The Winter's Tale

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Perdita Character Analysis

The daughter of Leontes and Hermione, whose name is Latin for “she who has been lost.” Leontes falsely believes that Perdita is the illegitimate child of Hermione and Polixenes, and orders for her to be abandoned out in the wilderness. After seeing a vision of Hermione in a dream, Antigonus takes Perdita to Bohemia and leaves her there. She is found by a shepherd and grows up as his daughter, but falls in love with Florizell, the prince of Bohemia. Even as a shepherd’s daughter, she comports herself in a noble manner, such that Leontes asks if she is a king’s daughter when he first sees her. At the end of the play, she is finally reunited with her parents and married to Florizell.

Perdita Quotes in The Winter's Tale

The The Winter's Tale quotes below are all either spoken by Perdita or refer to Perdita. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of The Winter's Tale published in 2005.
Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

If she dares trust me with her little babe,
I'll show't the king and undertake to be
Her advocate to the loud'st. We do not know
How he may soften at the sight o' the child:
The silence often of pure innocence
Persuades when speaking fails.

Related Characters: Paulina (speaker), Leontes, Hermione, Perdita
Page Number: 2.2.46-51
Explanation and Analysis:

Paulina, the wife of the nobleman Antigonus, tries to visit Hermione in jail, but she is prevented by the guard. One of Hermione's attendants informs Paulina that Hermione has given birth to a daughter, and Paulina laments the terrible situation and the madness of Leontes that has resulted in Hermione's imprisonment. Here, she thinks of a plan to bring Leontes to his senses and help Hermione.

Paulina says that if Hermione will trust her with the newborn, she will take the baby to the King and advocate for Hermione's innocence. She believes that it is possible Leontes will "soften at the sight o' the child." Paulina says that "the silence often of pure innocence / Persuades when speaking fails." We can note two intertwined aspects of this plan to convince Leontes to release Hermione. First, note that this attempt means to use silence as opposed to language. All discussion of convincing Polixenes to stay in the first place was in terms of language and the tongue, but it has become clear that no amount of verbal reasoning or appeal can change Leontes' mind about his wife's infidelity. Second, Paulina plans to appeal with youth and innocence. Recalling Polixenes' lines about the innocent young kings, we know that youths are idealized as perfectly innocent, almost holy figures. Paulina hopes this innocence will translate from daughter to mother, aligning with the line that (according to Emilia) Hermione spoke to her baby in prison: "My poor prisoner, / I am innocent as you."

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Act 2, Scene 3 Quotes

Mark and perform it, see'st thou! for the fail
Of any point in't shall not only be
Death to thyself but to thy lewd-tongued wife,
Whom for this time we pardon. We enjoin thee,
As thou art liege-man to us, that thou carry
This female bastard hence and that thou bear it
To some remote and desert place quite out
Of our dominions, and that there thou leave it,
Without more mercy, to its own protection
And favour of the climate. As by strange fortune
It came to us, I do in justice charge thee
On thy soul's peril and thy body's torture
That thou commend it strangely to some place
Where chance may nurse or end it. Take it up.

Related Characters: Leontes (speaker), Paulina, Antigonus, Perdita
Page Number: 2.3.211-224
Explanation and Analysis:

The dramatic exchanges of this scene preceding the excerpted speech can be summarized thus: Paulina's plan to present Leontes with his newborn daughter and thereby exonerate Hermione fails miserably. Leontes calls Paulina a traitor, and calls her husband a traitor too, one who should be hanged for his inability to control Paulina. Members of the court try to intervene and save the child, but Leontes, believing to act with justice, behaves like a tyrant and refuses to hear them.

In this speech he makes his final decision regarding the life of the child, of Paulina, and of Antigonus. Beginning with "mark and perform it," meaning listen and do what I say, Leontes starts by saying that if Antigonus does not obey he and his "lewd-tongue wife" (whom Leontes for now has pardoned) will be executed. We can note that the tyranny that has been building in the scene has reached its climax, as Leontes has now switched grammatically into using the formal, royal "we," giving this speech the air of an official decree and reminding us that, though he is maddened by jealousy, he is still a king.

The instructions are as follows: take the baby away and bring her to a remote place outside of Leontes' kingdom; leave the baby there without help, so that its survival is completely dependent on chance. Leontes conceives of this as complete justice, failing to see a problem with the unnatural rejection of his own daughter.

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

This sessions, to our great grief we pronounce,
Even pushes 'gainst our heart: the party tried
The daughter of a king, our wife, and one
Of us too much beloved. Let us be clear'd
Of being tyrannous, since we so openly
Proceed in justice, which shall have due course,
Even to the guilt or the purgation.

Related Characters: Leontes (speaker), Hermione, Perdita
Page Number: 3.2.1-7
Explanation and Analysis:

In a court of justice, Leontes begins this scene and the trial with another formal speech given in the royal "we" tense. He claims that it is with grief that he must preside over these proceedings, since the one being tried is "the daughter of a king, our wife, and one / Of us too much beloved." One meaning of this last statement is that it is difficult to have this trial since Leontes loves Hermione so much, but another reading is that he loved her too much, meaning that since she was unfaithful, she was deserving of less love.

Leontes then tries to absolve himself of any tyrannous behavior, claiming to openly proceed in justice, which he says must be followed no matter if Hermione is innocent or guilty. We know, however, that Leontes will not be swayed no matter what. The jealous thought has become his core belief, the ground on which his reality stands, and despite his attempts to verbally or rationally appear just, he is still acting tyrannous.

O, think what they have done
And then run mad indeed, stark mad! for all
Thy by-gone fooleries were but spices of it.
That thou betray'dst Polixenes,'twas nothing;
That did but show thee, of a fool, inconstant
And damnable ingrateful: nor was't much,
Thou wouldst have poison'd good Camillo's honour,
To have him kill a king: poor trespasses,
More monstrous standing by: whereof I reckon
The casting forth to crows thy baby-daughter
To be or none or little; though a devil
Would have shed water out of fire ere done't:
Nor is't directly laid to thee, the death
Of the young prince, whose honourable thoughts,
Thoughts high for one so tender, cleft the heart
That could conceive a gross and foolish sire
Blemish'd his gracious dam: this is not, no,
Laid to thy answer: but the last, —O lords,
When I have said, cry 'woe!' the queen, the queen,
The sweet'st, dear'st creature's dead,
and vengeance for't
Not dropp'd down yet.

Related Characters: Paulina (speaker), Leontes, Polixenes, Hermione, Camillo, Mamillius, Perdita
Page Number: 3.2.201-222
Explanation and Analysis:

In this stunning speech, Paulina chastises the King at length for his folly and the damage it has wrought. The "they" she refers to in the first quoted line are Leontes' jealous and tyrannical actions, which have caused terrible things to happen, all of which she will outline below.

Leontes betrayed his dear friend Polixenes over "nothing" (note the irony of this term returning after Leontes' earlier speech involving nothing). Leontes would have poisoned Camillo's honor, since he ordered him to commit regicide (kill a king). He cast off his daughter, a cruelty Paulina says surpasses even a devil, and caused the death of his tender son. But the climactic speech ends with a crushing final blow: Hermione too is now dead.

Paulina's fury is a staggering display of emotion and power over the king. This reversal of the natural order shows two traditional dichotomies flipped: subject over king and woman over man. What's more, a few lines later Leontes will say "Go on. Go on. / Thou canst not speak too much." He gives her leave, embracing his anguish and believing himself deserving of bitterness from all tongues.

Act 4, Scene 4 Quotes

Thou dearest Perdita,
With these forced thoughts, I prithee, darken not
The mirth o' the feast.

Related Characters: Florizell (speaker), Perdita
Related Symbols: The Seasons
Page Number: 4.4.47-49
Explanation and Analysis:

Sixteen years have passed since act 3, making Perdita sixteen years old (ironically, the age at which the Shepherd, in the previous quote, wished "there were no age"). At a a seasonal sheep-shearing festival, Florizell, the son of Polixenes, compliments Perdita on her beauty. The two are in love, but neither knows Perdita's true identity. Because she believes she is not a noblewoman (much less a princess), Perdita is nervous about Polixenes discovering their love. Florizell, however, does not care about social status. He urges his dearest Perdita to let go of her anxious thoughts, begging her not to darken "The mirth o' the feast." Here, the prince combines a call for levity and merriment with the assertion that he is comfortable with a social inversion, or with marrying someone low born. 

PERDITA
The fairest flowers o’ th’ season
Are our carnations and streaked gillyvors,
Which some call nature’s bastards. Of that kind
Our rustic garden’s barren, and I care not
To get slips of them.

POLIXENES
Wherefore, gentle maiden,
Do you neglect them?

PERDITA
For I have heard it said
There is an art which in their piedness shares
With great creating nature.

POLIXENES
Say there be;
Yet nature is made better by no mean
But nature makes that mean. So, over that art
Which you say adds to nature is an art
That nature makes.
. . . This is an art
Which does mend nature, change it rather, but
The art itself is nature.

Related Characters: Polixenes (speaker), Perdita (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Seasons
Page Number: 4.4.95-114
Explanation and Analysis:

Polixenes and Camillo have entered the feast in disguise, and now Perdita entertains and gives out flowers as the "mistress o' the feast." Perdita and Polixenes here discuss hybrid flowers known as "nature's bastards," an exchange that is humorous (and dark) since Perdita herself was banished since she was thought to be a bastard. Polixenes says that these flowers should not be neglected, and after a discussion of nature and art (he ultimately says that "art itself is nature"), he tells her not to call these flowers bastards.

Polixenes acceptance of the flowers and instruction not to call them bastards is ironic, since he will soon unknowingly reject Perdita, the supposed bastard (supposedly fathered by him) because he believes her to be a low-born daughter of a Shepherd.

POLIXENES
Mark your divorce, young sir,
Whom son I dare not call; thou art too base
To be acknowledged: thou a sceptre's heir,
That thus affect'st a sheep-hook! Thou old traitor,
I am sorry that by hanging thee I can
But shorten thy life one week. And thou, fresh piece
Of excellent witchcraft, who of force must know
The royal fool thou copest with, —

SHEPHERD
O, my heart!

POLIXENES
I'll have thy beauty scratch'd with briers, and made
More homely than thy state. For thee, fond boy,
If I may ever know thou dost but sigh
That thou no more shalt see this knack, as never
I mean thou shalt, we'll bar thee from succession;
Not hold thee of our blood, no, not our kin,
Far than Deucalion off: mark thou my words:
Follow us to the court. Thou churl, for this time,
Though full of our displeasure, yet we free thee
From the dead blow of it. And you, enchantment.—
Worthy enough a herdsman: yea, him too,
That makes himself, but for our honour therein,
Unworthy thee, —if ever henceforth thou
These rural latches to his entrance open,
Or hoop his body more with thy embraces,
I will devise a death as cruel for thee
As thou art tender to't.

Related Characters: Polixenes (speaker), Shepherd (speaker), Florizell, Perdita
Page Number: 4.4.490-518
Explanation and Analysis:

Polixenes has discovered that his son plans to marry Perdita without his knowledge. Infuriated, he removes his disguise and tells his son to "mark" his divorce, indicating that he does not approve of (and is in fact disgusted by) the marriage. What's more, he refuses to refer to Florizell as his son, threatening to disown him and remove him as heir to the throne. In this angry speech Polixenes then threatens to hang the Shepherd and to have Perdita's face "scratch'd with briers." 

We have seen many inversions take place in the shift from the first half of the play to the second. Now, it is Polixenes who becomes excessively enraged with his child, threatens death, and abuses his power; Polixenes has replaced Leontes as the tyrant (though he does not here slip into the royal "we" as Leontes did when making his decrees, a possible indication that they will not be carried out, or are not as serious as the order to abandon Perdita, which we know did take place).

Act 5, Scene 1 Quotes

Your mother was most true to wedlock, prince;
For she did print your royal father off,
Conceiving you: were I but twenty-one,
Your father's image is so hit in you,
His very air, that I should call you brother,
As I did him, and speak of something wildly
By us perform'd before. Most dearly welcome!
And your fair princess, —goddess! —O, alas!
I lost a couple, that 'twixt heaven and earth
Might thus have stood begetting wonder as
You, gracious couple, do: and then I lost—
All mine own folly —the society,
Amity too, of your brave father, whom,
Though bearing misery, I desire my life
Once more to look on him.

Related Characters: Leontes (speaker), Polixenes, Florizell, Perdita
Page Number: 5.1.157-171
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene returns to Sicilia, and shows Leontes repenting still for his errors that led to Hermione's death. He contemplates remarrying, but says that he will never do it. A servant announces that Florizell has come with his princess unannounced; Paulina remarks that it is shame that Mamillius is not alive, since he would have been the same age as Florizell now. The lines here are Leontes' greeting to the young Bohemian prince.

He begins by saying that Florizell's mother was surely true to wedlock, immediately referencing his own error and accusation of Hermione (either by accident or design). He affirms Florizell's parentage by saying that the young prince is a "print" of his father, and that if he (Leontes) were young, he would call the prince "brother" and think he was Polixenes himself.

Leontes then greets the princess and calls her a goddess. Unknowing of either her true or false lineage, Leontes is pleased with the pair. He then returns to repenting his own folly and all that he has lost, and tells Florizell that he hopes to make amends with Polixenes someday. Here we see that time has made Leontes more wise, reserved, calm, and repentant.

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Perdita Character Timeline in The Winter's Tale

The timeline below shows where the character Perdita appears in The Winter's Tale. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 3, Scene 3
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
...sleep and told her to bring the child to Bohemia and to call the child Perdita (Latin for “she who has been lost”). Pitying the poor child, Antigonus leaves Perdita in... (full context)
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
...scared off some of his sheep, which he is now looking for. The shepherd sees Perdita on the ground, and decides to “take it up for / pity.” The shepherd’s son... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 4
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
...the sheep-shearing festival, Florizell (dressed up as a shepherd named “Doricles” for the festival) compliments Perdita on her beauty. She worries about what will happen if king Polixenes should find them... (full context)
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
A group of shepherds (including the shepherd who found Perdita when she was a baby, and his son) enter, along with Polixenes and Camillo in... (full context)
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
Perdita continues to give out flowers and garlands to all the guests, describing each particular kind... (full context)
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
Polixenes speaks to the shepherd who has adopted Perdita, and learns that Perdita and the young man dressed up as “Doricles” are in love.... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
...herdsmen enters and performs a dance. The disguised Polixenes approaches Florizell and asks him about Perdita. Florizell says that he is in love with Perdita, and describes her beauty at length.... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
...by marrying without his knowledge or consent. He encourages Florizell to tell his father about Perdita, but Florizell refuses. Polixenes suddenly removes his disguise, angrily says that Florizell is no longer... (full context)
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
Perdita tells Florizell he should leave, and says she is giving up on her dream of... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
...that he may be able to use Florizell’s fleeing Bohemia to his advantage, by getting Perdita and him to flee to Sicilia. He speaks to Florizell and says that he has... (full context)
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
...Florizell that Leontes must think Florizell is on good terms with his father. Florizell and Perdita agree with the plan, but Florizell worries about arriving in Sicilia with his shepherd’s costume.... (full context)
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
...to change clothes with Florizell, and Autolycus agrees after a bit of protest. Camillo advises Perdita to disguise herself as well, so that she and Florizell can safely escape Bohemia. Speaking... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
Perdita, Camillo, and Florizell leave. Alone, Autolycus says that he understands what is going on, but... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
...his son toward the seashore. They think their only hope is to tell Polixenes that Perdita is not actually the shepherd’s daughter, and believe they are “blessed” to have found Autolycus.... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Florizell and Perdita enter, and Leontes remarks on how Florizell looks exactly like a young version of Polixenes.... (full context)
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
...He wishes he still had his son and daughter, “such goodly things” as Florizell and Perdita. Just then, a lord enters and says that Polixenes is in Sicilia, chasing after his... (full context)
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
Florizell admits to Leontes that he and Perdita are not married and not “like to be.” Looking at Perdita, Leontes asks if she... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 2
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
...Leontes’ court. The gentleman says that the shepherd showed the bundle in which he found Perdita, and that Camillo and Leontes reacted with an extreme display of emotion, and he could... (full context)
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
...bundle the shepherd displayed had in it Hermione’s mantle and a letter from Antigonus, proving Perdita’s true identity. (full context)
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
The third gentleman says that Leontes “bravely confessed” to how he caused Hermione’s death, and Perdita was greatly saddened at this news. He says that Perdita has gone to a statue... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
...to Autolycus that he is now a gentleman, and Florizell called him his brother, while Perdita called the shepherd her father. (full context)
Act 5, Scene 3
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
Leontes, Polixenes, Florizell, Perdita, Camillo, and Paulina all go together to see the statue of Hermione, which is at... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
...to his soul, as it reminds him of his cruelty toward his now deceased wife. Perdita kneels before the statue to kiss its hand and “implore her blessing.” Paulina tells her... (full context)
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
...and everyone remarks that she seems to be alive. Paulina tells Hermione that her daughter Perdita has been found. Hermione says that she “preserved” herself in the hopes of seeing her... (full context)
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
Hermione asks where Perdita has been living, but Paulina tells her there will be time to learn everything later.... (full context)