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The Winter’s Tale Act 5, Scene 1 Summary

  • At Leontes's palace in Sicily, Cleomenes begs Leontes to stop punishing himself for his past sins and to forgive himself. (Apparently, Leontes has been quite penitent for the past sixteen years.)
  • Leontes replies that he can’t forgive himself for what he did to Hermione and the kingdom – it’s all his fault that his wife is dead and Sicily no longer has an heir to the throne (Mammilius is dead and Leontes basically threw away his baby daughter).
  • Paulina steps up and sweetly reminds Leontes that he’s responsible for killing the perfect woman and warns him that he shouldn’t bother trying to find a new wife, since no woman can ever be as great as Hermione.
  • Leontes sincerely thanks Paulina for reminding him that he basically “killed” Hermione by putting her on trial for adultery. Cleomenes grumbles that Paulina is being cruel and he sort of has a point, wouldn’t you say?
  • Paulina bickers with Dion about whether or not Leontes should remarry – Dion points out that Sicily is without an heir and the fate of the kingdom is in jeopardy.
  • Then Paulina plays the Apollo card, pointing out that Apollo’s Oracle said that Leontes wouldn’t have an heir until his lost child (Perdita) was found.
  • Leontes laments that he didn’t listen to Paulina’s wise counsel back when she warned him not to try Hermione for adultery and treason.
  • Leontes resolves not to remarry and says that if he got a new wife and treated her well, Hermione’s corpse would come back to life and ask why Leontes treated her like dirt. Plus, Hermione’s reanimated corpse would probably order him to murder his new wife, so remarriage doesn’t seem like such a great idea.
  • Paulina agrees and says that if she were Hermione, she would totally come back from the dead and haunt Leontes.
  • Paulina makes Leontes swear that if he does remarry, his bride must look like Hermione and Paulina gets to choose her. But, she says, that won’t happen unless Hermione somehow manages to live again.
  • A servant enters and announces Prince Florizel’s arrival at the Sicilian court with his “princess” (that would be Perdita) in tow.
  • Leontes is baffled and wonders why Florizel has shown up on his doorstep without advance notice. Something must be wrong, otherwise Florizel would have arrived with more pomp and circumstance (and perhaps a letter from his father, Polixenes).
  • When the Servant says that Florizel’s princess is a beauty, Paulina gets all huffy and says something like “nobody’s as beautiful as Hermione was.”
  • Then Paulina points out that, if Mammilius had lived, he probably would have been happy to see Prince Florizel, since the two princes were born about a month apart.
  • Leontes begs Paulina to stop reminding him of Mammilius’s death – every time she mentions it, it feels like Mammilius has died all over again.
  • Florizel and Perdita enter and Leontes comments that Florizel’s mom did a good job making him, because the prince looks exactly like a “copy” of his father, Polixenes. Leontes looks at Perdita and proclaims that she’s a “goddess.”
  • Florizel lies and says that his father sends Leontes his best regards and wishes he could see his old friend.
  • Upon hearing this, Leontes beats himself up for being such a lousy friend to Polixenes (i.e., accusing him of sleeping with his wife and plotting to poison him).
  • Florizel lies some more and says he picked up his “bride” in Libya before sailing to Sicily. Ordinarily, he would have brought a huge entourage along with him but he decided to let them sail home to Bohemia to give Polixenes the good news.
  • Leontes announces that Florizel’s presence in Sicily is like a cure for sickness and says he wishes he had a son or daughter like Polixenes has. (Yep, that’s ironic all right, especially since Leontes's daughter Perdita is standing right in front of him.)
  • Then a Lord enters and rains on everybody’s parade by announcing that King Polixenes has sent word that Leontes should arrest Prince Florizel for running away from home with a lowly shepherd’s daughter.
  • The Lord also says that Polixenes has just arrived in Sicily to accost his naughty son. Not only that, but on his way to the Sicilian court, he ran into the Old Shepherd and the Clown, who are crying like babies and begging for their lives.
  • Florizel realizes Camillo has betrayed him and he’s not too happy.
  • Perdita cries for the poor Old Shepherd and boo-hoos that her marriage celebration is going to have to wait.
  • Florizel begs Leontes to speak to his father on his behalf – he loves Perdita and wants to spend his life with her.
  • Paulina takes the opportunity to remind everyone, again, that Perdita isn’t nearly as good-looking as Hermione once was.
  • Leontes admits that looking at Perdita actually reminds him of his late wife. He says he’s happy to talk to Polixenes on behalf of the young couple.

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