The Winter’s Tale
We’re so glad you’ve chosen to see The Winter’s Tale with us. We think you’ll be charmed by this enchanting fantasy about the magnificent powers of love and nature.
Long ago and far away
The Winter’s Tale is so named to evoke a long story shared to warm the heart and entertain during a long, chilly night. It’s everything you expect from such a tale: brilliant storytelling with satisfying juxtapositions of good and evil, humor and sadness, romance and knavery, youth and wisdom. There is magic. And a bear – what a bear! Gather ’round, but be forewarned if you read on: Plot twists and spoilers are included.
The Winter’s Tale unfolds as a medieval epic. It spans 16 years in the life of a royal family, divided loosely into their winter and their spring. They are awaiting the birth of a child, but the joy of this miracle is stolen: Despite the queen’s protests and the warning of the oracle, the king irrationally decides that his wife has been unfaithful. He pays dearly for his foolishness: he loses his wife, son, and infant daughter. His court is scandalized by his heartlessness. Too late, he repents.
Sixteen years pass. As the seasons of their lives turn, Shakespeare provides signs and symbols of winter transitioning to spring. He intertwines the worlds of nature and mankind like vines, some withering, others flowering with the hope and promise of new life. Time herself appears to guide us to a faraway springtime in Shakespeare’s Bohemia, where youth, laughter, and simple pleasures abound.
Among a village of shepherds, a foundling blossoms into a lovely young woman. The audience knows who she is, but she is unaware of her birthright. She falls in love with a shepherd who turns out to be… a prince. His true identity and hers will be revealed. Only then, by twists of fate, can those who hold the secrets to the royal family’s future put the pieces together – if they will. Can loves lost be found? Come find out.
Stop here… unless you want more detail!
Below is an expanded synopsis from the Royal Shakespeare Company and our directorial team, to introduce you to the plot, key scenes and characters. If you’d like to read the play before you arrive, it’s online here at MIT.
The Winter’s Tale opens in 13th-century Sicilia, in the court of King Leontes.
An irrational king
Polixenes, King of Bohemia, has been on a nine-month visit to the court of his childhood friend Leontes, King of Sicilia, and Leontes’ wife, Queen Hermione.
Groundlessly, Leontes becomes convinced that his pregnant wife has been having an affair with Polixenes. Leontes tries to persuade his most trusted courtier Camillo to poison Polixenes, but Camillo, convinced of the queen’s innocence, warns Polixenes. Camillo and Polixenes depart for Bohemia together.
King Leontes has Hermione arrested for treason and Hermione gives birth to a baby girl while in prison. Lady Paulina, her friend, hopes Leontes will become reasonable when he sees the innocent baby, but instead, Leontes orders Paulina’s husband Antigonus to abandon the newly born daughter on some distant shore.
Leontes then puts Hermione through a public trial. They refer judgment to the oracle of Apollo; the oracle declares her innocent but Leontes refuses to believe it. His decision has consequences: Their son, Mamillius, heartbroken over his mother’s plight, dies. Leontes is then told that Hermione has died.
Realizing what he’s done, Leontes vows to live the rest of his days mourning their deaths.
Meanwhile, Antigonus leaves the baby girl on the coast of Bohemia. (His fate: Exit, pursued by a bear.) An old shepherd and his clownish son find the abandoned baby, name her Perdita, and raise her as a member of their family.
The character Time appears.
She guides us forward as we travel across the years and miles to the pastoral village where the lost princess, Perdita, has grown up unaware of her status. She is a shepherdess.
16 years later, in the springtime in Bohemia
Perdita is being courted by Prince Florizel, young son of King Polixenes of Bohemia, who arrives for a sheep-shearing festival disguised as a shepherd.
The colorful festival includes a rogue and con artist named Autolycus, who tricks the shepherds out of money. A highlight of the festivities is the arrival of herdsmen for springtime’s ritual fertility dance.
Polixenes and Camillo, in search of Florizel, come to the countryside in disguise. When Prince Florizel announces he will marry the low-born Perdita without consulting his father, Polixenes becomes enraged and threatens to disinherit his son and ruin the shepherds. With Camillo’s assistance, Florizel and Perdita flee to Sicilia.
Stop reading now if you don’t want to know the end of the story!
Polixenes pursues Florizel to Sicilia. The shepherd and his son go to show King Leontes that Perdita was adopted, and the items left in her baby basket reveal her identity as the King’s daughter.
That which was lost having been found, Lady Paulina invites the royal family to see a statue of Queen Hermione, and warns them that something wondrous may happen…
SOURCES: Royal Shakespeare Company and Chesapeake Shakespeare Company
TICKET DETAILS: THE WINTER’S TALE, March 9 – April 7, 2018, at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.
LEARN MORE: Escape to a springtime sheep-shearing festival in Bohemia, where herdsmen perform the Dance of the Satyrs.
MEET THE DIRECTOR: If This Be Magic, by Isabelle Anderson, CSC’s Distinguished Artist in Residence