The statue scene (Scene iii, Act V) is a great theatrical device in the play, The Winter s Tale to revive Hermione dead for sixteen years, since her fainting in the trial scene (Act III) after hearing the news of her promising son. Prince Mamillius, who dies because he could not bear the sad plight of his mother.
Everyone believes Paulina’s announcement that Hermione is dead, and mourns. King Leontes is so struck by the news that he orders that the graves of mother and child should be placed side by side so that he can visit the chapel everyday and weep in sorrow over their graves. He repents of his cruelty and injustice towards his Queen. Hermione’s infant daughter is declared by Leontes as bastard, ill-gotten out of the adultery of Hermione with Polixenes. She is ordered to be left at the mercy of the nature at some forbidden place outside his kingdom. The infant is laid by Antigonus by the coast in Bohemia. So the tragedy in the first three Acts of the play (Act I-III) is both grim and horrible. Blasphemy of Leontes results in the death of his beloved son and heir to his throne and the end of his Queen Hermione. For Hermione it results in sad secluded life for sixteen years, even though oracle declares her chaste. An honourable woman, daughter of an Emperor and Queen of Sicilia is forced to lead a miserable life of ignomy and seclusion. Her son is dead and daughter lost because of irrational and mad jealousy of her lord, King Leontes. The tragedy for Leontes and Hermione is, thus, horrible and complete in the first three acts of the play. The Winter’s Tale, signifying long grim and severe winter in England.
The grim tragedy of the plot in the first three Acts with theme of forgiveness and reconciliation is to move towards a happy ending in Act IV and Act V. Till the statue scene Hermione is dead for audience and readers except Paulina. Paulina alone plans Queen’s false death to teach Leontes long repentance till he is regenerated and realises his cruelty and injustice towards his virtuous Queen. King Leontes visits the graves of his son and wife and weeps everyday. After sixteen years of saint-like sorrow, Leontes is redeemed and is a changed person. Reconciliation . begins. In Fifth Act first Leontes is united with his lost daughter, Perdita and his friend, King Polixenes and Camillo.
Paulina, then, invites Leontes, his friend King Polixenes, Perdita, Leontes’ daughter, Camillo and Florizel to visit her place to se marvellous life-size statue of Queen Hermione made by famous Roman sculptor and artist, Julio Romano. All agree to visit Paulina’s secluded place and proceed to witness the statue. Everyone is wonder-struck to see the beautiful statue of Hermione. Leontes rushes to embrace and kiss the lips of Hermione, but Paulina stops him on the pretext that the paint is not yet dry, so it will spoil his lips and the statue. Perdita wants to bow and get her mother’s blessings, but again Paulina prevents her. She suggests that they will have to wait and they will see the statue moving. Polixenes even notices the wrinkles on the face of Hermione. To that Paulina praises the master artist who could imagine how Hermione would look after sixteen years. To some the statue appears like Hermione in white dress as in a dream.
The statue -is, in fact, Hermione herself standing on a pedestal like a statue. Ultimately, like a magician. Paulina informs everybody present there that they will see soon the statue moving. She orders music and with that Hermione steps down the pedestal and moves towards Leontes and embraces him. She has ‘forgiven’ King Leontes and to everyone’s joy and surprise, she turns out to be Hermione alive. After that she prays to gods for blessing her daughter, Perdita. The play, thus, deeply tragic in the first three Acts, in the last two Acts turns into a wonderful romance or a tragi-comedy.
Regarding the significance of the scene in the play the opinion of critics is sharply divided. One set of critics like Charlotte Lennox argue: “…. a mean and absurd contrivance; for how it can be imagined that Hermione, a virtuous and affectionate wife, would conceal herself during sixteen years in a solitary house. How ridiculous also is a great Queen, on so interesting an occasion to submit to such buffoonery as standing on a pedestal, motionless, her eyes fixed, and at last to be conjured down by a magical command of Paulina.” On the other hand, the theatrical scene is regarded as a marvellous artistic achievement of Shakespeare in the play, The Winter’s Tale.
Hazlitt praises the scene when Mrs. Siddon played Hermione and acted with true monumental dignity and noble passion. Dereck Traversi remarks, ‘The words of the reconciled parties at the foot of the statue are as significant in their sequence as in the thematic content and plain sense; they proceed by an antiphonal building up towards the final, inclusive harmony.” The sequence is given continuity, external projection by the various successive stages of the plot, by the process of Leentes’ slow awakening to the fact that Hermione herself is before him, and by almost
un-noticeable stages of her coming to life, which corresponds to the definite birth of the new grace, out of the long winter of his penance.
Victor Hugo praises the scene in which a viewer feels that, “we are present at some magic invocation by a supernatural power, and at this unexpected resurrection, we feel an indescribable emotion of wonder and surprise.” The effect of music makes the scene more awe-inspiring. Goddard observes, “Theatrically, it is a masterpiece of suspense. Dramatically, it rounds out every character who participate in it. Symbolically, it ties together all the play has said or suggested concerning the relation of art and nature, and by implication, of the worlds of reality and romance, of Sicilia and Bohemia.”
The scene is a reincarnation of the remarkable scene of Pygmalion. But it is not possible to suggest how much Shakespeare borrowed from the old Greek story. However, to-date, the scene remains a subject of controversy amongst the critics. Some praising it as finest piece of poetry and others regarding it an example of glaring improbability in the play, The Winter’s Tale. Its theatrical effects are unquestionable.