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The Winter’s Tale Act 4, Scene 4 Summary

  • At the festival, Perdita (who is dressed up as the Queen of the Feast) and Florizel (dressed up as a young shepherd named “Doricles”) bat their eyelashes and flirt with one another. (FYI –costumes are pretty standard at these kinds of shindigs and, yes, Perdita knows that Florizel isn’t really some poor shepherd boy named “Doricles.”)
  • Florizel lays it on pretty thick, describing Perdita as “Flora,” goddess of flowers, which totally embarrasses Perdita, who points out that, in real life, she’s the daughter of a lowly shepherd, while Florizel is royalty. In other words, she’s embarrassed to be dressed up like something she’s not, which is pretty ironic given that Perdita is actually a princess but just doesn’t know it.
  • Florizel assures Perdita that she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to him but she worries about what Florizel’s dad (King Polixenes) would think if he knew about their relationship.
  • Florizel tells Perdita not to worry and then proceeds to compare himself to a bunch of gods who transformed themselves so they could have sex with women. (Apollo dressed as a shepherd to hook up with Alcestis, Jupiter transformed himself into a bull and carried off Europa, and Neptune turned into a ram before he abducted Theopane.) Unlike these gods, however, Florizel says he’s not just in it for sex – he’ll treat Perdita with “honour.”
  • Perdita says King Polixenes might sentence her to death if he finds out about them but Florizel tells her to cheer up and start acting like a proper Queen of the Feast.
  • The Old Shepherd shows up with the Clown, Mopsa, Dorcas, Polixenes (in disguise), Camillo (also in disguise), and a bunch of other party-goers.
  • The Old Shepherd tells Perdita she’s a lousy Queen of the Feast – she’s supposed to be welcoming and entertaining the festival-goers. The Old Shepherd’s late wife did a much better job when she was alive.
  • After being hassled by her old man, Perdita plays hostess-with-the-mostess and welcomes the guests to the festival by handing out flowers.
  • Perdita points out that she doesn’t have any “gillyvors” (gillyflowers or, carnations), which she refers to as “nature’s bastards.” (She might be referring to the fact that gillyflowers were thought to have been crossbred with other flowers.)
  • Polixenes takes issue with Perdita hating on gillyflowers and argues that crossbred flowers and are superior to plain old carnations. What’s more, he argues that the art of grafting is completely “natural.” (FYI: “Grafting” is a horticultural practice where a plant’s tissue is fused with another plant in order to create a “hybrid.”)
  • Perdita and Polixenes continue to argue about cross-breeding flowers. Perdita prefers flowers that are pure and that haven’t been influenced by the “art” of grafting. Polixenes sees nothing wrong with cross-breeding flowers to produce a “nobler” breed. For Polixenes, grafting is a natural process while Perdita sees cross-breeding as “artifice.” Check out “Quotes” for “Art and Culture” if you want to know more about this argument.
  • Perdita continues to pass out flowers to the festival guests and Florizel takes the opportunity to tell Perdita how pretty she is.
  • Polixenes tells Camillo that Perdita is the “prettiest” poor girl that he’s ever seen. In fact, she seems like she’s too “noble” to be a lowly shepherd’s daughter.
  • The band strikes up a tune and everybody parties, country style.
  • Polixenes (wearing a disguise) strikes up a conversation with the Old Shepherd, who tells him that his daughter’s boyfriend is a rich nobleman. (The Shepherd has no idea he’s talking to the King of Bohemia, who isn’t thrilled about Florizel’s choice in girlfriends.)
  • A Servant enters and announces that there’s a peddler (a guy who travels around selling worthless items) at the door who happens to be a great singer. The Clown lets him in to the party.
  • Perdita warns the Clown that the peddler better not sing any songs with dirty lyrics.
  • Autolycus (the guy who picked the Clown’s pocket earlier) strolls in, disguised as the peddler with a great voice. He sings a song about how everyone should step up and buy some of his stuff.
  • The Clown buys some ribbons and gloves for his girlfriend, Mopsa. Dorcas, who’s a little jealous, makes crack about how the Clown promised to marry Mopsa but hasn’t done it yet. Mopsa retorts that Dorcas slept with the Clown and may be pregnant, to which the Clown says something like: “Geez – whatever happened to modesty?”
  • When Mopsa asks the Clown to buy her some more stuff, he complains about being robbed on his way to the market.
  • Autolycus (the guy who picked the Clown’s pockets) says something like “Oh, how awful. I hope I don’t get robbed while I’m here.”
  • Autolycus, Mopsa, and Dorcas sing a song together about a love triangle and then a group of country dancers show up to entertain the festival-goers.
  • Meanwhile, Polixenes approaches his son (Florizel), who doesn’t recognize his disguised father, and asks Florizel about his relationship with Perdita.
  • Florizel doesn’t need anyone to twist his arm to talk about his girlfriend – he professes his love for Perdita, which prompts the Old Shepherd to give his daughter permission to marry.
  • Before the Old Shepherd can bind his daughter’s hand to Florizel’s (an act of betrothal), the disguised Polixenes steps in and says not so fast – where’s Florizel’s father?
  • Polixenes and Florizel argue about whether or not Florizel should tell his dad about his plans to marry Perdita.
  • When it becomes clear that Florizel has no intention of sharing his engagement with his dad, Polixenes removes his disguise and goes “Aha! You thought you could get married to some country bumpkin without my permission?”
  • Polixenes throws a tantrum and disowns his son, sentences the Old Shepherd to death, and says he’s going to have Perdita’s gorgeous face “scratched with briars and made more homely” than her lowly social status. (Yikes! He sounds a lot like Leontes, don’t you think?)
  • Perdita says she knew it was the king in disguise all along and was just about to say something before Polixenes removed his disguise. Now that the jig is up, she’ll have to forget about being queen and go back to milking sheep.
  • The Old Shepherd yells at Florizel and Perdita for not telling him that Florizel was the prince. He wanted to retire in peace but now he’s going to be put to death, which totally ruins his retirement plans.
  • Florizel says he wants to run away with Perdita – he’s got a ship nearby so they can sail off together.
  • Camillo says that, since the prince won’t change his mind about marrying Perdita, he’ll give the kid some advice, which is to sail for Sicily with Perdita, where Leontes will most likely embrace him like a “son.”
  • Since Camillo’s still got connections in Sicily, he’ll make sure Florizel and Perdita are outfitted like a prince and princess. Florizel can tell King Leontes that he’s been sent by his father to Sicily in order to see him.
  • Meanwhile, Autolycus comes on stage and brags about how he managed to sell all of his junk to the suckers at the sheep-shearing festival. He also managed to pick everybody’s pockets while he was at it, heh-heh.
  • Then we get back to Camillo, Florizel, and Perdita. Camillo promises to write letters of introduction for the young couple.
  • Camillo spots Autolycus and makes him trade clothes with Florizel so the prince can escape Bohemia without being recognized.
  • Camillo advises Perdita to disguise herself as well so she can make it to the ship safely.
  • Camillo tells the audience that, after the kids set sail, he’s actually going to tattle on them to Polixenes. His hope is that Polixenes will ask him to tag along while he chases after them. That way, Camillo can finally go back home to Sicily.
  • Florizel, Perdita, and Camillo run off, leaving Autolycus alone on stage. Autolycus tells the audience he’s figured out what’s going on but he’s not going to tell the king because that would be way too honest. As a con artist and a thief, Autolycus loathes honesty. (Plus, he’s probably hoping for some kind of reward from the Prince.)
  • The Clown and the Old Shepherd show up carrying the bundle that was left with Perdita when she was abandoned as a baby – the Old Shepherd wants to show the King proof that Perdita is a “changeling” and that she isn’t his “flesh and blood” daughter. (Remember, the Old Shepherd doesn’t know Perdita’s a princess – he thinks she was left in Bohemia by a bunch of fairies.) The Old Shepherd thinks that, if he can prove Perdita’s not his biological daughter, he won’t be put to death.
  • Autolycus hears all this and decides the bundle may possibly contain something that could prevent the prince from marrying Florizel, so he convinces the Old Shepherd and his son that he’s a courtier and that King Polixenes has boarded a ship.
  • Autolycus tells the pair a bit of gossip about Perdita (who pretends not to recognize the Old Shepherd and the Clown). He says he heard that Perdita’s shepherd father is going to be put to death and her brother is going to be tortured. Specifically, the brother’s going to be whipped and then covered in honey before being placed next to a wasp’s nest.
  • After he scares the bejeezus out of the two men, he offers to take them to the king and make proper introductions.
  • Not wanting to be tortured, the Clown votes to give Autolycus a bunch of gold to take them to King Polixenes.
  • The Shepherd hands over some dough and promises to give Autolycus more money after he’s introduced him to the king.
  • Autolycus says something like, “Great – you go on ahead to the sea shore and I’ll meet you there.”
  • Left alone on stage, Autolycus confides to the audience that he’s the luckiest guy on earth – not only is he going to make a bunch of money by scamming the Old Shepherd and his son, he’s also going to do the prince a big favor (by leading the Old Shepherd to the prince’s ship instead of to the King), which means that Prince Florizel will be indebted to Autolycus.

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