Analysis: What’s Up With the Ending?
In the final scene, sixteen long years of suffering at the Sicilian court give way to the joyous and miraculous reunion of Leontes’s family, the seeming resurrection of Hermione, the renewal of Leontes’s friendship with Polixenes, the union of Florizel and Perdita (which takes care of the whole Sicily-is-without-an-heir problem), and the happy engagement of Camillo and Paulina.
Gosh. It sure sounds like everybody gets the “happily ever after” they were hoping for, right? Sort of. The thing about the ending of The Winter’s Tale is this: Shakespeare delivers the cheery finale that we’ve seen in his “comedies” (like Twelfth Night or A Midsummer Night's Dream), but he also reminds us that not everything can be restored. Perdita, as we know, returns to her family’s home in Bohemia, but Hermione’s and Leontes’s other child, Mammilius, is still dead and he’s definitely not coming back. Antigonus (the guy who’s mauled by a bear) is also gone forever, which is why Leontes feels compelled to hook up Paulina with a new man in the first place. So, while there’s plenty to celebrate in the play’s final moments, the ending is far from perfect.
Psst. If you want to know more about Hermione’s “resurrection,” check out “Symbols.”