Study Guide

Paulina in The Winter’s Tale

By William Shakespeare


Antigonus's wife, Hermione's gal pal, and all-around tough-as-nails chick, Paulina takes no prisoners. She calls it like it is, which is saying a lot for a 16th century woman who was supposed to be quiet and submissive all the time.

Witchy Woman

In fact, Leontes even bad-mouths her hubby for Paulina's "bondless tongue" (2.3.116). Basically, he wants Antigonus to put his wife in her place and get her to stop talking back to the king. He doesn't stop there, though—Leontes also hurls a slew of insults Paulina's way, including calling her "mankind witch" (2.3.84), "a most intelligencing bawd" (2.3.85), "traitor" (2.3.104), and "gross hag" (2.3.136). Yep, it's clear that Leontes isn't a happy camper when Paulina is around. Why?

She's the only one who will call him out on the fact that he's acting like a spoiled brat and being totally unfair to his perfect wife, Hermione. Paulina doesn't care that he's the king and can kill her for talking smack about him—she has more guts than all the other characters combined. In fact, while all the men stand around awkwardly twiddling their thumbs about what to do about the king's irrational and unfounded jealousy, Paulina goes marching right up to him and tells him to quit it.

Who You Calling a Tyrant?

Listen to what she says—to his face—when Leontes threatens to have her burned for standing up for Hermione: "I care not. It is an heretic that makes the fire, not she which burns in 't. I'll not call you tyrant; but this most cruel usage of your queen, not able to produce more accusation than your own weak-hinged fancy, something savors of tyranny, and will ignoble make you, yea, scandalous to the world" (2.3.146-52). See? We told you Paulina has guts of steel.

Need a quick translation of her scathing response? She calls the king (gasp) a tyrant because of his sour attitude. Then she promptly takes it back. On second thought, he's not even good enough to be called a tyrant. Oh snap. Calling the king out in front of all his courtiers shows us just how assertive Paulina is. She knows her queen is innocent, so she lets her confidence do the talking.

Lights, Camera, Action

Surprisingly, Paulina doesn't get in trouble for her shouting match with the king. She's the one who helps him piece his life back together after Hermione and Mamillius die and Perdita is abandoned in the woods. When the play turns comedy at the end, she's the one making sure everyone lives happily ever after.

We might call her the director. Paulina knows what's about to happen to Hermione's statue and makes her lady come to life before our very eyes. We can almost see her in the Director's chair as she says, "Music, awake her! Strike!" (5.3.125) to the statue. It's fitting that she's calling the shots at the end since she's been the only one with a handle on the truth the entire time. Her reward? A brand new husband (Camillo) with the seal of approval from the king.

Always willing to put her money where her mouth is and stand up for what's right, Paulina gives us hope that happy endings really can happen. You know, so long as you have magic that can bring someone back from the dead.