The Winter’s Tale: by Shakespeare - Summary

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      The Winter’s Tale is a play by William Shakespeare, published in the First Folio of 1623. The main source is Robert Greene’s romance, Pandosto. The first part of The Winter’s Tale forms a rounded tragedy of jealousy. Leontes, King of Sicilia, has entertained his childhood friend, Polixenes, now King of Bohemia, for several months. Driven to a sudden and insane jealousy; by the closeness of the friendship between his queen Hermione and Polixenes, he instructs his close adviser Camillo to poison Polixenes. Instead, Camillo warns Polixenes and escapes with him to Bohemia. Leontes claps his pregnant wife into prison and brings her to trial on a charge of adultery and a trumped-up accusation of conspiracy to poison him. When the Delphic oracle pronounces Hermione chaste and Leontes a jealous - tyrant, he defies its message. His newborn daughter has already been carried off by Antigonus, unwillingly bound to expose the infant to the elements. Now comes news of the death of Leontes s son and the report from Antigonus’s forceful and outraged wife Paulina that Hermione has also died. The shamed Leontes vows to spend the rest of his life in daily penance. Meanwhile, Antigonus has brought the innocent daughter to the Bohemian shore, where he leaves her with a store of gold and a ‘character’, naming her Perdita. He is eaten by bear while an old shepherd finds Perdita.

      There follows a gap of 16 years, explained by Time as Chorus, and the second part, destined to be a comedy of rebirth and renewal, begins. Perdita, though brought up in the shepherd’s humble home, has attracted the love of Polixenes’s son. Prince Florizel. But Polixenes comes in disguise to attend the sheep-shearing feast and shatters the joy of the event by disclosing himself and demanding the end of the match. With Camillo’s help, Perdita and Florizel escape and sail to Sicilia, where they are welcomed by Leontes. The vengeful Polixenes, who have followed them, leams, as they all do, the secret of Perdita’s birth and welcomes the forthcoming marriage as a guarantee of his reconciliation with Leontes. Paulina gathers all the leading characters to see the statue of Hermione, newly completed. As Leontes looks at it with wonder, Paulina calls for music and the statue comes to life. Hermione is ‘reborn’ into her marriage with Leontes.

      The Winter’s Tale belongs with Shakespeare’s other last plays Pericles, Cymbeline and The Tempest. It is a multi-faceted romance, written for indoor performance at the Blackfriars, where the stylish work of John Fletcher was much favored. The second half focuses on the reconciliation that can be achieved through grace, a word which is allowed its full range from spiritual to physical reference.

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