Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Chastity, a China Plate, and The Winter's Tale

My focus for the rest of the semester will be love and romance. It's a little broad, I know, but as I explore and research this topic, I'm hoping that my topic will narrow down a bit.

While reading Act 3, scene 2 in "The Winter's Tale" I found some criticism on the sexual love aspect and how it relates to the character Leontes.

In Peter Lindenbaum's essay, "Time, Sexual Love, and the Uses of Pastoral in The Winter's Tale", he suggests that Leontes looks back on his childhood with a wistful fondness:

"Leontes, like Polixenes, quite understandably looks back to his youth as a time of joy and safety, and he is quite consciously expressing a wish to be back in that happier period; he too wishes he could stop time's movement."

He then goes on to explain that the thing which ruined Leontes blissful childhood was the introduction of sexual love. Within the play Polixenes classifies sex as original sin and the cause of the defilement of innocence. It seems that both Leontes and Polixenes have a fear of sex.

What I thought of while reading this was my Marriage prep class. The professor said that in Mormon culture, a lot of our analogies and object lessons concerning chastity are actually quite damaging. For example, you may have heard of the broken china plate lesson. A sweet, caring beehive adviser will stand up in front of a group of impressionable 12 year old girls and show them a carefully crafted china plate and emphasize its beauty and wholeness. Then, with a sudden swing, she smashes the plate against the wall and it shatters into hundreds of pieces while the poor little beehives look on in terror. The adviser then explains that having sex before marriage is like breaking your one and only china plate. This object lesson teaches that sex is inherently bad. Well, just as this damaging analogy within Mormon culture can negatively affect a person's attitudes toward sex, Polixenes' connection of sex to original sin is just as damaging, and negatively affects Leontes, who slips into a fit of sexual jealousy.

In contrast to this fear is Hermione. Lindenbaum explains:

Polixenes has been unconsciously betraying a disapproval or even fear of sexual love. It is a fear that Hermione clearly does not share. For in telling Polixenes to go on, she even welcomes the charge of being a devil or a temptress, if it is only her participation in sexual love that makes her the offender."

Hermione is innocent and reasonable and secures the reader's confidence with her character. Thus, with her acceptance of sex (made obvious by her conspicuous stomach) she makes clear that Leontes' perceptions of sex and his fear of it are unhealthy and incorrect.

Lindenbaum, Peter. "Time, Sexual Love, and the Uses of Pastoral in The Winter's Tale." The Winter's Tale: Critical Essays. Ed. Maurice Hunt. New York: Garland Publishing, 1995. Print.