Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Winter's Tale
A comedy by William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale is also considered a "problem play" by many. The first three acts are filled with intense psychological drama, but the last two acts are quite comedic and supply a happy ending. This play is one of Shakepeare's later efforts, probably written in 1610 or 1611.
Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, is visiting his lifelong friend Leontes, King of Sicilia. At the conclusion of his nine-month visit, Polixenes prepares to leave. Leontes begs him to stay to no avail. Only when Leontes asks his wife, Hermione, to add her pleadings does Polixenes agree to stay a while longer. And on this tiny cause, the king's jealousy turns. He believes his queen and his boyhood friend have been having an affair, that the queen is pregnant with Polixenes' child and that his son, Mamillius, is also not his own.
Leontes plots against Polixenes' life and accuses Hermione of adultery. Polixenes flees back to Bohemia, while Hermione delivers a baby daughter in prison. Leontes orders the newborn to be abandoned in the desert. The Oracle at Delphi pronounces Hermione innocent, but Leontes defies the gods. Hermione faints and is reported to be dead. Mamillius dies of grief over his mother's straits.
The lord sent to abandon Hermione's newborn daughter on the seacoast of Bohemia names her "Perdita," which derives from the Latin word for "lost." He wishes to take pity on the child, but is chased away in one of Shakespeare's most famous stage directions: "Exit, pursued by a bear." Luckily, Perdita is rescued by shepherds.
Father Time enters and announces that sixteen years have passed by. Perdita is a beautiful young woman and knows nothing of her royal heritage. At a sheep-shearing festival, she meets Prince Florizel (Polixines' son), who is disguised as a commoner. They fall in love, but the Bohemian lords do not approve, so the couple escapes to Sicilia. Leontes, who has spent the last sixteen years in agony, repenting the loss of his wife and child, gives them shelter. Soon, Perdita's heritage is discovered and the kings are reconciled. Hermione is also restored, having spent the last sixteen years hidden in a cottage. In the final scene she is revealed to Leontes and her daughter disguised as a statue of herself, and amazes them by coming to life.
(A few web-based commentaries on the play have interpreted the final scene as meaning that Hermione had actually been transformed into a statue and then come to life again, but this seems unlikely to have been Shakespeare's intention.)
In reality Bohemia roughly corresponds to the modern-day Czech Republic and had neither a coast (being landlocked) nor a desert. Shakespeare's fellow playwright Ben Jonson ridiculed the play for this, although some scholars believe his remarks to be simply a joke.
- The Winters Tale - HTML version of this title.
- Winters Tale - plain vanilla text from Project Gutenberg
- Full Text of play
- Shakespeare's Plays at Wikisource
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