Elsewhere in Sicilia, Autolycus asks a gentleman about what happened with the Bohemian shepherd at 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 not tell whether it was “joy or sorrow.” Another gentleman enters and exclaims, “the oracle is fulfilled: the King’s daughter is found!”
The bundle in which Perdita was found was sufficient evidence to persuade everyone of Perdita’s real identity. The reactions of Camillo and Leontes mix extreme joy with sorrow, just as Shakespeare’s play does. The oracle is now revealed to have been true, as that which was lost (literally what Perdita’s name means) is found.
Another gentleman enters, and the second gentleman asks him whether the news is true, saying, “this news which is called true is so like an old tale that the verity of it is in strong suspicion.” The third gentleman says that it is true, and that the bundle the shepherd displayed had in it Hermione’s mantle and a letter from Antigonus, proving Perdita’s true identity.
This crucial turn in the plot, with Perdita returned to her rightful place in Leontes’ court, takes place all because of physical evidence. This stands in great contrast to the inability of any evidence to persuade Leontes of Hermione’s innocence in the first part of the play.
The third gentleman says that Leontes and Polixenes reunited joyously, and Leontes begged for Polixenes’ forgiveness. He says that the shepherd’s son explained to everyone that Antigonus was “torn to pieces with a bear,” and his ship was wrecked in a storm. He says that Paulina was caught between joy and sorrow: “she had one eye declined for the loss of her husband, another elevated that the oracle was fulfilled.”
As the play moves toward its happy resolution, Leontes and Polixenes are reunited as friends, while Leontes and Perdita are reunited as father and daughter. Nonetheless, amid all this joy, Paulina must deal with the sorrow of knowing how her husband died. Joy is never without sadness in this play, which continually mixes the two.
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 that was made of Hermione to see at least the image of her mother. The gentlemen leave to go see Perdita examine the statue, since so many wonderful things have been happening, and “every wink of an eye some new grace will be born.”
Just as Paulina had to balance both sorrow and joy, now Perdita’s happiness at being reunited with her father is tempered with the sadness of learning about her mother’s death.
Alone, Autolycus muses that he wanted to be the one to tell Leontes of the bundle that the shepherd had, but says that it if he had revealed the secret, he probably wouldn’t have been believed, because of his “other discredits.” The shepherd and his son enter, both now dressed in rich clothes. The shepherd’s son brags to Autolycus that he is now a gentleman, and Florizell called him his brother, while Perdita called the shepherd her father.
Autolycus guesses that his dishonest history would have made him unable to convince or persuade Leontes of anything. The shepherd and his son are now happily safe. While most characters are returning to their natural places, these two have suddenly been made into noblemen.
Autolycus asks the shepherd’s son to give him “good report to the Prince,” and pardon his earlier trickery. The shepherd tells his son to help Autolycus since, as he says, “we must be gentle now we are gentlemen.” Autolycus promises to reform his behavior, and the shepherd’s son says he will swear to Florizell that Autolycus is “as honest a true fellow as any is in Bohemia.” He says that as a gentleman, it is fitting for him to swear such a thing on behalf of a friend, and Autolycus promises to be an honest, good man.
The shepherd’s comment suggests that one’s behavior is a natural extension of one’s social identity, that noble gentlemen must naturally be gentle. Autolycus promises to reform and become an honest man, but it is highly possible that he is playfully deceiving the shepherd’s son and has no intentions of changing his mischievous ways.