Disowning the Art of Memory in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale

  • Anita Gilman Sherman


The Winter’s Tale has long been recognized as a play preoccupied with problems of knowledge and belief and, hence, with skepticism. In “Recounting Gains, Showing Losses” Stanley Cavell, for example, has argued that the play illustrates the fanaticism that can overcome the skeptic when he refuses to acknowledge the humanity of other people—a syndrome that Kant recognizes in his remarks on fanaticism and that King Leontes of Sicilia experiences when his onslaught of uncertainty turns him into a tyrant. The play also appeals to Cavell because the “unknown woman” at its center, Queen Hermione, unwittingly raises questions about gender and skepticism, thanks to her childbearing. In a recent essay on Eric Rohmer’s cinematic adaptation of the play, Conte d’Hiver, Cavell explains yet another feature of the story’s attraction: “Since marriage … is an image of the ordinary in human existence (the ordinary as what is under attack in philosophy’s tendency to skepticism), the pair’s problem, the response to their crisis, is to transfigure, or resurrect, their vision of their everyday lives.”1 This diverse, but overlapping set of responses to the play has in common the ethical response to skepticism—how to salvage a life from the wreckage of doubt.


Ethical Imagination Skeptical Reason Memorial Overload Elusive Object Polite Fiction 
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© Anita Gilman Sherman 2007

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  • Anita Gilman Sherman

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