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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.

Quote #1

Tongue-tied, our queen? Speak you. (1.2.5)

Here, Leontes asks Hermione (who has been silent up to this point in the scene) to weigh in on the conversation about whether or not Polixenes will remain in Sicily. At the same time Leontes invites his wife to speak up, he seems to be also complaining that Hermione hasn’t done enough to help convince Polixenes to extend his visit. We can also detect a note of sarcasm in this line. By pointing out Hermione’s “tongue-tied” silence, Leontes implies that, ordinarily, Hermione (and all other women) speak too much. In the play, we see that the exact opposite is true of Hermione, who speaks with eloquence and grace, especially when she defends herself at her trial in Act 3.

Quote #2

Thou want'st a rough pash and the shoots that I have,
To be full like me: yet they say we are
Almost as like as eggs; women say so,
That will say anything but were they false
As o'er-dyed blacks, as wind, as waters, false
As dice are to be wish'd by one that fixes
No bourn 'twixt his and mine, yet were it true
To say this boy were like me. (1.2.13)

We discuss this passage in “Jealousy” but it’s worth mentioning here also. As Leontes considers whether or not Mammilius looks like him (and whether or not he’s actually Mammilius’s biological father), he reveals a misogynist attitude toward women. According to Leontes, women “will say anything,” meaning, women are all liars. It seems that Leontes's distrust of women can partially explain why he’s so quick to suspect that the lovely and ever-faithful Hermione is cheating on him.

It’s also important to note that Leontes's obsessive fear that Mammilius (who looks exactly like him) may not be his biological son is a pretty common theme in Renaissance literature, especially Shakespeare’s writing. Because Shakespeare’s world was a patrilineal society (a man’s wealth and titles always passed down to his eldest son), it was important for men to have legitimate heirs. The problem, as Leontes points out throughout the first Act, is that a man has no way of knowing for certain whether or not he’s a child’s biological father. (Something we often forget in an age of DNA testing.) This anxiety about paternity goes a long way to explain the kind of obsessive fears of cuckoldry (being cheated on by one’s wife) we see throughout The Winter’s Tale and Shakespeare’s larger body of work.

Quote #3

We were as twinn'd lambs that did frisk i' the sun,
And bleat the one at the other: what we changed
Was innocence for innocence; we knew not
The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dream'd
That any did. Had we pursued that life,
And our weak spirits ne'er been higher rear'd
With stronger blood, we should have answer'd heaven
Boldly 'not guilty;' the imposition clear'd
Hereditary ours. (1.2.10)

When Polixenes describes his childhood friendship with Leontes, he emphasizes their purity and innocence by suggesting that they seemed exempt from the charge of original sin (the religious doctrine that says all human beings are born tainted because Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden). In other words, Polixenes implies that he and Leontes were two innocent “lambs” until they grew up and became interested in women and sex. While Hermione finds this whole idea amusing (she laughs and jokingly says “your queen and I are devils”), Polixenes’s suggestion that women are the root of man’s loss of innocence echoes throughout the first three acts of the play, where Leontes unjustly punishes his wife for a sexual crime she hasn’t committed. If you want to think about this some more, check out our discussion of this passage in the context of “Jealousy.”

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