Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Dark and Claustrophobic and then Joyous
The first three acts, set in the Sicilian court, are dark and claustrophobic. This is mostly the result of Leontes’s jealousy and tyranny, which pretty much dominates the first half of the play. Of course, this is no big surprise, given that King Leontes throws his wife in prison, plots the death of his best friend, throws his infant daughter away, and basically causes the premature death of his young son.
The play’s tone shifts dramatically as the setting shifts to Bohemia (sixteen years in the future), where the summer sheep-shearing festival is underway and the love between Perdita and Florizel blossoms. The festive mood briefly darkens when Polixenes threatens the young couple’s happiness but the heavy mood begins to lift almost as soon as the Bohemian cast makes its way over to the Sicilian court (where Leontes and his kingdom have been suffering for sixteen years). After the revelation of Perdita’s true identity and the miraculous “resurrection” of Hermione, the atmosphere turns joyous, as family and friends are reunited and the promise of marriage looms in the future.