The statue of Hermione is one of the most controversial issues in the play. By the time Paulina invites everyone to see Hermione’s life-like statue in the play’s final act, Hermione has been presumed dead for the past sixteen years. (Remember, Paulina announces that she’s died of a broken heart back at 3.2.3). This is why everyone (especially Leontes and Perdita) is so shocked to see that an artist has created such a realistic and stunning statue. (The artists even seem to have taken into account how Hermione would have aged over the years.) Everyone is even more shocked and amazed when Paulina calls for some dramatic music and says “Tis time. Descend. Be stone no more” (5.3.11) and Hermione (who is very much alive) steps down from the pedestal and gives Leontes a hug. Clearly, this is a pretty dramatic and moving scene, for the characters and the audience.
The problem is this: it’s not entirely clear if Hermione is somehow brought back from the dead, or if she’s been alive the whole time. Some critics argue that Hermione is magically and miraculously resurrected when her long lost daughter (Perdita) returns to her. Others argue that Paulina just hid Hermione away for sixteen years so that 1) Leontes wouldn’t hurt her and 2) she could teach Leontes a lesson. There’s enough evidence in the play to argue either way. So, what do you think? Is this magic, or is it just Paulina’s parlor trick?