The son of the Bohemian King Polixenes, Prince Florizel is the oh-so dreamy “Prince Charming” figure who falls in love and proposes to Perdita (who everyone believes is a lowly shepherd’s daughter).
What makes Florizel a “Prince Charming” kind of guy you ask? Well, let’s consider Florizel’s actions in the play. When we first meet him at the sheep-shearing festival it’s pretty clear he’s over the top in love with Perdita – he calls her “Flora” (goddess of flowers) and works overtime to calm her fears about the disparity in their social statuses (4.4). When King Polixenes finds out about Florizel’s engagement to Perdita and threatens the couple’s happiness, Florizel announces that he’d rather lose everything (his royal status, his fortune, his family’s approval) than be apart from Perdita.
And boy does he mean it. When Polixenes threatens to disfigure Perdita’s pretty face with some branches, Florizel grabs his girl and runs off to Sicily, where he hopes to hide out in Leontes's court. A pretty daring and romantic gesture, don’t you think? Just in case we don’t get that he’s a romantic, there’s also the matter of Florizel’s name, which aligns him with the romance and fertility of springtime flowers.
OK, he’s a romantic guy. So what? Well, Florizel’s fresh, young love for Perdita has quite an impact on the other characters in the play. As we know, the older generation (especially Leontes and Polixenes) in The Winter’s Tale is pretty much responsible for all the suffering and broken relationships in the play. When Florizel and Perdita fall in love and run away from Bohemia to the Sicilian court, their actions have the effect of restoring broken families, mending old friendships, and reigniting hope for the future.
Check out what Leontes says about Florizel’s arrival in Sicily: "Welcome hither, / As is the spring to the earth. […] The blessed gods / Purge all infection from the air / Whilst you / Do climate here” (5.1.13-15). Wow. That’s quite a compliment. Leontes, whose been suffering in Sicily for sixteen long years suggests that Florizel’s presence is like the arrival of spring after a long, cold, harsh winter. What’s more, Florizel’s youthful presence seems to have a healing effect on the king and his ailing court, which never really recovered from the deaths of Hermione and Mammilius and the loss of baby Perdita. Be sure to check out our discussion of the theme of “Old Age and Youth” if you want to think about all of this some more.