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Why is Leontes Jealous? Finding a Cause in The Winter's Tale

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Joseph Swetnam. The araignment of lewd, idle, froward, and unconstant women. London, 1619

November 2002
Caroline Lee, Bronx High School of Science, New York City, New York.

Plays/Scenes Covered
The Winter's Tale 1.2
What's On for Today and Why

Students will examine several possible ways of understanding Leontes's jealousy through close reading, a performance activity, and the use of a primary source document.


This lesson will take two to three class periods.

What You Need
New Folger edition of The Winter's Tale

The following primary source handouts from Joseph Swetnam's The Araignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and unconstant Women:
Beginning of Chapter 1
P. 18-19
P. 28
What To Do

1. After giving students a brief synopsis of the play, read Act 1 together in class highlighting all that Leontes does and says.


2. In class, ask students to summarize Act 1.2-who is involved, what happens, what is the time and location, where is the story leading us, what impression do we have of charcters thus far? Answer questions and discuss until students are comfortable with it.


3. Divide the students into groups of four. Each student should select one of the characters; one may be Mamillius.


4. Have each group prepare to perform this scene. Through their performances, ensure each group answers the following questions: What is the nature of the relationship between Leontes, Polixenes, and Hermione? How should Polixenes and Hermione behave during their conversation? How should Leontes and Hermione behave together? What kind of marriage did they have up to this point? How should Leontes and Polixenes behave? Where is Leontes while the others are discussing? What does he look like? Students should be able to perform this scene with and without language.


5. Have each group perform. After each performance, ask students to write down what they noticed about the characters' relationships, as portrayed by the group. Lead a short discussion after each performance, and list the choices the students have noted on the board. See if students can come up with several conclusions for why Leontes becomes suddenly jealous.


6. Then, distribute the primary source handout, excerpts from Joseph Swetnam's 1619 Araignment. Have students compare Swetnam's view that women are the cause of man's fall from grace (Chapter 1) with Leontes's actions and reactions.


7. If time permits, look at some of the additional excerpts from Swetnam. How does Leontes's description of Hermione's behavior compare with Swetnam's description of "three ways to know a whore"?

How Did It Go?
Were students able to comment on the different examples of relationships between the characters that they presented to the class? Were they able to come up with a variety of possible reasons for Leontes's jealousy? Did they find parallels with the primary source that helped them understand the context for his sudden rage?

If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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