Children as natural images of regeneration

As indicated under Birth and growth children are a natural image of birth, growth and regeneration in The Winter's Tale. Hermione is heavily pregnant at the start of the play, and her baby is born by Act II scene ii. Her young son, Mamillius, we learn in the opening scene of the play, is already seen as the future of his people:

‘It is a gallant child; one, indeed, physics the subject, makes old hearts fresh; they that went on crutches ere he was born desire yet their life to see him a man.'

Children as a reason for marriage

The begetting of children is seen as natural and an important reason for marriage – the wedding service used in Shakespeare's time put it as the main reason, and love and companionship third:

First, it [marriage] was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
Secondly, it was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body.
Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.

See Liturgy The solemnisation of matrimony:The preface

Perdita, whose innate chastity and innocence are stressed throughout the sheep-shearing scene, nevertheless speaks openly of Florizel's desire to ‘breed' by her, and Polixenes says that children are the main source of their parents' happiness:

‘all whose joy is nothing else / But fair posterity'.

Children as agents of healing

Children in The Winter's Tale bring more than joy – they bring healing to disrupted minds and kingdoms. As Camillo says of Mamillius in the opening scene of the play, he is ‘One that, indeed, physics the subject.' ‘Physics' here means ‘heals'. In all four of the Romance Plays, children may be seen as representing both purity and spiritual healing. (See also: Sin and innocence.)


Although the birth of children is seen as a blessing, it is also clear that, in The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare uses chastity as a symbol of innocence and virtue:

  • Florizel's nobility is shown through his control of his natural desires, as he reassures Perdita (in Act IV, sc iv):
‘My desires
Run not before mine honour, nor my lusts
Burn hotter than my faith.'
  • Perdita – who has already indicted her purity by her objection to possible ‘scurrilous words' in the peddler's tines – later echoes Florizel's profession of faith by saying that:
‘By th' pattern of mine own thoughts I cut out
The purity of his.'

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

Birth and growth Children Sin and innocence Parents and children Time
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