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Paulina, a wife of one of the aristocrats, speaks these lines to Leontes in The Winter's Tale:

And thou, good goddess Nature, which hast made it
So like to him that got it, if thou hast
The ordering of the mind too, 'mongst all colors
No yellow in 't, lest she suspect, as he does,
Her children not her husband's!

The Winter's Tale, 2.3. lines 104-108

Would someone, please, help me with the interpretation of these lines?
I have the following which doesn't make sense to me:

"Thou" refers to Nature but could also refer to Hermione. The suggestion is who would Nature look for in order to make a child that looks like it's father, but also that Nature doesn't need a father to have children. The question if nature has an ordering of the mind (like Leontes?) except without jealousy---Otherwise, Hermione (who is she in line 107?) would suspect as Leontes does that her children are illegitimate. If she doesn't have the mad jealousy why would she entertain an alternate parenting reality?

Shouldn't it be ",...if thou hast not \ The ordering of the mind too, 'mongs all colors..." ?

  • Yellow is the color of jealousy here. – Peter Shor Jun 15 at 23:54
  • Thank you, I got that from a gloss. It refers to the color of Nature's autumn leaves. I suppose I'm having trouble with who the pronouns refer to. If it could be clarified who "she" is, I think that would help me. It seems to be Hermione, but I don't understand how that makes sense in this context. – Benjamin Godfrey Jun 16 at 20:08
  • Why would yellow refer to the color of autumn leaves? Is there any textual evidence for that? – Peter Shor Jun 16 at 20:15
  • Now, that you point it out, perhaps it doesn't make sense. ...thou [Nature] has the ordering of the mind... [like Leontes]... 'mongst all colors [Nature has an ordering of the mind with many colors] no yellow in it. [Nature has an ordering of the mind with many colors in it, but not yellow (the color of jealousy)] How should it be interpreted? – Benjamin Godfrey Jun 16 at 20:31
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Yellow is the colour of jealousy. Below are examples from other plays from the same period.

Northward Ho (Act I, scene 3) by John Webster and Thomas Dekker:

Jealous men are either knaves or coxcombs ; be you neither : you wear yellow hose without cause.

The White Devil (Act I, scene 1) by John Webster:

True, but they that have the yellow jaundice think all objects they look on to be yellow. Jealousy is worser; her fits present to a man, like so many bubbles in a bason of water, twenty several crabbed faces, many times makes his own shadow his cuckold-maker.

Below is my line-by-line paraphrase of Paulina's words:

And you, good goddess Nature, who have made it [i.e. the baby]
so like/similar to the man who conceived it [i.e. her / the baby], if you [i.e. Nature] have
control over the mind too, among all colours
allow no yellow in it [i.e. girl's mind], or she will suspect, like he [i.e. her father] does,
that her children are not her husband's!

Ordering means "control", "management", "direction". For another example of this word in Shakespeare's works, see King John, Act V, scene 1:

Have thou the ordering of this present time

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  • Thank you, your reading of "order" clarifies things, and it is also more clear to me that "yellow" is referring to a jealous temperament. – Benjamin Godfrey Jun 17 at 15:53
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Her refers to the babe - eventually. Nature, if you can order her mind as well as her face to be like her father's, then please put no yellow, or jealousy like his, within her. So that she will never suspect, like he (her father) does, that her children are not her husband's children.

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  • Hi and welcome to Literature Stack Exchange. What does this answer contribute that is not already said in the existing answer? – Tsundoku Oct 12 at 19:42

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