The Tyranny of Immaterialism: Refusing the Body in The Winter's Tale


  • Camilla Caporicci


The aim of this study is to analyse the way Shakespeare’s work reveals the failure – in both private and public lives – of a system of thought in which the body is construed as a mere receptacle of immaterial and “superior” entities, supposedly governed by rational kinds of political and social power. After a brief consideration of Measure for Measure as a play focused on the political danger of denying the material aspect of the individual, The Winter’s Tale will be seen as presenting a similar problem. Here, the aspiration to an ideal of absolute purity and the consequent demonization of the sexualized flesh, deriving from both Puritan theology and neo-Platonic philosophy, merges with the anxiety towards the “rebellious” body fostered by sixteenth century medical science, constituting the disruptive force that initiates the plot. This attitude of denial of the body, linked to political power, leads to both a psychological breakdown and, in the public sphere, to a regime of tyranny.


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