The Winter's Tale

Polixenes Character Analysis

Read our modern English translation.
The king of Bohemia and childhood friend of Leontes. Leontes suspects Polixenes of sleeping with his wife Hermione and tries to get Camillo to poison him. Camillo, though, helps Polixenes escape to Bohemia, where he lives for sixteen years apart from Leontes. In Bohemia, his son Florizell falls in love with Perdita, who appears to be a lowly shepherd’s daughter. Apparently not having learned from the way Leontes alienated himself from his family, Polixenes forbids Florizell from marrying Perdita, causing him to run away to Sicilia. He follows his son there, and finally reconciles with Leontes. Once Perdita’s true identity as Leontes’s daughter is revealed, Polixenes happily agrees to the marriage.

Polixenes Quotes in The Winter's Tale

The The Winter's Tale quotes below are all either spoken by Polixenes or refer to Polixenes. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Simon & Schuster edition of The Winter's Tale published in 2005.
Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

Press me not, beseech you, so.
There is no tongue that moves, none, none i' the world,
So soon as yours could win me: so it should now,
Were there necessity in your request, although
'Twere needful I denied it.

Related Characters: Polixenes (speaker), Leontes
Page Number: 1.2.26-30
Explanation and Analysis:

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We were as twinn'd lambs that did frisk i' the sun,
And bleat the one at the other: what we changed
Was innocence for innocence; we knew not
The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dream'd
That any did. Had we pursued that life,
And our weak spirits ne'er been higher rear'd
With stronger blood, we should have answer'd heaven
Boldly 'not guilty;' the imposition clear'd
Hereditary ours.

Related Characters: Polixenes (speaker), Leontes
Page Number: 1.2.85-94
Explanation and Analysis:

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Too hot, too hot!
To mingle friendship far is mingling bloods.
I have tremor cordis on me: my heart dances;
But not for joy; not joy. This entertainment
May a free face put on, derive a liberty
From heartiness, from bounty, fertile bosom,
And well become the agent; 't may, I grant;
But to be paddling palms and pinching fingers,
As now they are, and making practised smiles
As in a looking-glass, and then to sigh, as 'twere
The mort o' the deer; O, that is entertainment
My bosom likes not, nor my brows! Mamillius,
Art thou my boy?

Related Characters: Leontes (speaker), Polixenes, Hermione
Page Number: 1.2.139-151
Explanation and Analysis:

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Ha' not you seen, Camillo, —
But that's past doubt, you have, or your eye-glass
Is thicker than a cuckold's horn, —or heard, —
—For to a vision so apparent rumour
Cannot be mute, —or thought, —for cogitation
Resides not in that man that does not think, —
My wife is slippery?

Related Characters: Leontes (speaker), Polixenes, Hermione, Camillo
Page Number: 1.2.329-335
Explanation and Analysis:

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Is whispering nothing?
Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses?
Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career
Of laughing with a sigh? —a note infallible
Of breaking honesty —horsing foot on foot?
Skulking in corners? wishing clocks more swift?
Hours, minutes? noon, midnight? and all eyes
Blind with the pin and web but theirs, theirs only
That would unseen be wicked? is this nothing?
Why, then the world and all that's in't is nothing;
The covering sky is nothing; Bohemia nothing;
My wife is nothing; nor nothing have these nothings,
If this be nothing.

Related Characters: Leontes (speaker), Polixenes, Hermione
Page Number: 1.2.346-359
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

For Polixenes,
With whom I am accused, I do confess
I loved him as in honour he required,
With such a kind of love as might become
A lady like me, with a love even such,
So and no other, as yourself commanded:
Which not to have done I think had been in me
Both disobedience and ingratitude
To you and toward your friend, whose love had spoke,
Even since it could speak, from an infant, freely
That it was yours. Now, for conspiracy,
I know not how it tastes; though it be dish'd
For me to try how: all I know of it
Is that Camillo was an honest man;
And why he left your court, the gods themselves,
Wotting no more than I, are ignorant.

Related Characters: Hermione (speaker), Leontes, Polixenes, Camillo
Page Number: 3.2.65-81
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Act 4, Scene 4 Quotes

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:

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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:

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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:

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Act 5, Scene 3 Quotes

LEONTES
But yet, Paulina,
Hermione was not so much wrinkled, nothing
So aged as this seems.

POLIXENES
O, not by much!

PAULINA
So much the more our carver’s excellence,
Which lets go by some sixteen years and makes her
As she lived now.

Related Characters: Leontes (speaker), Polixenes (speaker), Paulina (speaker), Hermione
Page Number: 5.3.31-37
Explanation and Analysis:

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Polixenes Character Timeline in The Winter's Tale

The timeline below shows where the character Polixenes appears in The Winter's Tale. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Archidamus is a nobleman from Bohemia visiting Sicilia along with his king Polixenes. He speaks to a Sicilian nobleman named Camillo about how hospitable the Sicilians have been... (full context)
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Camillo says that Polixenes and Leontes have been close friends since childhood, and Archidamus agrees that “there is not... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 2
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
At Leontes’ court, Polixenes tells him that he must be getting back to Bohemia, as he has been in... (full context)
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
Hermione takes Polixenes aside and tries to persuade him to stay in Sicilia, but he keeps declining. She... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
Leontes asks if Hermione has persuaded Polixenes to stay, and she says she has. Leontes marvels that she convinced Polixenes when he... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
Leontes doubts that he is Mamillius’ father, and is greatly troubled. Hermione and Polixenes ask him why he is upset, and he answers that he is fine, and that... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
Leontes tells Hermione to treat Polixenes well as a guest, and Hermione and Polixenes go off to a garden. Leontes is... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
...in his court knows about his wife’s infidelity, and asks Camillo if he saw how Polixenes was only persuaded to stay by Hermione. He asks Camillo why Polixenes agreed to stay... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
Leontes says that Polixenes and Hermione whisper together, lean “cheek to cheek,” and touch their noses together. They play... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Leontes asks Camillo to poison Polixenes. Camillo says he is willing to do this, but still refuses to believe that Hermione... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
...if he is to obey his king, he “must be the poisoner / Of good Polixenes.” Thinking that no one who has murdered a king has ever “flourished after,” he decides... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
Camillo says that there is a “sickness” that has originated in Polixenes himself. Polixenes is confused, but Camillo says he cannot be more specific. Polixenes asks him... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
Camillo says that there is no oath Polixenes can make that will convince Leontes that he has not had an affair with Hermione.... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
Polixenes says he believes Camillo, because he saw Leontes’ contempt for him in his expression. He... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
Leontes is looking for Camillo and Polixenes, but one of his lords informs him that the two have both fled Sicilia. Leontes... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
Leontes sends Mamillius away and tells Hermione that she is likely pregnant with Polixenes’ child. Hermione denies this, but Leontes does not believe her. He guesses that the guards... (full context)
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
...says that he has imprisoned his own wife so that she doesn’t run away like Polixenes. As Leontes leaves, Antigonus comments to himself that the “good truth” of the matter would... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 3
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
Leontes thinks that Camillo and Polixenes are probably laughing at him from afar, but he tells himself not to think of... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
...himself, who slanders both his wife and his children. Leontes says that the baby is Polixenes’ child, and says that it should be thrown into the fire along with Hermione. Paulina... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 2
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
Hermione says she loved Polixenes “with such a kind of love as might become / A lady like me,” but... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
...with it. An officer reads the oracle out loud, which says that Hermione is chaste, Polixenes is innocent, Camillo is “a true subject,” and Leontes is “a jealous tyrant.” It also... (full context)
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
...Leontes, calling him a tyrant, and enumerating all the evil things he has done, betraying Polixenes, Hermione, and his newborn daughter. She says that Leontes has done more wrongs than he... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 1
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
...grieves “the effects of his fond jealousies” and “shuts up himself.” He says that king Polixenes in Bohemia has a son named Florizell, and also tells the audience that Perdita has... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 2
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
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At Polixenes’ palace in Bohemia, Camillo begs Polixenes to let him return to his homeland of Sicilia,... (full context)
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Polixenes asks Camillo if he has seen Florizell recently, who has recently been spending much of... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 4
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...the festival) compliments Perdita on her beauty. She worries about what will happen if king Polixenes should find them together, since she is only a lowly shepherd’s daughter. Florizell says that... (full context)
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...shepherd who found Perdita when she was a baby, and his son) enter, along with Polixenes and Camillo in disguises. The shepherd tells Perdita to fulfill her duties as “mistress o’... (full context)
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...her speaking, singing, and dancing. Continuing to flirt with her, he asks her to dance. Polixenes mentions to Camillo that Perdita seems noble in her behavior, as if she were more... (full context)
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Polixenes speaks to the shepherd who has adopted Perdita, and learns that Perdita and the young... (full context)
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Another group of herdsmen enters and performs a dance. The disguised Polixenes approaches Florizell and asks him about Perdita. Florizell says that he is in love with... (full context)
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Florizell says he doesn’t plan to tell his father, and Polixenes says that he is wronging his father by marrying without his knowledge or consent. He... (full context)
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...Sicilia. He speaks to Florizell and says that he has been a loyal subject of Polixenes, and will be loyal to Florizell. He encourages Florizell to go to Sicilia, where he... (full context)
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...Florizell to tell Leontes that he comes from Bohemia as a representative of his father Polixenes’ good will. He tells Florizell that Leontes must think Florizell is on good terms with... (full context)
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...and Florizell can safely escape Bohemia. Speaking to himself, he says that he will tell Polixenes about Florizell and Perdita’s escape to Sicilia, so that Polixenes will pursue them there and... (full context)
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...leave. Alone, Autolycus says that he understands what is going on, but will not inform Polixenes, because he prefers dishonesty over honesty, and thinks, “this is the time that the unjust... (full context)
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The shepherd and his son plan to go to Polixenes’ palace. Autolycus overhears them and, pretending to be a noble courtier, asks what business they... (full context)
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...and then stoned to death. He offers to take the shepherd and his son to Polixenes and tells them he will “tender your persons to his presence,” and “whisper him in... (full context)
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...shepherd and 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... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
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A servant enters and announces that Polixenes’ son Florizell has arrived with “his princess.” Leontes wonders what has made them come to... (full context)
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...Perdita enter, and Leontes remarks on how Florizell looks exactly like a young version of Polixenes. He welcomes Florizell, and Florizell says that he has come to Sicilia by the command... (full context)
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...“such goodly things” as Florizell and Perdita. Just then, a lord enters and says that Polixenes is in Sicilia, chasing after his son who has fled with a shepherd’s daughter. Camillo... (full context)
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...marries him. Florizell asks Leontes to be his “advocate,” and argue on his behalf to Polixenes. Leontes agrees to try to persuade Polixenes for Florizell, and they leave to find Polixenes. (full context)
Act 5, Scene 2
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The third gentleman says that Leontes and Polixenes reunited joyously, and Leontes begged for Polixenes’ forgiveness. He says that the shepherd’s son explained... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 3
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Leontes, Polixenes, Florizell, Perdita, Camillo, and Paulina all go together to see the statue of Hermione, which... (full context)
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Camillo and Polixenes try to calm Leontes down, and tell him that he has showed enough sorrow over... (full context)
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...he says has proved his “worth and honesty.” Leontes begs pardon from both Hermione and Polixenes that he ever suspected the two of them had an affair. He tells Hermione that... (full context)