The "tale" of The Winter's Tale unfolds in scenes set sixteen years apart. In the first part of the play, Leontes, king of Sicilia, plays host to his friend Polixenes, king of Bohemia. Suddenly, Leontes becomes unreasonably jealous of Polixenes and Leontes's pregnant wife, Hermione. Leontes calls for Polixenes to be killed, but he escapes.
Hermione, under arrest, gives birth to a daughter; Leontes orders the baby to be taken overseas and abandoned. The death of the couple's young son, Mamillius, brings Leontes to his senses, too late. Word arrives that Hermione, too, has died. In Bohemia, a shepherd finds and adopts the baby girl, Perdita.
Sixteen years later, the story resumes. Polixenes's son, Florizell, loves Perdita. When Polixenes forbids the unequal match, the couple flees to Sicilia, where the tale reaches its conclusion. Perdita's identity as a princess is revealed, allowing her and Florizell to marry; Leontes and Polixenes reconcile; and Hermione returns in the form of a statue, steps down from its pedestal, and reunites with her family.
Early printed texts
The Winter's Tale was printed for the first time in the 1623 First Folio (F1), and that text is the basis for all subsequent editions of the play.
Picturing The Winter's Tale
As part of an NEH-funded project, the Folger digitized thousands of 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century images representing Shakespeare’s plays. Some of these images show actors in character, while others show the plays as if they were real-life events—telling the difference isn't always easy. A selection of images related to Winter's Tale is shown below, with links to our digital image collection.
More images of The Winter's Tale can be seen in our digital image collection. (Because of how they were cataloged, some images from other plays might appear in the image searches linked here, so always check the sidebar to see if the image is described as part of a larger group.)