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The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare-Free MonkeyNotes Study Guide
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This is a long scene set in the cottage of the shepherd - the foster father of Perdita. The atmosphere is animated with celebration, as it is the day of the sheep-shearing feast. The audience is made privy to a conversation between the lovers, Florizel and Perdita. Perdita, the hostess of the feast, is dressed so splendidly that Florizel declares she is no shepherdess, but the very Goddess Flora. In contrast, Florizel is dressed in a humble fashion. The appearances of both are opposed to their real station in life and Perdita is uneasy about her appearance: but for the custom that she should dress splendidly at the feast, she never would have consented to it.

Florizel blesses the happy time that has brought them together, for he considers himself extremely fortunate in being able to win over Perdita. But Perdita is apprehensive and wonders how shocked his father would be to see the young prince associating himself with a shepherdess! Perdita also feels that Florizel, of royal birth, may not be used to fear but it is not the case with herself. (Perdita and Florizel at this point do not know that the disguised Polixenes and Camillo are with the shepherd at some distance.)

Florizel allays her fears by giving examples of gods like Jupiter, Neptune, Apollo, all of whom had adopted a humble form, but unlike theirs, his love and intentions are honorable and his passions are held in check. Perdita doubts if his resolution will survive when there is pressure from the King, his father. He may be forced to change his mind or she may be forced to die. Florizel lovingly tells her not to spoil the gaiety of the feast with such pessimistic thoughts. He assures her that he is hers. If he is not, he cannot be anyone else's either. There is no question of giving her up. He asks her to receive the guests with a cheerful countenance.

The shepherd now joins them. With him are the clown, the disguised Polixenes and Camillo, and shepherds and shepherdesses including Mopsa and Dorcas. The shepherd chides Perdita for not playing an effective hostess. When his wife was alive she used to play multiple roles at the feast. She would sing and dance as well to entertain her guests. She would move from one end of the table to the other attending to all the guests. The shepherd asks Perdita not to retire like a guest but come forward and welcome everyone. Perdita obeys and welcomes the disguised Polixenes and Camillo. She greets them with flowers and Polixenes comments that she has given them flowers of winter to suit their old age. Perdita replies that she does not have carnations and gillyvors in her garden for though they are considered the fairest of flowers, some call them 'nature's bastards'. Therefore, she is not interested in growing them in her garden.

Then ensues a discussion between Perdita and Polixenes on nature and art. Polixenes commends the advantages of grafting but Perdita will have none of it. She will not plant gillyvors as they are not products of nature but the effect of man's skill. Polixenes insists that art improves nature. In fact, art can be itself considered a product of nature. The 'gentler scion' may be married to the wildest stock resulting in a high quality product. Perdita refuses to budge from her stand. She will not grow those flowers anymore than she would allow this young man to marry her just because he finds her adorned.

Perdita continues to distribute flowers, this time giving flowers of middle summer to men of middle age. Then she turns to Florizel and expresses her inability to give him spring flowers to suit his youth. If she had flowers of spring like bold oxlips, crowns imperial and lilies, she would be delighted to give them to Florizel and the other youngsters like Mopsa. She feels that her festive dress does alter her mood, for which Florizel pays her a glowing compliment that all her "acts are queens".

Florizel invites Perdita to dance with him. Polixenes cannot but wonder at Perdita's grace which is very much unlike that of a low- born lass. Camillo calls her "queen of curds and cream." As the shepherds and shepherdesses dance, Polixenes inquires about the youth (Florizel) to the old shepherd. He replies that the youth's name is Doricles. He claims to be a man of noble blood and appears to be truthful. The shepherd adds that the youth is deeply in love with Perdita and if the marriage does take place, Doricles would get a dowry he cannot even dream of.

A servant comes in to announce a peddler who says he can entertain everyone with ballads. He knows a variety of songs and has even songs for maids without use of bawdy words! The servant also reports about his wares: ribbons of all colors, linen, wrist- bands, and so on. The clown who is happy with this information sends for the peddler. Perdita warns that the peddler should be asked to avoid obscene words in his songs.

The peddler is none other than Autolycus who has managed to acquire a variety of knick-knacks, thanks to the clown's purse that he had picked. He comes in singing and Mopsa asks the clown to buy some ribbons and gloves for her. Autolycus also tells them about the ballads that are available for sale. He narrates some improbable stories from the ballads. The clown promises to buy some for Mopsa and Dorcas and leads them away so as not to disturb the conversation of the elders.

The servant announces that some shepherds are dressed as satyrs and are eager to do a dance. Contrary to the shepherd's expectation, Polixenes shows his eagerness to see the dance, and the satyrs are invited to dance.

After the dance, Polixenes asks Florizel why he has let the peddler go without buying some gifts for his beloved. Florizel replies that she doesn't care for these trifles. She only wants his love. Further, he also declares his love for her. The shepherd is about to conduct the betrothal of Florizel and Perdita when Polixenes asks Florizel if he has a father and if he knows about this engagement. Florizel replies that he has a father but he shall not know about this betrothal. Polixenes presses the matter further by asking him if his father is disabled by old age. Florizel replies that his father is in good health. Polixenes argues that Florizel's behavior is very unfair to his father: true, a man may choose his wife but it is reasonable enough to consult one's father on a matter of such great importance. Florizel does not agree and Polixenes, having pleaded in vain, loses his temper, throws off his disguise and reveals his identity. He tells Florizel that he is ashamed to call him his son and heir to the throne. He warns Perdita and her father of dire consequences if they encourage Florizel to the cottage.

After Polixenes' stormy exit, Perdita says that she felt like telling the king that the sun shines alike on the palace and the shepherd's cottage. Turning to Florizel she asks him to go away. Had she not warned him time and again that their love affair will not survive because of the great discrepancy in their social positions? But Florizel assures her that nothing has altered. He is the same person and he will not give up his love at any cost. He tells Camillo that he proposes to take Perdita and sail away to another country. Camillo, being his father's trusted friend, should go and pacify his father. But Camillo now plans to advise them to flee to Sicilia. This will not only save the couple from danger but will also enable Camillo to visit his country and see his old master, Leontes. Camillo suggests that they go to Sicilia where his (Camillo's) fortunes are. Florizel can visit the court of Leontes as a royal prince and representative of his father. Camillo would give him all the information and advice necessary to conduct himself at Sicilia in such a way that Leontes would give him a warm welcome. Florizel, touched by Camillo's gesture, says, "Preserver of my father, now of me. The medicine of our house."

Autolycus happens to arrive on the scene, very happy with his successful sale of trinkets. Camillo decides to use Autolycus to facilitate their purpose. He asks Autolycus to exchange garments with Florizel. This he does to prevent the prince from getting detected by anyone, before he can board the ship. Autolycus is given some money after the exchange of the garments. Camillo plans to tell King Polixenes about their flight and advise him to follow them to Sicilia. He hopes to accompany Polixenes to Sicilia and thus satisfy his own earnest longing to revisit his country.

Autolycus, very pleased with acquiring both good clothes and money to boot, tells himself that it pays to be a pickpocket. He will not inform the king of the prince's flight. True to his dishonest profession, he will conceal it. He now sees the shepherd and the clown pass, discussing their plans to tell the king the truth about Perdita. The clown insists that they must tell him that Perdita is not the shepherd's natural daughter and so the king ought not to punish them. They also propose to hand over to the king the bundle, the contents of which hold the secret of Perdita's birth.

Autolycus removes his false beard, pretends to be a courtier and accosts these simple rustics. He demands to know where they are going and what the contents of the bundle are. Autolycus' affected manner of speaking convinces the shepherds that he is a courtier after all. The shepherd tells him of their proposal to meet the king. Autolycus says it is pointless to try to meet him since he is not available in the palace. He has left on a voyage to shake off the melancholy resulting from the prince's desire to marry a shepherdess. He threatens that a severe punishment is in store for the shepherd as well as the shepherd's relatives, no matter how distant the relationship is. He proceeds to enumerate the deadly nature of the impending punishments, which include the shepherd being stoned to death and his son skinned alive! If any man other than the King can save them, it is Autolycus himself! He agrees to take them to the king and speak in their favor if they will give him a suitable present. The fools fall for it and part with their gold in the hope that this god-sent messenger will save them!

Autolycus directs them to the sea, saying he will follow soon. After their exit, he tells himself that fortune will not allow him to be honest even if he wants to. He decides not to take the rustics to the king but to Prince Florizel instead, who is boarding the ship to Sicilia. This may bring about his advancement in the future.


This long scene uncovers the world of pastoral romance, a genre popular in England at the time and which Shakespeare borrowed from for this play. The opening dialogue presents the young lovers Florizel and Perdita at the sheep-shearing feast. Perdita is not only the hostess but the presiding deity of this pastoral world. Clothed as a princess, it is no wonder then that Florizel refers to her as Goddess Flora herself. It is ironic that she is dressed as in royal garb and yet is ignorant of heritage, and Florizel is dressed in the garb of a sheperd. This role reversal embarrasses her and she does not feel comfortable in her queenly role. This only adds to her innocence as well as a symbol of regeneration and fertility. Given up as dead sixteen years ago, here she is beautiful and full of life and love. Other things that enhance this pastoral setting is the exuberant talk of flowers and seasons.

There is a royalty about her demeanor, not merely by the fact that she is a princess by birth but by the exceptionally graceful manner in which she carries herself. It is not only Florizel who compliments her, even Polixenes who does not approve of the match cannot but wonder that she is "too noble" for her setting. She not only plays a charming hostess, but exhibits a knowledge of natural delights and despite Florizel's idealistic approach and glowing compliments, she never loses a sense of reality and common sensical approach to life. Depicted here, she is one with nature, untainted and organic.

The discussion on nature and art that Perdita has with Polixenes is full of irony. She will not grow flowers in her garden which are not entirely natural and despises playing around with Nature's gifts. But Polixenes speaks in favor of man improving upon nature through art. He says, "we marry a gentler scion to the wildest stock" to produce a noble product. But he is not prepared to apply this principle to life. He cannot approve of the union of the prince and the shepherdess. The dramatic effect is no less admirable in the presentation of the persons than of Themes.

Florizel's greatest strength is that he is steadfast in love. When Perdita voices her apprehensions, he assures her of his affection. After his father threatens to disinherit him, he says, "I am heir to my affection." His refusal to invite his father for the betrothal in spite of very persuasive arguments put forward by Polixenes, appears disrespectful. Perhaps he is sure the father will never approve of his choice. But his refusal to budge is dramatically important for the advancement of action. The dramatist has to transport all the key figures to Sicilia, which is Perdita's native land, and Florizel's behavior is used for this transportation and the final reunion.

The indispensable Camillo once again plays the vital role. In fact, there seems to be an architectural symmetry about his role. In Act I, he helped Polixenes to flee Sicilia and now he helps Polixenes' son to flee from Bohemia. He thus becomes the architect of the two major movements in the play as well as a character endowed with good reason and tempered passions.

Autolycus' earthy presence lends sufficient reality to the pastoral world. His immorality, gaiety and joie de vivre make him a lovable rascal. This merry rogue can entertain everyone with songs and improbable stories. His role serves not only to contrast romance and realism but court and country as well. He is a country fellow used by Shakespeare to satirize the courtier. Another important function he serves is to be instrumental in getting the clown and the shepherd to Sicilia. Even though Perdita is to meet her natural parents, why should her foster parent be left behind?

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