Study Guide

The Winter’s Tale Act 3, Scene 3

By William Shakespeare

Act 3, Scene 3

Read the full text of The Winter's Tale Act 3 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.

  • Meanwhile, Antigonus (Paulina’s husband and the guy Leontes's ordered to get rid of the unwanted baby) and a Mariner arrive on the “coast” of Bohemia (what is now called the Czech Republic). (Yeah, yeah. We all know that Bohemia is totally landlocked and has no coast, but Shakespeare either didn’t know or didn’t care.)
  • The Mariner looks up at the stormy skies and says the gods seem pretty angry, which is code for “the weather’s pretty lousy.”
  • Antigonus tells him to get back on the boat because, after he gets rid of the kid, he wants to get home, ASAP.
  • The Mariner tells Antigonus to hurry up and ditch the kid because the weather’s getting even worse. Plus, Bohemia is famous for its dangerous wild animals.
  • Antigonus talks sweetly to the baby he’s about to abandon and says he had a dream about Hermione, who appeared to him wearing a white robe and asked him to name her baby “Perdita” (which means “lost one” in Latin) since she’s going to abandoned in a strange land.
  • Antigonus puts the baby on the ground along with a scroll (a long roll of paper) that details Perdita’s lineage and history. He also leaves a box full of gold.
  • Antigonus announces that he believes Hermione must be dead and then he tries to convince himself that the god Apollo must surely want him to abandon the baby in Bohemia and that Polixenes, the king of Bohemia, is likely the father.
  • Antigonus says his “heart bleeds” for the kid, but it’s getting late and he’s got to get back home.
  • Antigonus, who seems ready to deliver a very loooong speech, is interrupted by the appearance of…a bear!
  • Antigonus says something like “holy smokes” and runs off toward shore while the bear gives chase.
  • FYI: What alerts us readers to the bear chase is one of the most famous stage directions in the history of English literature. The stage directions read, “Exit, pursued by a bear.”
  • Then an Old Shepherd rambles onto the stage complaining about some teenage hooligans who scared off some of his sheep. Then he spots baby Perdita, who, thankfully, wasn’t eaten by the wild bear.
  • The Old Shepherd muses that the unwanted baby must have been conceived in some dark stairwell by a naughty unmarried couple – why else, he muses, would someone abandon such a pretty baby?
  • The Old Shepherd’s son, a Clown (sort of a country bumpkin), shows up and tells his dad he’s not going to believe what he, the Clown, just saw. The Clown just came from the shore, where he witnessed a shipwreck (the ship Antigonus and the Mariner arrived on) and a gruesome bear attack.
  • The Clown elaborates: While the bear was tearing off some poor guy’s shoulder, the guy yelled out his name, “Antigonus,” and cried for help. Sadly, there was nothing the Clown could do to help him. What’s worse, the bear is still snacking on its victim at this very moment.
  • The Old Shepherd and the Clown feel sort of bad about not being able to help the ship-wreck victims or Antigonus, but they decide to go ahead and check out a box of goodies that was left behind with the abandoned baby.
  • The Old Shepherd announces that the baby must be a “changeling.” (If you’ve read A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you know that a “changeling” is a child that’s been secretly switched with another, usually by mischievous fairies. We know what you’re thinking. Why does the Old Shepherd think this when he’s got access to the documents that detail the baby’s true heritage? Our best guess? The Old Shepherd and his son probably can’t read, being uneducated peasants and all.)
  • The Old Shepherd is pleased as punch when he finds a bunch of gold in the box – he says the fairies must have left it for him.
  • Since the Old Shepherd’s so thankful for his good fortune, he wants to perform some kind of good deed. He and the Clown will bury whatever’s left of Antigonus’ body – after the bear is done feasting on him that is.