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Winter's Tale


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A play by Shakespeare written in 1610 or 1611, performed 1611, first printed in the Folio of 1623. Its main source is Greene's Pandosto.

Leontes, king of Sicily, and Hermione, his virtuous wife, are visited by Leontes' childhood friend Polixenes, king of Bohemia. Leontes presently convinces himself that Hermione and Polixenes are lovers, attempts to procure the death of the latter by poison, and on his escape imprisons Hermione, who in prison gives birth to a daughter. Paulina, wife of Antigonus, a Sicilian lord, tries to move the king's compassion by bringing the baby to him, but in vain. He orders Antigonus to leave the child on a desert shore to perish. He disregards a Delphian oracle declaring Hermione innocent. He soon learns that his son Mamillius has died of sorrow for Hermione's treatment, and shortly after that Hermione herself is dead, and is filled with remorse. Meanwhile Antigonus leaves the baby girl, Perdita, on the shore of Bohemia, and is himself killed by a bear. Perdita is found and brought up by a shepherd. Sixteen years pass. When she grows up, Florizel, son of King Polixenes, falls in love with her, and his love is returned. This is discovered by Polixenes, to avoid whose anger Florizel, Perdita, and the old shepherd flee from Bohemia to the court of Leontes, where the identity of Perdita is discovered, to Leontes' great joy, and the revival of his grief for the loss of Hermione. Paulina offers to show him a statue that perfectly resembles Hermione, and when the king's grief is intensified by the sight of this, the statue comes to life and reveals itself as the living Hermione, whose death Paulina falsely reported in order to save her life. Polixenes is reconciled to the marriage of his son with Perdita, on finding that the shepherd‐girl is really the daughter of his former friend Leontes. The rogueries of Autolycus, the pedlar and ‘snapper‐up of unconsidered trifles’, add amusement to the later scenes of the play; and his songs ‘When daffodils begin to peer’ and ‘Jog on, jog on, the footpath way’ are famous.

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism.


Reference entries

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Authors

William Shakespeare (1564—1616) playwright and poet


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