Study Guide

The Winter’s Tale Gender

By William Shakespeare


Leontes’s hateful ideas about women dominate the first three acts of The Winter’s Tale. After he convinces himself that his pregnant wife is having an affair and carrying another man’s child, Leontes reveals a crude and misogynistic attitude that seems to have been lurking beneath the surface all along. In the jealous king’s mind, all women are sexually promiscuous and dishonest (an attitude that’s all too common in Renaissance literature). Leontes also gives voice to the notion that women who are not silent and obedient to their husbands are monsters who invert socially accepted gender hierarchies. Leontes eventually repents but his nasty attitude leaves a big mark on the play.

Questions About Gender

  1. How does Leontes behave when he suspects Hermione has been unfaithful? What does this reveal about Leontes's attitude toward women in general?
  2. What is Leontes's reaction to Paulina when she stands up for Hermione? Why does he hold Antigonus responsible for Paulina’s behavior?
  3. Why does Leontes say he’s glad Hermione didn’t nurse Mamillius when the young prince was an infant?
  4. What kind of relationship does the play forge between gender and speech?

Chew on This

Leontes believes that all women are inherently promiscuous and deceptive, but overall, the play proves this to be untrue.

Leontes gives voice to a common Renaissance attitude toward women – that is, any woman who is not silent and obedient is a monstrous hag who deserves to be punished.