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6 of Cups - Perdita

Dramatis Personae: Perdita; Florizel, Prince of Bohemia, disguised as shepherd; Clown; Polixenes, King of Bohemiadisguised as shepherd.

Text & Context: Perdita is derived from the Latin for lost. Like The Winter's Tale itself, Perdita embodies two modes hitherto at variance - myth and verisimilitude in the play, innocence and intention in the girl. In this way she is the living representation of her lost mother Hermione, and the stark antipode to her father Leontes' inability to navigate these two poles, itself represented in his dead son, Mamallius.

 The card itself is a bouquet of flowers Perdita mentions by name. These include lavender, marjorum, primrose, violet, savory, iris, daffodil, mint, oxlip, marigold [ER's flower], and gillyvor. This last flower is the streaked carnation, "which some call nature's bastards"; Perdita equates it with make-up and eschews it for being "unnatural". Cousin to the vining disparities that effloresce the play, Shakespeare clusters a complex thicket of meaning in what otherwise appears on the surface to be a simple pastoral scene. Consider: Perdita believes herself to be the child of a peasant shepherd, but is in fact of royal stock. She believes Florizel, the man she loves, to be a poor shepherd, whereas he, a king's son, is knowingly deceiving her. Polixenes - like father, like son - is disguised as a shepherd, to thwart the wedding of his noble son to a common maid. In words which contradict his true attitude to this marriage, Polixenes openly opposes Perdita's stance on plant husbandry:

You see, sweet maid, we marry
A gentler scion to the wildest stock,
And make conceive a bark of baser kind
By bud of nobler race: this is an art
Which does mend nature, change it rather, but
The art itself is nature.

 To this, Perdita politely agrees. But when Polixenes presses the point, urging her to plant her garden with gillyvors, she replies

I'll not put
The dibble in earth to set one slip of them;
No more than were I painted I would wish
This youth [Florizel] should say 'twere well and only therefore
Desire to breed by me.

 Like it or not, this argument, the patrician - Polixene's true attitude and Perdita's stated - is the one with which Shakespeare sides. Perdita believes herself common, and was indeed reared humbly [if in the manner of heroes such as Paris & Christ], but at root it's the nobility of her blood which allows her to flourish. Her very truth and beauty stem from her noble lineage; she is as the gillyvor, both nature and art. She is as naturally innocent as a flower, yet flowers are a plant's genitals, configured and hued so to seduce. She evokes the varying colours of the many flowers she calls to mind, but the time is late fall, when the flowers have faded and colour is a dull autumnal tone. Like the play itself, Perdita plays at pastoral. The force of Leontes' own internecine passions, projected, have painted Hermione a whore and Perdita a bastard. He mistook his own artistry - his tampering with nature - for Nature. It will take a painted Hermione, playing a living trompe l'oeil, to break the illusion cast by his brooding pride. 

 Shepherds are metonyms for Poets; lambs the symbols of sacrifice. Shakespeare took Greene's Pandosto and flipped around its kingdoms, giving Bohemia a coastline in the process [Bohemia stretched from the Sudetes to the Adriadic under King Ottakar and "King of the Romans", Richard of Cornwall]. Sun-baked Sicily becomes Leontes' realm, befitting the late summer of Leo, with the verdant Bohemia its reverse. It is harvest time, shearing time, the preparation for wintertime and the flower-gathering maiden Proserpina's return to the underworld.  Cere's baby basket lies empty. One can't shake the feeling this pastoral place, later Illyria, isn't itself the underworld; Polyxenus was high priest of Demeter, Florizel a devotee of the Sicilian flower festival Anthesphoria [what the Latins called Florisertum]; this tale one of genesis, a conte come comte d'iver or winter's tail [Elizabethan slang for female genitals], later Ilithyia, seen in The Tempest's masque. There, Prospero stage-managed a rapprochement of family through magic and muse, here Shakespeare (wo)manages it through an allusion to the Eleusinian Mysteries. 

Intertext: King of Staff Leontes; Swords 6 Hermione; The Fool.

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