Thursday, June 11, 2009

In reference to article by Snyder, Susan. “Mamillius and Gender Polarization in The Winter’s Tale.” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 50, No. 1 (Spring, 1

Mamillius’s sickness and death may have been a result of pulling him away from his mother too early. The custom of the time dictated that a male child wore a coat (a unisex dress) until approximately age seven. During the first childhood period (before age seven), the boy required a maternal touch and was predominantly in the company of women. The boy was to be nurtured and cared for by women until his rite of passage – breeching, the replacement of the coat for breeches and a sword. At approximately seven, or when mature enough, the boy was removed from contact with women, except for “an ancient and sad matron attending on him in his chamber” as in the case of Sir Thomas Slingsby’s son (3). The boy was then trained in becoming a nobleman. Most scholars argue that Mamillius was between the ages of nine and eleven, but Snyder effectively argues that he was probably five, too young to be breeched and withdrawn from his mother and the waiting women.

Wow! The boy/girl separation of the Elizabethan era exposes some subtleties carried on in contemporary society. This topic fascinates me – I am in awe of the partition between male and female. The boy child is nurtured until he is ready to take the step toward manhood. Snyder notes that Edward VI, among others, was excited to become breeched. Some even did not want to wait. Mamillius fell sick and died when separated from the women. If he really was five, Snyder’s research dictates that he was still in the weak and vulnerable stage. It was not until seven that boys were considered tough enough to be removed from nurturing. Tough enough to receive a sword at seven as well. I am also surprised that the boy is kept away from his mother after he is breeched. I assume that any further association with his mother would “over-nurture” the boy and turn him effeminate. If the boy is supposed to be toughened up after breeching, any involvement with the mother could hamper that – leaving him weak. It is interesting that the same nurturing that can cause damage after the age of seven is vital before the age of seven.
Snyder uses the mother-son bond to explain the death of Mamillius – separation anxiety. The characters blamed various reasons: Leontes – Hermione’s dishonor, Paulina – the unwarranted dishonoring of Hermione, and a servant – anticipation of Hermione’s death (separation anxiety?). The servant comes closest in blaming Mamillius’s death on a form of separation anxiety. Snyder faults Leontes for taking away the child at a time that he still requires the nurturing and attention of his mother. The servant suggests that Mamillius’s grief of his mother’s pending death (a permanent separation) resulted in a sickness leading to his own death. If Mamillius had been past the breeching age (seven or older), logic would dictate that he would have been strong enough consciously to handle his mother’s expected death. Snyder’s theory about Mamillius being five years old makes the most sense under these conditions.

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