The Winter's Tale

Type: 
Comedy
First Performed: 
1610-11
First Printed: 
1623
"

The silence often of pure innocence
Persuades when speaking fails.

"

King Polixenes of Bohemia is visiting his childhood friend Leontes, King of Sicilia. Polixenes is ready to return home but Leontes’ pregnant wife Hermione urges him to stay. Convinced the two are having an affair and that the child belongs to Polixenes, Leontes becomes mad with jealousy and plans to have Polixenes poisoned. Leontes’ advisor Camillo warns Polixenes and they leave for Bohemia.

Furious, Leontes puts his wife in jail where she gives birth to a daughter. Paulina, Hermione’s gentlewoman, takes the newborn to Leontes to try to soften him. The king instead orders Paulina’s husband Antigonus to leave the baby in “some desert place.”

Leontes appeals to the Oracle to determine the truth. Meanwhile, Hermione is put on trial for adultery and treason. During the trial, the Oracle says that Hermione is innocent, whereupon news arrives that the prince is dead. Hearing this, Hermione falls, apparently dead. Leontes realizes the error of his ways and begs the gods for forgiveness.

After leaving the baby on the ground in Bohemia, Antigonous is promptly eaten by a bear. An Old Shepherd finds the baby and a bundle containing the details of her royal lineage. The Shepherd and his son decide to raise the child.

Sixteen years later, the baby is now a shepherd girl named Perdita who falls in love with Florizel, prince of Bohemia. In disguise at a sheep-shearing festival, Polixenes talks to the young lovers. He reveals himself and insists Florizel sever ties with the shepherdess. Florizel refuses and sets about planning his escape.

Camillo and the rogue Autolycus assist the lovers in getting back to Sicily, where Leontes has been despondent for sixteen years. Polixenes follows, intending break up the lovers, but the Old Shepherd shows him the documents verifying Perdita’s royal identity. Florizel and Perdita remain together, Polixenes and Leontes reconcile, and Leontes is overjoyed that his daughter lives.

Paulina shows the group a statue of Hermione. The statue comes alive, and the astonished Leontes is reunited with his wife. He announces that Camillo and Paulina should marry, and harmony is restored.