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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
The first act of The Winter's Tale serves as an exposition. In Act I, Scene 2, Leontes watches the way Hermione is playing with Polixenes' hand. His jealousy has its explosive beginning here. In Act II, Scene i, with Leontes' accusation that Hermione is an adulteress and with Leontes' dispatch of Cleomenes and Dion to the sacred Delphos to get confirmation, there is a rise in the action of the play.
The climax in The Winter's Tale comes with the news of Mamillius' death. During the trial of Queen Hermione, Leontes asserts that there is no truth at all in Apollo's oracle. As soon as he says so, a servant comes to report the death of Prince Mamillius. The news nearly breaks Leontes' heart and grief brings him back to his senses. This is the turning point of the play. Like in the best of Shakespeare, climax comes in the middle of the middle act (Act III, scene 2); neatly dividing the two halves of the play.
The fall in the action comes when Perdita escapes death and has grown into a lovely maiden in the shepherd's cottage. There is a preparation for the denouement in Act IV, Scene 4, with the celebration of the spring festival. There are obstacles encountered by the lovers in the form of opposition from Polixenes.
The denouement comes with reconciliation in Act V. The play is a dramatic romance and the outcome is neither wholly comic nor wholly tragic. Leontes is forgiven by all those on whom he inflicted agony and suffering. Remorse on his part and forgiveness on the parts of Hermione and Polixenes bring about the ultimate reconciliation. The royal parentage of Perdita is discovered in this Act. That paves the way for her marriage with Florizel.
IMAGERY AND SYMBOLISM IN THE PLAY
The image of the tempest is central to The Winter's Tale. Hermione suffers the tempest of Leontes' jealousy. There is one important tempest, however, which occurs when Antigonus sails to Bohemia. He leaves his ship taking Perdita who is to be exposed on the wild shore. In The Winter's Tale, as in other later plays of Shakespeare, there is a sense of personal divine powers controlling tempests. They are feats of 'poetic justice' and happen for a reason, often when one is acting in a way that is morally equivocal. Tempests are associated with "creatures of prey" as is the bear in The Winter's Tale who eats Antigonus after he has abandoned Perdita. When the day 'frowns' on him, a well-worn image becomes strangely alive before the eyes of the audience. Here the bear actually appears, destroying Antigonus while the other tempest drowns the sailors who have brought him to do his evil deed. The Winter's Tale's imagery is contrasted in the two halves of the play. First, there is the wintry bitterness, tempest, shipwreck and loss connoting destruction and retribution. In the second, there abounds summer festivity, youth and love, reunion and music connoting redemption and joy.
Music often infuses Shakespeare's plays and this one is no different. Along with the wonderful ditties which Autolycus sings at various intervals, music also pervades the dramatic aspects of the play. Perdita is found and Hermione comes to life to the sound of music. Music also takes on a bawdy style suggestive of sexuality and spring verdure during the dance of the satyrs at the sheep shearing festival. A tamer form of sexual imagery is seen in the the love passages between Florizel and the flower-maiden, Perdita when he describes her in terms of music, dance and the sun-glittering sea.