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The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare-Free MonkeyNotes Study Guide
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CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Florizel

Florizel is a thoroughly charming young man with some of the attributes of a prince. He disguises himself as a shepherd, a stock pastoral figure. He is honest, faithful and above all optimistic: while Perdita is not sure of the progress of their love, Florizel is confident that all will turn out well. His love is ardent and virtuously sensual. He is willing to brave the disapproval of his father in getting married to Perdita. He is able to recognize her virtue, despite the fact that he thinks her to be lowborn.

Florizel believes that he can overcome all obstacles. Consequently, he tells the disguised Polixenes that he has no intention of telling his father about his marriage until it is a fact. In this statement, he shows a flash of royal arrogance as well as selfishishness. As a result, Polixenes' anger is intensified and his reason more clouded than might have been otherwise.

Florizel believes most highly in love and will do anything to marry Perdita. He is a highly resourceful young man who is a practical, courageous, ardent and virtuous lover.

Camillo

Camillo is the stock figure of the wise and an honest counselor. Throughout the play, he is shown to be loyal, trustworthy and honest yet he is morally courageous and will not pander to insincere or malevolent thoughts. Consequently, he deserts Leontes when he cannot follow him in an immoral act. Polixenes appreciates this righteous man and relies greatly on his advice. He is more than willing to take Camillo with him when he returns to his native land.


Camillo is evidently sympathetic towards the fate of the lovers. In the presence of Polixenes he advises Florizel not to talk to his father when he is in such a furious state of mind. When he is alone with the young lovers, however, he assures Florizel that he is essentially concerned with their well being. He suggests that they head for Sicilia and present themselves at court. In the meantime, he will remain in Bohemia and try to calm Polixenes. Thus, throughout the play, Camillo always works towards resolving the chaos that has been the result of the intrusion of evil in the harmony of life.

Camillo's marriage to the equally worthy and upright Paulina seems to be a well-earned reward for both of them. Marriage in this play symbolizes harmony as well as order. It is only apt that these two persons should be permitted to find their personal order and harmony together.

Paulina

Paulina is a thoroughly remarkable character. She is a loyal waiting woman of Hermione who is absolutely dauntless. She is gifted with a sharp tongue and an equally keen mind. She is resolute and resourceful. It is she who thinks of various means to bring Leontes to a state of repentance. She defies her husband, Antigonus, who at times seems almost afraid of her, and even dares to argue with the outraged king in a spirited fashion. She thinks of taking the child to Leontes in the hope of softening his hard heart. Though the scheme miscarries, it clearly reveals the grit and determination in the character of Paulina.

Paulina becomes a stage manager for the ultimate denouement of the play. She manages to turn sympathy toward herself by recalling the death of Antigonus. Her final reward is marriage to the equally honest and upright Camillo. They are indeed worthy of each other in their loyalty to what is right, true and just.

Antigonus

Antigonus serves as a means to arrange for Perdita's exile to Bohemia and her eventual return to Sicilia. He is essentially good- hearted and is sometimes quick-tempered, as is witnessed in his exaggerated language he uses when he is told of the supposed dishonesty of Hermione. He tries to defy Leontes concerning the fate of the innocent infant but he is outwitted by him. Although he would deny it, he seems to have become convinced of the partial guilt of Hermione. He also believes in the truth of dreams, fortunately for Perdita. His death by a bear may be considered a kind of judgment on him for having been so willing to suspect Hermione and to follow Leontes' cruel command.

Mamillius

Mamillius is often considered to be Shakespeare's most successful portrait of childhood. He possesses a pathos beyond the reach of other Shakespearean children. This effect is obtained with an astonishing economy of means. The child appears in only two scenes of the play. Yet his identity is so well established that the pathetic nature of his death is most striking. Shakespeare manages to achieve this result by having Camillo and a Bohemian courtier, Archidamus, speak feelingly of him in the opening scene. When the child does make an entry, he is seen in a very merry and innocent state. He happily entertains the assembled ladies, who treat his playful words with amused tolerance. When Leontes rushes in to accuse Hermione, one wonders what effect this scene will have on such a young child. As a result, his decline and death are hardly unexpected. Through the character of Mamillius, the theme of how evil can destroy what is innocent is played out.

Autolycus

Autolycus, the peddler seems to be a character who has come straight of the English countryside and the seventeenth-century underworld. He is a trickster and a rogue who frequents feasts and fairs where he sells his wares. He dabbles in petty thievery, picking innocents' pockets and stealing keys. No maiden is safe with him. Yet for all his troublemaking, Autolycus is a likable character. He is an entertainer and is given some of Shakespeare's most pleasant ballads. He lives by tooth and nail and is the most resourceful of all the characters in the play. Autolycus knows how to capitalize on the ignorance and faults of other people. He can rationalize his crimes superbly. He proclaims himself to be a dealer in stolen linen. In an earlier ballad, he speaks of sheets bleaching on the hedgerows. Stealing them is an irresistible temptation for him and leaving sheets out in the open is an act of folly on the part of the owners.

Yet, Autolycus also has a function in the play. He manages to turn the old shepherd and the clown away from their announced intention of going immediately to the Bohemian king. In this way he helps to ensure the escape of the lovers. He gets the rustics on board the ship that pursues them. He also serves a purpose in the pastoral scenes by providing a bawdiness, which is welcome in the idyllic atmosphere of the first part of Act IV, Scene 4. He brings a knowledge of merry evil, into a world where virtue reigns supreme. His wit, worldliness and lewdness serve a welcome piece of comic relief in the play.

After the pastoral scenes Autolycus seems to lose importance. When the rustics are ennobled, Autolycus is excluded from the recognition. He is left to go his way alone. Autolycus may be intellectually superior to the clown, but he is primarily a rogue and a vagabond. Hence he is absent from the settled conclusion of the play. Autolycus belongs to the world of rustic fairs where he can merrily prey on the simple and the foolish. There is no place for him at the court. His impishness is infectious and it is for that he is remembered.

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