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The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare-Free MonkeyNotes Study Guide
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Major Themes

The play is divided into two parts with two major themes present. The first part treats the theme of jealousy and retribution while the second part concentrates on the theme of reconciliation. The two Themes, however, are interconnected and reveal the cycle of destruction and recreation. A fit of consuming jealousy in Leontes drives him to antagonize his wife, his friend, his child and nobles. This jealousy leads to the madness of tyranny, which results in complete alienation. But after a long period of sincere repentance on Leontes part and magnanimous forgiveness on the part of those he had antagonized, equinimity is restored and the play ends in reconciliation.

From a Christian point of view, the play's theme can be seen as one of sin and redemption and from a more classical point of view, one can see a movement such as that found in myths like Demeter and Persephone, that period of change which occurs from winter to spring or from barrenness to fertility.

Minor Themes

One of the minor themes of the play is that of regeneration. The world of nature is left barren by the winter season, but the spring that follows has regenerative powers. Leontes makes his world barren, but with Perdita's arrival comes regeneration. The pastoral setting of Act IV with Perdita as the hostess of the sheep-shearing festival is instrumental in developing this theme.

The relationship between art and nature is another minor theme, which can also be seen as the relationship between illusion (art) and reality (nature). Much of the plot of the play is based on Leontes incredible ability to perceive what is not there as when he accuses his wife and best friend of having an affair without the least bit of evidence. The fine line between illusion and reality is played out in the many maskings and concealments of identity culminating in the final scene where the audience is witness to Hermione's resurrection.

The question of nature and the nurturing of flowers is also elaborately discussed in Act IV. Perdita is a natural princess, though nurtured in a shepherd's cottage. This theme is featured again in the sculpture scene where Hermione's statue is considered an excellent work of art as it closely imitates nature. This theme reflects on the play itself and its construction as well as on the artifice of theatre compared to the naturalness of life.


There are three dominating moods in The Winter's Tale. The mood in the first three acts of the play is somber and depressing as Leontes inflicts suffering on himself and others. It reaches tragic depths with the gloomy news of the deaths of both Mamillius and Hermione.

In Act IV where the scene shifts to Bohemia the mood is one of light-hearted comedy and rustic harmony. The simple shepherd and the clown, the young lovers -- Florizel and Perdita, and above all the musical comedian Autolycus, alter the mood completely. Tragedy gives way to comedy, court routine to pastoral beauty, gloom to sunshine. In the last act of the play, the old wounds are healed, friends are reconciled and the family is reunited. Hence, there is a mixture of moods: bliss and sorrow co- exist. The gentlemen from the court say that Leontes and Camillo looked as if they had heard of "a world ransomed or one destroyed".

Furthermore, when these long separated friends met, "their joy waded in tears". Thus the final mood is neither tragic nor comic: it is a mixture of both leading to a serene mood of reconciliation.

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