……. It is time for Polixenes, King of Bohemia, to end his visit with his boyhood friend Leontes, King of Sicily. While the two kings prepare to bid farewell in a state room of the Sicilian palace, a Bohemian lord named Archidamus and a Sicilian lord named Camillo are in an antechamber discussing the extraordinary friendship between the two rulers. Camillo, advisor to Leontes, observes that they were inseparable when growing up: “They were trained together in their childhoods; and there rooted betwixt them then such an affection, which cannot choose but branch now” (1. . 10). ……. Archidamus says nothing will ever come between the two kings. (His observation is an ironic foreshadowing of a terrible jealousy that will soon divide them. ) He also praises the Sicilian king’s little boy, Mamillius, as the finest of lads with the brightest of futures. (This, too, is an ominous observation. ) ……. In the state room, King Leontes presses King Polixenes to linger in Sicily one more week, but Polixenes begs off, worrying about “what may chance / Or breed” (1. 2. 15-16) in Bohemia in his absence.
When Hermione, the beautiful wife of Leontes, joins her husband in importuning Polixenes to extend his visit, he agrees to remain a while longer. Pulling him aside, she asks what his childhood was like with her husband. Polixenes replies, We were, fair queen, Two lads that thought there was no more behind But such a day to-morrow as to-day, And to be boy eternal. (1. 2. 78-81) When Hermione asks about their childhood adventures, Polixenes says, We were as twinn’d lambs that did frisk i’ the sun, And bleat the one at the other: what we chang’d Was innocence for innocence; we knew not
The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dream’d That any did . . . . (1. 2. 83-87) After Leontes learns that Hermione has persuaded Polixenes to stay, Leontes immediately regrets extending Polixenes’s welcome, for the friendly conversation between his wife and Polixenes has envenomed him with jealousy. Apparently, Polixenes has an unduly suspicious eye. Perhaps Polixenes and his wife have become too close, Leontes thinks; perhaps they have been meeting in secret. He even begins to wonder whether his son, Mamillius, is the the product of a tryst in an earlier time between Hermione and Polixenes. …… Later, suspicion builds upon suspicion. In a conversation with Camillo, the king openly accuses his wife of infidelity. Camillo, shocked, says the king sins gravely in speaking against her. The king replies, Is whispering nothing? Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses? Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career Of laughing with a sigh? (1. 2. 332-335) ……. Finally, he orders Camillo to bear a poisoned cup to Polixenes. Camillo tells the king he will perform the deadly mission, but then warns the Bohemian king that his life is in danger.
During the night, Polixenes steals away. Camillo, estranged by Leontes’s behavior, accompanies Polixenes. Their sudden departure convinces Leontes his suspicions against Hermione are well founded. Angry and bitter, he publicly denounces his wife, who is soon to have another child, as an adulteress. After imprisoning her, he deprives her of the company of little Mamillius. Hermione pleads her innocence, to no avail. She is guilty; Leontes is certain of it. To confirm her guilt for others, he sends two lords, Cleontes and Dion, to the Oracle at Delphi, Greece, to request a judgment. …… After Hermione bears a daughter, her servant, Paulina, presents the infant to Leontes, hoping the sight of the little girl will quench his anger. However, wrathful as ever, Leontes disowns the child–believing it is not his own–and orders Paulina’s husband, Antigonus, to abandon it in a far-off place. Leontes then subjects Hermione to a public trial. With utmost dignity and grace, she proclaims her innocence, declaring she has always been faithful to Leontes. ……. During the trial, Cleontes and Dion return from Delphi with a sealed verdict from the great Oracle.
An official of the court breaks the seal and reads the verdict: “Hermione is chaste; Polixenes blameless; Camillo a true subject; Leontes a jealous tyrant; his innocent babe truly begotten; and the king shall live without an heir, if that which is lost be not found” (3. 2. 134). ……. Leontes rejects the verdict and orders the trial to continue. A servant interrupts the proceedings with tragic news: Prince Mamillius, pining for his jailed mother’s love, has died. The news staggers Leontes, and Hermione collapses. Suddenly realizing how wrong he as been, Leontes tells Hermione’s attendants to treat her gently when they escort her from the courtroom. Later, Leontes receives another shock: Hermione, too, has died. Profoundly moved, the king laments his vengeful deeds and goes off to mourn. ……. What of the newly born child, the infant princess? As instructed, Antigonus leaves her in a far-off place, the coast of Bohemia, along with certain effects, including a note identifying the infant as “Perdita,” a name that came to Antigonus when he imagined he saw Hermione in a vision.
But before Antigonus can return to his ship, a bear attacks and kills him and an angry sea wrecks the ship and swallows it and all aboard. Consequently, no one is left to report the fate of the child. A clown, the son of a 67-year-old shepherd, witnessed the bear attack and gives a report to his father, who discloses news of his own: He has found a baby girl on the coast along with a “bearing cloth” and gold. Sixteen Years Pass ……. Shakespeare updates the audience on important developments through a speaker called Time.
He tells the audience that Leontes now lives in seclusion and that the setting of the drama has shifted to Bohemia, where the son of Polixenes has fallen in love with a shepherdess. ……. In Bohemia, Polixenes stews about his son, Florizel, because the young man frequently visits the house of an elderly shepherd to woo his beautiful sixteen-year-old daughter, Perdita. Because of her lowly status, she is unworthy of Florizel’s attentions, Polixenes believes. …….
Polixenes and Camillo, who has become the advisor of the king, decide to call at the shepherd’s house to observe Florizel and Perdita during a sheep-shearing and feast in which visitors are welcome. They wear disguises. Also present are the old shepherd and his son; a shepherdess, Mopsa (who hopes to marry the shepherd’s son) and her friend, Dorcas; and a thief, Autolycus, who has presented himself as a seller of ballads after arriving while singing a song. Earlier, Autolycus had picked the clown’s pocket on a road near the shepherd’s cottage. …….
When Polixenes discovers that Florizel plans to marry Perdita, Polixenes reveals his identity and threatens retaliation against anyone who abets the wedding plans. Sympathizing with the lovers, Camillo persuades them to abscond to Sicily. Later, at Camillo’s request, Autolycus assists in the escape plan by gladly trading his shabby clothes with the princely garb of Florizel. Dressed as a commoner, Florizel will be able to avoid detection on his way to a ship. Before returning to the palace, Camillo tells the audience in an aside that he will provoke Polixenes into following the lovers.
His purpose is not to betray the lovers; rather, it is to go with Polixenes to Sicily, for which Camillo has been homesick these many long years in Bohemia. His scheme works and Polixenes prepares to follow the lovers in his own ship. ……. Elsewhere, the old shepherd and his son are on their way to see Polixenes at his palace. The shepherd carries a box containing keepsakes of Perdita from long ago. These objects, he believes, will prove that Perdita is not his daughter and, thus, enable him and his son to escape the king’s wrath.
On their way, they meet Autylocus, still dressed in Florizel’s clothes; they think he is a royal personage. When he says the king is about to embark on a ship to chase Florizel and Perdita, they offer him gold to take him to the ship and speak for them. But because he is not who he says he is, he takes them to Prince Florizel’s ship. All of them–Florizel, Perdita, Autolycus, the old shepherd, and his son–then set sail for Sicily ahead of the king’s ship. Many days pass while the ships are at sea. The setting then shifts to Sicily. …….
When Florizel and Perdita arrive at the palace of Leontes and wait for an audience with him, a gentleman of the court informs the king of their presence, announcing them as the Prince and Princess of Bohemia. He says the princess is the most beautiful creature he has ever seen. ……. After they are escorted into the court, Florizel greets Leontes on behalf of his father, Polixenes, saying an infirmity prevented Polixenes from making the trip himself. When Leontes inquires about the lovely Perdita, Florizel describes her as the daughter of a Libyan lord.
He and the princess sojourned in that African country, he says, before sailing to Sicily to carry out a mission for his father. While Leontes visits with the young couple, all of the others from Bohemia assemble at the court: the old shepherd, his son, and Autolycus, as well as the travelers from the other ship–King Polixenes and Camillo. ……. Leontes, now a reformed man who is deeply sorry for his past misdeeds, reconciles with Polixenes and Camillo. The old shepherd and his son then reveal the contents of the mysterious box of keepsakes. It contains a “bearing-cloth” (3. . 77) Hermione had given to Antigonus. Leontes recognizes it as Hermione’s, unique because of a jewel on it. He also recognizes the handwriting in the note Antigonus left before a bear attacked and killed him. Just as convincing as these items identifying Perdita is the remarkable resemblance Perdita bears to Hermione. King Leontes joyfully reunites with his daughter and accepts Florizel as his future son-in-law; Polixenes accepts Perdita as his future daughter-in-law. ……. Leontes’s joy, though, is tinged with sadness, for he still grieves over the loss of Hermione.
Paulina, the servant who sixteen years before pleaded on Hermione’s behalf, then invites Leontes to her house to show him a statue of Hermione, sculpted by an Italian master. While the royals and nobles are on their way to Paulina’s, Autolycus begs and receives the forgiveness of the old shepherd and his son for deceiving them back in Bohemia, then taking their gold and putting them on the wrong ship. ……. Upon viewing the statue at Paulina’s house, Leontes discovers that it is no statue; it is the real Hermione. She has been living in hiding with Paulina these many years praying for the return of her daughter.
Paulina was afraid to disclose Hermione’s whereabouts for fear of interfering with the will of the Delphic Oracle, as expressed in the prediction that “the king shall live without an heir, if that which is lost be not found” (3. 2. 134). In other words, Leontes–if reunited earlier with Hermione–might have fathered another child. In so doing, he would have produced an heir before his lost child had been found. The will of the Oracle would have been defeated. When Perdita appears, Hermione rejoices and invokes the gods to bless her child.
The joy of the occasion spills over to include a proposal by Leontes that Camillo and Paulina marry. ……. And what of Mamillius, the little prince? Nothing can bring him back, but Leontes does have a new son in the person of Florizel. . Now Available……………………… Shakespeare: a Guide to the Complete Works……………………………………. In Hardback & Paperback By the Author of This Web Site . Plot Summaries of All the Plays and Narrative Poems | Themes | Imagery | Historical Background | Glossaries Shakespeare’s Theatre | Drama Terms | Essays | Analysis of the Sonnets | and Much More .. . Characters . Protagonist: King Leontes Antagonist: The King’s Jealousy and Suspicious Nature . Leontes: King of Sicilia (Sicily). He is a headstrong man who is at first guided more by emotions than reason. His unfounded suspicions against his wife, Hermione, and his friend, King Polixenes, separate him from both of them and cause him to reject his infant daughter. His unjust actions also indirectly result in the death of his son, Mamillius. In many ways, he resembles the flawed protagonists of Greek tragedy; however, reforms himself before it is too late.
Hermione: Honorable and loyal Queen of Sicilia. Polixenes: King of Bohemia. He opposes his son’s marriage to Perdita, believing her to be a commoner. Although he accepts Perdita at the end of the play, he does so only after he learns her true identity. Whether he has overcome his prejudice against commoners remains open to question. Perdita: Extraordinarily beautiful daughter of Leontes and Hermione. Florizel: Prince of Bohemia. Mamillius: Young prince of Sicilia. His death adds a tragic element to the play. Camillo: Upright advisor of King Leontes.
After Leontes order him to poison Polixenes, Camillo returns with Polixenes to Bohemia and becomes his advisor. Old Shepherd: Reputed father of Perdita. He is 67 when the infant Perdita is found and 83 at the end of the play. Clown: The shepherd’s son. Autolycus: A comic thief and pedlar who assists Florizel and Perdita. Gaoler (Jailer) Paulina: Loyal attendant of Hermione. Antigonus: Kindly husband of Paulina. He rescues the infant Perdita and takes her to Bohemia. Cleomenes, Dion: Lords of Sicilia. Archidamus: A Lord of Bohemia.
Mariner: Crewman of the ship that carries Antigonus and Perdita to Bohemia. Emilia: Lady attending Hermione. Mopsa, Dorcas: Shepherdesses. Rogero: Lord who tells other gentlemen that a prophecy by the Delphic Oracle has been fulfilled. Minor Characters: Other lords, gentlemen, ladies, officers, servants, shepherds, shepherdesses. . Settings . The action takes place in Sicily (or Sicilia) and Bohemia. Sicily is a large island west of the toe of Italy’s boot. Bohemia was a kingdom within the boundaries of the present-day Czech republic, between present-day Poland on the north and Austria on the south.
In ancient times, a Celtic people called the Boii settled the land that became Bohemia. In The Winter’s Tale, Bohemia has a coastline along which ships arrive and debark. In real life, Bohemia was a landlocked region; it was entirely surrounded by terra firma. Shakespeare may have been a magnificent writer, but he was no geographer. .. Climax . The climax of a play or another narrative work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events.
The climax of The Winter’s Tale occurs, according to the first definition, when Leontes receives news of the death of his wife and son, then owns up to the grave sin he has committed in doubting the fidelity of his wife. According to the second definition, the climax occurs in the final act when Leontes reunites with his daughter, whom he abandoned when she was an infant, and with his wife, whom he thought was dead.
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