Telling Timely Tales: Paulina’s Politic Deception
The Winter’s Tale
A Presentation for the Shakespeare & Modern Authors Society
In the title of today’s paper I refer to “honest” Paulina’s deception in The Winter’s Tale as “politic”. I might just as easily have referred to it as a “pious” deception because the political and the pious are grafted together in The Winter’s Tale by the words and actions of Paulina in the service of ends that are therapeutic both for the royal family and the kingdoms of Sicily and Bohemia.
Paulina responds to Leontes’ sudden jealousy, his prosecution of Hermione and his disdaining of the oracle of Apollo with animo – she energetically lies and seems willing to commit perjury (without going so far as to do so) in order to convince a broken Leontes that Hermione is dead (unless we are to believe that Hermione is dead, and that Paulina, like Cerimon in Pericles is able to resurrect the dead, or like Ovid’s Venus, breathe life into statues):
PAULINA. I say she’s dead: I’ll swear it. If word nor oath
Prevail not, go and see: if you can bring
Tincture or lustre in her lip, her eye,
Heat outwardly, or breath within, I’ll serve you
As I would do the gods….
Leontes believes Paulina – for it seems “probable to reason,” and Paulina’s reputation for honesty, like Iago’s, is emphasised throughout the play.
Paulina’s Pauline Method & Her Machiavellian Sense of “Honour”
In dealing with an unruly king, Paulina is willing to adopt an unruly manner rather as Petruchio does in his handling of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew. As a diminutive, feminine, namesake of Saint Paul, it may be that Paulina enacts the Pauline method of being “all things to all men”. As Paul writes in the ninth chapter of The First Epistle to the Corinthians, he is,
21 To them that are without law, as though I were without law … that I may gain them that are without law.
22 To the weak I become as weak, that I may win the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
Leontes is ruled by a “tyrannous” passion and is therefore unruly. Paulina is to the unruly Leontes as one that is unruly:
2 SERVANT. Madam; he hath not slept to-night, commanded
None should come at him.
PAULINA. Not so hot, good sir,
I come to bring him sleep…. ‘Tis such as you
That creep like shadows by him, and do sigh
At each his needless heavings … such as you
Nourish the cause of his awaking. I
Do come with words as medicinal as true;
Honest, as either; to purge him of that humour,
That presses him from sleep.
The courtiers are using the wrong medicine. Following Paul, Paulina argues that a sympathetic approach will be more effective: her bold approach and sharp words are intended as a purgative, violently expelling Leontes’ violent humour, restoring peace of mind and therefore sleep.
In doing so, Paulina rejects the implication that her husband’s authority is legitimately absolute. She appeals to the higher authority of “honour” and playing with the meaning of “commit,” suggests that she can only be “ruled” by being “committed” to prison for “committing” the “crime” of acting with and for the sake of “honour:”
LEONTES. What! canst not rule her?
PAULINA. From all dishonesty he can: in this –
Unless he take the course that you have done,
Commit me for committing honour – trust it,
He shall not rule me.
Paulina refuses to honour her husband with obedience in favour of a (higher) honour that is due to the wronged Hermione. She will later reject an absolute commitment to honour-as-avoidance-of-all-dishonesty by dissimulating in service of a higher sense of honour-as-virtu’ on behalf of the queen and the Apollonian oracle of “Delphos.” Paulina’s sense of “honour” comes to resemble a dynamic Machiavellian “animo” rather than static Aristotelian virtue, although she is adept at seeming to be virtuous; her reputation for honesty remains intact:
LEONTES. … come Camillo,
And take her by the hand – whose worth and honesty
Is richly noted; and here justified
By us, a pair of kings. …
Hermetic Mysteries and Mysteries of State
After Hermione steps down from the pedestal and is restored to life, or at least to the life of the court, we are left wondering what Leontes saw when Paulina led him offstage in Act Three Scene Two. Did Paulina show him Hermione playing dead, or had Hermione has taken a “distilled liquor” in the manner of Juliet, so that,
No warmth, no breath, shall testify thou livest,
or was Hermione dead indeed, dead for sixteen years and brought back to life through Julio Romano’s statue and Paulina’s Venusian theurgic magic? Shakespeare does not say.
Paulina’s handling of the “death” and “resurrection” of Hermione may be seen on the political-realistic “plane” of the play as arcana imperii – mysteries of state – in which she serves as a “counsellor” of state, taking the state back to its foundations and creating a new “founding myth,” or noble lie.
On the “philosophical-idealistic” plane the loss of Hermione and Perdita functions as an allegory in which Paulina plays an Apollonian priestly role of mediation, leading Leontes through disintegration, and darkness, towards reintegration and a restoration of harmonia in his soul, so that (in Pauline terms),
where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.
Paulina guides Leontes’ penitential devotion and prepares him for a new experience of “grace” through the restoration of Hermione, who personifies of both courtly and spiritual “grace,” the supreme quality of Christian and neoplatonic spirituality.
The apparent metamorphosis of the statue of Hermione into Hermione herself only occurs after Leontes has undergone sixteen years of atonement and experienced the restoration of the “lost love” in his heart (spiritually speaking) when Perdita returns, bringing springtime to Sicily (as Flora and also as the Sicilian Proserpina).
Asking Machiavelli The Reason…
I enter into the assembly of men of old times. Welcomed by them I feed upon that food which is my true nourishment, and which has made me what I am. I dare to talk with them, and ask them the reason for their actions. Of their kindness they answer me.
(Machiavelli: Letter to Vettori)
In his Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli offers insights into the politic use religion, specifically in Discourses I:12, which I will apply to the role of Paulina in The Winter’s Tale. Machiavelli writes:
Those princes or those republics that wish to maintain themselves uncorrupt have above everything else to maintain the ceremonies of their religion uncorrupt and hold them always in veneration; for one can have no greater indication of the ruin of a province than to see the divine cult disdained. This is easy to understand once it is known what the religion where a man is born is founded. For every religion has the foundation of its life on some principal order of its own. The life of the Gentile religion was founded on the responses of the oracles and on the sect of the diviners and augurs. All their other ceremonies, sacrifices, and rites depended on them; for they easily believed that that god who could predict your future good or your future ill for you could also grant it to you. From these arose the temples, from these the sacrifices, from these the supplications and every other ceremony to venerate them; through these the oracle of Delos. the temple of Jupiter Ammon. and other celebrated oracles who filled the world with admiration and devotion. As these later began to speak in the mode of the powerful. and as that falsity was exposed among peoples, men became incredulous and apt to disturb every good order. Thus, princes of a republic or of a kingdom should maintain the foundations of the religion they hold; and if this is done. it will be an easy thing for them to maintain their republic religious and, in consequence, good and united. All things that arise in favor of that religion they should favor and magnify, even though they judge them false; and they should do it so much the more as they are more prudent and more knowing of natural things. Because this mode has been observed by wise men, the belief has arisen in miracles, which are celebrated even in false religions; for the prudent enlarge upon them from whatever beginning they arise, and their authority then gives them credit with anyone whatever. There were very many of these miracles at Rome; among them was that when Roman soldiers were sacking the city of the Veientes, some of them entered the temple of Juno and, drawing near her image, said to it, “Do you want to come to Rome?” It appeared to someone that he saw her nod and to someone else that she said yes. For, being men full of religion (which Titus Livy demonstrates, for in entering the temple they entered without tumult, all devoted and full of reverence), it appeared to them they heard the response to their question that they had perhaps presupposed. That opinion and credulity were altogether favored and magnified by Camillus and by the other princes of the city.
- one can have no greater indication of the ruin of a province than to see the divine cult disdained
Leontes, satisfied that his “suspicion” is “truth,” uses his royal “prerogative” to bring Hermione to trial. However, “for a greater confirmation” he sends Cleomines and Dion to the oracle of Apollo at “sacred Delphos.” His assumption is that the oracle will confirm his accusations in the minds of the people:
LEONTES. Though I am satisfied, and need no more
Than what I know, yet shall the oracle
Give rest to th’ minds of others; such as he,
Whose ignorant credulity will not
Come up to th’ truth.
In proclaiming Leontes a tyrant and Hermione innocent, the oracle has spoken according to “some principal order of its own,” rather than “in the mode of the powerful.” Leontes responds with anger, “incredulity” and a determination to “disturb… good order” by proceeding with the trial in contradiction of the oracle:
There is no truth at all i’th’oracle:
The sessions shall proceed; this is mere falsehood.
“Ruin” immediately follows with news of the death of his son, Mamillius, and the collapse of Hermione:
LEONTES. Apollo’s angry and the heavens themselves
Do strike at my injustice. [Hermione faints.] How now there!
PAULINA. This news is mortal to the queen: look down
And see what death is doing.
For Machiavelli, the ruin of a province begins when religion no longer operates from “some principal order of its own,” but is corrupted by the speech of the powerful, which leads to incredulity and disdain, and then disorder from below.
However, in The Winter’s Tale, it is the king himself whose speech, alienated from its own life-source (the feminine, spiritual “grace” of Hermione) brings ruin down from above in the judgement of Apollo.
- that god who could predict your future good or your future ill for you could also grant it to you.
When, after a passage of sixteen years, the action returns to Sicily, we find Paulina keeping Leontes in remembrance of the oracle, specifically to the negative side of the prophecy. When Dion recommends that the king marry again, Paulina holds up the oracle as the will of the gods to oppose it:
PAULINA. There is none worthy,
Respecting her that’s gone … Besides, the gods
Will have fulfilled their secret purposes:
For has not the divine Apollo said,
Is’t not the tenour of his oracle,
That King Leontes shall not have an heir
Till his lost child be found?
- All things that arise in favor of that religion they should favor and magnify, even though they judge them false
What neither the characters on stage, apart from Paulina, nor the audience know at this point is that Hermione is “preserved.” Paulina therefore has a double motive in preventing Leontes from marrying; the oracle is both a means of inducing and maintaining “admiration” and “devotion” in Leontes, and also a means of preventing him from marrying so that, when the occasion is right, he can be reconciled to Hermione.
By favoring and magnifying the Delphic Oracle, which seems to have miraculously and terribly displayed its power through the timely, or coincidental, death of Mamillius, and the apparent death of Hermione, Paulina gains control over Leontes, maintaining him in his belief in Apollo and his oracle, and in a belief that she knows to be false – that Hermione is dead.
- the prudent enlarge upon them from whatever beginning they arise, and their authority then gives them credit with anyone whatever.
The biggest danger to Paulina’s plans is that Leontes will marry again before the positive side of the oracular prophecy can be fulfilled (that that which is lost be found). It has not yet been made manifest that Perdita is alive, and, as we have seen, Paulina does not raise any hopes in Leontes that she is. Yet, we later learn that Paulina has been playing a double game in dampening Leontes’ expectations and at the same time raising Hermione’s. When Hermione comes down from the pedestal in the final scene, she tells Perdita,
Knowing by Paulina that the oracle
Gave hope thou was in being, have preserved
Myself to see the issue.
This offers us a probable account of Hermione’s motivation for remaining alive. Without hope of seeing Perdita, it can be easily imagined that Hermione would find death preferable to any reconciliation with her daughter’s murderer. She tells us as much in her reply to Leontes during the trial scene:
Now, my liege,
Tell me what blessings I have here alive,
That I should fear to die?
We therefore understand from Hermione’s speech to Perdita in Act Five Scene Three that she most probably did not die, although her use of the locution “preserved myself” equivocates between “preserve” as “to keep alive” and as “to save from decomposition.”
Paulina seems to have shared Hermione’s hope that Perdita was “in being,” and as I see it, it is this hope that informs her handling of Leontes. For if Perdita returns, if Leontes is penitent, if his heart is open to “faith” and “wonder,” and if Hermione is alive, there is a chance for atonement and reconciliation. It may be that the improbabilities involved in The Winter’s Tale make it “monstrous to our human reason” (V:1:41), nevertheless, it is prudent for Paulina to prevent Leontes from marrying. Leontes’ belief in the punitive miracles of Apollo enable Paulina prudently to “enlarge” upon the prophecy of the oracle. She then uses the “credit” she gains from her “authority” over Leontes to become his marriage broker.
Paulina begins by reminding Leontes that kingdoms are capable of finding heirs when kings die without issue:
PAULINA. Care not for issue –
The crown will find an heir: great Alexander
Left his to th’ worthiest; so his successor
Was like to be the best.
Leontes interprets Paulina’s remarks as evidence of her “goodness” with regard to the memory of Hermione, and this thought leads him to lament his rejection of Paulina’s advice:
Who hast the memory of Hermione
I know in honour… O, that ever I
Had squared me to thy counsel! then, even now,
I might have looked upon my queen’s full eyes,
Have taken treasure from her lips –
PAULINA. And left them
More rich for what they yielded.
LEONTES. Thou speakest truth…
What follows is an almost incantatory summoning of Hermione to life again in the mind of Leontes as he and Paulina imagine what might happen if he were to remarry:
LEONTES. Thou speak’st truth:
No more such wives, therefore no wife: one worse
And better used, would make her sainted spirit
Again possess her corpse, and on this stage,
Where we offenders move, appear soul-vexed,
And begin ‘Why to me?’
PAULINA. Had she such power,
She had just cause.
LEONTES. She had, and would incense me
To murder her I married.
PAULINA. I should so:
Were I the ghost that walked, I’ld bid you mark
Her eye, and tell me for what dull part in’t
You chose her: then I’ld shriek, that even your ears
Should rift to hear me, and the words that followed
Should be, ‘Remember mine!’
LEONTES. Stars, stars,
And all eyes else dead coals! Fear thou no wife;
I’ll have no wife, Paulina.
PAULINA. Will you swear
Never to marry but by my free leave?
LEONTES. Never, Paulina, so be blest my spirit
PAULINA. Then, good my lords, bear witness to his oath.
Each feeds off the other as they agree and carry the imagery forward and enrich it with detail; no longer are they opposed and at each other’s throats as in the comically rich “shrewish” scenes of Act Two Scene Three. The exchange convinces Leontes not to seek another wife, while hinting to the audience that Hermione might appear alive upon this stage again. By “enlarging” upon the thought that Hermione might haunt Leontes were he to marry, Paulina leads Leontes up to a vision of the divine Hermione, the celestial Venus (Venus Caelestis) whose starry eyes shine from the heavenly sphere. It is not difficult to extract from Leontes, in such a state, an oath not to marry unless by Paulina’s “free leave”.
With Leontes’ oath in the bag, Paulina insinuates that marriage may be possible by first planting the thought that he might not marry again unless…
As like Hermione as is her picture,
Affront his eye.
Paulina’s restrictive “unless” is then nudged into a couple of “if” clauses, which then give way to yet more promising, “but you will” and “but she shall” clauses:
Yet, if my lord will marry… if you will, sir…
No remedy, but you will … give me the office
To choose you a queen: she shall not be so young
As was your former, but she shall be such
As, walked your first queen’s ghost, it should take joy
To see her in your arms.
LEONTES. My true Paulina,
We shall not marry, till thou bid’st us.
Here, Paulina invokes Hermione’s ghost again, but this time imagined as joyful at the site of an older Hermione in Leontes’ arms. Again, the vision is combined with a request for more authority over Leontes’ marriage arrangements. The dialogue ends with a prophetic “That shall be” which hints at what she actually has in mind:
Shall be when your first queen’s again in breath;
Never till then.
- some of them entered the temple of Juno and, drawing near her image, said to it, “Do you want to come to Rome?” It appeared to someone that he saw her nod and to someone else that she said yes.
Machiavelli’s version of Livy’s report of the sacking of Veii and removal of the statue of Juno from Veii to Rome emphasises the subjective nature of the experience. Where Livy narrates the details of the story in a neutral, quasi objective style, as things that have been reported, Machiavelli, anticipating Shakespeare’s interest in the subjectivity of experience, inserts the loaded term “parve” (“appeared” or “seemed”) into the narrative. He emphasises the contingent nature of perception, which, like much of the experience of characters in The Winter’s Tale, is conditioned by prior expectations:
parve loro udire quella riposta che alla domanda loro per avventura si avevano presupposta. (it appeared to them they heard the response to their question that they had perhaps presupposed.)
Machiavelli’s “parve” gives us the nod and the wink that the soldiers merely imagined that the statue nodded and spoke, for after all, the statue remains a statue. Art apes nature, but nevertheless remains art, a product of nature. Yet, the soldiers’ experience before the statue of Juno is taken up by Camillus and other princes of the city, “favored” and “magnified” as a miracle that serves Machiavelli’s narrative as much as the Roman republic, by providing an example of how faith should be awakened and put to the service of the “goodness” and “unity” of the state; narrative art “improves” upon nature with the addition of providential “miracles” as propaganda for the Roman republic and Machiavelli’s Discourses.
We can use the Livian/Machiavellian statue-of-Juno narrative as a point of comparison with the handling of the statue of Hermione in the closing scene of The Winter’s Tale.
The two narratives progress in a similar order, although the statue of Juno remains a statue. Both narratives seem to invite us to oscillate between miraculous and rational, or credulous and sceptical, explanations: the statue appeared to speak and the appearance was true or false. The statue came to life, or was Hermione all along. However, the effect that the statue has upon the observers in each case is to induce a sense of wonder. Before calling for music to play, Paulina says to Leontes, the court circle and to the theatre audience,
It is required
You do awake your faith: then all stand still.
Paulina’s theatre of theurgic magic “works” in that it stills her audience and awakens them to the marvellous. Nevertheless, the court party are not so naive in their “wonder” as were the soldiers of the Roman Republic. The hunger for rational knowledge remains:
POLIXENES. … make it manifest where she has lived,
Or how stol’n from the dead.
HERMIONE. Where hast thou been preserved? where lived? how found
Thy father’s court?
However, there will be no explanations in front of the plebs. How the restoration of Hermione was effected remains a hermetic mystery, and a mystery of state to be discussed “at leisure” by Leontes’ inner court.
Nevertheless, Leontes’ decision to marry Paulina off to Sicily’s most competent minister of state, Camillo, suggests that the “miracle” of Paulina is to be “favoured” and “magnified,” just as the “miracle” of Juno was favoured and magnified by the Roman Camillus.