The association of this symbolism with the death and revival of human beings is more elusive, but still perceptible. The fact that the heroine often brings about the comic resolution by disguising herself as a boy is familiar enough. In the Hero of Much Ado About Nothing and the Helena of All’s Well That Ends Well, this theme of the withdrawl and return of the heroine comes as close to a death and revival as Elizabethan conventions will allow. The Thaisa of Pericles and the Fidele of Cymbeline are beginning to crack the conventions, and with the disappearance and revival of Hermione in The Winter’s Tale, who actually returns once as a ghost in a dream, the original nature-myth of Demeter and Prosperine is openly established. The fact that the dying and reviving character is usually female strengthens the feeling that there is something maternal about the green world, in which the new order of the cosmic resolution is nourished and brought to birth. However, a similar theme which is very like the rejuvenation of the senex so frequent in Aristophanes occurs in the folklore motif of the healing of the impotent king on which All’s Well That Ends Well is based, and this theme is probably involved in the symbolism of Prospero.
Northrup Frye, “The Argument of Comedy” from Shakespeare: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory 1945-2000. Russ McDonald, ed.