The Winter’s Tale
Three-Act Plot Analysis
The first three acts of The Winter’s Tale revolve around Leontes’s jealousy, which literally destroys his family, severs his lifelong friendship with Polixenes, and jeopardizes the fate of his kingdom. After a sudden onset of jealousy (Leontes suspects his wife is sleeping with his best friend), Leontes plots the murder of Polixenes, tries his wife for adultery (which causes the death of his young son, who dies of a broken heart), and orders Antigonus to abandon his newborn daughter (Perdita) in the desert.
Shakespeare fast-forwards sixteen years. Baby Perdita is all grown up – she’s been raised as a lowly shepherd’s daughter and has fallen in love with Prince Florizel (Polixenes’s son). When Polixenes threatens to break up the happy young couple, they flee to Sicily. (Meanwhile, Leontes has been totally miserable and penitent about his behavior.)
If the first movement of the play is about loss, the final movement is all about recovery. In Sicily, Perdita’s true identity as Leontes's royal daughter is uncovered, making it OK for her to marry Prince Florizel. Florizel’s dad, who has hunted down his son, is relieved to find out the prince has hooked up with a princess and not a shepherd’s daughter. Polixenes and Leontes make nice after Leontes says he’s sorry about the whole jealous rage thing and attempt on Polixenes’s life. When Paulina shows the gang a lifelike statue of Hermione, the statue turns out to be real and everyone celebrates the fact that Hermione is alive after all.