The Winter's Tale Act 3, Scene 3 Summary & Analysis
New! Understand every line of The Winter's Tale.Read our modern English translation of this scene.
Antigonus and a mariner land on the coast in Bohemia. Antigonus goes ashore, carrying Leontes’ newborn daughter. He says that a vision of Hermione appeared to him in his 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 the wilderness, as a powerful storm begins. He is chased off-stage by a bear.
Perdita’s exile from her homeland and family is a major disruption of the natural order of things, one that will need to be resolved if the play is to end happily. Antigonus’ death is a strange mixture of seriousness and abrupt, slapstick violence. It is unclear what reaction (other than surprise and confusion) the audience should have to it, or whether there is some moral associated with it.
A shepherd enters, complaining about youths between the age of 16 and 23, saying that young men of those ages are only trouble. Two such young men have just 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 enters and tells the shepherd that he has seen two remarkable sights: a ship wrecked in the storm at sea, and a nobleman on land who was attacked by a bear. The man cried out for help and said his name was Antigonus.
The shepherd’s complaint echoes the pervasive sentiment in the play that young children are innocent, and that aging involves a kind of fall from grace or loss of innocence. Perdita’s place in the social hierarchy has been turned upside down: she should be a princess, but is now adopted by a lowly shepherd.
The shepherd remarks on the unfortunate fate of Antigonus, but draws his son’s attention to the child he has found, and some gold that was left with the child. The shepherd says that they should keep the newfound gold a secret and bring the child home. His son agrees and goes to see “if the bear be gone from the gentleman and how much / he hath eaten,” in case there are any remains of Antigonus left to bury.
Just as A Winter's Tale play mixes sorrow and pleasure, tragedy and comedy, this eventful day holds both good fortune (the shepherd’s finding Perdita and the gold) and bad (Antigonus dying), both death and rebirth, as Perdita is in a sense born again as the shepherd’s daughter.