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While the words “Divine Comedy” naturally recall Dante’s classic poem in which the poet descends to the underworld of the Inferno, ascends Mount Purgatory, and rises to the heavenly Paradise, the phrase also applies to Shakespeare’s tragi-comedies (The Tempest, Cymbeline, Pericles, and The Winter’s Tale) that begin with a sudden fall from high to low precipitated by the sin of pride. Yet these plays that begin with injustice, violence, and death culminate in the miracle of good coming out of evil, joy out of sorrow, and life from death. While The Winter’s Tale begins in an idyllic scene of reunion between two dear friends bonded by a shared childhood of innocence that they happily recall, the play abruptly changes from happiness to misery.
As Polixenes, the king of Bohemia, enjoys a long visit in the court of Leontes in Sicily, they renew their bond of affection as they fondly reminisce of their days as “boy eternal.” When Leontes pleads with Polixenes to extend his stay and prolong their happy reunion, Polixenes refuses the gracious invitation, explaining that nine months has been a long absence from his kingdom (“My affairs do drag me homeward”). However, when Leontes asks his wife Queen Hermione to intercede, her gentle persuasion and natural charm move the guest to change his mind—a turn of events that makes Leontes’ furious jealousy imagine some clandestine affair between his wife and dearest friend. Leontes’ blind rage or “madness”—based exclusively on his own subjective private judgment with no other validation—incites the tragedy that follows.
Suspicions - Adultery - Polixenes - Hermione - Cuckold
Convinced by unfounded suspicions of adultery between Polixenes and Hermione and believing himself a cuckold, Leontes calls his wife an adulteress and a harlot (“My wife’s a hobby-horse, deserves a name/ As rank as any flax-wench that puts to/ Before her troth-plight”). Leontes then commissions his servant Camillo...
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