Skip over navigation

The Winter's Tale

William Shakespeare

Study Questions

Analysis

Review Quiz

Discuss and analyze Leontes's jealousy.

The innocence of Hermione is never in doubt—every character in the play testifies to it, and the Oracle confirms it—so Leontes's suspicions of his wife and best friend are clearly irrational. As the victim of misplaced jealousy, he resembles one of the most famous Shakespearean heroes, Othello, who murders his wife Desdemona because he believes her to be unfaithful. But Othello is led into error by his villainous aide, Iago, whereas Leontes is his own Iago—the entire dream of adultery is concocted within his own mind. The play offers us hints, in the childhood friendship of the two kings, and the suggestion that Leontes may have been too close to Polixenes; in the king's insecurity over the legitimacy of Mamillius, and the threat that bastards posed to any kingdom; in Leontes's misogyny and fear of women, which comes out when Paulina tries to reason with him. But none of these is sufficient to solve the problem, and Shakespeare seems to intend it thus. "Your actions are my dreams," (III.ii.81) Leontes tells Hermione, and while he means it sarcastically, the play does not—he has allowed his nightmares to infect his view of the waking world.

Discuss the changes in mood, plot and imagery that occur between Act I-III and Act IV-V.

In Mamillius's words, "a sad tale's best for winter," (II.i.25) and the first three acts are set in a Sicilian winter, and are determinedly sad. Indeed, these acts offer a kind of miniature tragedy, as Leontes's errors, like Lear's or Othello's, bring death and destruction down upon his family and kingdom. What makes The Winter's Tale a romance, rather than a tragedy, is the abrupt shift in mood after Time announces the passage of sixteen years, and the action shifts to Bohemia. Winter comes to an end, and spring enters, bringing with it the promise of rebirth—and as the seasons change, so the story shifts away from tragedy and into the realm of fairy tale and romantic comedy. The imagery of Act IV is dominated by the flowers that Perdita wears and dispenses as hostess of the sheepshearing, and the mood of the act is found in the cheerful songs of Autolycus. This spirit is eventually brought back to Sicilia, where Act V undoes much of what seemed so tragic in Act III—Perdita is restored to her rightful home, Hermione is restored to life, and even Paulina is given a new husband. The Winter's Tale, then, ends the way all winters end—by giving its characters the promise of forgiveness and a fresh start.

Discuss the resurrection scene. Is the apparent miracle real?

There is evidence on both sides of this question. Paulina, who orchestrates the entire scene—and who ostensibly commissioned the statue—seems remarkably unsurprised by the "miracle," and she is, after all, our only witness to the fact that Hermione actually died. Her behavior in the years since suggests a foreknowledge of her queen's return, as she steadfastly kept the king fixated on his own guilt, and on the impossibility of ever marrying again. On the other hand, if the entire business is only a trick, it seems rather an over-the-top stunt for two level-headed women like Hermione and Paulina to orchestrate. And no one who witnesses the miracle raises even a scrap of doubt as to whether the statue was ever an actual statue. Clearly, Shakespeare wants to have it both ways—a genuine miracle to cap off his "Tale," and a hint of a naturalistic explanation for the careful reader. And in either case, the miracle is an appropriate conclusion to the play, since it provides for a truly happy ending that Hermione's death seemed to place out of reach.

Discuss the role of setting in the play.

Analyze the character of Autolycus, and discuss his role in the play.

Analyze the character of Perdita, and her relationship to nature.

Discuss the role of divine intervention in the play, especially the miracle scene and the Delphic Oracle.

Discuss the role of women in the play, and their relationships with their husbands/lovers.

Analyze the character of Camillo. What is his function in the play?

Would you categorize The Winter's Tale with Shakespeare's comedies, or his tragedies? Some scholars have grouped it with The Tempest, Pericles, and Cymbeline as a "romance." Would you agree with this grouping? Why or why not? /QUESTION

More Help

Previous Next
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

2 Comments

203 out of 211 people found this helpful

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

0 Comments

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!

0 Comments

1 out of 1 people found this helpful

Follow Us