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Schwartz, M.M. (1973). Leontes' Jealousy in The Winter's Tale. Am. Imago, 30(3):250-273.

(1973). American Imago, 30(3):250-273

Leontes' Jealousy in The Winter's Tale

Murray M. Schwartz, Ph.D.

Fatum est in partibus Mis quas sinus abscondit.

Juvenal

Criticism of The Winter's Tale discloses an almost uniform denial of significant motivation in the representation of Leontes' jealousy. Norman Holland (in his pre-psychoanalytic criticism) writes: “In fact, [Shakespeare] is really quite perfunctory about the source of trouble; he doesn't even bother to motivate Leontes' jealousy.” Frank Kermode thinks that “Shakespeare removes Leontes' motives for jealousy.” G. W. Knight, committed to theological notions of Shakespeare's divine inspiration, says “His evil is self-born and unmotivated.” A. D. Nutall, to my mind the play's most responsive critic, courts “Freudian” suggestions in the text but tactfully avoids a psychoanalytic reading of Leontes' delusions. J. H. P. Pafford, the editor of the Arden edition, states flatly: “Causes of the jealousy are no concern of ours.” D. A. Traversi speaks only of “The evil impulse which comes to the surface….” Implicit in this dominant attitude toward Leontes' jealousy is the proposition that its specific expressions lack coherent psychological significance. Leontes simply goes mad without cause. In the language of the French psychoanalyst J. Lacan, we can say that these critics refuse to take Shakespeare's metaphors seriously as “significant.”

Of course, these critics are responding to one aspect of the play's dramatic reality.

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