The Old Shepherd is Perdita’s adoptive father. After finding the abandoned baby and a bundle full of gold and documents in the Bohemian “desert,” he’s convinced that she’s been left by fairies and raises her as his own. The Old Shepherd also helps himself to the bag of cash that’s left behind with the infant, but apparently, he can’t read because he doesn’t know that the documents actually provide details of Perdita’s royal heritage.
Because of his newfound fortune and because the sheep business is booming, the Old Shepherd is rich enough to host the summer sheep-shearing festival. (There may be some contemporary socio-economic commentary in this and we discuss it in our “Character Analysis” of Autolycus, so check it out if you’re curious.) Despite his wealth, the Old Shepherd is still, well, an old shepherd, which means his “daughter” isn’t considered good enough to marry the prince, whom she’s fallen in love with. When King Polixenes threatens to have the Old Shepherd executed (for condoning Perdita’s engagement to Florizel), he scrambles to prove that Perdita isn’t his biological daughter.