Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
We discuss this in “Setting,” but it’s worth mentioning here as well. The first half of The Winter’s Tale is set in King Leontes’s Sicilian court during the cold winter months. We know that it’s winter, by the way, because Mammilius tells his mother “A sad tale's best for winter” (2.1.7) after she asks him for a story. The frigid season seems completely appropriate in a court where Leontes’s cold-hearted behavior destroys his family and brings about the worst kind of suffering imaginable.
In the second half of the play (which occurs sixteen years later), the Sicilian winter gives way to the Bohemian countryside during the spring or summer (it’s not entirely clear). The spring and summer seasons, as we know, are frequently associated with life and renewal and life (especially because they come on the heels of the cold and harsh winter months). Fittingly, Bohemia is a festive world that’s full of youthful spirit and possibility. This is where we meet the lovely young Perdita, who resembles Flora, goddess of flowers. Bohemia is also where Florizel’s and Perdita’s young love blossoms and just about anything seems possible, especially during the colorful sheep-shearing festival.
When the young Bohemian cast (Florizel and Perdita) travel to Sicily in Act 5, the “cold” Sicilian landscape is dramatically altered. Leontes says, “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). Leontes, whose been suffering a winter-like existence 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 and Perdita’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. So, we might say that Florizel and Perdita bring with them the spirit of spring/summer and inject the play with love, warmth, and the spirit of forgiveness.
Psst. The BBC’s made-for-TV production of The Winter’s Tale (1981) uses some great sets and props to play up the whole winter/summer dichotomy. This could make for a cool essay topic…