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The Winter’s Tale Theme of Suffering

In the play, Leontes’s jealousy gives way to tyrannous behavior that causes immense pain suffering. Mammilius falls ill and dies when his mother is imprisoned and tried for adultery, Hermione is said to have died of a broken heart, and Leontes tortures himself for sixteen long years. In fact, the entire kingdom is made miserable by Leontes’s behavior, which has left Sicily without an heir. This kind of anguish is inherent in Shakespearean tragedy, but because the play is a blend of tragedy and comedy, the suffering in the play ultimately gives way to redemption, which we discuss in “Compassion and Forgiveness.”

Questions About Suffering

  1. Why does Mammilius die?
  2. What happens to Hermione when she’s in prison?
  3. Which characters suffer at Leontes's hands?
  4. Does Leontes ever repent for his actions? If so, when?

Chew on This

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

Leontes's family isn’t the only group that suffers in the play – because Mammilius is dead and Perdita is lost, the entire kingdom worries about what will become of them, as Sicily is without an heir to the throne.

Paulina’s behavior in the second half of the play is passive aggressive. Although she pretends to want to help King Leontes, she goes out of her way to ensure that he suffers.

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