Bachelor of Arts
Winter's Tale, William Shakespeare, Drama, Rites of Passage
No matter how you explain it away, the jealousy of Leontes is a violent affair. When he blurts out "Too hot, too hot!/To mingle friendships far, is mingling bloods" we are surprised at both the suddenness of his onslaught of jealousy and at the vehemence with which he repudiates our expectations of seeing a happy family, set up in the first scene of the play. Before looking for explanations for this outburst -- for they range from psychological analyses of the king' s fear of women to assertions that Hermione indeed appears guilty -- I would first like to consider the outburst as an event. A fact, something that happened, a phenomenon in society.
Leontes' outburst can be seen as the first motion in a complete and foregrounded social drama which is acted out in the stage society of the play and comprises a large part of the dramatic action. "Social drama" is anthropologist Victor Turner's term for a sequence of events through which a society publicly "plays out" certain tensions and conflicts. Like several other terms in this paper -- "rite of passage," "communitas," "liminality," and "ritual symbol" -- it is a metaphor drawn from anthropology (particularly Turner's work) which I see as a useful way of looking at The Winter's Tale. Turner says social dramas can be isolated for study in all societies at all levels of scale and complexity. In studying them, we consider social structure, or how people or characters interact based on their social status, as well as conflict. law and obligation. "Structure" as a metaphor for societal relations, however, is a dangerously limited concept because it produces an image of a rigid framework of social positions. Society and human interactions are not static. Social drama, which presents a social conflict as developing from the reconciliation of a previous social conflict, gives us a "processual view" of society and allows us to see social structure as fluid. It is a particularly rich metaphor for The Winter's Tale for several reasons. It shows that the corruption, fall, qualification and rebuilding of patriarchal power, a central motif in the play, is fluid, processual and alive. Because the plot of The Winter's Tale corresponds closely to Turner's description of the sequence of events in a social drama, we can use it as a model to break down the action and power struggles within the society of the play. Finally, Shakespeare, by exploiting the ambiguities of playing a role in life/on the stage, the ambiguities in the concept of "acting," and by blending stage "reality" with obvious artifice imbued the play with self-consciousness that it depicts a drama.
Zitner, Aaron, "Social Drama, Rites of Passage, and The Winter's Tale" (1984). Honors Papers. 637.