The Winter's Tale Summary

King Leontes of Sicilia and King Polixenes of Bohemia are childhood friends and the latter has come to visit him. Camillo, one of Leontes’ lords, and a Bohemian lord, Archidamus go out together as they converse about the two kings’ friendship. Leontes is trying to convince Polixenes to stay longer and Polixenes hesitates as he had already stayed for nine months. Hermione, Leontes’s wife, who is pregnant, succeeds in convincing him. As they talk, Leontes feels slightly envious, but after taking one look at his son, Mamillius, he is assured that he is the father. However, Leontes becomes convinced that Hermione and Polixenes are having a secret affair and orders his lord, Camillo, to become Polixenes’ cupbearer and poison him.

Polixenes notices a shift in the atmosphere and urges Camillo to tell him the truth, which he does. Camillo asks Polixenes to leave Silicia altogether. When Leontes learns about this escape, he is furious. He is adamant and accuses Hermione of carrying Polixenes’ child. He orders Mamillius to be taken away from her and Hermione to be imprisoned. The lords of Sicilia, especially one named Antigonus, ask Leontes to think about his actions. Leontes does not listen to his lords but he does agree to receive a judgment from the Oracle of Delphi.

Antigonus’ wife, Paulina, visits Hermione in jail. She is not allowed to see her, but one of Hermione’s ladies, Emilia, tells her that Hermione has given birth to a little girl. Paulina contemplates bringing the child to King Leontes so that his heart would thaw at the sight of his newborn daughter. Mamillius is unwell while his mother is absent, and Leontes is still raging on about Polixenes’s escape. Paulina brings the newborn in front of Leontes and stands her guard against the king’s jabbing insults. She then defends Hermione before she leaves.

Leontes orders Antigonus to burn the child by fire because he does not want another man’s child to call him father. All the lords are mortified and ask him to rethink his decision. Leontes comes to a negotiation; he orders Antigonus to leave the child in the lonesome woods. Antigonus follows the orders with a miserable stance. Meanwhile, the verdict from the Oracle of Delphi has arrived. The lords Dion and Cleomenes return from Delphi and discuss their mutual hope of Hermione getting the proper judgment.

Leontes is preparing for a trial. Hermione is brought in the courtroom, where Leontes accuses her of having a love affair with Polixenes and aiding him to flee with Camillo. Hermione retorts back, asserting that Camillo is a truthful man and that she is definitely not attracted to Polixenes in a sexual manner. She has only loved him in honor. Leontes pays no attention and demands a death sentence for his wife. Hermione says that death would be a relief for her at this point.

The message from the Oracle arrives. It says: “Hermione is chaste, Polixenes blameless, Camillo a true subject, Leontes a jealous tyrant, his innocent babe truly begotten, and the king shall live without an heir if that which is lost be not found". Everyone in the courtroom cheers while Leontes is still stubborn. Suddenly, word arrives that their son, Mamillius, has passed away. Hermione collapses and is carried out by her ladies and Paulina. Leontes finally realizes what he has done. He is stricken with remorse. Paulina enters and tells Leontes that Hermione has died as well. She accuses him of killing her. Leontes does not try to defend himself and morbidly asks for a single grave for his wife and son. He promises to repent for his sins in his remaining lifetime.

Antigonus shows up at Bohemia, carrying the newborn daughter. He claims to have seen Hermione in his dream, where she had asked him to name her daughter Perdita. He also says that he would never see his wife Paulina again. He leaves the baby in the woods with gold and valuables next to her. While trying to escape an unceremonious storm, he is killed by a bear. A Shepherd and his son, a Clown, find Perdita. They rejoice at the sight of the gold and plan to take care of the child.

Sixteen years have passed. In Bohemia, Camillo is trying to convince Polixenes to let him go back to Sicilia. He is sure that Leontes is not resentful towards him anymore. Polixenes replies that he needs Camillo’s guidance to run the kingdom. They talk about Polixenes’ son, Florizel, who is apparently spending a lot of time with a rich Shepherd’s daughter. Polixenes wants to investigate the matter.

In the countryside, the Clown is walking to the market with a bundle of money with which he has plans to buy supplies for the upcoming sheep-shearing event. On the way, a thief named Autolycus comes to him, pretending to be a victim. Fooling the Clown, Autolycus flees after robbing him. Autolycus plans to go to the sheep-shearing event as well.

The sheep-shearing day comes. Perdita and Florizel are walking side by side. They are in love, but Perdita thinks it is doomed because of his father’s impending disapproval. Florizel comforts her by saying that he belongs to her. The Shepherd appears, along with the Clown, a few shepherdesses, and Polixenes and Camillo under disguise. He tells Perdita to act as a hostess and give out flowers to the guests. It is revealed that Florizel is using a fake name, Doricles. While watching Perdita, Polixenes comments to Camillo that she looks far too royal-like in a shabby place like this. He asks the Shepherd about Doricles, and the Shepherd says that Perdita is in love with an aristocratic prince.

Autolycus walks in, disguised as a peddler trying to sell songs. Polixenes asks Florizel why he had not bought anything for Perdita, to which he says that she does not like such foolish things. Florizel asks the Shepherd for his daughter’s hand in marriage, and the Shepherd gladly agrees.

At that moment, Polixenes reveals himself to be Florizel’s father. He condemns the Shepherd to be executed and Perdita to be defaced. Florizel would never be allowed to talk to her again. He lets the Shepherd and his daughter live but threatens to have them killed if they approach Florizel again. The Shepherd is angry with Florizel for this whole ordeal. Florizel says that he will not break his promise and plans to escape Bohemia with Perdita. Camillo advises him to go to Sicilia, where Leontes would welcome them as they are related to Polixenes. Camillo plans to send Florizel to Sicilia where Polixenes would follow him. This would ensure Polixenes’s return to his homeland.

Florizel is anxious about his lack of a good entourage to accompany him at the court of Sicilia. Camillo promises to sort everything out for Florizel. Autolycus appears, reveling over his stolen purses and business. Camillo notices him and asks him to exchange clothes with Florizel. This gives Florizel the perfect camouflage to escape without Polixenes noticing. Autolycus has figured out the situation just from their words but he does not plan on telling the king, as this would be a good deed. The Shepherd and the Clown cross his path and Autolycus overhears the Clown trying to get the Shepherd to confess how they had found Perdita in the forest all those years ago. Since Perdita is not his daughter, he should not be held accountable for her actions. Autolycus slyly directs them towards a ship where the king is apparently present. In reality, it is the ship on which Perdita and Florizel are to escape.

Back in Sicilia, King Leontes is still grief-stricken. Paulina encourages his penitence and asks him to promise to never marry again until she permitted. Florizel and Perdita are soon to arrive and Leontes is eagerly awaiting their arrival, as he has not heard news from Bohemia in a long time.

As Perdita and Florizel are greeted by Leontes, news arrives that Polixenes and Camillo have come to Sicilia looking for them. The Shepherd and the Clown were held captive as well. Leontes is astonished but he wants to go and meet his friend Polixenes to fix the adverse situation.

Autolycus is also present, and he hears the entire story from the lords in court. The Shepherd reveals how he had found Perdita in the forest, years ago. Both Polixenes and Leontes realize her identity, and the entire court is filled with celebration. Perdita goes to see a statue of her mother in Paulina’s house. When the Clown and the Shepherd appear again, both newly made gentlemen, Autolycus appoints himself to be their loyal servant.

Back at her home, Paulina reveals the statue of Hermione. Everyone is shocked at how astonishingly realistic the statue is. The statue looks exactly sixteen years older than the age Hermione had been when she had died. King Leontes is overwhelmed at this sight and tries to touch the statue. Paulina then tells the statue to come down. It starts moving and everyone is astounded as they realize that it is the real Hermione. She reunites with her husband and her daughter. The story ends with the engagement of Camillo and Paulina. The happy family is finally back together.