The Winter's Tale

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The Winter's Tale



In his Diary, Simon Forman, an Elizabethan astrologer and surgeon, records that he saw The Winter's Tale performed on May 15, 1611, at the Globe Theater, the home of the King's Men, Shakespeare's acting company. A performance on November 5, 1611 is recorded in the Revels Account; another performance was given in the spring of 1613. In 1623, Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels, refers to The Winter's Tale as "an olde playe formerly allowed by Sir George Bucke." Bucke had been appointed Master of the Revels in 1610, making it relatively certain that The Winter's Tale had not been written before 1610. (The Master of the Revels was an officer of the royal court who licensed plays for performance in London and selected which plays would be performed at court. He also functioned as a royal censor.) The "Dance of the Satyrs," which a servant introduces in act 4, scene 4, of The Winter's Tale, and says had been performed at court, is presumed to be a dance performed before King James on January 1, 1611 as part of Ben Jonson's Masque of Oberon.

The Winter's Tale first appeared in print in 1623 in the Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays, which was assembled as a tribute to him by Henry Condell and John Hemminges, two of his fellow actors in the King's Men. Although the play appears as the last among the comedies and was probably a late addition to the Folio, it is considered by editors to be a good, reliable text, thought to have been printed from a manuscript prepared by Ralph Crane, the company's scrivener or secretary-copyist.

Robert Greene's novella, Pandosto, or The Triumph of Time, written in 1588 and frequently reprinted afterwards, is the source for The Winter's Tale. Despite numerous alterations, including the happy ending and the statue of Hermione, Shakespeare followed the core story as Greene devised it. Shakespeare's words are sometimes very close to Greene's, too, as in Hermione's defense of herself and the oracle's pronouncement. However, Shakespeare added Paulina and Autolocus, whose tricks he derived from another work by Greene, The Second Part of Cony-catching, 1591, a study of the London criminal underworld.

The Winter's Tale enjoyed great popularity on the Jacobean stage. It was presented at court in 1618, 1619, 1624, and 1634. The theaters were closed in 1642 and did not reopen until 1661, after the Puritan revolution had failed and the monarchy was restored in 1660. The re-opening of the theaters under King Charles II did not see the restoration of The Winter's Tale to the stage, however, until 1741, when it was performed at the small theater of Goodman's Fields successfully enough for it to be moved to the larger Covent Garden the next year. But Shakespeare's play, in its original form, was supplanted for the rest of the eighteenth century by Macnamara Morgan's adaptation, The Sheep-Shearing: or Florizel and Perdita, which was first produced in 1754 at Covent Garden; and by another play by the actor-manager David Garrick, whose play, Florizel and Perdita, A Dramatic Pastoral, was first staged at the Drury Lane theater in 1756. Both of these adaptations placed a great emphasis on spectacle, replacing drama with scenery and singing, and significantly cutting much of the grim first three acts and focusing on the pastoral romance of the fourth.

During the nineteenth century, Shakespeare's original was returned to the stage, although usually cut. In 1802, John Philip Kemble produced The Winter's Tale, omitting the choral figure of Time. In 1856, Charles Kean set his production in ancient Greece, using elaborately evocative Hellenic sets and costumes. Henry Irving and Sir Herbert Beerbohm-Tree both produced spectacular versions of the play with elaborate costumes and scenery during the last decades of the nineteenth century. In 1910, Winthrop Ames staged The Winter's Tale in Jacobean style on an apron stage—the common Elizabethan stage surrounded by the audience on three sides—the first such staging since 1634. In 1912, Harley Granville-Barker staged the play with far less emphasis on scenery and spectacle and more focus on the actual text than had come to be the practice since 1634. In 1951, Peter Brook directed The Winter's Tale at the Old Vic in London with Sir John Gielgud as Leontes in a performance that has come to be considered a classic. Since then, The Winter's Tale has become one of Shakespeare's most frequently staged plays, by both amateurs and professionals.


Act 1, Scene 1

The Winter's Tale opens with Camillo, Leontes's Lord Chamberlain, and Archidamus, one of the lords of Bohemia, exchanging courtesies. Archidamus is visiting Leontes's court in Sicilia with Polixenes, King of Bohemia. Archidamus commends Leontes's hospitality and confesses that when Leontes visits Polixenes in Bohemia, they will not be able to match its magnificence, but their love will be as great. Camillo assures him that the hospitality is freely given and nothing is expected in return. He rejoices at the great love for each other the two monarchs share and recalls its deep roots. Their bond goes back to their childhood. Archidamus says he thinks there is nothing which could make them alter their love for each other. He remarks what a treasure the young prince of Sicilia, Mamillius, is. Camillo agrees, saying how much he delights the people's hearts and how they long to stay alive, even if they must bear the infirmities of age, just for the pleasure of seeing him grow to manhood. Archidamus asks if otherwise they would be "content to die." Camillo says they would, if they had no other reason to live. Archidamus disagrees, saying they would always find a reason for wishing to stay alive, even if it were only to wait for the king to have a son.

Act 1, Scene 2

Polixenes tells Leontes that he has already stayed nine months with him and must end his visit and return to Bohemia. Leontes asks him to stay a while longer. Polixenes tells him it is not possible. His absence so long may even threaten the security of his throne. Leontes persists in his entreaties and Polixenes continues to insist he must leave. Leontes then turns to his queen, Hermione, who is big with child, and asks her to try to persuade Polixenes to stay longer. When Hermione succeeds, rather than rejoicing, Leontes becomes overwhelmingly jealous. Insulted that Polixenes has acceded to her request while refusing his, he reasons they must be lovers and that the child Hermione is carrying belongs to Polixenes. In order to persuade Polixenes to stay, Hermione offered him, teasingly, the choice of being either her guest or her prisoner. Polixenes chivalrously accepted the offer to be her guest, saying that to be her prisoner would suggest he had offended her. She then asks him about himself and Leontes and how they were when they were boys. Polixenes paints a picture of a world of innocence in which they were innocent, before they knew the sin of sexual desire. Hermione chides him for suggesting that she and his wife are devils who have caused him and Leontes to fall, but assures him that if they have only fallen with their own wives, it has been no sin. It is at this point that Leontes asks, "Is he won yet?" and Hermione answers "He'll stay, my lord," and Leontes says (it is up to the director or the actor to say whether he says it aloud or mumbles it to himself and to choose his tone of voice), "At my request he would not," which begins Leontes's nightmare descent into jealousy.

Through what seems to be nearly innocuous dialogue, Shakespeare begins to present the internal development of Leontes's jealousy. He says to Hermione, when she tells him Polixenes will stay that this is the second time she has spoken well. She asks when the first time was; he answers when she agreed to be his wife, but even as he speaks, there is a bitter tinge to his remark because it took "three crabbèd months" before he could win her consent. Her answer, courtly in intent, cuts him. She seems to equate having "forever earned a royal husband" and having secured "for some while a friend" to stay.

As Hermione walks with Polixenes and engages him in conversation, Leontes speaks, but only for the audience to hear, and describes the physical symptoms of his jealousy and turns every gesture of Hermione's and Polixenes's into an indication of their mutual passion shamelessly exhibited. He takes his young son, Mamillius, on his lap and continues his self-tormenting monologue until Polixenes notices that Leontes seems distraught and comments on it to Hermione. She asks Leontes if something is disturbing him. He says no, he is only lost in thought looking at Mamillius. He says he recalled himself as a boy. He asks Polixenes if he is as fond of his son as he, Leontes, is of Mamillius. Polixenes describes the delight he takes in his boy. Hermione and Polixenes and some attendants leave for a walk around the garden. Leontes tangles himself further in jealous fantasies and rage and sends Mamillius off to play, giving the word a more sinister meaning as he repeats it to himself. "Go play, boy, play: thy mother plays, and I / Play too—but so disgraced a part."

When Mamillius is gone, Camillo remains with him. Leontes, seeming to speak casually, comments that Polixenes will stay. Camillo conversationally responds that it was difficult to get him to stay and remarks that he would not at first agreed to when Leontes had asked, that it took Hermione's entreaty. This response is exactly what can nourish Leontes's jealousy. He imagines he is already being spoken about as a deceived husband. When Camillo speaks of Hermione, he calls her the "good Queen." Leontes repeats his words with a bitter emphasis implying the opposite. Leontes confides in Camillo his surety that Hermione and Polixenes are lovers. Camillo denies it and calls the instances of proof Leontes offers "nothing." But Leontes is relentless and will not be convinced that his jealousy is mistaken madness. Camillo sees that Leontes cannot be shaken and is violent in his jealous passion. Consequently, to assuage him, he seems to come around. When Leontes suggests that Camillo, who serves as Polixenes's cupbearer, might poison him, Camillo agrees to do it on condition that once Polixenes is dispatched, Leontes will promise to do Hermione no harm. Leontes agrees and says Camillo's advice conforms to his own thinking. As Leontes leaves, Camillo tells him that if he poisons Polixenes, he will be rewarded, but if he fails to, he will himself be executed. Camillo promises to do it, although equivocating, saying he is not Leontes's servant if he does not.

Alone, Camillo reflects on Hermione's sad plight and then upon his own danger. He will not poison "good Polixenes," and his only option then is to leave Sicilia and the court. As he is ruminating, Polixenes enters and asks Camillo if something is wrong: Leontes looks distraught and his behavior has changed. Camillo tells him that Leontes is ill with the disease of jealousy, that he believes Polixenes has slept with Hermione, is the father of her child, and that he has ordered Camillo to poison him. Polixenes understands how great Leontes's fury must be. If it were true, it would be a grave violation of trust and friendship. He is afraid. Camillo proposes that Polixenes leave Sicilia immediately and that he, Camillo, go with him in order to escape Leontes's wrath for disobedience. They go.

Act 2, Scene 1

The scene begins with Hermione expressing vexation. Mamillius is with her and she asks one of the women to take him. She says "he so troubles me, / 'Tis past enduring." It is not clear that she is referring to Mamillius. If she is, there is no indication why. "He" may also refer to the child in her womb, who, as children in the womb do, can cause painful discomfort by kicking and moving about. Or it maybe Leontes to whom Hermione is referring. His behavior has become strange enough for Polixenes to have noticed. Hermione's women banter with Mamillius and talk about his mother's pregnancy with him. Hermione, feeling easier, takes the boy to her again, and at her urging, he begins to tell her a story. As he begins his tale of a man who "dwelt by a churchyard," a graveyard, Leontes enters speaking distractedly to several courtiers about how Polixenes and Camillo have stolen away from the court and how their hasty departure confirms his jealous fears and makes him realize that Camillo was part of a plot by Polixenes to steal his wife, kill him, and take his crown. He orders Hermione to give him Mamillius, and sends the boy away. In front of the court, Leontes accuses Hermione of carrying Polixenes's child. She denies it. He reaffirms that she is an adulteress, will not hear her protestations, and orders that she be taken to prison. She leaves with dignity, saying tears would have been appropriate only if she had been guilty and she voices tender concern for Leontes, sorry that she will see him having to be sorry.

After Hermione has been removed, his courtiers try to convince Leontes that he is mistaken, that the queen is innocent and no woman more virtuous than she. He refuses to hear them and stubbornly insists on the truth of his indictment and on his sole power to bring it. He adds, however, that he has sent messengers to Delphos to enquire about Hermione's guilt of the oracle in order to confirm his judgment and not seem tyrannical.

Act 2, Scene 2

Visiting the prison in which Hermione is held, Paulina is forbidden to see the queen. She learns from Emilia, a lady-in-waiting with Hermione, that Hermione has given birth to a girl. Paulina convinces the jailer to allow her to take the baby to Leontes, thinking that the sight of his new daughter may cause him to soften.

Act 2, Scene 3

In torment, Leontes thinks that if he has Hermione executed he may have some peace. A servant enters and informs him that Mamillius has rested well after becoming ill. Leontes tells the servant that the boy is ill because he is ashamed of his mother's transgression. Leontes continues to entertain crazy thoughts of taking vengeance on Hermione, and regrets that Camillo and Polixenes are out of reach of his punishment. He imagines that they are laughing at him. Paulina, carrying the baby, tries to enter the chamber. A Lord prevents her, but she rebuffs him, scolds him for obeying Leontes, whom she brands a tyrant. She reproaches the Lord for not being concerned about the queen. She tells the Lord she comes to bring Leontes comfort. Leontes, hearing the altercation, asks who is there. When told it is Paulina, he tells the Lord not to admit her and tells Antigonus, one of his courtiers and Paulina's husband, that he told him to keep her away, but when Antigonus says that he did, Leontes reproaches him for not being able to control his wife. Paulina answers that regarding any act of virtue, he can, but she will not be ruled not to be virtuous, and Antigonus backs her up.

Paulina shows Leontes the baby and defies him when she calls the queen good by reasserting the adjective when he denies it. She lays the baby at his feet. He calls her a witch. He orders Antigonus to pick up the baby, whom he calls the bastard, and give it back to Paulina. Paulina puts a curse on him if he picks up the baby. When Antigonus heeds his wife, Leontes calls him a traitor. He protests and so does Paulina. Leontes threatens to burn Paulina, but she returns his rage with defiance. She leaves, telling him to care for his daughter. Leontes orders Antigonus to throw the baby into the fire. Antigonus and the other courtiers beg Leontes to spare the child. He concedes, ordering, instead, that Antigonus take it to some distant, barren place and expose the child to the elements. Antigonus takes up the baby and departs to fulfill the command. A servant enters and tells the king the messengers are returned from Delphos with the oracle's judgment.

Act 3, Scene 1

Cleomenes and Dion are galloping back to Leontes palace from the Delphic oracle carrying the oracle's judgment. They remember the power and mystery of Delphos and express their belief in Hermione's innocence and their hope that the judgment of the oracle will make all well.

Act 3, Scene 2

Leontes calls Hermione's trial to order, proclaiming how painful a thing it is for him to do and how he hopes it will clear him of the charge of being tyrannical in his proceedings against his wife. He orders Hermione brought in, although he calls her "the prisoner" rather than using her name. In her presence, the indictment is read. She is accused of treason for committing adultery with Polixenes, plotting the murder of Leontes, and aiding in the flight of Camillo and Polixenes. Hermione proclaims her innocence, speaking quietly and eloquently. She speaks of her honor, her upbringing, her past life with Leontes, and the propriety of her behavior with Polixenes. Leontes dismisses her, saying that her denials are merely an indication of her boldness as a deceiver. She refutes the accusations in his indictment point by point, and he reverts to them afterwards. She tells him he is but dreaming. He repeats his delusions as if they were facts and threatens her with death. She responds that she has no dread of death, everything in her life which she valued having been taken from her, but she requests he consult the oracle before passing sentence. He says it is a fair request and has, in fact, done so. Dion and Cleomenes enter with the oracle's judgment. It is opened and read. The oracle says that Hermione is chaste, Polixenes blameless, Camillo a true subject, that Leontes is a tyrant, and that he will live without an heir if something which has been lost is not found.

Leontes responds by crying out that the oracle is false. A messenger runs in with the news that his son Mamillius has died. Hermione drops in a death swoon. Leontes orders her taken away saying her heart was strained but she will recover. He says that he has been wrong and has believed his own suspicions. He orders that Hermione be cared for and humbles himself before Apollo for profaning his oracle. He proclaims he will repent, reconcile himself with Polixenes, woo Hermione anew, and recall Camillo. He confesses his own misdeeds and is filled with horror at what he has done and how he has been. Paulina enters, rails against him, condemning each of his actions, says she cares not what punishment he can give her for speaking against him. She finishes by reporting that Hermione is dead. Rather than punishing her for her vilification of him, Leontes tells her to continue. She apologizes for speaking as she has, but he tells her he wishes her to continue to recount his faults. He makes her a sort of minister of penance to him. The scene ends as Leontes goes to visit the chapel where the bodies of his wife and son lie, vowing to visit it daily and live his life a penitent.

Act 3, Scene 3

The scene changes to the seacoast of Bohemia where Antigonus arrives with Hermione's baby. The skies are stormy. Antigonus orders the mariner to return to the ship while he finds a place to lay the bundled baby. He speaks to himself, regretting that he must do it and remembers a dream he had last night. Weeping, Hermione appeared to him in a white robe, instructed him to leave the child in Bohemia and to name it Perdita. For being the instrument, although unwillingly, of this exposure, she tells him he will never see his wife again. Antigonus believes Hermione is dead, thinks that she has chosen Bohemia to deposit the child because it is Polixenes's, blesses the child, lays it down with a bundle of letters indicating who she is, along with gold, and attempts to return to the ship, which is beset by a storm, but he is pursued by a bear as he exits and is devoured by the bear.

A shepherd enters, complaining to himself about the follies of youth. He spots the baby and the bundle, gathers them up and says he will take and care for the baby but will wait for his son to return before he goes home. His son, the Clown, of whom he had been speaking before he noticed the baby, saying what a bother young people are, enters and tells his father that he has seen a man devoured by a bear and a ship go down in the storm. His father, saying that his son has seen dying things, but he has seen newborn things, shows him the child and the gold. The clown tells his father good fortune has come to them. He tells him to go home with the child while he goes to see if the bear has finished with the man and then together they will bury what is left of him.

Act 4, Scene 1

The figure of Time steps forth from inside the confines of the play and acts as a chorus, telling the spectators that sixteen years have passed, that Leontes has spent them grieving, but that the scene has shifted to Bohemia where Perdita has grown into a graceful and beautiful young woman and that the son of Polixenes, who had been mentioned earlier, has now grown to manhood. Time wishes that we never spend time worse than watching the play he is presenting and to which he now returns us.

Act 4, Scene 2

Polixenes begs Camillo to put away his desire to return to Sicilia and Leontes and to remain in Bohemia. He tells him how great his service to him has been and how greatly he still requires him. In fact, he tells him that he is troubled that his son is often absent from the court and his spies have informed him that Florizel spends most of the time at the home of a lowly shepherd who has unaccountably risen in fortune. Camillo says he has heard of him and that he has a beautiful daughter. Polixenes responds that he fears it is to see the girl that he is drawn there, and suggests that they themselves, in disguise, go to the shepherd's house to see what is going on. Camillo agrees.

Act 4, Scene 3

With a burst of song celebrating the re-appearance of spring (although it is autumn) and the sprouting of daffodils, of red-blooded energy, of larks and unruly lovemaking, Autolycus, a mirthful and frolicsome figure, a pickpocket and a fast-talking con man appears. He tells the audience that he has served Florizel, that he steals the linen hung out to dry on lines on washdays, but that he keeps his crimes small because he does not want to be beaten or hanged. As he is pattering, he sees the Clown, the Shepherd's son and Perdita's brother, approaching. The Clown is off to make purchases of sugar, currents, spices, dates, figs, and raisins for a sheep-shearing celebration, and he is occupying his time remembering his shopping list and trying to tally the profits of the sheep-shearing in his head, but the arithmetic confounds him. Autolycus pretends that he has been robbed and beaten and calls out for his help. The good Clown stops to help him, and as he lifts him from the ground, Autolycus picks his pocket and then graciously refuses some money when the Clown offers to help him. They part, the Clown to buy his provisions, for which he will find he does not have the money, and Autolycus, merrily singing, to go to the sheep-shearing feast, where he will fleece the guests.

Act 4, Scene 4

Florizel and Perdita appear at the sheep-shearing feast. He is dressed as a lowly shepherd and she as the queen of the festival. He remarks on her beauty and she admits misgivings to be so adorned and to see him dressed so below his rank. He says he blesses the time his falcon strayed across her father's land and he met her, but she says the disparity in their rank makes her fearful for their love and of his father's disapproval. The prince tells her not to worry and to rejoice, and he reminds her of all the gods who assumed human form for the sake of a beloved, but none compares to her, and that he is superior to those gods since his love is honorable and chaste. She responds that his father's disapproval, nevertheless, will chasten his love for her, but he denies it, saying he will choose her, if a choice has to be made, over his kingdom. She prays that it be so. The guests approach and the old Shepherd lovingly chides her for not attending to them, describing how his wife bustled about the table serving the guests when she was alive.

Polixenes and Camillo, in disguise, are among the guests. Perdita offers them flowers with her greeting. She gives them rosemary and rue, signifying grace and remembrance, and she notes those flowers can survive the winter. Polixenes thanks her, noting that winter flowers are appropriate to their ages. Perdita, continuing to speak of flowers, notes that in their season, now autumn, the fairest flowers are carnations and streaked gilyvors, which are called nature's bastards and that she will not plant those in her garden. Polixenes explains to her that they are flowers produced by grafting two separate stocks together, a wild one and a gentle one, to produce such flowers. She says she will not have them just for the reason that they are the products of art rather than nature, and says it is like a woman wearing make-up. But Polixenes tries to correct her, arguing that the art which is used to produce such flowers is an art taught by nature, an art which "mends" nature and is thus itself natural. But she persists and protests she will not plant such flowers. Once again, she welcomes them to the feast, and Camillo praises her beauty. She says she wishes she had spring flowers to give to Florizel and to the maidens, and she thinks of the flowers that Proserpina (or Persephone) dropped when she was kidnapped by Dis (or Hades), the god of the underworld, and taken to the underworld. (There is an echo of the very story of The Winter's Tale in her allusion to the story of Proserpina's rape. Demeter (Ceres) her mother, the goddess of vegetation, withdrew her energy from the earth when her daughter was abducted, and winter was the result. Demeter resembles Hermione; Proserpina resembles Perdita.)

After Perdita expresses her desire to cover Florizel with flowers, he asks her if she means to bestrew him like a corpse. She answers that it would rather be like a bank for them to lie on loving, and he describes her as a flowing wave. Even Polixenes is taken with her beauty as they watch the lovers whisper to each other. Autolycus bursts into this festive setting like a peddler with ribbons, gewgaws and ballads to sell, and there is country clowning, romancing, singing and dancing. During the festivities, Polixenes tells Camillo that the attachment between Florizel and Perdita has gone too far and that it is time to part them. With this in mind, Polixenes asks Florizel why he did not buy Perdita trinkets in order to show his love and increase hers. Florizel responds that she does not value such trifles. Instead he takes her hand and vows his love before the assembled company and as they are about to join themselves in a rustic wedding, Polixenes inquires if Florizel's father knows of his love. Florizel answers that he does not and that he will not. As Florizel then says "Mark our contract," meaning his engagement to Perdita, Polixenes reveals himself, crying "Mark your divorce." He tells Florizel if he ever finds him near Perdita again, he will prevent him from becoming king. He threatens to scratch Perdita's beauty with thorns and to sentence her to death and to execute her father, too. He does not apply to his son and Perdita the philosophy of grafting he had advocated with regard to horticulture a little earlier.

After he leaves, Perdita says this is just what she had been afraid of. But Florizel tells her it changes nothing, that he is constant. Camillo has remained at the feast. He asks Florizel what his plans are. Florizel tells him he has determined nothing but to leave Bohemia with Perdita, but where he will go he does not know and it is not Camillo's business, anyhow. Camillo suggests, however, that he take Perdita to Sicilia and tell Leontes he has been sent by his father with greetings. Camillo can supply him with documents and credentials, and once he arrives in Sicilia, before being presented to Leontes, Camillo can arrange for them both to be properly attired. Florizel and Perdita agree. Spotting Autolycus, Camillo has him change clothes with Florizel. Florizel and Perdita, now disguised—she wearing Autolycus's hat—set off to Sicilia. Camillo then reveals the rest of his plan. So great is his longing, as he has already told Polixenes when Polixenes denied him permission to go, to see Sicilia, that he will tell Polixenes of the lovers' flight, confident that they will then follow them to Sicilia.

Left by himself, Autolycus muses that he is not the only one who practices deception. Moreover, he decides that since it would show honesty in him to let Polixenes know of Florizel's departure, he will not do it. The Shepherd and the Clown enter, frightened that they will be executed because of their relationship to Perdita. They have brought the chest that was bundled with her, in which the papers revealing her actual identity and her infant swaddling clothes are stored, in order to show them to Polixenes to exculpate themselves. Autolycus waylays them, tells them he is a courtier, frightens them, and promises to bring them to him. But he actually intends to bring them to Florizel to show him their bundle, thinking it may concern him.

Act 5, Scene 1

In Sicilia, Leontes tells the courtiers who argue that he has mourned and done penance long enough and ought to think about marrying again and producing an heir lest there be a problem regarding succession after his death. Paulina encourages his resistance. They recall Hermione's splendor and his betrayal of her virtue. To marry again would kill her again, Paulina and Leontes agree. Furthermore, Leontes promises that if he does marry again it will only be with Paulina's permission, and Paulina says she will only approve his marriage when Hermione is alive again.

A servant enters and announces that a young man purporting to be Prince Florizel of Bohemia has arrived with his princess and desires to see Leontes. Leontes is surprised at such a sudden visit and that Florizel is not accompanied by an entourage. The servant speaks of Perdita's beauty and Paulina reproaches him for slighting Hermione's memory. The presence of Florizel also painfully recalls the absence of Mamillius, who died when Leontes persecuted his mother. Upon seeing Florizel, Leontes notes how much he resembles Polixenes by saying that his mother was true to wedlock. Florizel says he has stopped at Sicilia at his father's command to give Leontes his greetings. Leontes gives him welcome and praises Perdita's beauty. Florizel tells him she is a Libyan princess. As they speak, a Lord enters with news that Polixenes has landed in Sicilia and asks that Leontes take Florizel prisoner because he has defied his father and eloped with a shepherd's daughter. In addition, he reports that Perdita's father has arrived in Sicilia, too, and has met with Polixenes. Florizel says Camillo must have betrayed him, and Leontes rejoices to hear him named. Perdita laments over what will become of her poor father and adds that they will never be able to be married now. When Leontes hears that they are not married and that Perdita is not a king's daughter, he becomes stern. Momentarily, too, he expresses his own desire for Perdita, and when Paulina reproaches him for betraying the memory of his queen, he says he thought of Hermione as he looked at Perdita. When Florizel assures him that he and Perdita have remained chaste, Leontes promises to intervene with Polixenes on their behalf.

Act 5, Scene 2

The revelation of Perdita's identity and the reconciliation of Leontes and Polixenes is not shown but rather described in the conversation between a group of Gentleman. Autolycus is among them, but he says little until they finish narrating the events of the disclosure, how they saw the proofs of Perdita's identity, how the participants wept with joy and sorrow, and how Paulina invited them to her house so that they might see a statue of Hermione that she owns. When Autolycus is alone, the Shepherd and his son, the Clown, enter. They have now become gentlemen and they promise to protect Autolycus, providing he mends his ways, which he promises to do.

Act 5, Scene 3

All have gathered in Paulina's chapel for the unveiling of a statue of Hermione. When they see it, everyone is overcome by its perfect resemblance to Hermione and by a wonderful lifelike quality in the marble. When Paulina sees how touched they are, she asks them if they would like to see more. Leontes assures her he does, and she demands his assurance that he will not accuse her of witchcraft. Readily he agrees. She commands music to be played and Hermione descends from her pedestal, no longer a marble statue but a living woman. Hermione embraces Leontes and then turns to Perdita and begs a blessing of the gods for her and then, like a loving mother, asks where she has lived, how she has lived, how found her way back to the court. Of herself she says that knowing from Paulina that the oracle gave hope that Perdita was alive, she has preserved herself in hope of seeing her again. Paulina says there is time enough to answer all the questions later, but right now she calls them all winners and tells them to rejoice in each other as she withdraws alone into her solitariness. But Leontes interrupts her and says she must have a husband and joins her with Camillo. Leontes begs each one's pardon, blesses everyone, and asks Paulina to lead them from her house so that, at their leisure, they may tell how they have lived in the sixteen years that they have been separated.



Antigonus is Paulina's husband. Leontes orders him to take his newborn daughter, Perdita, insisting she is not his but Polixenes's, and expose the infant in the wilderness. Despite misgivings, Antigonus obeys and, following a visitation from Perdita's mother, Hermione, in a dream vision, leaves the baby on the seacoast of Bohemia with a letter and gold. Antigonus is then eaten by a bear.


Archidamus is a Bohemian courtier who visits Leontes's court in Sicilia with Polixenes.


Autolycus is a free-spirited pickpocket who makes mischief but accomplishes good.


Camillo is a courtier in Sicilia, and Leontes's chief counselor. Rather than obey Leontes' order to poison Polixenes, Camillo tells Polixenes of the danger he is in because Leontes believes he has had sexual relations with Hermione, Leontes's wife. Camillo flees with Polixenes to Bohemia, where Camillo becomes Polixenes's chief adviser. Sixteen years later, Camillo, longing to return home, helps Perdita and Florizel flee to Sicilia because Polixenes has forbidden her marriage to his son, Florizel.


Cleomenes is one of the courtiers Leontes sends to the Delphic Oracle to find out the truth about Hermione's suspected infidelity with Polixenes.


  • In 1962, The Winter's Tale was filmed for the BBC, with Robert Shaw as Leontes.
  • A 1968 London production of The Winter's Tale, directed by Frank Dunlop and starring Laurence Harvey as Leontes and Jane Asher as Perdita, was released as a film.
  • A 1981 BBC film version of The Winter's Tale was directed by Jane Howell.
  • The 1999 Royal Shakespeare Company production of The Winter's Tale was also made into a film.
  • Wintermaerchen (2000) is an operatic adaptation of The Winter's Tale by Philippe Boesmans, a Belgian composer.


The Clown is the Shepherd's son. When Antigonus abandons Perdita on the seacoast of Bohemia, he sees him devoured by a bear before he can reach his ship; the ship then goes down in a raging storm. The Clown is a simple but virtuous bumpkin.


Dion is the other courtier Leontes sends to consult the Oracle at Delphi regarding Hermione's marital fidelity.


Dorcas is one of the peasant girls who attends the sheep-shearing festival in act 4, scene 4.


Emilia is one of Hermione's serving women who accompanies her to jail when Leontes imprisons her.


Florizel is the son of Polixenes, king of Bohemia. He falls in love with Perdita, the daughter of Leontes and Hermione, when everyone thinks she is the Shepherd's daughter. When Polixenes learns of their intended marriage, which Florizel has kept hidden from him, he forbids it. With the help of Camillo, Florizel and Perdita flee to Sicilia with the hope of getting married there. Florizel is upright, virtuous, and chaste. At the sheep-shearing he is called Doricles.


Hermione is Leontes's virtuous and patient queen, nine months pregnant as the play begins. She persuades Polixenes to extend his visit to Sicilia after Polixenes refuses Leontes's request to stay. Offended that she succeeded when he had been rebuffed, Leontes attributes her success to a sexual relationship between her and Polixenes. Jealous, he imprisons her for treason and orders her death. Their son, Mamillius, dies of grief. Leontes then orders the death of their daughter, claiming it is Polixenes's child, not his. After sixteen years, her lady-in-waiting, Paulina, presents a statue of Hermione to the reconciled kings and their children. When she orders music to be played, Hermione's statue moves and Hermione returns to life.


Leontes is king of Sicilia. When Polixenes, king of Bohemia, his childhood friend, declines his request to extend his visit to Sicilia but agrees to stay when Hermione presses him, Leontes becomes jealous. Believing that Hermione has been unfaithful with Polixenes, Leontes orders Camillo to poison him; after Polixenes and Camillo flee, Leontes imprisons Hermione. After his son and wife die, Leontes repents and undergoes the life of a penitent, under Paulina's guidance. Leontes stays a penitent for sixteen years, until his daughter, Perdita, whom he had ordered exposed to the elements, is found.


Mamillius is Leontes's and Hermione's young son. He dies of grief after his father imprisons his mother for adultery.


Mopsa is a country wench who is a participant at the sheep-shearing festival.


Paulina is Antigonus's wife and Hermione's lady-in-waiting. When Leontes falsely accuses Hermione of adultery, Paulina rebukes him for his tyrannical stupidity. After Hermione is reported dead and Leontes repents, Paulina takes on the role of his officer of penance for the sixteen years that separate the first part of the play from the last. Paulina, unbeknownst to Leontes, cares for Hermione, whom she gives out as dead for the sixteen years that Perdita is missing. It is Paulina who returns Hermione to Leontes after Perdita is found, when she presents her as a statue that comes to life. The suggestion clings to Paulina that she has supernatural skills.


Perdita is the daughter of Hermione and Leontes, whom Leontes believes is Polixenes's issue and orders exposed to die. She is beautiful, virtuous, and graceful. Antigonus leaves her on the seacoast of Bohemia where the Shepherd finds her and raises her as his own child. Her name means the lost one, and she is the subject of the Delphic oracle's prophecy. Until she is found, Leontes will live without an heir. Florizel, the prince of Bohemia, falls in love with her and keeps his love secret from his father. When Polixenes attends the sheep shearing festival in disguise in order to spy on his secretive son, and learns of his son's love, Polixenes refuses to allow their marriage.


Polixenes is the king of Bohemia. He is Leontes's childhood friend. Leontes becomes jealous of him after Polixenes refuses to extend his visit to Sicilia at Leontes's request but accedes to Hermione's request. With Camillo's help, he escapes from Sicilia. Sixteen years later, in Bohemia, he refuses to grant Camillo permission to return to Sicilia and involves him in a plot to discover what his son Florizel, who has been absent from the court, is doing. When Polixenes learns of Florizel's intended marriage to Perdita, thought to be a shepherd's daughter, he forbids it. After Florizel and Perdita flee to Sicilia, he follows them, is given evidence of Perdita's actual identity, and his friendship with Leontes is restored.


The Shepherd finds the crib containing the infant Perdita, gold, and several tokens of her identity on the seacoast of Bohemia after Antigonus has abandoned her. He raises her as his own daughter.


Time is introduced in the first scene of the fourth act as a choral character who bridges the sixteen years that pass between the end of act 3 and the beginning of act 4.


Art and Nature

Nature and art are shown to be in a complex, interdependent relationship to each other in The Winter's Tale. Nature, although generative and creative, is guided by the intervention of human activity, but nature guides the actions which guide it. Active human intervention, or art which shapes nature, is itself a part of and a process of nature. This paradox is at the root of the argument between Perdita and Polixenes in act 4, scene 4 regarding what kinds of flowers to plant in her garden. Perdita thinks of nature as a force which proceeds on its own without human intervention: flowers grow. Polixenes represents it as a force which needs mending or human intervention for its improvement: horticulturists graft varieties of flowers together to produce a finer flower. When Perdita recoils from such tampering with nature, Polixenes explains that nature itself provides the means to allow that tampering: art is the expression of a natural process at work in people. Whereas the horticulturist's art may be deliberate, not all art—or intervention—in The Winter's Tale, is deliberate. The plot is pushed forward by a number of actions which are not intended to push it towards the conclusion it reaches; nevertheless these actions do move the plot towards the conclusion. That is nature guiding art. The final interaction of art and nature, when the statue of Hermione metamorphoses into the person of Hermione, is a representation of an art so strong that it transforms itself into something essentially human: we are an incomprehensible and inextricably joined union of art and nature.

Innocence and Guilt

As Leontes begins to weave fantasies of betrayal and infidelity, Hermione and Polixenes, after she asks him to tell her of his and Leontes's boyhoods, are discussing innocence and guilt. Polixenes suggests that there is a pre-sexually aware state of boyhood, which he calls a state of innocence. That state allows for a careless exchange of friendship. But with adolescence, Polixenes says, he and Leontes came to know "the doctrine of ill-doing," suggesting that they became vulnerable to the original sin of sexual lustfulness. Lust is a form of selfishness which raises self-interest over common interest and cooperation. When the old Shepherd enters at the end of the third act, he speaks of the unruly sexual acts of adolescents and wishes they could be by-passed. He refers to two boys, although only one ever appears, who have lost two of his sheep. But what the Shepherd is introducing is the paradoxical concept of a sort of innocent guiltiness, of a natural wildness that is not guilty, for the Clown when he appears is not an emblem of guilt, but of simplicity. This sort of natural innocence is carried over in the characters of Perdita and Florizel, and their love, which is intensely passionate yet chaste. They do not live in the fallen world of the court, like Leontes, who goes from guilt to penance, but in the green world of nature, where even a scamp like Autolycus, thief and mischief maker that he is, represents a wild, unrestrained innocence, a self untrammeled, rather than an adult-sized evil.


Jealousy is the motive force, the engine of the plot in both the first and second parts of The Winter's Tale. It is more openly expressed and apparent in the first section. Leontes becomes jealous of Polixenes, thinking he has taken Hermione from him and had sexual relations with her. With its sexual component bracketed off, jealousy can be seen as a variety of selfishness. It is a lust to have, to keep for oneself. In the first conversation in the second part of The Winter's Tale, in the dialogue between Camillo and Polixenes, Camillo requests his (Polixenes's) permission to return to Sicilia. Polixenes refuses, arguing how much he needs Camillo, reminding the reader of Leontes's previous refusal to allow Polixenes to return to Bohemia. Polixenes shows a kind of jealousy of Leontes in this case. When Camillo acquiesces, Polixenes's next order of business introduces another form of jealousy. It is a jealousy of his son, Florizel. Florizel has grown distant from his father. He has turned his affections, which Polixenes had described to Leontes in the first act with great fatherly pride, away from his father and redirected them towards Perdita.


  • Read "The Tale of Ill-advised Curiosity (Chapters 33, 34, and 35 of Miguel de Cervantes's novel Don Quixote). Compare and contrast it to The Winter's Tale.
  • Recount in detail a situation in which you became mistakenly jealous or became the victim of someone else's mistaken jealousy and the consequences of this mistake. Include the things which contributed to the jealousy, considering external events and internal psychological forces. Similarly, when describing the effects, pay attention to psychological responses as well as external occurrences.
  • Read Leo Tolstoy's short story, "God Sees the Truth, but Waits," (1872). Compare and contrast it to The Winter's Tale.
  • After reading Shakespeare's As You Like It, compare and contrast the situations and the characters of Perdita and Rosalind.
  • Read Shakespeare's play, Othello, and write an essay of a thousand words. In this essay, compare and contrast Othello and Leontes, and Desdemona and Hermione. Then imagine and describe how each set of characters would react if placed in the other's situation.

The Triumph of Time

Pandosto, the source for The Winter's Tale, is subtitled The Triumph of Time. In The Winter's Tale, time is a process which works to restore unsettled balances and is, thus, a central theme in the play. The importance of time is suggested by the appearance of Time itself as a character in the play. Time appears as the Chorus in The Winter's Tale. Time bridges the sixteen year gap between the two sections of the play and speaks directly to the audience. Time also implies patience. After he realizes the evil of his actions, Leontes repents, but repentance does not yield immediate results. It requires patience, especially in light of the oracle, which does promise restoration to Leontes if his daughter is found. And that takes time. Hermione, too, must bear the passage of time patiently as she waits, sequestered by Paulina, for the oracle to be fulfilled. The triumph of time is a function both of the passage of time and of Leontes's and Hermione's ability to surrender their wills to time and to wait.



The Winter's Tale, is often called a romance. Romance refers to a kind of literary work which was popular during the Elizabethan period. It involves love between persons who are of noble birth. It mixes elements of idealized beauty and virtue with elements of ugliness and evil. Structurally, romances yoke tragedy and comedy, and conclude with the triumph of the comic. Supernatural events, and events directed by chance, determine the outcome. Romances take place in both a court and in an idealized pastoral setting. The passage of time, as in The Winter's Tale, plays an important role in the resolution of the plot.


Narrative exposition plays a significant structural role in The Winter's Tale. The first scene presents a conversation with no dramatic significance but which serves only to convey information. Similarly, most of the second scene of the fifth act is given over to a narration, by unnamed gentlemen, of the reunion of the two kings and the rediscovery of Perdita's identity. This encounter is not presented dramatically, although it would appear to deserve dramatic presentation because of its climactic power. Paul Goodman has suggested in The Structure of Literature, that it is presented in narrative form in order to reserve climactic privilege to the next scene, in which Hermione's statue comes to life.


Despite its apparent structural disunity, among the many elements which work to make The Winter's Tale a coherent and unified entity is the way its parts mirror each other. Polixenes's refusal to part with Camillo in act 4 mirrors Leonte's earlier refusal to part with Polixenes in act 1. So, too, Polixenes's tyranny towards Florizel, and especially Perdita, mirrors Leontes's tyrannical persecution of Perdita's mother. When Perdita condemns spotted gilyvors as "nature's bastards" she echoes Leontes's rejection of her as Polixenes's bastard. The process of grafting, which she debates with Polixenes, whereby plants of different varieties are united to form a new flower, mirrors the romance between her and Florizel. They are of differing classes. Although Polixenes favors grafting in the realms of horticulture, he opposes it in the human sphere. When Hermione re-appears as a statue, that statue is a mirror image of her, and when that statue moves and Hermione returns to the realm of the living, it is as if through the power that art has to mirror nature that she has stepped back into the world through the looking glass.

Sudden Change

Sudden change is a repeated element in The Winter's Tale and seems to suggest the power of a force which helps to determine the shape of lives and destinies. Leontes's jealousy is sudden. It seems to come upon him independently of himself. His repentance of his folly after he defies the oracle is just as sudden. But that seems to be an act of true recognition on his part. Hermione's death is sudden. That seems like a natural response to a blow of fortune, but later appears also as a dramatic trick of art. The news of Mamillius's death is also sudden. But his death appears like the natural result of the grief he suffers when the order of his family breaks down and he loses his mother. The shift from the events of the first part of the play to the second is sudden. Polixenes's revelation of himself at the sheep-shearing is sudden for the lovers, however the audience is aware of his disguise. Camillo's and Polixenes's departure from Sicilia in the first act seems sudden to Leontes, and it is, but the audience understands its necessity, as the king does not. Florizel and Perdita's flight from Bohemia in the fourth act is a sudden departure that mirrors Camillo's and Polixenes's sudden departure earlier in the play. The Shepherd and the Clown experience a sudden change of fortune twice. And Hermione's transformation is a sudden return of life from the realm of death. All these examples of sudden change contrast with the unrushed pace of time, inside which they occur.

Sheep Imagery

Images of sheep and shepherding are pervasive throughout The Winter's Tale, beginning with Polixenes's reference to "the shepherd's note" in the second line of act 1, scene 2, to indicate awareness of the passage of time. Sixty-five lines later, describing to Hermione what his youthful friendship with Leontes was like, Polixenes compares them to "twinned lambs that did frisk i' th' sun, / And bleat the one at th' other." In the third scene of act 3, at line 58, the turning point of the play, a Shepherd enters, complaining about two young men, one of them his son, who "have scared away two of my best sheep." The Shepherd fears "the wolf will sooner find [them] than the master." This line causes a resonance for the reader or spectator with the past story of the "twinned lambs," Leontes and Polixenes, who have strayed away from the shepherd into the wolf's den. The great pastoral scene of the play, scene 4, of act 4, takes place at a sheep-shearing festival where all the characters are being shepherded, although they do not know it, to safety. Autolycus is present to provide a parodic fleecing of the host and the guests, and is fleeced himself when he and Florizel exchange garments under the shepherdly care of Camillo, who has compared himself to a sheep when he tells Perdita at line 109, "I should leave grazing, were I of your flock, / And only live by gazing."

Flower Imagery

After the winter—like contractions of the first part of the play, the second half bursts out in act 4, scene 3 with a jolly song whose first words celebrate how daffodils "begin to peer." And from then on, there is a great deal of flower imagery, suggesting the rich vibrancy of nature and the matter that artists can use imaginatively in the creation of art. Florizel, the prince, whose name suggests flowers, characterizes Perdita as the goddess of flowers. Throughout the scene, she frequently refers to flowers, distributes flowers, refers to the resemblance between the seasons in which certain flowers grow and humans grow old. She discusses the ways to grow flowers, approving of the natural ways and disdaining artifice. She is also compared to Persephone gathering flowers, before Hades ravished her and took her to the underworld. Since Perdita's absence in Sicilia is the cause of the long winter there, the comparison is particularly apt. Flowers are used to represent seasons of time, aspects of humanity, ways of thinking about class relationships, and the relationship between art and nature.

Manipulating Awareness

In The Winter's Tale, for dramatic purposes, Shakespeare manipulates the awareness of the audience as well as the awareness of the characters in the play. Leontes is deceived about Hermione and Polixenes when he becomes jealous because of an error in perception. Shakespeare deliberately causes the audience to have a mistaken perception about Hermione's death. Perdita, Florizel and Camillo are not aware who Perdita really is, nor are the Shepherd and the Clown, even though they know she is not whom everyone else thinks she is. Perdita and Florizel are not aware that two of their guests at the sheep-shearing festival are the king and Camillo. The audience is aware of Perdita's true identity and of Polixenes's and Camillo's, but the audience is not aware, as Leontes is not aware, that Hermione is not truly dead.


Bear Baiting

While Shakespeare's famous stage direction, "Exit, pursued by a bear," recapitulates the very words of an image from King Lear, act 3, scene 4, 9-11, in which Lear says to Kent, "Thoud'st shun a bear; / But if thy flight lay toward the roaring sea, / Thoud'st meet the bear i' th' mouth." The presence of the bear at line 58 of act 3, scene 3 in The Winter's Tale also reflects the Elizabethan and Jacobean fancy for bear baiting, a gruesome blood sport much favored by Queen Elizabeth herself. A bear was chained to a stake in a pit, above which spectators were seated on grandstands, and dogs were released in the bear pit. The dogs attacked the bear and the ones that survived were the ones able to leap out of the bear's range, limited by the length of the bear's chain. The spectators, who reportedly enjoyed the sport immensely and laughed to see it, bet on whether the bear or the dogs would survive the contest. Bear baiting was not banned in England until the nineteenth century.

Outdoor and Indoor Theaters

The Winter's Tale was performed at both the Globe Theater, where Simon Forman saw it, and at the Blackfriars Theater. The Globe was an outdoor theater modeled on the playing spaces set up at inn yards. Performances were lighted by daylight, and the audience was composed of people from all strata of society. The "penny-public" stood while the wealthier might sit in boxes. The stage was an apron that stuck out into the crowd. Spectators could surround it on three sides (as opposed to the more modern proscenium, which can only be viewed from one side). The Blackfriars was an indoor theater owned by Shakespeare's company. The Winter's Tale was performed there, too. Indoor playhouses required artificial lighting, lanterns, and consequently, allowed more opportunity for theatrically shaping the performance environment than did outdoor spaces. During Shakespeare's time, the apron stage was also the stage of the indoor theater. The proscenium stage was introduced in the 1660s after the fall of the Commonwealth and the beginning of the restoration of the monarchy. Because of a more costly admission price, the audiences at indoor theaters were more select and restricted than the ones which gathered outdoors.


  • 1600s: Londoners enjoy watching bear baiting spectacles and laugh at the sight of animals attacking and killing each other.
    Today: Bear baiting is banned, but secret gatherings of dog fighting and cock fighting still take place. Boxing is also considered by a majority of people to be an acceptable sport despite the number of injuries boxers sustain, as well as the occasional death that occurs. People also find the excitement of seeing others risk injury and death in events like racing cars, racing motorcycles, or other extreme sports competitions.
  • 1600s: Plays are performed in outdoor theaters like the Globe Theater, which is the home theater of Shakespeare's acting company, the King's Men. It is modeled on the performing space established at inn yards, where platforms are set up and spectators surround an apron stage on three sides. In theaters like the Globe, members of the various social classes mingle. Poor folk, the penny public, stand. Those who can afford them have seats to sit on. Indoor theaters are frequented by those who can pay to go to them. Rather than relying on daylight for illumination, as the outdoor venues do, they require artificial lighting. The Winter's Tale is performed at both the Globe Theater and the indoor Blackfriars Theater.
    Today: Whereas most theaters are indoor theaters, especially in the summertime, outdoor theaters, especially outdoor theaters dedicated to presenting Shakespeare's plays—and which are modeled to a greater or lesser degree on the Globe—flourish. Electric lighting allows nighttime performances at outdoor theaters. Going to the theater, however, has become far more expensive than it was in Shakespeare's times and people go to the movies and watch cable television for popular entertainment instead.
  • 1600s: Scripts are written for the theater in order to be performed. Whereas some scripts are printed, published and sold, that is of secondary concern. In consequence, many scripts have been lost and many of those which have survived are quite imperfect.
    Today: Scripts written for radio, television, and even the movies are usually regarded as written for performance and are not printed. Some film scripts are published, but those tend to be regarded as having artistic merit in and of themselves. The advent of digital technology, however, has replaced publication. Popular television programs do not vanish after broadcast because they exist on video tape and DVD transfers.


In his overview of the critical response historically to The Winter's Tale, in the Arden edition of the play, J. H. P. Pafford cites early rejections. John Dryden wrote, in 1672, in the essay, "Defense of the Epilogue," that The Winter's Tale was "made up of some ridiculous and incoherent story," that it was "either grounded on impossibilities, or at least so meanly written, that the comedy neither caused your mirth, nor the serious part your concernment." In 1753, Charlotte Lennox wrote in Shakespeare Illustrated that "the paltry Story on which it is founded … [is] much less absurd and ridiculous." William Warburton, in a letter to David Garrick, congratulating him on his adaptation of the play, called The Winter's Tale "a monstrous composition."

By the time Coleridge wrote about it in 1813, critics' perceptions of The Winter's Tale had undergone a sea change. Coleridge admired Shakespeare's presentation of jealousy "as a vice of the mind," and the psychological penetration that allowed Shakespeare to have Leontes express his jealousy through "a soliloquy in the mask of dialogue." In 1817, despite his faulting Shakespeare for such "slips or blemishes" as introducing the figure of Time to bridge a sixteen year gap, or having Antigonus land on the seacoast of Bohemia—in actuality, land-locked Bohemia has no seacoast—William Hazlitt praised Shakespeare for the depth and truthfulness of his characters and for how suitable for acting the play is. This is a rare tribute among nineteenth century critics in their consideration of the stageworthiness of Shakespeare's plays. The plays were generally considered better for reading than for seeing. In 1832, Anna Brownell Jameson, in Characteristics of Women, praised Shakespeare's ability to embody psychological characteristics in human form in her perceptive analysis of Hermione:

The character of Hermione exhibits … dignity without pride, love without passion, and tenderness without weakness…. [T]o delineate such a character in the poetical form, to develop it through the medium of action and dialogue, without the aid of description to preserve its tranquil, mild and serious beauty, its unimpassioned dignity, and at the same time keep the strongest hold upon our sympathy and our imagination and out of this exterior calm, produce the most profound pathos, the most vivid impression of life and internal power: it is this which renders the character of Hermione one of Shakespeare's masterpieces.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Earnest Dowden's view that The Winter's Tale is a great and serene work of Shakespeare's mellow last years had become the dominant view of the play, even after it was attacked in 1904 by Lytton Strachey. While twentieth-century critics rejected the sentimental subjectivity in Dowden's account, or in A. C. Swinburne's similarly tender-hearted reading, neither did they accept Strachey's condemnation of the play, as Pafford summarizes it, as the grotesque and ugly work of a Shakespeare who had become bored with his art. Twentieth century critics have generally endorsed F. R. Leavis's judgment, passed in his essay written in 1952, "The Criticism of Shakespeare's Late Plays," that The Winter's Tale is a masterpiece and have attended to varying forms of close analysis offering Christian and secular readings of the play founded on analyses of structure, imagery, verse patterns and language, or character. Roy Batten-house, for example, in his introduction to a selection of essays on The Winter's Tale in Shakespeare's Christian Dimension observes the parodic reflection of Leontes in Autolycus.

Just as Leontes called out for help from Hermione, who in stooping to help him got robbed by him of her purse (her good name and her baby), so Autolycus robs the naïve shepherd. Autolycus goes on to parallel Leontes in many more ways—for instance, by peddling his trumperies to gullible ears as Leontes peddles to courtiers his trumped up nothings, and by singing of tumbling with doxies like a Leontes fantasizing about a "hobbyhorse" wife.

By the end of the twentieth century and at the beginning of the twenty first century, The Winter's Tale has established its place among Shakespeare's masterpieces. In pursuit of discovering greater keys to its unity and its complex meanings, its details are being considered, whether through the study of the varied use of the word "bear," as in Maurice Hunt's essay, "Bearing Hence," or by suggesting new emendations of puzzling lines in the First Folio as in Susan Bruce's reading of the "Final Exchange" between Leontes and Mamillius, or in Martine Van Elk's study of the models of courtly speech designed for women in the Renaissance, or Mark Fortier's study of infanticide in early seventeenth-century England.


Allan Bloom

In the excerpt below, Bloom analyzes how the friendship between Leontes and Polixenes is torn apart by the former's jealousy of the frienship between Polixenes and Hermione, Leontes's wife. Only the death of his beloved son extinguishes the jealousy that consumes Leontes, but by then the royal household has been devastated—a devastation that can only be overcome, contends Bloom, by the healing power of nature.

The Winter's Tale takes place in Sicily and Bohemia at an uncertain date, and its characters seem to partake in equal measure of the religion and life of old Greece and Rome and of Christianity. It begins with the celebration of a classical-style friendship between two kings, Leontes and Polixenes, who have known each other from childhood and have a perfect harmony in their reciprocal admiration of each other's virtues. This very short beginning conveys the joy of confidence and trust combined with the enthusiasm of friendship. Human association for these two men is natural and a peak of pleasure. They do not use or need each other, at least not in any narrow sense. They understand each other, share views, and simply want to be together, although their kingly responsibilities keep them separate most of the time.

This glimpse of perfect friendship in action is immediately disturbed by an inexplicable and unmotivated storm of jealousy that destroys the atmosphere of trust and the friendship. Jealousy means doubt about the sexual fidelity of one to whom a person is attached. Leontes suddenly comes to believe that his friend and his wife have had illicit relations. Leontes is both friend and husband, but there has never before been any tension between the two kinds of attachment. His wife, Hermione, seems to be just like him and to have adopted his friend as her friend. The openness and lack of reserve characteristic of friendship are not usual between a married woman and a man not her husband. But their friendship is apparently part of the old friendship between her husband and his friend. The sudden explosion of angry jealousy brings to light a problem about a married woman's blameless friendship with a man. The suspicions aroused make it impossible to have that confidence required for men and women to be together without tincture of erotic involvement. Moreover their new condition of marriage also raises doubts about the possibility of friendship between married men.

The arousal of jealousy, which is so sudden and seems such a mystery, needs interpretation. Leontes' jealousy is unlike that experienced by Troilus, whose beloved is guilty, and is akin to that of Othello, whose beloved is not guilty. Leontes' case, however, is much more extreme than that of Othello, who must be seduced into his passion by a subtle devil. Leontes' whole vision of the world changes in an instant and without provocation. Shakespeare usually treats this kind of terrible passion as a mistake on the part of the man. Cymbeline gives us another such case. What is so unusual about Leontes in this play is the speed of his change from trust to certitude of disloyalty. As soon as this takes place, the old world of friendship disappear. There is reconciliation and a happy ending, but it does not restore the old world, and it gives a definite primacy to marriage over friendship. Shakespeare seems preoccupied with the distrust in men about the genuineness of women's attachment and what it leads to. Shakespeare is fully aware of the difficulty of real unity between human beings, even, or especially, in love matters. But it is indicative of his temper that he concentrates so much on the unfoundedness of such suspicion, and hence affirms the possibility of unconstrained connectedness.

This inexplicable transformation is almost miraculous since one cannot treat Leontes as a sickly, weak soul, prone to suspicions. In Shakespeare one can almost always get guidance as to the character of a man by the kind of friends he has and how they behave with him. Not only is Leontes' wife a most remarkable woman, with whom he seems to have had up to now a free and open relationship, unstained by doubts, but he has also evidently been faithful and irreproachable in friendship. There are no villains in Leontes' entourage. On the contrary, they are all honest and forthright persons who serve loyally because of the character of the man they serve and are used to speaking with him on a level of frank equality. He has no flatterers, which makes it all the more difficult for him to follow the logic of his jealousy, because no one supports him in it. I can clarify the problem of his jealousy only by what immediately precedes it (I.ii 1-108). Leontes has failed to persuade Polixenes to prolong his stay with them in Sicily. He turns the task of persuasion over to Hermione, who succeeds. After she had done so, she starts asking questions about what the two friends were like when they were young. Polixenes tells her of their perfect joy in each other's company, which was most characterized by innocence. Polixenes makes it clear that he means by innocence sexual innocence and refers, pagan though he is, to the doctrine of original sin. Prior to sexual development they could have answered to heaven, except for the guilt associated with that sin that all men inherit, the Fall. Hermione slyly picks up on this and suggests that he, and perhaps her husband too, have "tripp'd since" that time of innocence. Polixenes rather ambiguously replies that there have been temptations since "the stronger blood" was born in them. She playfully returns to the assault and says that Polixenes' wife and she will answer for any sins connected with them. She refers to their married sexual relations here as sins, but affirms that there will be no punishment for them if there were no other sins committed with others. The formulation of her statement ("that you slipp'd not / With any but with us") could be interpreted to mean that it would be all right for Polixenes to have had sexual relations with her, although this is clearly not her intention. But she is playing around with an erotic theme, the difficulty of taming men's desires. It is not certain that Leontes hears these remarks. He has evidently been walking at some distance in order to allow his wife to persuade Polixenes to stay. He enters the conversation again at the end of this colloquy. When Hermione tells him that Polixenes will stay, he responds that she has never spoken to better purpose. She then plays a coquettish game with him, asking, "Never?" She talks about the nature of women and how they may be ridden more effectively with soft kisses than with spurs. She insists that he repeat what she said at the end of his long and hard courtship, "I am yours for ever." She thus links her persuasion of Polixenes to her giving herself to Leontes. Her first good speech "earn'd a royal husband," the second, a friend. With that, she grasps Polixenes' hand.

And then it happens. Suddenly Leontes lives in a world of temptations and betrayal. Every deed and gesture has an explicit sexual meaning. Lust is everywhere, and it cannot be controlled by the rules of morality. The doubts about sexual attraction, which are always legitimate because thought and the movements of the sexual organs are not simply subject to will, become certitudes, and the whole world must be corrected. The first thoughts are about the legitimacy of one's children, then the ridicule attracted by a cuckold, a ridicule earned by the prejudice that a real man must be attractive to his wife always and exclusive of all others. Then there are thoughts of revenge, dignified as claims of simple justice. There is the fear that the whole world gives witness to the adultery, but there is also the certainty that those who do not see what he sees must be guilty of blindness and faithlessness. Everything is in the belief of the king, and all the subjects must support the king's belief or be subjected to the most terrible punishments. What we see is sexual doubt turning gentle and legitimate kingship into a tyranny that resembles the demands of a jealous god, rather than those of natural human attachment. As is always the case with love suspected of betrayal, the principle of noncontradiction is called into question. The belief that something can come from nothing seems to be required. Othello suffers this delusion, as does Troilus. Nothing else can account for such transformations from virtue to sin. Reason no longer rules the world; tyranny is the only way to forestall chaos. There is no solid center, opposites "co-act," and saint and sinner emerge from the same source. These are the mad affections of the man whose life is founded upon the necessity of another person's being always attracted to him.

The jealousy of Leontes follows its course. He orders his minister Camillo to poison Polixenes. Camillo suffers the conflict of the man who owes loyalty to a tyrant and is commanded to do something immoral. He leaves Leontes to follow Polixenes. When Leontes' tyrannical passion is deprived of the satisfaction of killing Polixenes, it turns on Hermione, whom he imprisons, and then on the daughter born to Hermione in prison, whom he orders to be abandoned to the elements in a remote spot outside his kingdom. He stages an inquisition accusing Hermione not only of adultery, but of conspiracy with Polixenes and Camillo to overthrow him. She has only her own testimony to defend herself against unfeeling and unhearing tyranny. Her sole supporter is the fierce Paulina, who will be her apostle and avenging spirit. Suspicions and unknowable intentions are more important than any deeds. A premise that all human beings, and especially women, are hot and unreliable has been established. This awareness makes trust impossible for those who care. Trials and prisons are the only remedy. Sexual desire, like heresy, an unknowable disposition of the mind, becomes the central object of justice.

When, in the midst of Hermione's trial, Leontes' ambassadors interrupt the proceedings to announce that the Delphic oracle proclaims her chaste and everyone else innocent, he simply dismisses the news. He has a new source of certitude that replaces his belief in the Delphic god. Immediately he is punished by the announcement of the death of his young prince, Mamillius, the only one of whom he is sure. Hermione faints. The death of the innocent boy causes the extinction of the tyrant's jealousy as quickly as it came into being. But it is too late. Hermione also dies, and the baby daughter, abandoned at his command, is lost. Now the atmosphere of Sicily is guild and repentance, and Paulina becomes the minister of a cult devoted to the dead queen and her son. Leontes' tears at their chapel will be his recreation and his exercise.

Antigonus, charged by Leontes to get rid of the baby, deposited her on the Bohemian coast, and was himself immediately eaten by a bear. But here in Bohemia in a rustic setting that defies time and the distinctions between ancients and moderns, Shakespeare prepares the healing of the Sicilian wounds with the salubrious aid of nature. The characters here are beyond or beneath the changes of regimes and religions, and the necessary customs of the courts that differentiate them. We have a shepherd and his clownish son and a singing thief who has the same name and habits as Odysseus' grandfather. Here, innocence and the spirit of comedy provide the seedbed for an overcoming of the tragic darkness of both the Sicilian and the Bohemian courts.

Source: Allan Bloom, "The Winter's Tale," in Shakespeare on Love and Friendship, University of Chicago Press, 2000, pp. 109-13.

Myles Hurd

In this essay, Hurd assesses Paulina's pivotal role in The Winter's Tale. In participating in the play's action and commenting on major events, Paulina helps to shape the audience's response to other characters and to important scenes in the play, Hurd argues. Hurd observes Paulina's association with the stock comic character of the shrew, but maintains that Paulina nevertheless remains a credible character.


  • Silas Marner was published in 1861 by George Eliot. This short novel follows many conventions of the romance: its two sections are divided by a gap of some dozen years, the setting is pastoral, forces of good win out over forces of evil and chaos, and a beautiful, virtuous maiden's marriage to her handsome young, virtuous suitor ensures the other aspects of the happy ending.
  • Othello is one of Shakespeare's great tragedies. Like Othello, The Winter's Tale is the story of a man destroyed by jealousy. Unlike Othello, The Winter's Tale does not make that jealousy the result of a scheming malignant person, and The Winter's Tale presents natural and supernatural interventions that turn tragic loss into melancholy joy.
  • Pericles is the penultimate play Shakespeare wrote before The Winter's Tale. It is not the masterpiece that The Winter's Tale is, nor is it thought to have been entirely written by Shakespeare. However, the two works do share certain elements, such as a lost and recovered daughter and a father set adrift in his own despair over a span of years.
  • The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005) is a film about a father and his daughter who live in a rural setting in which both have a special and intimate relationship with nature and flowers. Through magical naturalism, Rose finds her way into the greater world and Jack finds peace within his own idealism. The film was written and directed by Rebecca Miller, the daughter of Arthur Miller, the American playwright, and the photographer, Inge Morath.
  • Charles Chaplin's classic City Lights (1931) is a film about a blind flower girl and the Little Man, who secretly helps her regain her sight through his own dedication and suffering. He is rewarded by her final sublime recognition of his humanity and her debt.
  • "The Tale of Ill-advised Curiosity," (Chapters 33, 34, and 35 of Miguel de Cervantes's novel Don Quixote, 1605), is the story of two good friends. After Anselmo marries Camilla, he persuades his virtuous friend Lothario to attempt to seduce her in order to confirm Anselmo's faith that she will not yield and is firm in her love and fidelity. Of course, he is looking for trouble, and he finds it.
  • The essay, "Of Friendship," (c.1572) from Book, I, Chapter 28, of Michele de Montaigne's Essays is a graceful discussion of the nature and refinements of friendship. Montaigne defines friendship as a relation in which "each … seek[s] above all things to benefit the other," and that the one who needs something of his friend is the true giver by giving his friend the opportunity to give to him.
  • The Story of Pygmalion and Galetea, in Book 10 of Metamorphosis, by the Roman poet Ovid, 43 b.c.e.–17 c.e., is the story of a sculptor who falls in love with a statue he sculpts and causes it to live.

Although an abundance of scholarly commentary on The Winter's Tale focuses on characterization, the significance of Shakespeare's inclusion of Paulina in the drama has elicited surprisingly little critical response. Her role, however, is crucially important. Her powerful speeches and prominence on stage remind us that she actually "carries a great deal of the action of the play on her shoulders and directs its course." A participant in the action as well as a shrewd commentator on major events in the plot, she helps control our responses to other characters and key scenes. In this respect, she functions theatrically as an internal stage director, whose presence sets up scenes of dramatic intensity. Moreover, in this play, which emphasizes the "divisions created in love and friendship by the passage of time and by the action of 'blood,' and the healing of these divisions through penitence and renewed personal devotion," Paulina, the "voice of moral justice," stands out as an admirable agent of reconciliations. Because Shakespeare offers us through her characterization an important perspective through which we gain major insights into the play, one profitable way of teaching first-year college students to appreciate his craftsmanship is by pointing out the centrality of her role. At the conclusion of their study of The Winter's Tale these students should recognize that Shakespeare uses Paulina to his full advantage in terms of stagecraft without sacrificing any of her credibility as a character. In addition, they should see that Paulina is the character who, even more than the oracle, makes things work in this play.

Paulina makes her initial appearance in Act II, Scene ii. In this scene she visits the jail where Leontes, the king, has banished Hermione, his wife. Paulina speaks with one of the ladies-in-waiting after the Jailer denies her permission to talk with the Queen. The Jailer's acknowledgement that he knows Paulina to be a "worthy lady / And one whom I much honor" (II.ii.5-6) [The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974)] is noteworthy because it establishes a bond of trust between her and the reader. The Jailer's recognition of her worthiness encourages us to accept her statements as truthful judgements on others. She becomes our "inside man" in the drama, a raisonneur whose opinions we learn to hold highly. Yet, in this scene what she says is just as important as what others say about her. In telling Emilia that she plans to assume the role of Hermione's "advocate to th' loud'st" (II.ii.38), Paulina senses the dangerous repercussions of Leontes' extreme jealousy; she vows to wield her tongue as a powerful instrument to make him aware of his unsupportable assertions:

    I dare be sworn.
    These dangerous, unsafe lunes i' th' King, beshrew them!
    He must be told on't, and he shall; the office
    Becomes a woman best. I'll take't upon me.
    If I prove honey-mouthed, let my tongue blister,
    And never to my red-looked anger be
    The trumpet any more.

Even though the Lord, Camillo, and Antigonus had attempted unsuccessfully to deter Leontes from his dangerous course of action in Act I, we feel that Paulina's efforts will be triumphant, especially if she does in fact "use that tongue [she has]" (II.ii.51). That she is a skilled disputant is knowledge we learn from the last few lines in the scene, in which she convinces the Jailer that no harm will come to him if he releases Hermione's newborn daughter to her charge. She makes us eager to gauge the effectiveness of a woman's tactics to restore order in a chaotic man's world of power and authority.

Students should note that in this brief scene Paulina's speeches set up an obligatory confrontation with Leontes. Because he has declared the baby the illegitimate child of Polixenes, we are also eager to see what his reaction will be when he examines his daughter for the first time, and we want to find out what punishment he will inflict on Paulina for her good-natured meddlesomeness.

When Paulina finally does confront Leontes in Act II, Scene iii, she does so after breaking past the Lord and Antigonus in a spirit of militant defiance. Significantly, she tells the Servant that she offers "words as medicinal as true" (II.iii.36) to cure Leontes of his insomnia and to rid him of his jealousy. Because the imagery of disease predominates throughout the first act, her statement of her mission in terms of curative powers both highlights the extremity of Leontes' condition and signals to us that she, more than any other character, is capable of making him see the error of his ways. Leontes' first lines upon seeing her in court indicate that he has already prepared himself for the inevitability of their meeting:

    Away with that audacious lady! Antigonus,
    I charged thee that she should not come about me;
    I knew she would.

In his "I knew she would" we detect an unexpected tone of ironic impatience rather than regal outrage. The subsequent remarks he addresses to Antigonus—questions concerning the secondary character's ability to bridle his wife—also make us aware of the lightened tone. Here Paulina becomes a vehicle of comic displacement to buffer a serious and potentially violent situation. This displacement is necessary to shield Leontes from unpardonable condemnation. Shakespeare must have realized at this stage of composing the play that unless he could mitigate his audience's dislike for the king, Leontes' emergence as a changed figure at the conclusion of the work would impress us as being unearned. The playwright's problem lay in finding a way to control our responses to the jealous king.

Through his presentation of Paulina as a benevolently officious tongue-wagging wife, Shakespeare discovered an effective way of softening our reaction to Leontes. Paulina and Leontes approximate the roles of stock characters in a familiar setting—that of the henpecked husband who must endure his wife's seemingly endless beratings. The scene works because Shakespeare has invested virtue in a virago [shrew]. When Paulina fires off charges at the king to remind him of the damage he does in falsely accusing Hermione of infidelity, he answers not to her but to Antigonus, whom he accuses of being a weak man unable to take the head of his own household. Paulina sets her tongue loose to castigate Leontes for being an unwise, fault-finding husband; Leontes reacts by castigating Antigonus for not silencing a shrewish wife. We enjoy the scene because we "see" her standing in the middle of a stage and wielding power over the circle of men around her. We are confident that Paulina will outwit Leontes in their verbal battle.

In addition, two things about the exchanges catch our attention: (1) the way in which Shakespeare holds a delicate balance in maintaining a serio-comical tone through his presentation of Paulina as a childish speaker of truths; and (2) the way in which she clearly dominates the scene to the extent that all of the other characters play to her strong lead. The following dialogue illustrates both of these points:

    Leontes: A callat
    of boundless tongue, who late hath beat her husband,
    And now baits me! This brat is none of mine;
    It is the issue of Polixenes.
    Hence with it, and together with the dam,
    Commit them to the fire.
    Paulina: It is yours:
    And might we lay th' old proverb to your charge,
    So like you, 'tis the worse. Behold, my lords,
   Although the print be little, the whole matter
   And copy of the father: eye, nose, lip,
   The trick of's frown, his forehead, nay, the valley,
   The pretty dimples of his chin and cheek; his smiles;
   The very mold and frame of hand, nail, finger.
   And thou, good goddess Nature, which hast made it
   So like to him that got it, if thou hast
   The ordering of the mind too, 'mongst all colors
   No yellow in't, lest she suspect, as he does
   Her children not her husband's.
   Leontes: A gross hag!
   And lozel, thou art worthy to be hanged,
   That wilt not stay her tongue.
   Antigonus: Hang all the husbands
   That cannot do that feat, you'll leave yourself
   Hardly one subject.

Paulina's shrewdness in identifying points of similarity between Hermione's baby and Leontes is a disarming tactic that exposes him to the ridiculousness of his jealousy and causes him to remember that at two earlier points in the drama (I.ii.22 and I.ii.208-09) he takes comfort in acknowledging Mamillius as his look-alike child. Paulina assuredly "beats" and "baits" Leontes in the above passage by out-reasoning him while taking advantage of her license as a bold, honest woman to upbraid a bristling, foolish man. Not lost in the comedy of the situation, however, is the impact of her speech. After she leaves the court, Leontes decides to abandon the child rather than have it killed; he yields to Antigonus' intercession on the child's behalf and informs us that Paulina has pleaded with her husband to spare the infant's life.

Throughout this scene students should have no trouble identifying Paulina with a familiar character type in fiction—the good-natured servant who oversteps her authority to restore order in her employer's household. Students should also be aware that in this scene Shakespeare reverses the master/servant (king/subject) relationship so that Paulina "masters" her king by dictating to him an appropriate mode of behavior to adopt. The important point is that whether she plays the role of a shrew to Leontes' role as a tyrant, or an outspoken servant opposite his role of a corrected master, she remains a completely credible character.

At the beginning of Act III, Scene i, Shakespeare temporarily silences Paulina during Hermione's trial. Along with us she hears a formal accusation against the Queen, listens to Hermione's defense, and welcomes the oracle's confirmations of Hermione's innocence, the child's parentage, Camillo's loyalty, and Polixenes' blamelessness. After she watches the calamitous chain of events that follow Leontes' rejection of the oracle, she lists all the crimes that have grown out of his jealousy before she falsely reports Hermione's death. The speech itself is filled with intensity because Paulina deliberately delays the report of this catastrophe. Moreover, the speech hints to us that throughout the remainder of the drama, Shakespeare will assign her the role of reminding Leontes of his sins until he becomes truly penitent. After he admits in this scene that he is to blame for his own remorse, she mentions the deaths of Hermione and Mamillius only seconds after promising him that she would not again burden him with painful memories. Moreover, she extracts from him a promise to visit daily the chapel where his wife and son are to be entombed.

Because Shakespeare depicts Paulina as the most truthful character thus far in the play, we have no reason to doubt her when she gives an untruthful report of Hermione's death. In this scene she tells a noble lie, and her action and motives are similar to those of the good Friar in Much Ado About Nothing. At this point in the play, students who are giving The Winter's Tale a close reading should detect from the final exchanges between Paulina and Leontes that Shakespeare is preparing us to accept her later role as a confessor for a changed, repentant king.

Although Paulina does not appear in Act IV, she is, nevertheless, linked to Perdita, whose life she had been responsible for saving. In addition, Shakespeare associates Paulina thematically with the well-known argument between Perdita and Polixenes over the extent to which man should collaborate art with nature. In the final scene of the play Paulina, in one sense, answers this question by having nature emerge out of art in her chapel.

In Act V, Scene i, Paulina appears as a moral historian who, after a gap of sixteen years, still tests Leontes on the sincerity of his repentance. Until Florizel and Perdita appear in the court, she clearly dominates the scene. Over the objections of Dion and Cleomenes she makes Leontes promise that he will not remarry—and this despite his kingdom's anxiety for him to beget an heir. Her justifications for exacting the promise come in a speech that reveals her special interpretation of the oracular decree:

     There is none worthy,
     Respecting her that's gone; besides, the gods
     Will have fulfilled their secret purposes;
     For has not the divine Apollo said—
     Is't not the tenor of his oracle—
     That King Leontes shall not have an heir
     Till his lost child be found? Which that it shall,
     Is all as monstrous to our human reason
     As my Antigonus to break his grave,
     And come again to me; who, on my life,
     Did perish with the infant.
     (V.i. 34-44)

Her reference to the abandoned baby prepares us for the return of Perdita to Leontes. After concluding the play we recall the speech and note that it actually points out Paulina's unwillingness to give up all hope that the baby has survived. For Paulina, the oracular decree coincides with her own deepest desires.

Hope becomes truth for Paulina in Act V, Scene ii, the scene that reconciles Leontes to his long-lost daughter. Her steward reports to us that she embraces Perdita when the young girl's identity is confirmed. We assess her concern for Hermione's child as a significant virtue when we acknowledge that her being told of the circumstances surrounding Antigonus' death could easily have canceled her happiness. The steward's recollection that Paulina had "one eye declined for the loss of her husband, another elevated that the oracle was fulfilled" (V.ii.79-81) shows us that she has the capacity for reconciling joy and sorrow in her own life—just as Shakespeare reconciles seemingly discordant elements in this tragicomedy.

The final scene reveals Paulina as an agent of reconciliation in other important ways. To dismiss her cleverness in bringing the statue of Hermione to life as a cheap theatrical trick on Shakespeare's part is to miss the significance of not only the scene itself but the play as a whole. She brings nature out of art in having the statue of Hermione move and creates life out of death in revivifying a wife, believed dead, and returning her to a joyful husband. Paulina's union with Camillo at the conclusion of the play pairs two benevolent middle-aged characters who, with the passage of time, have witnessed summers of joy and winters of discontent in the lives of others. The announcement of forth-coming weddings in her chapel, a place earlier in the play associated with death, alerts us to prospects for new cycles of birth and regeneration. Her centrality in this scene in The Winter's Tale, a play about the richness and variety of human life experiences, will cause most students to agree that she is the most admirable character in this, one of Shakespeare's most beautiful plays.

For those impercipient students who either fail to recognize its merits or find fault with its theatricality, Shakespeare provides Paulina with lines to inspire appreciation:

    It is required
    You do awake your faith.

Once that faith is awakened, students should note that despite the presence of supernatural elements in this drama, it is Paulina who works the real magic, and she does so on a recognizable human level. Healing time does in fact triumph in this play—but not without the help of Paulina.

Source: Myles Hurd, "Shakespeare's Paulina: Characterization and Craftsmanship in 'The Winter's Tale,'" in CLA Journal, Vol. XXVI, No. 3, March, 1983, pp. 303-10.

Edward William Tayler

In the following essay, Tayler contends that the symbols and patterns used in The Winter's Tale emphasize Shakespeare's interest in the philosophical problem of the apparent opposition between nature and art. Tayler demonstrates the way in which the movement of the play flows through cycles of "harmony and alienation," and "integration and disruption." As the play progresses, Tayler states, the view that nature is superior to art seems to dominate. Tayler concludes, however, that through the character of Perdita, and scenes such as Perdita's exchange with Polixenes and the statue scene in which Hermione is "resurrected," Shakespeare's emphasis seems to be that "art itself is nature."

… [T]he "symbolic" pattern of The Winter's Tale, turning on images of the seasons, of birth and death, of the sea as destroyer and savior, works together with the conceptual pattern of Nature and Art.

The division between Nature and Art occupied Shakespeare throughout his career. It is implicit in the pastoral episodes of As You Like It, and even as early as Venus and Adonis he is toying with the conventional notion of strife between Nature and Art in painting:

    Look, when a painter would surpass the life
    In limning out a well-proportioned steed,
    His art with nature's workmanship at strife,
    As if the dead the living should exceed.
    (ll. 289-92)

And in reference to a painting of the siege of Troy in The Rape of Lucrece:

    A thousand lamentable objects there,
    In scorn of nature, art gave liveless life.
    (ll. 1373-74)

The association of "art" with death and "nature" with life persists even so far as the "dead likeness" of Hermione in The Winter's Tale; and the commonplace pairing of Nature and Art is alluded to in play after play, reappearing at some length in Timon of Athens, shortly before the writing of the last romances. In the opening scene that advertises the main concerns of that play, the Poet and the Painter are discussing an example of the Painter's work, and the Poet is amiably self-important in traditional terms:

    I will say of it,
    It tutors nature. Artificial strife
    Lives in these touches, livelier than life.

Such statements are commonplace, and despite some attempt at variation the similarity of wording implies that Shakespeare produced such literary detritus from his memory on demand, without thought and without effort, as the appropriate occasion presented itself.

Although Shakespeare's use of the division in his allusions to the fine arts is entirely traditional, Nature and Art represented a vital and living problem for him in the ethical speculations of the last plays. In Cymbeline the beginnings of what is to be an intense preoccupation may be glimpsed in one of the major ethical contrasts of the play—between the King's stepson, Cloten, and his real sons, Guiderius and Arviragus. Cloten is the product of the "art o' th' court" that Belarius, the guardian of the real sons, continually disparages. Guiderius and Arviragus, having been brought up in savage surroundings apart from the court, represent the triumph of Nature untutored by Art. As Belarius explains it:

    O thou goddess,
    Thou divine Nature, how thyself thou blazon'st
    In these two princely boys! They are as gentle
    As zephyrs blowing below the violet,
    Not wagging his sweet head; and yet as rough,
    (Their royal blood enchaf'd) as the rud'st wind
    That by the top doth take the mountain pine
    And make him stoop to th' vale. 'Tis wonder
    That an invisible instinct should frame them
    To royalty unlearn'd, honour untaught,
    Civility not seen from other, valour
    That wildly grows in them but yields a crop
    As if it had been sow'd.

The opposition between Nature and Art is not absolute for Shakespeare—he allows the Princes to express an awareness that courts may be in many respects superior to caves—but throughout the terms have been manipulated in such a way as to provide a main theme of the romance. As far as the Princes are concerned, Shakespeare agrees with Spenser and the courtesy books in making Nature more powerful than nature; and thus it is appropriate that Nature unaided by Art should figure in the reconciliation scene at the end of the play. Granted the thematic value of the terms, remarks like those of Belarius' attain in context a force beyond that which may be assigned to a commonplace. In Cymbeline statements about Nature and Art have become part of the dramatic design, so that they function, perhaps a little creakily, as part of the plot and not merely as isolated allusions.

By the time of The Tempest the process has been developed and intensified, passing from the relatively derivative use of the division to a more subtle and skillfully articulated study of the traditional opposition of Nature to Art. Frank Kermode's elegant Introduction to The Tempest takes full account of Nature and Art and there is no need to rehearse his arguments here; although one may grow restive at his identification of Caliban as the central figure of the play, against which all the other characters are measured, it nevertheless seems clear that Kermode is right in contending that the "main opposition is between the worlds of Prospero's Art, and Caliban's Nature." Hence there is little to be gained by pursuing this survey: enough has been said to establish Shakespeare's interest, early and late, in Nature and Art and to provide a context for detailed consideration of The Winter's Tale, the play that exploits most fully the relationship between the philosophical division and the pastoral genre.

Beneath the romance trappings of The Winter's Tale the critics have seen a pattern that, reduced to its essentials and stated in relatively neutral language, is based on cycles or alternations of harmony and alienation, of integration and disruption. Harmony, symbolized in the friendship of Leontes and Polixenes, receives initial emphasis in the first scene as Camillo remarks, perhaps a little ambiguously: "They were train'd together in their childhoods; and there rooted betwixt them then such an affection which cannot choose but branch now." In the next scene Polixenes sounds the same note as he recalls for Hermione what it was like to be "boy eternal" with her husband, Leontes.

    We were as twinn'd lambs that did frisk i' th' sun
    And bleat the one at th' other. What we chang'd
    Was innocence for innocence; we knew not
    The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dream'd
    That any did. Had we pursu'd that life,
    And our weak spirits ne'er been higher rear'd
    With stronger blood, we should have answer'd heaven
    Boldly, "Not guilty," the imposition clear'd
    Hereditary ours.

The idea of carefree harmony and the connotations of spring and birth are in this particular passage subordinated to the theological terms. The harmony recalled by Polixenes is a vision of the integrity of man in Eden, free of the taint of original sin—an association reinforced by the wit of the following lines as he and Hermione joke about the boys having "first sinn'd with" the queens, the implication being that the innocence of former days was lost because of woman.

This is not allegory, of course, nor is The Winter's Tale a covert recapitulation of the Fall of Man. But the web of allusion in these lines provides a frame of reference within which the main events of the play can receive meaning: the speech introduces the vision of the green world, the ideal of past harmony, and associates it with birth, innocence, spring, even with the Garden of Eden. To speak technically, this is the "integrity" of Nature before the Fall.

The vision of the Garden, however, is brief and not easily sustained. As Shakespeare's audience was well aware, the harmony of Eden had been lost to man so that his "stronger blood" was no longer free of the hereditary "imposition." Consequently the Elizabethan audience was better prepared than Shakespeare's modern critics for Leontes' sudden and unmotivated jealousy, the towering excess of passion that, appearing in the same scene with Polixenes' speech of remembered bliss, obliterates the initial mood of harmony and introduces the chaos and death for which Leontes is finally to do penance.

Leontes is a man, his Nature impaired by the Fall, so that he is non posse non peccare, not able not to err. The terrible consequences of Leontes' passion—alienation from Polixenes and Camillo, the death of his son, the death of Antigonus, the apparent deaths of his daughter and wife—form the main burden of the play until the Chorus of Time that introduces Act IV. Meanwhile the members of Shakespeare's audience have seen the result of an excess of passion and have been able to judge the action in the terms, moral and theological, most meaningful to them. The first phase of the cycle is complete; harmony and integration have been replaced by alienation and disruption.

The pivotal point of the play lies where it should, toward the end of Act III; as in Pericles and The Tempest it involves a storm at sea, the archetypal image of birth and death. The young shepherd (the clown) witnesses the destruction of the ship and the death of Antigonus, but at the same time the old shepherd comes across the living babe whose restoration figures in the fulfillment of the oracle. The scene thus recalls the disruption and chaos of the earlier action and at the same time anticipates the restoration of harmony in the last act. As the old shepherd puts it, saying more than he understands: "Now bless thyself! thou met'st with things dying, I with things new-born" (III.iii.116-18).

Act IV includes the pastoral interlude and, as we have come to expect, the main references to the controversy over Nature and Art. Florizel, the son of Polixenes, has fallen in love with the shepherdess Perdita whom we know to be the daughter of Leontes, marooned by his order during a transport of jealousy. The child has grown up without benefit of Art, and yet her demeanor, like that of the Princes in Cymbeline, reflects the irrefragable excellence of royal blood. Throughout the word "queen" is applied to her, for as Florizel says:

    Each your doing,
    So singular in each particular,
    Crowns what you are doing in the present deed,
    That all your acts are queens.

Both royal children are for the moment disguised as shepherds, the difference being that Florizel knows his true birth whereas Perdita does not. And while they masquerade as pastoral figures, Shakespeare takes care to have us associate the children with more than purity of blood.

Florizel's name—it does not appear in Shakespeare's source—is clearly allegorical, and the association with Flora receives further emphasis in the Prince's description of Perdita in her role as queen of the sheepshearing:

    These your unusual weeds to each part of you
    Do give a life—no shepherdess, but Flora
    Peering in April's front! This your sheep-shearing
    Is as a meeting of the petty gods,
    And you the queen on't.

Despite the wide difference in (apparent) birth, Shakespeare makes it clear that there is no intention of exercising droit du seigneur; Florizel's "youth" and "blood" are as idyllic and pure as his pastoral surroundings, as Perdita herself recognizes even when his praise of her is so extravagant as to seem suspicious:

    Your praises are too large. But that your youth,
    And the true blood which peeps so fairly through't,
    Do plainly give you out an unstain'd shepherd,
    With wisdom I might fear, my Doricles [i.e., Florizel],
    You woo'd me the false way.

Florizel makes it explicit:

    my desires
    Run not before mine honour, nor my lusts
    Burn hotter than my faith.

In short, Shakespeare has taken care to lend Florizel and Perdita the qualities that his audience associated with pastoral figures—idyllic innocence and artless Nature.

The value of Perdita's artlessness is particularly emphasized. Her intellectual simplicity cleaves directly to the heart of a problem, a quality that leads Camillo to acknowledge that he

    cannot say 'tis pity
    She lacks instructions, for she seems a mistress
    To most that teach.

And her modest demeanor does not prevent her from making the pastoral comparison between country and court explicit in referring to Polixenes' rage at discovering his son in love with a "shepherdess":

    I was not much afeard; for once or twice
    I was about to speak, and tell him plainly
    The selfsame sun that shines upon his court
    Hides not his visage from our cottage, but
    Looks on alike.

Even this satiric cut—it is in no sense "democratic"—is of the kind common in pastoral. So far in Shakespeare there is no more than what may be expected from the bucolic tradition: spring, youth, innocence, idyllic love, and the assumption that Nature is superior to Art. But when we have understood the exact function of the pastoral episode in relation to the play as a whole, in relation to its dramatic structure and to its underlying alternation of harmony and disintegration, we will be in a better position to see the individual uses to which Shakespeare has put the traditional materials of Nature and Art.

The pastoral episode immediately precedes the last act, the time of reconciliation and reintegration. The court of Sicily—where the action of the play began—is now the scene of an elaborate series of discoveries in which poetic and other justice is rendered all around. A number of exchanges between Paulina and Leontes have assured the audience that the king is truly repentant; the theological note, sounded so persistently and quietly throughout the play, once more assumes a prominent function, as in the words of Cleomenes:

    Sir, you have done enough, and have perform'd
    A saint like sorrow. No fault could you make
    Which you have not redeem'd; indeed, paid down
    More penitence than done trespass. At the last,
    Do as the heavens have done: forget your evil;
    With them, forgive yourself.

Redemption is indeed at hand.

Florizel and Perdita, fleeing Bohemia and the anger of Polixenes, appear at the Sicilian court; and Leontes, in words that recall the pastoral interlude, welcomes the lovers as a change from the winter of his discontent: "Welcome hither / As is the spring to th' earth" (V.i.151-52). The "unstain'd" youth of Florizel and Perdita, their "true blood," symbolizes the restoration of harmony, the coming of spring to the wasteland, and the purification of the "stronger blood" of their fathers that is impaired by the stain of original sin. Perdita, she who was lost, is found, and discovered to be the daughter of the King; Leontes and Polixenes are once more united in friendship; the way is cleared for the young lovers; Hermione is restored to Leontes during the famous (or notorious) statue scene; and the extraordinary network of repeated words and phrases—youth and age, spring and winter, Nature and Art, birth and death, innocence and sin, Nature and Grace, blood and infection, and so on—is resolved in a series of brilliant puns, in the paradoxical wit of the last scenes. The second phase of the cycle of alienation and harmony, of disruption and reintegration, has been completed.

Enough has been said so that the function of the pastoral scenes in this cycle of—to put it theologically—Fall and Redemption is perhaps obvious. Without these scenes the play would be structurally and symbolically defective, for they reflect, at the appropriate point in the action, the harmony with which the play began: the qualities that Leontes and Polixenes were said to have had as boys are those which Shakespeare gives in turn to Perdita and Florizel. And even the imagery of "twinn'd lambs," together with the assumption of innocence unimpaired by original sin, that Shakespeare uses in describing the young princes accurately reflects pastoral conventions; Shakespeare chose appropriately if not "originally" in this respect.

The imaginative force of the paradisiacal intimacy that once existed between Polixenes and Leontes is therefore essentially similar to the pastoral harmony that is now associated with Perdita and Florizel, and it is therefore proper that the two moments in the Garden balance each other structurally, the one preceding disruption and the other preceding integration. Moreover, the two moments serve a similar moral function in the play. In the cycle of disruption and integration the moments of childhood innocence and pastoral integrity provide the audience, in essentially similar ways, with visions of ideal order in terms of which the rest of the action may be meaningfully understood. The pastoral episode is consequently not merely a decorative interlude but the structural and symbolic prelude to the restoration of harmony in the last act.

Shakespeare's use of pastoral as the expression of an ethical ideal, of a simple world by which the more complex one might be judged, is strictly traditional, and yet it is a little more complicated than my statements so far might imply. Shakespeare's idealization of shepherd life, for example, does not extend much beyond Perdita who is, like Pastorella in The Faerie Queene, of shepherd nurture but not of shepherd nature. And while the old shepherd, that "weather-bitten conduit of many kings' reigns" (V.ii.61-62), is allowed to display a certain amount of rude dignity, the Mopsas and Dorcases of Shakespeare's pastoral world are bumpkins, foils for that snapper-up of unconsidered trifles, Autolycus. Perdita's royal blood manifests itself despite her surroundings and not because of them. For Shakespeare, then, shepherds may serve as exemplars of virtue if they are royal shepherds, and Nature may do without the civilizing influence of Art if it is royal Nature. Toward ordinary shepherds Shakespeare's attitude is realistic and gently satirical; his tolerant humor recalls Theocritus but is a long way from Vergil's delicate enthusiasms.

Shakespeare's attitude toward the division between Nature and Art is at least as complicated, but analysis begins most conveniently with his knowledge of traditional materials. Certainly he was aware of the long-standing association of pastoral with Nature and Art, for his pastoral episode includes a fairly thorough debate on the subject. Camillo and Polixenes, disguised, appear at the sheepshearing to investigate the truth of the rumored liaison between Florizel and some humble shepherdess. Polixenes and Perdita discuss flowers, but matters of cultural propriety are always near the surface of what is ostensibly a horticultural argument.

These speeches are worth quoting at length because of their explicit relevance to my thesis, their complex character, and their importance as conceptual statements of the ethical concerns of the play. Perdita begins by apologizing for presenting these men of "middle age" with winter flowers; she has no fall flowers because she will not grow "nature's bastards," and the discussion immediately turns into a highly technical debate on Nature and Art.

Per. Sir, the year growing ancient,
    Not yet on summer's death nor on the birth
    Of trembling winter, the fairest flow'rs o' th' season
    Are our carnations and streak'd gillyvors,
    Which some call nature's bastards. Of that kind
    Our rustic garden's barren, and I care not
    To get slips of them.
    Pol. Wherefore, gentle maiden,
    Do you neglect them?
    Per. For I have heard it said
    There is an art which in their piedness shares
    With great creating nature.
    Pol. Say there be.
    Yet nature is made better by no mean
    But nature makes that mean. So, over that art
    Which you say adds to nature, is an art
    That nature makes. You see, sweet maid, we marry
    A gentler scion to the wildest stock
    And make conceive a bark of baser kind
By bud of nobler race. This is an art
    Which does mend nature—change it rather; but
    The art itself is nature.
    Per. So it is.
    Pol. Then make your garden rich in gillyvors,
    And do not call them bastards.
    Per. I'll not put
    The dibble in earth to set one slip of them;
    No more than, were I painted, I would wish
    This youth should say 'twere well, and only therefore
    Desire to breed by me.

The speeches are obviously meant to be significant in relation to the entire action of the play; they are not merely decorative commonplaces, but their function has never been fully explained.

There is a possibility that Shakespeare intended the actor portraying Polixenes to speak his lines in such a way that the audience will take the horticultural reasoning as a trap, as a device by which Polixenes hopes to expose Perdita as a scheming wench who is after that "bud of nobler race," Florizel. But it is Perdita who first commits herself against "nature's bastards," and Polixenes' tone, now deliberative, now authoritative, does not appear to support such an interpretation. The King seems pretty clearly to be reasoning in earnest.

Admittedly, the contention that an Art that changes Nature is in fact Nature may seem at first blush sophistical, calculated to make a young girl betray her desires for the "gentler scion." Yet Polixenes' stand is perhaps the most dignified and carefully argued in the whole history of possible opposition between Nature and Art. Like Aristotle and Plato, Polixenes points out that the "art itself is nature." Aristotle had argued in the Physics that when we claim that Art perfects Nature we do in fact mean in the last analysis that Nature perfects herself: "The best illustration is a doctor doctoring himself: nature is like that." And Plato in the tenth book of the Laws had maintained that the good legislator "ought to support the law and also art, and acknowledge that both alike exist by nature, and no less than nature." Although Polixenes' argument may appear sophistical, it is in fact an orthodox statement of the "real" significance of the ancient opposition.

There is of course nothing new in the mixture of horticultural and social vocabularies either, but the implications of the mixture in Polixenes' argument are shockingly unorthodox:

    You see, sweet maid, we marry
    A gentler scion to the wildest stock
    And make conceive a bark of baser kind
    By bud of nobler race.

Translated into purely social terms—Shakespeare's equivocal vocabulary forces the audience to consider the social implications—the argument of Polixenes seems to call for a program of egalitarian eugenics [improvement in the type of offspring produced], a program equally shocking, one suspects, to Polixenes and to the Elizabethan audience. Especially in the given dramatic situation, for the King is at this moment disguised as a shepherd expressly to prevent his "gentler scion" from marrying a "bark of baser kind."

Perdita has throughout revealed a Spenserian appreciation of "degree," and now her reply to Polixenes rejects his (implied) social radicalism along with his horticultural orthodoxy:

    I'll not put
    The dibble in earth to set one slip of them;
    No more than, were I painted, I would wish
    This youth [Florizel] should say 'twere well, and only therefore
    Desire to breed by me.

Perdita's uneasiness in her "borrowed flaunts" (IV.iv.23), her modest conviction that she is, "poor lowly maid, / Most goddess-like prank'd up" (IV.iv.9-10), has culminated in her final identification of Art with deceit, with false imitation, with "painted" womanhood—a kind of Art morally and otherwise inferior to Nature. Her position is, indeed, as venerable as that of Polixenes, appearing in such diverse places as Plato's concept of imitation in the fine arts, in Castiglione's view of cosmetics, and in virtually the whole of the pastoral tradition. Yet neither Polixenes nor Perdita may be taken to represent Shakespeare's final word on the division between Nature and Art. The two traditions are both philosophically "respectable"; dramatic propriety alone requires that Polixenes maintain the court position and Perdita hold to the pastoral belief in the absolute dichotomy between the two terms.

If Shakespeare's "own" position must remain for the moment conjectural, it is at least possible to understand what he is doing with the ancient division between Nature and Art. Clearly he is using it dramatically, as an oblique commentary on the action of the play. Less obvious is his use of the conceptual terms of the division to reflect the major ethical concerns of the play, using them to sum up with dramatic irony the ethical and social questions of The Winter's Tale.

With Perdita, for example, the debate becomes a comment on the way Shakespeare has characterized her. She is given to us as the creation of Nature who, despite her lack of Art, is "mistress / To most that teach"; she is completely incapable of deceit, and her charming sensuousness is tempered by a clear perception of decorum, of her proper place in the order of things. At the same time her role in the sheep-shearing is the creation of Art; her "unusual weeds" make her a "goddess," a "queen," but since these "borrowed flaunts" are deceitful, she resolves finally to "queen it no inch farther" (IV.iv.460). Thus Perdita's stand on the ancient debate accurately reflects her character; it is perfectly consistent with the manner in which she is dramatized. It is this and more. In addition it anticipates ironically the discoveries of the last act, for although Perdita at this point appears to be arguing (in horticultural terms) against a marriage with Florizel, her words describe unwittingly but exactly the final situation of the two lovers: in the last act it will be revealed that Perdita is a "queen" by Nature rather than by Art, that her "borrowed flaunts" are hers by right. At the time when she takes her stand on the question of Nature versus Art, she is by Nature what she conceives herself to be by Art.

Her speech to Polixenes is therefore effective in two main ways: on the one hand it accents her pastoral status as a figure of Nature, free of the corruption and taint of Art, suggesting the Nature of Eden; on the other hand the speech anticipates obliquely the last act of the play in which she and the other characters (the spectator is of course already aware of the dramatic irony of her speech) will understand that Florizel's metaphorical praise—"all your acts are queens"—represents truth on the literal as well as the figurative level.

Polixenes' argument similarly sets up reverberations far beyond the limits of his speech and the immediate context. Polixenes, like Perdita, seemingly argues against his own best interests, for his resolution of the opposition between Nature and Art apparently sanctions the marriage of a noble to a commoner, the "bud of nobler race" to a "bark of baser kind." Thus, as far as Shakespeare and the audience are concerned, it is still another opportunity for dramatic irony; again the spectator is aware of more in a character's words than the character himself. Polixenes appears conscious only of the horticultural application of his words while the spectator is in a position to see that, in the case of Perdita, the "art itself is nature." Thus, Polixenes is also "right," even in the social sense of his words, though he cannot yet see that the queen-liness of Perdita's "nature is made better by no mean / But nature makes that mean." It is only in the last act that the disagreement between Perdita and Polixenes is transcended and resolved in the general restoration of harmony.

The last act is worth looking at in connection with Nature and Art because Shakespeare returns to the subject, this time in the sphere of the fine arts, in an attempt to resolve the paradoxical contrarieties generated out of the debate between Perdita and Polixenes. That which was lost has been found in the person of Perdita, and the two kings are reunited. All that remains is for the dead to rise as in Pericles: the "dead" Hermione is still lost to Leontes. Her improbable restoration in the statue scene has been condemned as a vulgar concession to popular taste and cited as an example of the triviality of the romance form. Such criticism quite misses the point, for it ignores the ground swell of harmony and alienation that informs the play and, even more pertinently, it neglects Shakespeare's preoccupation with Nature and Art.

Properly assessed, the "unrealistic" quality of the statue scene is beside the point. Here as elsewhere in the last romances Shakespeare's respect for "truth" lies in the intensity of his verse and in the underlying pattern of the plays. If the statue scene is improbable, it nevertheless conforms with fidelity to the cycle of alienation and harmony, and the verse of this scene possesses a rare imaginative integrity. All the crucial words of the play—summer and winter, "infancy and grace," Nature and Art, life and death—come together in the last scenes in a series of reckless paradoxes. Paulina speaks to the statue:

    Bequeath to death your numbness, for from him
    Dear life redeems you.

The time of Hermione's "better grace" has arrived; her stepping down from the pedestal means harmony, forgiveness, restoration, redemption.

The role played by Nature and Art in this larger resolution is perhaps obvious. Clearly a statue represents Art, and in this case the statue represents living Art, or Nature. Such distinctions were equally clear to Shakespeare, and his language shows that he also expected his audience to have in mind the traditional opposition between the terms. We first hear of the statue from the Third Gentleman, whose description is marked by the ancient division and avails itself of the ancient analogy:

… a piece many years in doing, and now newly perform'd, by that rare Italian master, Julio Romano, who, had he himself eternity and could put breath into his work, would beguile Nature of her custom, so perfectly he is her ape. (V.ii.103-8)

The artist is the ape of Nature, his imitation practiced so perfectly that he almost outdoes Nature, his final aim being naturam vincere. We have already seen the same notion in Venus and Adonis, the Rape of Lucrece, and Timon; it is the cliché of iconic poetry of the period, summed up in Cardinal Bembo's epitaph on Raphael: "Nature feared that she would be conquered while he lived, and would die when he died." It is in this tradition of friendly contest between Art and Nature that Paulina invites praise of her "statue":

    To see the life as lively mock'd as ever
    Still sleep mock'd death,

and it is in this tradition that Leontes praises it:

    The fixure of her eye has motion in't,
    As we are mock'd with art.

Art has successfully imitated Nature, or so it seems to those who do not know that Paulina has preserved Hermione alive.

The symbolic value of the scene is clear: as with Perdita, the imitation or "mock" of Nature turns out finally to be Nature after all. What seems to be Art is in fact Nature, fulfilling Polixenes' assertion that the "art itself is nature" and confirming Perdita's belief in the supremacy of "great creating nature." The statue scene is with all its improbability a dramatic embodiment of Shakespeare's preoccupation with Nature and Art; it transcends the earlier disagreement between Perdita and Polixenes, for the opposition between Nature and Art dissolves in the pageantry of the statue's descent.

The traditional division lies at the center of The Winter's Tale. It is used conceptually and as an instrument of dramatic irony in the pastoral episode, and it appears symbolically as part of the total resolution of Act V. Nevertheless, Shakespeare does not seem to be as far committed to the division as Spenser. Although both poets take full advantage of the association of the literary genre with the philosophical division and although both use the pastoral as "an element in the harmonious solution of a longer story" about the court, in Shakespeare the division lacks much of the didactic immediacy it possesses in Spenser. The virtue of courtesy must be placed properly in the order of nature, and Spenser uses Nature and Art to achieve this didactic end; he is thinking with the established terms more than he is about them. Perhaps because The Winter's Tale is less obtrusively didactic, Shakespeare thinks about the terms more than he does with them, finding in Nature and Art opportunities for witty debate and verbal paradox; perhaps because of his lack of absolute commitment he can afford to extract from various and conflicting interpretations the full dramatic value of the philosophical division. In The Winter's Tale the traditional terms represent, through dramatic irony, a conceptual summation of the ethical and social interests of the play, and in the last act they form a main part of the elaborate series of paradoxes culminating in the statue scene—the pun made flesh.

Source: Edward William Tayler, "Shakespeare's 'The Winter's Tale,'" in Nature and Art in Renaissance Literature, Columbia University Press, 1964, pp. 124-41.


Battenhouse, Roy, ed., "The Winter's Tale: Comment," in Shakespeare's Christian Dimension, Indiana University Press, 1994, pp. 233.

Bruce, Susan, "Mamillius and Leontes: Their Final Exchange," ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews, Vol. 16, No. 3, Summer 2003, pp. 9-12.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, "Notes on The Winter's Tale and Othello, in Four Centuries of Shakespearean Criticism, edited by J. Frank Kermode, Discuss Books, 1965, pp. 290-91.

Evans, Bertrand, "A Lasting Storm: The Planetary Romances," in Shakespeare's Comedies, Clarendon Press, 1960, pp. 296.

Fortier, Mark, "Married with Children: The Winter's Tale and Social History; or Infanticide in Earlier Seventeenth-Century England," Modern Language Quarterly: A Journal of Literary History, Vol. 57, No. 4, Dec. 1996, pp. 579-603.

Goodman, Paul, The Structure of Literature, University of Chicago Press, 1962, p. 41.

Hazlitt, William, The Winter's Tale, in Characters in Shakespeare's Plays, 1817,

Hunt, Maurice, "'Bearing Hence' Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale" in SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, Vol. 44, No. 2, Spring 2004, pp. 333-46.

Jameson, Anna Brownell, Characteristics Of Women, 1832,

Leavis, F. R., "The Criticism of Shakespeare's Late Plays," in Shakespeare Criticism, edited by Anne Ridler, Oxford University Press, 1970, p. 139.

Montaigne, Michel de, The Complete Essays of Montaigne, translated by Donald M. Frame, Stanford University Press, 1982, p. 141.

Pafford, J. H. P., The Winter's Tale, in The Arden Shakespeare, Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1963.

Shakespeare, William, King Lear, 3rd Series, edited by R. A. Foakes, Arden Shakespeare, 1997.

――――――, The Winter's Tale, edited by Frank Kermode, Signet Classic, 1963.

Van Elk, Martine, "'Our Praises Are Our Wages': Courtly Exchange, Social Mobility, and Female Speech in The Winter's Tale," in Philological Quarterly, Vol. 79, No. 4, Fall 2000, pp. 429-57.


Frye, Northrop, "The Triumph of Time," in A Natural Perspective, A Harbinger Book/Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.: NY, 1965.

In arguing that The Winter's Tale is the literary representation of a ritual whose aim is to "unite the human and the natural worlds," and to provide "an imaginative model of desire," Frye outlines "the three elements of comic structure, the grim beginning, the middle period of confusion, carnival, and sexual license, and the final period of festive reordering."

Greenblatt, Stephen, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, W. W. Norton, 2004.

This comprehensive biography of Shakespeare provides insight into the bard's life and work. Greenblatt also offers readers a detailed view of life in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England.

Heims, Neil, "Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale," in The Explicator, Vol. 46, No. 4, Summer 1988.

Heims suggests various similarities between the two sections of The Winter's Tale which reinforce the structural and thematic unity of the play.

McFarland, Thomas, "We Must Be Gentle: Disintegration and Reunion in The Winter's Tale," in Shakespeare's Pastoral Comedy, The University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, 1972.

McFarland traces the movement from what he calls the "anti-comic" to the final resolution of the play, achieved through reunion, which results in what he terms "social happiness."