What role do prophecies and the gods play in the story? Cite specific examples from the play to support your answer.
In the Shakespeare play The Winter’s Tale, the role of prophecies and gods play a vital role. They assist in highlighting themes such as hope and rebirth within the play. Gods such as Apollo and the goddess Proserpina are discussed along with their surrounding significance. The roles of these gods play such a significant role that although the King is regarded as truly powerful they seem to lie above him in the hierarchical structure of that era.
Prophecies seem to be dire in the play as the King relies on a prophecy from the Oracle of Apollo in Delphi to confirm his accusations of the Queen’s infidelity; he himself calls it a ‘greater confirmation’. In Act 2 Scene 1, King Leontes refers to the oracle as “spiritual counsel” which imparts the idea that he holds the prophecy to be delivered with high esteem. Prophecies are important because they determine the outcome of situations and proclaim what is destined to happen. Although the King disregards the Oracle’s claim that Hermione is innocent because he is so deeply rooted in his jealousy, the prophecy acts as a foreshadow. This is so because in fact, “the king will live without an heir, if that which is lost be not found,” the burden of this prophecy is great due to its truth. Since the king has abandoned his daughter and Mamillius is now dead he has no heir to his thrown. This will have severe repercussions.
Along with prophecies we are made to see the great importance that the gods play. It is Hermione who first calls upon the gods saying, “I do refer me to the Oracle: Apollo be my judge!” It is quite evident that Apollo plays a great role in her life since she relies on him to be her judge against her husband’s great accusations. The god Apollo is also symbolic of hope, this can be seen through Hermione’s prayer to him, his position as a symbol of hope can also be observed through the wishful conversation of Cleomenes and Dion.
Later in the play in act IV; scene IV, Perdita adorns Polixenes and Camillo who are both disguised, with flowers. She is then compared to the goddess Proserpina, who is the goddess of spring and all growing things. This mention of the goddess and the comparison to Perdita is significant because it highlights a very important contrast that occurs within the play. In the beginning it is winter and this is symbolic of gloom and the upcoming tragedies that will occur. Perdita and the goddess Proserpina are symbolic of spring, a season of rebirth. This contrast also acts as a foreshadow as Perdita will eventually restore the king to a place of happiness when she returns home. One can now see the implicit importance that the gods as well as prophecies embody within the play.
In conclusion, prophecies and gods play an important role within the play because they aid in bringing forth important themes such as hope and rebirth or renewal. They also highlight the faith that each character holds, seen especially in Hermione.