Birth and growth

Positive growth

Hermione pregnant with her husband and son from change of seasons depicted in the play is closely linked to images of birth and growth. Hermione's pregnancy is an obvious and, for the audience, a visual reminder of this, as is the existence of her young son and the birth of her baby.

However, it is not only human birth and growth which is depicted. There are many references to natural growth from the outset of the play:

  • In Act I scene i the affection between Polixenes and Leontes is said to have ‘rooted' as boys and ‘cannot choose but branch now'
  • In Act I scene ii Polixenes refers to the young Leontes and himself as ‘lambs' and their youth as ‘those unfledg'd days'.

Negative images of growth

These images of natural birth, growth and development are, however, subverted for a time when Leontes' jealousy sees only unnatural growth:

  • The horns (of the cuckold) on his own forehead - and Polixenes has already, though unwittingly, added to this paranoia by speaking of ‘what may … breed upon our absence'
  • Later Polixenes is warned by Camillo that he needs to fear the growth of his friend's irrational jealousy:
Polixenes: ‘How should this grow?
Camillo: I know not: but I am sure ‘tis safer to
Avoid what's grown than question how ‘tis born.'

Growth and regeneration

For much of the play, especially in the second half, growth is associated with nature and regeneration, especially in Act IV scene iv:

  • There are images of flowers and trees developing and growing
  • Perdita hands to Polixenes flowers which ‘keep / Seeming and savour all the winter long'
  • She later describes the shepherdesses as wearing
‘upon your virgin branches yet / Your maidenheads growing'
  • Even when the mood changes, and Camillo comes forward to help the lovers escape from Bohemia, Florizel's response is given using an image of natural growth:
‘There is some sap in this.'

Re-creation and regeneration are the keynotes of the second half of the play.

See also - Natural and unnatural development in The Winter's Tale:

Birth and growth Children Sin and innocence Parents and children Time
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.