6 of Swords - Hermione
Dramatis Personae: Hermione, Queen of Sicilia; Paulina; Mamillius.
Text & Context: Hermione relates to Hermes, god of boundaries, conductor of souls to the afterlife, patron of herdsmen, travelers, and thieves, poetry, sport, and trade. Hermione, which means well-born, was also the name of Helen of Troy's daughter. Hermia were sacred stones placed erect at boundaries, consisting of a head on a phallic pillar with male genitals. Hermione in this way alludes to male limits, the conduct of souls, and intercession between the living and the dead. Leontes' consuming jealousy reduces Hermione to stone, a tombstone, a mute statue which she miraculously transcends. Stones in Shakespeare's day were slang for testes, seat of male hubris and progeny, as Paulina could attest. To be stoned was to be castrated, essentially what Leontes fears he's been, while Hermione is tested. In their foundling Perdita is embodied redemption; in their boy child Mamillius is a monument to loss.
The only "modern" artist Shakespeare mentions by name is Giulio Romano. It was the author of The Book of the Courtier, Castiglione, who procured Romano's painting, architecture, and engineering projects - and hence his fame - in Mantua, a city undoubtedly visited by Shakespeare during his year long tour of Italy. Not known as a sculptor, Romano's many frescoes employed trompe l'œil, pace the play's disparate mix of naturalism and myth and Shakespeare's own recurring trope of synesthesia. The images of Hermione, Mimallius, and Paulina used on this card are from works painted by Romano.
Paulina's devotion to and guardianship of Hermione and her children reflect the submerged aspects of the Minor Arcana's sixth card: empathy, healing, and movement. Stemming the tide of the suits' male excesses, exemplified in the King of Staffs Leontes card, is Paulina's defiant solution of female sodality. As Paulina tells Leontes: "It is required you do awake your faith." As the willing suspension of disbelief enables the deeper verities of theater, faith awakes one from the tyranny of temporal reality and the sleep of thought.
As Perdita echoes her mother Hermione, so the 6 of Cups card echoes the 6 of Swords... only, there, emotional sincerity and receptivity are in their element, and the subterranean aspects of 6 are nobly obliged to undertake different root. The child truly lost in this tale is Mimallius, seen here beneath the sail of Time. In this, Mamillius echoes his father Leontes, whose childhood with Polixenes - unmarred by the temptations of Eve [what Freud coined the Latency Period] - has floundered and capsized in the consuming sexual fires of adulthood.