The Winter’s Tale
A Cinderella Story
Perdita’s story is the stuff fairy tales are made of. The beautiful daughter of King Leontes and Queen Hermione, Perdita is born in a prison and rejected by her father after her mother is jailed and accused of adultery. In Latin, Perdita means “that which is lost,” which is pretty appropriate given that Perdita is abandoned in the Bohemian “desert.” For the next sixteen years of her life, she’s raised (unaware of her true identity) by an Old Shepherd in the Bohemian countryside, where she meets and falls in love with Prince Florizel. In the play’s dramatic conclusion, Perdita is miraculously reunited with her father and mother and, presumably, lives happily ever after with her dreamy prince. (We weren’t kidding about the fairy tale stuff.)
Perdita’s Symbolic Function
Perdita seems to have an important symbolic function in the play. The first time we hear from her, she’s all grown up and living in the Bohemian countryside. Playing the role of “Queen of the Feast” (hostess of the Bohemian sheep-shearing festival”), Perdita is quite a vision. She’s decked out with flowers and her beauty rivals that of the goddess “Flora” (4.4.1). Her beauty and her love for Florizel are also full of youthful spirit and possibility.
When Perdita returns to Sicily with Florizel, she takes this spirit with her and injects it into the Sicilian court like a breath of fresh air. As we know, Leontes and his court experience some pretty profound suffering after Perdita is lost to them – Leontes tortures himself for his sins against his family and Sicily is left without an heir to the throne for sixteen years. But, when Perdita returns, Sicily is given new life.