Below is a brief plot summary of The Winter’s Tale:

Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, has been visiting his old friend King Leontes in Sicily for nearly nine months but is ready to return to Bohemia. Leontes begs him to stay longer but Polixenes is anxious to go, and declines. When Leontes’ pregnant wife, Hermione, succeeds in persuading Polixenes to stay, Leontes becomes obsessed with the thought that his wife has been unfaithful with his friend. He asks his servant, Camillo, to poison Polixenes, Camilla warns Polixenes instead and they flee leaving Hermione and her little boy, Mamillius, to face the King’s displeasure.

Leontes imprisons Hermione and she delivers a baby girl there. A lady in waiting, Paulina, takes the baby to Leontes to try and persuade him to accept her. Instead. Leontes instructs Paulina’s husband, Antigonus, to take the baby into exile. Leonte’s puts Hermione on trial and she is vindicated by a message from the Delphic oracle to which Leontes had appealed. Her son Mamillius dies from heartbreak at his mother’s imprisonment and Hermione collapses and appears to die. The news of Mamillius’ death shocks Leontes back to reality and he becomes remorseful.

Antigonus places the baby on a beach in Bohemia but he is killed by a bear and the baby is left there. A shepherd and his son discover the child and take her to their home.

Sixteen years pass, during which time Leontes mourns the loss of his wife and children. In Bohemia, Polixenes’ son, Florizel, has met and fallen in love with a shepherd’s daughter, Perdita, while she’s organising a sheepshearing feast. Polixenes and Camillo, in disguise, attend the feast where they are entertained by dancers and by the rogue Autolycus, who has previously tricked the young Shepherd and stolen his purse to provide himself with knick-knacks to sell at the feast. Polixenes reveals himself, reprimands his son, and threatens the shepherds for promoting Perdita’s friendship with the Prince.

Camillo and Autolycus help Florizel and Perdita to run away to Sicily. They are followed by the shepherds, who in turn are pursued by Polixenes and Camillo. At Leontes’ court Florizel introduces Perdita then, as Polixenes arrives, the revelations of the shepherds show Perdita to be the banished daughter of Leontes. Everyone goes with Paulina to see a newly completed statue of Hermione and the statue moves. Hermione has lived in seclusion in the belief that her daughter will be found. Florizel and Perdita are united. Leontes and Hermione are also united and, as a reward, Paulina is given Camillo as her new husband.

 

 

See summaries of Shakespeare’s other plays >>

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