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The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare-Free MonkeyNotes Study Guide
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The scene begins with a song by Autolycus, a rogue who can make the audience laugh. He is merry as a lark and sings of spring, daffodils and sweet birds. He claims to have been under the service of Prince Florizel in the past but is no longer. He admits to being a cheat. Since he was born under the influence of Mercury, he claims he is adept at being a petty thief. He does not indulge in any serious crimes, for he is afraid of the gallows, and doesn't worry about the after-life. He sleeps at the very thought of it.

Autolycus' heart jumps up as he sees the clown coming in, engaged in working out financial calculations. He is trying to work out the income that comes from the shearing of more than a thousand sheep. Autolycus is confident that he can cheat this foolish clown. The clown has been entrusted with the task of buying various items for the sheep-shearing feast. His sister Perdita is to be the mistress of the feast. The clown is getting muddle-headed about the things he has to buy.

Autolycus grovels on the ground, crying for help and the gullible clown is full of pity for him as he laments that he has been robbed and beaten. The culprit has taken away his good dress and has forced detestable rags on him. As the clown gives him a hand to help him up, Autolycus picks his purse. The clown offers him some money but Autolycus graciously declines it! He assures him that he has a kinsmen in the neighborhood who will help him. When the clown asks him to describe the man who had robbed him, Autolycus describes himself and his profession. The clown offers to escort him but Autolycus gently declines it. He is feeling much better! The clown leaves saying that he must buy spices for the sheep-shearing feast. After the clown's exit, Autolycus comments that the clown has no money to buy the spices. He also promises to be at the sheep-shearing feast to continue his cheating exercise. The shearers will prove to be the sheep! Autolycus exits with a merry song.


Autolycus is at once a very earthly rascal and a comedian. He is also a trickster, bent on pranks which are harmless yet reveal a dark side to his character. His merry song sets the note of spring and youth. The onset of spring is depicted in the atmosphere of the play and the following scene will focus on the young lovers who symbolize this season.

Autolycus is not ambiguous about his profession and the audience is invited to enjoy the deceiving of the clown, thus being able to suspend their moral judgments. As soon as Autolycus picks the purse he tells the clown, "You have done me a charitable office." The poor clown takes it to mean his help in lending him a hand, but the audience knows better. Autolycus' gracious denial of the money offered by the clown is even more hilarious. There is further comic irony in the clown criticizing the imaginary rogue who has apparently robbed Autolycus, while helping the real rogue who has robbed him. Blissfully unaware of his own sorry predicament, the clown is sorry for Autolycus, the actual culprit.

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Study Guide for The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare-Online Summary


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