes's brutality.
Of boundless tongue, who late hath beat her husband
And now baits me! (2.3.13)
Leontes is outraged when Paulina stands up to him and insists that he acknowledge his newborn child (Perdita). In this scene, he calls Paulina a “callat” (a scold and/or a whore) and accuses her of brow-beating her husband (Antigonus). Elsewhere, Leontes calls her a “man-witch” and accuses her of hen-pecking Antigonus (2.3.10). The abuse Leontes heaps on Paulina is in keeping with an all-too-common Renaissance notion about women – those that talk “too much” are monsters that abuse their husbands and invert proper gender relations (wives were supposed to be quiet and obedient to their men). This attitude can also be seen in plays like The Taming of the Shrew, where Katherine Minola is repeatedly accused of being a scold. Compare this passage to 1.2.5 (above), where Leontes makes a similar comment about his wife.
A gross hag
And, lozel, thou art worthy to be hang'd,
That wilt not stay her tongue.
Hang all the husbands
That cannot do that feat, you'll leave yourself
Hardly one subject. (2.3.13)
Oh, look, Leontes is bashing women again. Here, he calls Paulina a “hag” for being loyal to Hermione and for refusing to pipe down when Leontes orders her to be quiet. What’s interesting about this passage is the way Leontes also attacks Antigonus’s masculinity. Because he can’t keep his wife under control, so to speak, Leontes says he should be “hang’d.” Antigonus’s response isn’t much better. He implies that Leontes is going to have to hang all the husbands in kingdom because all the women are so out of control in Sicily. Whatever, guys.