The Winter’s Tale

Questions on Shakespeare’s Romance Plays

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Shakespeare, William. The Winter’s Tale. (Norton Romances and Poems, 3rd edition, pp. 303-86).


1. In Act 1, Scene 2, how does the text represent the onset of Leontes’ jealousy? When, exactly, does he first become jealous? How does he interpret what he sees and hears before and after this onset? How might the first scene be described as a setup for Leontes’ unsettling transformation?

2. What effects does Leontes’ insane behavior have on those around him? How does Camillo in particular handle his predicament? How does his reaction compare to one or more other servants who suffer unjustly at the hands of their masters in Shakespeare’s plays?


3. In Act 2, Scene 1, how does Hermione defend herself against the charges Leontes levels against her? How does she compare in this regard to, say, Desdemona from Othello, Cordelia from King Lear, or Imogen from Cymbeline? (You might want to consider also her remarks during the trial scene in Act 3, Scene 2.)

4. In Act 2, Scenes 2-3, what role does Paulina play with respect to Hermione? How do her speech and attitude towards Leontes contrast with those of the Lords and of Antigonus, men who wait upon the King?

5. In Act 2, Scenes 1 and 3, what considerations play upon Leontes? How do these scenes chronicle the breakdown of Leontes’ authority in his own court? How does this King’s brand of “tyranny” in wielding power compare to that of either Cymbeline or King Lear?


6. In Act 3, Scene 2, Hermione goes on trial and is absolved by the god Apollo’s unambiguous oracle. How does its reading affect Leontes? What brings the king to express remorse — what cures him of the state he’s been in since jealously first took hold of him, and what resolution does he make? Leontes’ change of heart may seem unrealistic, but in what sense might it be said to ring true?

7. In Act 3, Scene 3, Antigonus deposits the infant Perdita upon the “seacoast” of Bohemia, and himself meets a bad end, as we learn from the famous stage direction, “Exit pursued by a bear.” What justification is there for the fate Antigonus suffers, and how does the Clown’s relation of it afterwards amount to more than comic relief? In other words, how does the death of this character, combined with the abandonment of Perdita and her discovery by an old Shepherd, move the drama forwards both plotwise and thematically?


8. In Act 4, Scene 1, what powers does “Time” claim with regard to dramatic representation? What does “Time” ask of the play-going audience of Shakespeare’s day or, indeed, of any audience in any age?

9. In Act 4, Scenes 3 and 4, Autolycus enters the play with a song and takes part in the shepherds’ festivities. What ethos informs this character’s actions? What does he do in these scenes, and what effects do his actions have on others? How, if at all, does his presence at the festivities alter your perception of them?

10. In Act 4, Scene 4, Florizel (Polixenes’ son) courts Perdita in a rustic setting. Describe the style of their courting: how do they describe each other’s person and their affection for each other? What are their concerns for the present and their hopes for the future? How does their interaction offer us a “counter-vision” of sexuality, one that opposes Leontes’ dark imaginings about Hermione in Act 2?

11. In Act 4, Scene 4, Polixenes (in disguise) engages Perdita in a conversation about the relationship between artifice and nature. What position does each hold on this relationship — why doesn’t Perdita care for gillyvor flowers, and what argument does Polixenes make against her view? What larger implications does this conversation have for the redemptive role Perdita plays in The Winter’s Tale?

12. In Act 4, Scene 4, Polixenes reveals his true identity and spoils the intended wedding of his son Florizel with Perdita. Why does the King object to this marriage? Explain his concerns in terms of dynastic matters or statecraft. What claims does Polixenes make regarding his rights as a father, aside from these obvious matters of state?


13. In Act 5, Scene 1, what evolution has Paulina’s relationship with Leontes undergone by this late stage of the play? Why does she continue to trouble the repentant king’s already troubled conscience about what he has done to his wife and child? What promise does she extract from him?

14. In Act 5, Scene 1, how do the newly arrived Florizel and Perdita represent themselves to King Leontes? He does he receive them?

15. In Act 5, Scene 2, how does Leontes learn the true identity of Perdita as his long-lost daughter? How is the conversation between the Shepherd, the Clown, and Autolycus connected to or illustrative of the play’s more significant resolutions in this final act? To what extent does the traditional “rustics versus court-dwellers” argument matter in The Winter’s Tale? Is it central, or are other oppositions, patterns, and themes more important? Discuss.

16. In Act 5, Scene 3, Paulina stages the marvelous (but feigned) transformation of a supposed statue made by the Italian Julio Romano into the living Hermione. Paulina has, of course, known that Hermione was alive all the while. What is gained from the particular manner in which Hermione is revealed to Leontes and the entire court?

Edition. Greenblatt, Stephen, Walter Cohen, Suzanne Gossett, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus, and Gordon McMullan, eds. The Norton Shakespeare: Romances and Poems + Digital Edition. Third edition. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-93862-3.

Copyright © 2012 Alfred J. Drake