The Winters Tale condensed

The focus of the play has to be on the story and not the setting, the setting (or settings) being confusing.  The play opens in Sicily, also known as Sicilia, where its king, Leontes, and his wife are hosting his long time friend, Polixenes, the king of Bohemia. The men have been very good friends from childhood.  As further background, Leontes and Hermione have one child, a young son, Mamillius.  We’re told the boy “is a gentleman of the greatest promise.” Leontes wants his friend Polixenes to extend his stay, Polixenes saying “my affairs drag me homeward.”  Hermione actively joins in her husband’s effort to encourage Polixenes to continue his stay, too actively it turns out. 

Act 1. Having pretty much taken over the challenge to get Polixenes to extend his stay, Hermione tells her husband “He’ll stay my lord.”  Her aggressive appeal to Polixenes unsettles her husband, causing him to become irrationally jealous, saying to himself “she does too playfully touch his hand.”  Leontes calls forward his principal courtier, Camillo, and irrationally berates him for not letting him know that his wife and Polixenes have been having an affair, telling him Polixenes “has touched his queen forbiddenly.”  Leontes demands Camillo kill Polixenes. Camillo agrees, having little choice. He says since “I am his cupbearer; I will poison him.” He soon defects to Polixenes, realizing he “faces ruin whether or not he poisons Polixenes.”

Act 2. We learn that Hermione is pregnant.  She asks her son to “sit by us, and tell ‘s a tale.”  Mamillius offers to tell a “merry tale” saying “a sad tale’s best for winter.”  Leontes calls his wife an “adult’ress,” saying “’Tis Polixenes had made thee swell thus.”  He sends her to prison, where she has a daughter. Leontes lashes out at his royals for questioning his judgment. Hermione’s aide, Paulina, takes the baby to Leontes and he rejects it, saying “This brat is none of mine.” Paulina’s husband, Antigonus, says “I will do anything possible” to save the child. Leontes demands Antigonus take the baby and to “bear it to some remote and desert place and there leave it.” 

Act 3. Hermione is arraigned in court, defending herself beautifully. Leontes defiantly says to her “As you were past all shame, look for no less than death.” Hermione calmly responds “Sir, spare your threats.”  Through a message received from the oracle Apollo at Delphos, we learn that Apollo believes Hermione to be “chaste” and “Leontes a jealous tyrant.”  Leontes cries “There is no truth at all i’ th’ oracle.”  It is reported that Mamillius has died, causing Hermione to collapse. She’s carried out of the courtroom, Leontes offering some remorse. Paulina rushes forward and reports to all that Hermione has died, apologizing to Leontes for her outburst. Antigonus takes the bundled baby and a box of gold and deposits them in the “deserts of Bohemia.”  A bear runs him down, killing him. A Shepherd finds the child, saying “I’ll take it up for pity.” The Shepherd’s son, having seen the bear maul Antigonus, sees the box of gold and says to his dad “If the sins of your youth are forgiven you, you’re well to live. Gold, all gold.” The Shepherd tells his son to “let my sheep go.  Come, good boy, the nearest way home.”  The Shepherd’s son buries Antigonus; then joins his father.

Act 4. Father Time enters to tell us that sixteen years have elapsed.  We learn that Polixenes’ son is paying attention to Perdita, a shepherd’s daughter, who has “now grown in grace equal to the wonder she inspires in others.” Camillo is homesick, having been in Bohemia for sixteen years.  Polixenes is concerned that Florizell is spending too much time with the Shepherd’s daughter, who it’s said, has “from very nothing grown into a fortune beyond description.”  Polixenes and Camillo plan to disguise themselves and attend a sheep-shearing feast. A disguised Florizell and Perdita are on stage. The feast has begun. Polixenes and Camillo have entered, both disguised. The Shepherd says “I give my daughter to him.”  A disguised Polixenes yells out to Florizell “Have you a father?” Florizell responds “I have, but what of him?”  Polixenes discards his disguise, makes some angry comments and exits. Florizell tells the no- longer-disguised Camillo that he and Perdita plan to soon sail away. Camillo suggests they “make for Sicilia” and that he will help them get there. The Shepherd and his son plan to visit Polixenes, the son saying “There is no other way but to tell the king she’s a child left by the fairies and none of your flesh and blood.”  A confidence-man tells us “I will bring these two blind ones aboard the prince’s ship.”

Act 5. Back in Sicilia, we learn from the oracle Apollo that “There shall be no heir to the king till his child be found.” Paulina convinces Leontes that he must “never to marry but by her free leave.” Prince Florizell and Perdita enter, she described by a servant as “the most peerless piece of earth that e’er the sun shone bright on.” Each time the men mention how attractive the princess is, Paulina reminds the men of the beautiful Hermione. Leontes greets Florizell. We learn that Polixenes has arrived in Sicilia and has had the Shepherd and his son arrested, causing Perdita to exclaim “O my poor father.” A gentleman enters, announcing that “the king’s daughter is found.” We learn that when Paulina saw the now grown-up Perdita she “lifted the princess and locked her to her heart.” Paulina announces to all that she has a something she wants people to see.  She leads them into the next room and pulls back a curtain “to reveal Hermione as a statue.” All is quiet.  Paulina says “I like your silence.” Perdita and Leontes want to touch the statue, Paulina crying “Patience, the color’s not dry.” Paulina says “Music, awake her!” Hermione stirs. Leontes says “O, she’s warm.” Hermione embraces Leontes. Perdita kneels. Paulina says “Go together, you precious winners all.” Leontes suggests to Paulina that Camillo will make her a trusted and worthy husband.