The object of the preposition in that most famous of Shakespearean stage directions, “Exit, pursued by a bear,” has been the subject of much critical inquiry. This essay suggests that The Winter's Tale's preoccupations with maternal influence and the occult encourage us to situate the bear at their intersection: the bear may be understood through its entanglements with the occult properties of women's bodies and the creaturely and gendered dynamics of early modern witchcraft. While other intellectual traditions and “old tales,” including classical myth and natural history, foreground the bear as a symbol of maternal nurturance and shaping influence, tethering the bear to its referents in witch texts sharpens its meaning as an emblem and embodiment of women's occult power and as a reminder of women's proximity to the animal realm. Through Shakespeare's bear, cultural anxieties that accompanied notions of witchcraft, motherhood, and women's somatic influences find creaturely expression.

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