The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale does not have a specific date attributed to its first publication. The play was published in the collection of the First Folio works in 1623. It has oftentimes been grouped in with Shakespeare's comedic works, but many modern historians now label it as a romance.

The play begins in Sicilia, where the King of that realm Leontes welcomes his old friend Polixenes. Polixenes is the King of Bohemia, and both enjoy revisiting their old friendship. Inevitably, Polixenes begins to miss his homeland and makes the decision to leave Sicilia, to take care of his own realm's affairs, and visit his son.

Leontes has begun accustomed to having Polixenes around and is displeased by his plan to return home. He tries to convince his friend to stay but isn't able to change his mind. He decides to send in his wife, Queen Hermione, thinking she might have better luck persuading Polixenes to stay in Sicilia. Queen Hermione has three short speeches with Polixenes after which he reconsiders leaving and decides to stay in Sicilia after all.

Despite achieving what he sought, Leontes is curious and then subsequently goes insane when he ponders how his pregnant wife convinced Polixenes to stay. He is suddenly convinced that his friend has fathered his wife's baby and orders him poisoned by the Lord Camillo. Camillo senses something is afoot and instead warns Polixenes as they both flee back to Bohemia.

With Polixenes gone Leontes goes mad and makes a public declaration that his wife was unfaithful and the child she carries illegitimate. Against council he jails her and sends two Lords, Cleomenes and Dion, on a mission to the Oracle at Delphi for any answers it may provide.

Hermione gives birth to a baby girl. Her friend Paulina brings the baby to the king, hoping he might become pacified with sight of his daughter. The baby has the opposite effect and enrages the king. He demands the baby be taken and left in some desolate place.

When Cleomenes and Dion return from the Oracle, Hermione has been put on trial unfairly and they report back the word of the Oracle. That statement finds that both Hermione and Polixenes are not at fault, and that Leontes has banished his only true heir in leaving his daughter abandoned far away.

Leontes is defiant even in the face of news from the Oracle. He refuses to believe it as truth. News comes to court that his son, Mamillius has died after growing sick at the accusations thrown at his mother, Hermione. Hermione then swoons and taken away by Paulina who later tells Leontes his wife is dead.

With his entire family gone, Leontes is heartbroken and pledges he will serve them the rest of his life and atone for their loss.

The Lord Antigonus leaves the baby Perdita in Bohemia with a bundle of gold and other trinkets that will make it clear she is royal. As Antigonus leaves a violent storm strikes the coast and he thinks of the baby but is bid to leave by a very famous stage direction written in by Shakespeare, who writes that he exits because of pursuit from a bear. The baby is rescued by a passing shepherd.

The play advances 16 years. Polixenes son has fallen in love with shepherd girl Perdita. Camillo wants to return to Sicilia, and finds his opportunity when Polixenes angrily disrupts Perdita and his son Florizel's betrothal and they need to escape on a ship heading towards Sicilia.

Leontes still mourns his family loss years later, but he is urged to have another heir. At that time Perdita and Florizel arrive and are reunited. The story unfolds as the events of their estrangement and they go together to visit a statue of Hermione that comes to life and restores their family.