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The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare-Free MonkeyNotes Study Guide
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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

The action of the play is set in the two countries of Sicilia and Bohemia. Except for the last scene of Act III and the whole of Act IV, which are set in Bohemia, the rest of the scenes take place in Sicilia.

Within Sicilia the setting may vary though the action primarily takes place in the palace of the Sicilian king, Leontes.

Act II, Scene 2 is set in the Sicilian prison where the queen is being confined.

Act III, Scene 2 takes place in the Sicilian court of justice, where the queen's trial occurs.

In Act III, Scene 1, Cleomenes and Dion discuss their trip to the island of Delphos and the readers are given a graphic description of the island, its climate, its temple and so on, although the setting continues to be Sicilia.

The last scene of the play (Act V, Scene 3) is set in the Chapel in Paulina's house, which is again in Sicilia.

While courtly splendor, royal attire and a palatial background mark the Sicilian scenes, the Bohemian scenes are essentially pastoral and rustic. This shift from Sicilia to Bohemia begins in Act III, Scene 3 that presents a desert spot near the Bohemian coast where Antigonus abandons the infant.

Act IV, Scene 2 is a brief scene, which is set in the palace of the King of Bohemia. Except for this one scene, a rustic simplicity and pastoral beauty marks all the Bohemian scenes: what with the shepherds and shepherdesses, flowers and cottages and the sheep-shearing festival.


LIST OF CHARACTERS

Major Characters

Leontes

The King of Sicilia. He is introduced as a kind husband and father, and an affectionate friend, but becomes possessed by a violent fit of jealousy that transforms his personality completely. He wreaks destruction and chaos on family and friends. However, he eventually realizes his sin and repents for it.

Hermione

The wife of Leontes and Queen of Sicilia. A grand and noble queen, she becomes the victim of her husband's baseless jealousy. She has a majestic endurance, nobility and fearlessness, though she is put through acute suffering.

Polixenes

King of Bohemia and childhood friend of Leontes. As the play opens, he is the guest of the Sicilian King. He is also a victim of Leontes' jealousy and flees Sicilia. Later he reveals his tyrannical side when refusing to allow his son to marry the shepherd girl, Perdita.

Florizel

Prince of Bohemia, son of King Polixenes. Though mentioned earlier, he is featured only from the fourth act of the play. He loves Perdita and proves himself to be steadfast in love.

Perdita

The beautiful daughter of King Leontes and Queen Hermione. Leontes, sick with suspicion, considers her a child born of adultery and orders that she be abandoned. Her carriage and behavior are splendid throughout and speak of her royal personage, though she has been brought up in a shepherd's cottage.

Camillo

The most loyal lords of the Sicilian king, Leontes. He is the first one to discover his master's jealousy. His sense of morality does not permit him to poison Polixenes, though his master orders him to do so. He saves Polixenes and flees Sicilia along with him. Later, he is instrumental in bringing everyone back to Sicilia for a reunion.

Paulina

Wife of Antigonus, one of the courtiers of Leontes. She is a bold lady who bluntly points out the king's folly to himself and acts as his conscience. She harbors Queen Hermione for sixteen years and restores her to king Leontes, after ensuring that he has truly repented for his sins.

Minor Characters

Mamillius

Prince Mamillius is the son of King Leontes and Queen Hermione. A promising child, he tragically dies young, unable to bear his mother's suffering and humiliation.

Antigonus

One of the Sicilian lords, husband of Paulina. He is ordered to abandon the infant Perdita in a lonely spot. Soon after he does so, he is pursued by a bear and killed.

A gaoler

He guards the prison in which Hermione is kept but allows Paulina (after some hesitation) to take the infant out of the prison.

Cleomenes and Dion

Two Sicilian lords who are assigned by Leontes to go to the temple of Apollo at Delphos and bring the verdict of the oracle.

Archidamus

One of the Bohemian lords.

Emilia

One of the ladies attending on Queen Hermione.

Mariner

A sailor who takes Antigonus by ship to the coast of Bohemia to abandon the baby. He and the crew perish in the storm that follows.

Shepherd

Perdita's foster father. He is a simple rustic who finds the abandoned child and raises her.

Clown

The shepherd's son. A gullible fellow who is easily fooled by Autolycus.

Autolycus

A comedian and rogue without scruples. He enlivens the play with his songs, his joy for living, and even his habit of thievery.

Mopsa and Dorcas

Two shepherdesses

The Three Gentleman

Sicilian courtiers. Through their discussion, the audience learns about the reunion of Leontes and Polixenes and the restoration of Perdita. One of them is Paulina's steward.

Other lords, ladies, servants, shepherds and shepherdesses.

Time

Time appears as a Chorus in the opening of Act IV covering the span of sixteen years and summing up the happenings in Sicilia and Bohemia.

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