The Winter's Tale

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The Winter's Tale Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of William Shakespeare
Shakespeare's father was a glove-maker, and Shakespeare received no more than a grammar school education. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582, but left his family behind around 1590 and moved to London, where he became an actor and playwright. He was an immediate success: Shakespeare soon became the most popular playwright of the day as well as a part-owner of the Globe Theater. His theater troupe was adopted by King James as the King's Men in 1603. Shakespeare retired as a rich and prominent man to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1613, and died three years later.
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Historical Context of The Winter's Tale
The play does not take place at any specific historical time, though the elements of pastoral romance in the play are drawn from a genre (pastoral) that was specifically very popular in the early modern period.
Other Books Related to The Winter's Tale
Shakespeare took the main plot of The Winter’s Tale from a pastoral romance entitled Pandosto, by Robert Greene. He adapted the plot slightly in order to create his own play—Hermione’s miraculous return at the end of the play, for example, is a Shakespearean invention.
Key Facts about The Winter's Tale
  • Full Title: The Winter’s Tale
  • When Written: 1611
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1623
  • Literary Period: The Renaissance (1500-1660)
  • Genre: Drama, Comedy, Tragicomedy
  • Setting: Sicilia (the island of Sicily) and Bohemia (where the modern-day Czech Republic is)
  • Climax: The plot is essentially split into two halves, and each can be seen as having its own climax. The first half of the play climaxes when Mamillius dies and Hermione appears to die, causing Leontes to realize his tragic error in assuming Hermione’s guilt. The second half of the play climaxes when Perdita’s true identity is revealed, Leontes’ and Polixenes’ families are reunited, and Hermione miraculously comes back to life.
  • Antagonist: Leontes is the antagonist for most of the early parts of the play. His obsessive jealousy leads to the deaths of Mamillius and Hermione, and Perdita and Camillo’s having to leave Sicilia. Toward the end of the play, Polixenes is to some degree the antagonist, as he forbids Florizell from marrying Perdita, forces Florizell to flee Bohemia, and threatens to kill the shepherd and his son.
Extra Credit for The Winter's Tale

Oracle of Where? The famous oracle of Apollo in the ancient world was located in Delphi. Because of this, many readers assume that Shakespeare, who had a limited classical education, mistakenly referred to Delphi as “Delphos” in The Winter’s Tale. However, Delphos is actually an alternate name for the island of Delos, the mythical birthplace of Apollo and site of another Apollonian oracle. Shakespeare’s apparent blunder is therefore actually a remarkably erudite detail (though one taken from his model, Robert Greene’s Pandosto).