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The winter's Tale is classified as one of William Shakespeare's comedies given that it has a happy ending despite the sad plot. However some harsh critics have labeled it as one of his failed plays. This is rendered by the fact that in the play Shakespeare refers to the seacoast of Bohemia, whereas this is a landlocked country. However despite such a glaring short-coming, the play is accepted as a success by many. The object of this paper is to examine the theme of genealogical relationships and how the same help us to understand the conflicts in the play. The conflicts revolve around characters that have family ties. Whereas genealogical relations are treated as roller coaster issues, Shakespeare treats it as the centre of all conflict in the play.
The main genealogical relationship upon which the plot is developed is that of king Leontes of Sicilia and his newly born daughter Perdita, a relationship strained right from the time the child is in her mother's womb. Upon seeing that his wife Hermione has easily persuaded Polixenes to extend his stay longer, Leontes starts to unwisely suspect that the his wife has been having an affair with Polixenes, and he must be the father of the unborn baby. Leontes hence order's for the child to be abandoned far away from his kingdom, "Antigonus, . This broken relationship between father and daughter is the centre of the conflict and also the subject of its resolution.
To begin with it is the pregnancy that will bear Perdita that causes untold anxiety in King Leontes' household. His son, and heir apparent, dies out of grief caused by the suffering his mother is suffering due to his father's accusations. His death is a serious threat to the stability of the whole state as he is referred as an "unspeakable comfort", a gentleman of the greatest promise". Camillo says of him, "they that went on crutches ere he was born desire yet their life to see him a man". This prompts Archidamus to respond, "If the king had no son, they would desire to live on crutches till he had one" (1.i. 39-46).
This relationship is also important in that it offers the resolution to the conflict that it causes. When Antigonus goes to 'throw' Perdita away he is killed by a bear but the child is rescued by Clown and his shepherd father who raises her to maturity. As fate would have it, Perdita and Florizel, King Polixenes' son, fall in love. However the King cannot fathom the idea of his son marrying a 'shepherdess", and he not only objects to their union but also threatens them. The prince retorts, "From my succession wipe me, father, I / Am heir to my affection." 4.4. The couple escapes to Sicilia and King Polixenes follows them. It is the comical pickpocket, Autolycus who reveals Perdita's heritage, reuniting her with her father Leontes. He says, "Though I am not naturally honest, I am so sometimes by chance." 4.4. The Kings reconcile and give their blessings o the young couple to marry. In addition Hermione reappears in the story, and Leontes exclaims, "If this be magic, let it be an art / Lawful as eating." 5.3
The genealogical relationships reveal a misunderstanding between generations. For instance we see the relationship between King Polixenes and his son being threatened because the young prince is defying the old generation. His father belongs to a generation that believes a member of the royal family should not marry outside the nobility. Hence his son's choice of a peasant girl is unfathomable to him.
In addition we find that the text covers a time span of sixteen years. This is a long duration during which Leonte suffers the grief he caused upon himself with his unwarranted misjudgment.