Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale": A Brief and Simple Summary

Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale": A Brief and Simple Summary



Character List in Winter's Tale

King Leontes
Mamillius
Florizel
Hermione
Mopsa
King Polixenes
Time
Paulina
Perdita
Autolycus
Camillo
Antigonus
Archidamus
Cleomenes
Dorcas
Emilia
Clown
Dion


This drama is generally classified as a comedy play by William Shakespeare. However it is also referred to as a 'problem play', because it cannot be easily described as either a tragedy or comedy.

As the curtain discloses for the first act on an antechamber in Leontes' palace, in Sicilia, we overhear his councillor Camillo talking with a follower of the King of Bohemia. King Leontes of Sicilia begs his childhood friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia, to extend his visit to Sicilia. Polixenes protests that he has been away from his kingdom for nine months, but when Leontes's pregnant wife, Hermione, asks him he agrees to stay. Leontes become possessed with jealousy—convinced that Polixenes and Hermione are lovers, he orders his loyal Camillo, to poison the Bohemian king. Instead, Camillo warns Polixenes of Leontes intentions and the two men run away from Sicilia.

Leontes now accuses his wife and declares that the child she is having is illegitimate. He throws her in prison, over the protests of his nobles, and sends to the Oracle of Delphi for what he is sure will be confirmation of his suspicions. Meanwhile, the queen gives birth to a girl, and her loyal friend Paulina brings the baby to the king, in the hopes that the sight of the child will soften his heart. He only grows angrier, however, and orders Paulina's husband, Lord Antigonus, to take the child and abandon it in some lonely place. While Antigonus is gone, the answer comes from Delphi—Hermione and Polixenes are innocent, and Leontes will have no heir until his lost daughter is found. As this news is revealed, word comes that Leontes's son, Mamillius, has died of a sickness brought on by the accusations against his mother. Hermione, meanwhile, falls in a swoon, and is carried away by Paulina, who subsequently reports the queen's death to her husband.

Antigonus, meanwhile abandons the baby on the Bohemian coast, reporting that Hermione appeared to him in a dream and bade him name the girl Perdita and leave gold and other tokens on her person. Shortly thereafter, Antigonus is killed by a bear, and Perdita is raised by a kindly Shepherd. Sixteen years pass, and the son of Polixenes, Prince Florizel, falls in love with Perdita. His father and Camillo attend a sheepshearing in disguise and watch as Florizel and Perdita are betrothed—then, tearing off the disguise, Polixenes intervenes and orders his son never to see the Shepherd's daughter again. With the help of Camillo, however, who longs to see his native land again, Florizel and Perdita take ship for Sicilia, after using the clothes of a local rogue, Autolycus. They are joined in their voyage by the Shepherd and his son, a Clown, who are directed there by Autolycus.

In Sicilia, Leontes is still in sorrow after all this time welcome the son of his old friend. Florizel pretends to be on a diplomatic mission from his father, but his cover is blown when Polixenes and Camillo, too, arrive in Sicilia. The Shepherd tells everyone his story of how Perdita was found, and Leontes realizes that she is his daughter, leading to general rejoicing and happiness. The entire company then goes to Paulina's house in the country, where a statue of Hermione has been recently finished. The sight of his wife makes Leontes sorrowful, but then to everyone's amazement, the statue comes to life it is Hermione, restored to life. As the play ends, Paulina and Camillo are engaged, and the whole company celebrates the miracle. And this famous tragic comedy comes to an end.
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