‘The Office Becomes a Woman Best’: Paulina’s Activism in The Winter’s Tale
Dr. Brian Mendonça
In The Winter’s Tale Shakespeare brings about the redemption of a woman through the ‘office’ of another woman, Paulina.
Paulina’s first office is in the prison to visit Hermione. She has to prove Hermione, assumed guilty, to be innocent. As a woman she understands the distress of another woman – her queen and one who has just delivered a child.
It is Paulina who adamantly states that she will plead her queen’s case before the king. Though it seems foolhardy to do so -- given the furious mood of the king -- she is most memorable when she appears before the enraged king with his new-born baby daughter just delivered in prison. Pauline pleads to the king’s humanity, but has to face all manner of curses, even being threatened with death. She endures it all and with her guile outwits the king and restores the status quo.
Faced with the inescapable guilt of his action, and the desperation of trying to redeem himself, Leontes looks up to Paulina who has the moral high ground. Though she is not royalty, she gradually assumes a hold over Leontes by trapping him in her moral universe. The mighty king becomes her vassal, and takes her, as his confidante. From here it is easy for her to influence the king’s actions and bring about the results she wants. Her activism is exemplary in the fight for justice for a woman scorned for no fault of hers. She is a beacon for our times.
Shakespeare Festival. Organized by Department of English, Goa University in collaboration with Institute Menezes Braganza, IMB Hall, Panaji, 14-15 October 2016.