Study Guide

Polixenes in The Winter’s Tale

By William Shakespeare


Polixenes is the King of Bohemia and Leontes’s childhood BFF. After vacationing at the Sicilian palace for nine months, Polixenes is forced to flee to his home in Bohemia because Leontes suspects that he, Polixenes, has been sleeping with Leontes’s wife, Hermione. Yeah, yeah, this all sounds like an episode of Days of Our Lives, but it has some pretty important implications for the play’s theme of “Friendship.” We cover all of this in our “Character Analysis” of Leontes, so be sure to read that if you haven’t already.

Channeling King Leontes’s Tyranny

For most of the play, Polixenes appears to be the good guy who’s wronged by his jerk of a friend. Polixenes, after all, is pretty loyal to Leontes, he’s super-nice to Hermione (unless you count the fact that he fled to Bohemia without warning Hermione of Leontes’s jealousy) and he really values his friendship with Camillo. But! When Polixenes finds out that his only son, Prince Florizel, is engaged to a country bumpkin (Perdita, who is actually a princess) he goes crazy, threatening to 1) have Perdita’s face disfigured with branches and 2) have her old man executed. Yikes. We know what you’re thinking – this kind of tyrannous behavior sounds a whole lot the actions of jealous King Leontes, who went berserk back in Act 1. Yep, that makes Polixenes’s character a literary foil to Leontes.