The Winter’s Tale: Synopsis

July 12–August 12, 2012

Leontes, the king of Sicily, and Polixenes, the king of Bohemia, have been friends since childhood. Polixenes is at the end of a six-month visit with his old friend. Leontes begs him to stay longer and asks his wife, Hermione, to help persuade him. Because Hermione succeeds with ease, Leontes imagines that they are having an affair. In a jealous rage, he asks his faithful courtier, Camillo, to kill him. Camillo reveals the plot to Polixenes, and together they escape to Bohemia

Leontes then accuses Hermione of being pregnant with his friend’s child. He throws her in prison, over the protest of his nobles, and sends to Apollo’s Oracle at Delphi for what he is sure will be confirmation of his suspicions. Meanwhile, the queen gives birth to a girl, and her loyal friend Paulina brings the baby to the king, in the hopes that the sight of the child will soften his heart.  He only grows angrier and orders Paulina’s husband, Antigonus, to take the child and abandon it in some desolate place. While Antigonus is gone, the answer comes from Delphi — Hermione and Polixenes are innocent, and Leontes is a “jealous tyrant,” and the kingdom will have no heir until the lost child is found.

Time passes, and Perdita, who was saved as a babe,  is now a young woman enjoying a pastoral life with the shepherds who found her and amused by the thief and peddler Autolycus. She is secretly wooed by Polixenes’ son Florizel. When his father discovers that Florizel is in love with the shepherdess, he threatens to disinherit him. Again the good Camillo steps in and, disguising Florizel as Autolycus, helps the couple to elope.

Everyone eventually finds his or her way back to the court of Leontes, where Perdita’s true identity is revealed and she is engaged to Florizel with Polixenes’ blessing. Paulina takes them all to see a new statue of Hermione. As Leontes gazes rapturously on its likeness, the statue steps from its pedestal into Leontes’ arm for Hermione, thanks to Paulina, is still alive. Leontes begs everyone’s forgiveness, and happiness is restored to all.

(adapted from Shakespeare Genealogies by Vanessa James)