Places: The Winter’s Tale

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1623

First produced: 1610-1611

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Tragicomedy

Time of work: Legendary past

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Sicily

*Sicily. Winter’s Tale, TheIsland off the southern tip of the Italian peninsula in which the play opens, with Polixenes, the king of Bohemia, visiting his old friend Leontes, the king of Sicily. In Shakespeare’s time, Sicily had a reputation for crimes of jealousy and revenge that Shakespeare used in this play by having Leontes turn against Polixenes when he suspects that his friend is having an affair with his wife. Leontes’ Sicilian heritage–and the play’s insightful analyses of a jealousy so intense that it is mad–puts in context his irrational behavior in rejecting his pregnant wife Hermione and their son Mamilius. Leontes consults the Greek oracle at Delphi and rejects its judgment against his delusions. Following his son’s death, Leontes finally accepts his guilt and undertakes familiar Christian penances, performed with saintly sorrow. The final scene is in a chapel, in which the statue of the supposedly dead Hermione comes alive in a resurrection that restores lost ones, so that the sad tale for winter has a happy ending.


*Bohemia. Mountainous inland country that now forms part of the Czech Republic. The play alludes to Bohemia’s having a seacoast, but it is accessible by water only on rivers. Known as a site of romantic adventure in Shakespeare’s time, Bohemia is a place where a bear eats a man shipwrecked in a storm, shepherds care for an abandoned infant, and young love thrives. Shakespeare both moved the pastoral celebration of Arcadia from its southern location to a northern clime bathed in light and made it a realistic sheep-shearing. But the regeneration of this spring/summer festival is marred by the jealousy and wrath of Polixenes, the wronged friend of the opening. When all return to Sicily, where there was “winter/ In storm perpetual,” calm and light come with forgiveness and the promise of fruitfulness in the marriage of Perdita and Florizel.

BibliographyLloyd Evans, Gareth. The Upstart Crow: An Introduction to Shakespeare’s Plays. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1982. A comprehensive treatment of the dramatic works of William Shakespeare, with major emphasis on critical reviews of the plays. Also discusses the sources from which Shakespeare drew and circumstances surrounding the writing of the plays.Muir, Kenneth, ed. Shakespeare–The Comedies: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965. An anthology of essays by a variety of authors, discussing Shakespeare’s comedies from various points of view. Derek Traversi’s treatment of The Winter’s Tale is mainly concerned with the later scenes of the play and includes an intensive discussion of the characters’ motivations.Overton, Bill. The Winter’s Tale. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press International, 1989. A critical evaluation of Shakespeare’s play from a wide variety of points of view, including Marxism, feminism, and psychoanalysis. Also discusses previous critical studies of the play.Sanders, Wilbur. The Winter’s Tale. Boston: Twayne, 1987. A thorough critical evaluation of the play. Also includes information on the work’s stage history and original reception by critics. Sanders also discusses the psychological factors of the play and the use of language.Shakespeare, William. The Winter’s Tale. Edited by J. H. P. Pafford. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963. A new edition of the play, containing more than eighty pages of introductory notes and twenty pages of appendices. Discusses the sources, the text itself, and the music and songs. Also includes an extensive critical evaluation of the play.
Categories: Places