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The Winter's Tale

William Shakespeare

Act IV, Scene iv, lines 441-846

Act IV, Scene iv, lines 1-440

Act V, Scenes i-iii

Summary

Both Perdita and the Shepherd despair, with the latter cursing Florizel for deceiving him and then storming off. The prince is remarkably unfazed, however, and assures Perdita that he will not be separated from her—that he is willing to give up the succession and flee Bohemia immediately. Camillo advises him against it, but Florizel insists that he will not break his oath to Perdita for anything in the world. This resolve gives Camillo an idea, and he advises the prince to flee at once to Sicilia, where Leontes, believing him sent from Polixenes, will give him a good welcome. In the meantime, Camillo promises to bring Polixenes around to the notion of his son marrying a commoner. In truth, however, Camillo hopes that the king will follow his son to Sicilia, and bring him along, thus allowing him to return to his native land.

Florizel agrees to the old lord's plan, but points out that he does not have an appropriate retinue to appear in the court of Sicilia as Polixenes's son. While they discuss this problem, with Camillo promising to furnish the necessary attendants and letters, Autolycus comes in, bragging to himself about all the cheap goods he sold and all the purses he stole during the sheepshearing. Noticing him, Camillo asks the rascal to exchange clothes with Florizel. Autolycus, baffled, agrees, and the prince puts on the peddler's rags, which, he hopes, will enable him to reach a ship undetected by his father. This done, Florizel, Perdita, and Camillo leave Autolycus alone on stage. The crafty peddler/thief declares that he has figured out their business from listening to them, but will not go and tell the king, since that would be a good deed—and good deeds are against his nature.

As Autolycus talks to himself, the Clown and the Shepherd come in. Seeing an opportunity for mischief, he pretends to be a nobleman (he is still wearing Florizel's clothing). The Clown is advising the Shepherd to tell King Polixenes how he found Perdita in the forest years before—since if she was a foundling, he is not her real father and therefore not responsible for her actions. Hearing this, Autolycus tells them that the king has gone aboard a nearby ship, and sends them in that direction. In fact, he sends them to the ship that Florizel and Perdita are taking to Sicilia.

Commentary

The steadfastness of Florizel at this juncture is impressive—he has clearly wrecked matters with his father, but his love for Perdita never wavers, and nor does his desire to do what is right. (In his devotion to his future mate, and in his honorable behavior, he makes a stark contrast with Leontes.) Camillo now sets in motion the return to Sicilia, and although his behavior, involving as it does a sort of double betrayal, is not up to his usual standards of highly moral conduct, he is the agent of the happy ending, and so can be forgiven. Besides, the old man's desire to see his homeland again demands the audience's sympathies.

Once the decision is made to flee to Sicilia, Autolycus takes over this portion of the play. We are given his philosophy of life, beginning with his statement (after robbing the entire sheepshearing party) that "Ha, ha, what a fool Honesty is! and Trust, his sworn brother, a very simple gentleman!"(IV.iv.594-95). In a different play, this statement would have a sinister cast, and so would his justification for not running to tell the king what has happened—"If I thought it were a piece of honesty to acquaint the king withal, I would not do't. I hold it the more knavery to conceal it, and therein I am constant to my profession"(IV.iv.677-80). This echoes the deliberate evil of villains like Iago in Othello and Edmund in King Lear—with the great distinction that Autolycus lacks their capacity for harm. None of his crimes have dire consequences, and his "knavery" actually ends up doing everyone a great deal of good, leaving the audience free to delight in his "constancy," and in his bamboozling of the poor Shepherd and his son, whom he terrifies with promises of the king's vengeance: "He has a son, who shall be flayed alive; then 'nointed over with honey, set on the head of a wasp's nest; then stand till he be three quarters and a dram dead; then recovered again...(and) set against a brick wall, the sun looking with a southward eye upon him, where he is to behold him with flies blown to death"(IV.iv.780-87). Indeed, so delightful is his bad behavior, that his promise to "go straight" and enter in the Shepherd's service in the next Act may actually seem a disappointment, leavened only by the hope that the rascal will eventually abandon respectability and return to being a rascal.

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Not a Miracle, but a Trick

by kcmurdarasi, August 18, 2012

The statue of Hermione at Paulina's house is not a real statue that comes to life by a miracle, it is actually Hermione herself. King Leontes thought she was dead (he had seen her 'corpse' - in reality just her unconscious body) but in fact she had been concealed by Paulina for the last sixteen years.

There are lots of hints the in preceeding scenes that Hermione is in fact alive. Pauline makes sure the King promises to marry no-one except a woman she shall choose, who shall be as good as the late Queen - although, of course, no such ... Read more

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The Best of Shakespeare's Comedies.

by ReadingShakespearefor450th, March 11, 2013

This play is great: engaging, funny, sad, thoughtful. Lots of great characters—mostly good—including my nominee for best comic relief character (“Autolycus, a rogue”) in a Shakespearean comedy.

I'm reading, reacting to and blogging on all Shakespeare plays by his 450th in April 2014. See my blog on "The Winter's Tale":

http://ow.ly/iLi7x

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1 out of 2 people found this helpful

No Fear?

by LateKait, February 04, 2014

Is there a No Fear coming any time soon for The Winter's Tale? Pretty please!

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1 out of 1 people found this helpful

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