Through Nurture and Good Advisement: Paulina, Ideal Orator of Shakespeare's the Winter's Tale

By Crider, Scott F. | Cithara, May 2008 | Go to article overview

Through Nurture and Good Advisement: Paulina, Ideal Orator of Shakespeare's the Winter's Tale


Crider, Scott F., Cithara


[A]rt in some cases completes what nature cannot bring to a finish ....

Aristotle, Physics (199al5-16)

It is now more common to hear from Shakespeareans that Shakespeare investigates the most important theological issues of Renaissance English culture, but, as Jeffrey Knapp has argued, there remains in Shakespeare Studies a "secularist bias":

On the level of practical criticism, secularist readings of Renaissance plays have failed to explain some of the most recurring plots, themes and character types in the plays, or even to notice the existence of such recurrences. In historiographical terms, the secularist bias among modern critics has helped sustain the myth that piety and popular entertainments in Renaissance England were cultural opposites and waged war on one another .... (2)

There is yet but little study of the relationship between that investigation and another - his questioning of the classical rhetorical tradition, especially the Ciceronian inheritance that fashioned his schooling and informed his dramatic practice. Though there are a number of fine studies of Renaissance rhetoric, often with reference to Shakespeare - Airman, Baldwin (Vol. 2, 1-238), Desmet, Gray, Joseph, Kahn, Kinney (3-38), Kristeller (211-259), Mack, McDonald, Parker (67-96), Piatt, Plett, Rebhorn, Rhodes, Sloane (1997 and 1985), Trousdale, and Vickers (1983)only one focuses specifically upon the relationship between the cultural phenomenon of the Renaissance's Christianity and that of its revival of rhetoric - Shuger - and she does not discuss Shakespeare. There is not space here for a full discussion of either phenomenon. My argument is more limited: Shakespeare represents Paulina in The Winter's Tale as becoming an ideal orator in her counsel to Leontes and his court. A number of critics have examined Paulina's language and / or rhetoric in the play: Enterline (198-226), Barkin (283-287), Barton, Bate (220-240), Carroll (208-225), Cavell (193-221), Colie (265-283), Felprin, Gross (99-109), Hunt (74-108), Lamb, McDonald (188-192), Neely, Rhodes (201-203), and Sokol. I have benefited from all of them, but my argument is, I believe, unique: Paulina fulfills the Ciceronian role of ideal orator, that ideal orator is clearly Christian in the play, and yet the two figures who find fulfillment in Paulina - Cicero and Paul as both orators and theorists of oratory - are difficult, perhaps impossible, to order so that one is superior to another. Paulina will embody the union of eloquence and wisdom, and that union will make possible a rhetorical "miracle" neither strictly Ciceronian, nor strictly Pauline. Nor is Shakespeare's poetically adventurous representation of resurrection strictly Catholic or Protestant. Indeed, the statue scene of The Winter's Tale (5.3) treats one of the more contentious Reformation debates over the eucharist is it an instance of "real presence," as the Catholic Church maintained, or only "remembrance," as the reformers did? - with a refined ambiguity that allowed both parties to experience and learn from the same fictive representation. Paulina's oratorical magic may be lawful, but the exact nature of its law is indeterminate. After briefly examining the Ciceronian ideal of oratory, I will argue that Paulina achieves that ideal in a fashion neither simply Ciceronian, nor simply Christian. Shakespeare, I contend, transcends the religious factionalism of his own culture by re-imagining the Ciceronianism of Renaissance England by means of Paul, and its Pauline theology by means of Cicero.

The Ciceronian ideal of the orator may be witnessed in Cicero's early rhetoric, de Inventione, whose figure for the orator is an inventor of humanity and a founder of sociality itself:

For there was a time when men wandered at large in the fields like animals and lived on wild fare; they did nothing by the guidance of reason, but relied chiefly on physical strength; there was no ordered system of religious worship nor of social duties; no one had seen legitimate marriage nor had anyone looked upon children whom he knew to be his own; nor had they learned the advantages of an equitable code of law.

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