Scene by Scene Synopsis
Scene: Sicilia, and Bohemia.
Act I, Scene 1: The courtiers Camillo and Archidamus speak of their respective kings, Leontes of Sicilia and Polixenes of Bohemia, who have been friends since childhood. Polixenes has been visiting Sicilia and is about to leave. The courtiers also speak of the good qualities of Leontes' young son, Mamillius, who will certainly make a fine ruler.
Act I, Scene 2: Leontes tries to persuade Polixenes to extend his visit, but he insists he must return to Bohemia. Leontes then asks Queen Hermione to convince him. When she does, Leontes suspects that they are lovers. He sends them away and talks with Camillo, who forcefully rejects his suspicions. Insisting that he is correct, Leontes orders Camillo to poison Polixenes. Camillo reluctantly agrees, but instead informs Polixenes and they leave together for Bohemia.
Act II, Scene 1: When a lord tells Leontes of the flight of Polixenes and Camillo, the king rages about treachery He formally accuses Hermione of adultery and treason declaring that she is currently pregnant with Polixenes' child. She defends herself, but he sends her to prison. Although Antigonus and the other lords try to dissuade the king, he insists that she is an adulteress and adds that he has sent messengers to the oracle of Apollo for confirmation of this.
Act II, Scene 2: Antigonus' wife, Paulina, tries to visit Hermione in prison but is only permitted to see her attendant Emilia, who reports that the queen has given birth to a daughter. Paulina resolves to take the infant to Leontes and convince him that the child is his.
Act II, Scene 3: When Paulina brings the baby to Leontes, he is enraged. He sends her away and orders the baby killed Antigonus pleads for the infant's life, and Leontes tells him to take the child-but only to abandon it in some wilderness, where it may or may not survive Antigonus then leaves with the baby.
Act III, Scene 1: Cleomenes and Dion return from the oracle and describe its awe-inspiring appearance. They bear a proclamation answering the king's inquiry.
Act III, Scene 2: Hermione, accompanied by Paulina, is brought to trial for adultery; she again defends herself and appeals to the oracle. Cleomenes and Dion read the oracle's judgment, which proclaims the innocence of Hermione, Polixenes, and Camillo, but Leontes refuses to believe it. Word then arrives of Mamillius' sudden death from fright at his mother's fate. Leontes interprets this event as a supernatural confirmation of the oracle and repents, but Hermione faints and must be taken away by Paulina. Just as Leontes resolves to welcome Camillo back and apologies to Polixenes Paulina returns and reports Hermione's death She excoriates Leontes, and he accepts her criticisms as entirely just.
Act III, Scene 3: In stormy weather, on a remote part of the Bohemian coast, Antigonus reports a vision in which the ghost of Hermione instructed him to take the baby there and to name her Perdita. He is attacked and driven away by a Bear, but a Shepherd finds the infant. He is joined by his son, the Clown, who has seen Antigonus being eaten by the bear and his ship sinking m the storm. They discover that Perdita is wrapped in rich fabrics, which contain a supply of gold.
Act IV, Scene I: Time appears and announces that 16 years have passed, that Leontes has shut himself off from the world in grief, and that the story continues in Bohemia. There, he tells us, we shall see Polixenes' son Florizel, and the 16-year-old Perdita, who lives as the Shepherd's daughter.
Act IV, Scene 2: Camillo wishes to return to Sicilia, but Polixenes declares that he is now too important to the government to be permitted to leave. Moreover, he wants Camillo's help in preventing Prince Florizel from embarrassing the monarchy by marrying a shepherd girl.
Act IV, Scene 3: A vagabond, Autolycus, sings merrily and brags that he is now a petty thief, although he was once a servant to Florizel. The Clown appears on his way to market to buy supplies for the upcoming shepherds' feast and Autolycus scents prey. He lies on the ground and pretends to have been robbed; then, as the Clown helps him rise, he picks his pocket. The Clown leaves and Autolycus, decides to attend the festival, which is likely to produce further loot.
Act IV, Scene 4: Perdita reveals her uneasiness at being courted by Florizel, for she knows that his father, the king will oppose the match. Florizel insists he will marry her even if he has to abandon his royal status. The Shepherd and the Clown arrive for the festival, along with a group including the shepherd girls Mopsa and Dorcas and the disguised King Polixenes and Camillo. Perdita, as hostess, distributes flowers among the guests. Mopsa and Dorcas lead a country dance and Autolycus appears as a wandering peddler. Mopsa and Dorcas flirt with the Clown, who buys them presents while Autolycus entertains them with Songs; they all leave together, to continue singing and trading At this point Polixenes reveals himself and demands that Florizel renounce Perdita. Threatening her and the Shepherd with death if she sees the prince again he departs in a rage. The frightened Shepherd flees, and Perdita is in despair, but Florizel declares that he will not leave her. Camillo proposes that the couple should go to Sicilia, where they will be welcomed as emissaries of King Polixenes. Once there, they may eventually gain Polixenes' forgiveness. Autolycus returns, gloating over the purses he has stolen while selling his goods. Camillo makes him change clothes with Florizel, providing the prince with a disguise, and Perdita dresses as a young man. In an aside Camillo reveals that he intends to inform the king of the couples flight and in pursuit of them, get to Sicilia himself. When they leave, Autolycus, who has realized what is going on, plots how to profit from it. He then overhears the Shepherd and Clown planning to explain to the king that Perdita is not actually their relative, but a foundling. They have proof in the rich fabrics Perdita was found in, years before. Autolycus emerges and promises to take them to the king, for money. Privately, he plans to take them to Florizel and accept the prince's reward for keeping them from the king.
Act V, Scene 1: In Sicilia, Paulina insists that King Leontes should never remarry until he encounters Hermione's equal, and he agrees not to marry without Paulina's approval. Florizel and Perdita arrive, asserting that they are married. Leontes is delighted to renew relations with the son of his one-time victim, but then word arrives that Polixenes himself has come to Sicilia, to arrest his son for eloping with a shepherd's daughter. Florizel confesses that he and Perdita are not married, but he pleads with Leontes to defend their love to Polixenes, and Leontes agrees, being greatly attracted by Perdita.
Act V, Scene 2: Autolycus hears from a Gentleman and his friends that the king's missing daughter has been found, as the papers among the Shepherd's bundle of fabrics attest. The Third Gentleman describes the joy and reconciliation among the kings and their children, who are now considered engaged. He adds that the royal party has gone to Paulina's home to view a statue of Hermione. They go off to see it also, leaving Autolycus to bemoan his bad luck: he had brought the Shepherd and Clown to Florizel's ship, whereby they had come to Sicilia with their extraordinary evidence, and yet he cannot profit from it. When the Shepherd and Clown appear, dressed in new clothes and full of comical pretensions to gentlemanly status, Autolycus flatters them abjectly.
Act V, Scene 3: Leontes, Polixenes, Florizel, Perdita, and Camillo all accompany Paulina to see her sculpture. They marvel at its lifelike qualities, and Leontes regrets again his injustice to Hermione herself. Paulina asserts that she can make them marvel further; she tells the statue to move, and it walks down off its pedestal and takes Leontes by the hand. She then explains that the statue is Hermione herself, alive all these years but awaiting the proper moment for her return. Hermione confirms this account, identifying herself to Perdita. The king, ecstatic at being reunited with his wife, and conscious that Florizel and Perdita are soon to marry, insists that Paulina and Camillo should also wed. The three couples withdraw to savor their happiness.
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