A venerable critical tradition has long ﬂavoured the reception of Shakespeare’s plays with psychology. Characters are read as real people, and as a consequence, the plays are analysed from the starting point of an individual character’s inward personality. However, this literary reading of the plays fails to take into account not only the performance of character on the Renaissance stage but also the theatrical culture that predetermines forms of characterisation for that audience. The playing of roles within this drama needs to be continually re-investigated, and in the case of The Winter’s Tale and Othello, fully reimagined. The conventional ascription of the plot development entirely to the jealousy of both Leontes and Othello can accordingly be reworked. The modern obsession with psychology obscures a ﬁeld of semantic forces that goes well beyond the purview of any individual to a social encoding of possible behaviours. This restores multiple potentialities to the plays in performance, freeing them from a narrow insistence that meaning is rooted entirely in the individual. This in turn provides a context for deeper analysis of gender roles and how they intersect with the impetus generated by patriarchal modes of inheritance.