The Winter's Tale


William Shakespeare

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The Winter's Tale Themes

Read our modern English translation.
Themes and Colors
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Winter's Tale, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty

Issues of loyalty, fidelity, and honesty are crucial to the play’s main plot points. Camillo’s exile from and return to Sicilia, for example, are based on his presumed disloyalty and actual loyalty to his king Leontes. And Hermione’s perceived lack of marital fidelity is what causes Leontes to order for her death. There is a variety of different kinds of loyalty in the play, all doubted at various points: fidelity in marriage (as between…

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Friendship and Love

The Winter’s Tale explores different kinds of relationships between family members, spouses, and friends. The play is especially interested in the strong friendship between Leontes and Polixenes. In the first scene of the play, Camillo and Archidamus speak of the kings’ close relationship, and soon after Polixenes describes the two of them as like “twinned lambs” in their youth, frolicking innocently together. Their perfect friendship is complicated, though, as they mature and take wives…

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Youth, Age, and Time

Shakespeare’s play signals its interest in time rather obviously in the beginning of act four, when Father Time himself comes on-stage and introduces a (remarkable) sixteen-year jump forward in the play. Time’s inevitable movement forward affects everything in the play: thanks to the temporal jump forward in act four, we see time age Leontes, Polixenes, Paulina, and others. We also see Perdita grow from an infant to a young woman ready for…

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Seriousness, Levity, and Humor

The Winter’s Tale is notorious as a so-called “problem play,” because among the plays of Shakespeare it is one of the most difficult to categorize in terms of genre. It begins like a tragedy, but then has an extended episode drawn from pastoral romance, and ends like a comedy. This mixed-up quality of the play is about more than simply categorizing Shakespeare’s play. Its genre-bending nature speaks to its unique—and at times bewildering—mixture of seriousness…

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Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief

Once Leontes is convinced that his wife has cheated on him, he makes up his mind and remains stubborn. No one can persuade him otherwise, and no proof or evidence can change his firm (but false) belief in Hermione’s infidelity. As Hermione is put on trial, and Leontes sends men to get an oracle from Delphos (which he ultimately ignores), a central concern of the early part of the play is what might count as…

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Justice and Natural Order

The Winter’s Tale abounds in unfair punishments and faulty attempts to enforce justice. Leontes unfairly punishes Hermione for a crime she hasn’t committed, leading not only to her death but also to the death of Mamillius and the abandonment of Perdita. And Polixenes, after discovering his son’s secret engagement to Perdita, drives him out of Bohemia and unfairly threatens to punish Perdita’s shepherd father for her relationship with his son. The play can…

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