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Shakespeare at Winedale

The Winter's Tale Synopsis

The Winter's Tale

The Winter’s Tale opens on the court of Leontes, King of Sicilia, where King Polixenes of Bohemia—a friend of Leontes from his youth—prepares to return to his home country after a visit of nine months. Hermione—Leontes’ pregnant wife and mother of the Prince Mamillius—persuades Polixenes to delay his departure at the behest of her husband, and while Leontes observes their interactions, he grows suddenly suspicious of his wife’s fidelity. Believing that Hermione has committed adultery with Polixenes, Leontes orders Camillo, one of his loyal retainers, to poison Polixenes in revenge. Camillo, doubting Leontes’ convictions, forewarns Polixenes of Leontes’ assassination plot and flees with him to Bohemia.

When Leontes discovers that Polixenes and Camillo have fled the court, he arrests Hermione for the crimes of treason and adultery, and declares that the child Hermione is pregnant with is a bastard of Polixenes. Leontes then reveals he has sent two noblemen to Delphos to receive the Oracle of Apollo, which he will use to prove Hermione’s guilt. Paulina, a loyal friend of Hermione’s, visits her in prison, where she learns that Hermione has delivered a baby girl. She decides to present the baby to Leontes to try to temper his rage, and Hermione agrees to send the girl with her. Leontes is suffering from a bout of insomnia when Paulina arrives to present the baby, but he is not moved and orders Paulina’s husband, Antigonus, to take the child and abandon it in some far off land. Soon after, Leontes receives word that the Oracle has been delivered and prepares for the trial of Hermione.

During the trial the Oracle reveals that Leontes’ accusations against Hermione were jealous imaginings; Leontes proclaims the Oracle to be false. The trial is then interrupted by news that Mamillius has died, which causes Hermione to fall lifeless and Leontes to repent the actions he has taken. Antigonus leaves the baby—whom he named Perdita after Hermione appeared to him in a dream—in Bohemia, where it is discovered by an old shepherd and his son, who raise the child for sixteen years. During that time Perdita has grown in to a beautiful young woman and fallen in love with Florizel, the son of Polixenes. While the young couple is eventually discovered by Polixenes, the intervention of Camillo—who wishes to return to his home—and the machinations of a local rogue named Autolycus, allow the couple to escape to Sicilia, where they hope to marry free from Polixenes’ wrath.

Arriving in Sicilia, Perdita and Florizel are welcomed by Leontes, who is overjoyed to see the son of Polixenes visit his court, after sixteen years of hearing nothing from his old friend. However, Camillo has alerted Polixenes of his son’s flight, and they soon arrive hot on their heels. Through a series of discoveries, Perdita is revealed to be Leontes’ lost daughter.  The pattern of forgiveness, reconciliation and seemingly miraculous transformation is completed when Leontes, Polixenes and their respective heirs are led by Paulina to view a statue she has had commissioned of Hermione.  The characters and audience are left to marvel over the events that have occurred “in this wide gap of time/ Since first we were dissevered.”