The Winter's Tale | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Winter's Tale | Act 3, Scene 3 | Summary



On the seacoast of Bohemia, Antigonus converses with a sailor, with both men grimly anticipating an approaching storm. It is here that Antigonus abandons the baby girl condemned by Leontes. Before he does so, he christens the child "Perdita," a name that means "she who was lost." Antigonus bids the child a sorrowful farewell, and the storm breaks. To the sound of thunder, a bear approaches and pursues Antigonus off the stage.

The Shepherd appears and comes upon the baby. He takes it up "for pity" and is soon joined by his son, who reports the death of Antigonus, mauled by the bear, and the death of the Sicilian mariners, whose ship was lost in the storm. The Shepherd and the Clown (his son) resolve to travel homeward, together with the newfound infant.


This scene marks the dramatic turning point of the play as a whole. Tragedy reaches its endpoint with the death of Antigonus and the mariners, but the nobleman's death, in particular, possesses a curious, tragicomic flavor, as the most notorious stage direction in all of Shakespeare (He exits, pursued by a bear) somehow insulates the audience by adding a note of absurdity. The staging of this scene has been the subject of endless speculation; bears were frequently captured for use in entertainment, but bringing one onstage would have been very dangerous. Modern productions have used everything from bear suits to tricks of lighting and shadow.

The naming of Perdita brings to the fore the notion of "lost and found"—an echo of the oracle, and a motif that will figure prominently in the second half of the play. The storm serves as a symbolic eruption of chaos, which is then followed by order in the measured, sensible cadences of the Shepherd and his son. In one of the simplest yet most profound lines of dialogue in the play as a whole, the Shepherd encapsulates the scene's significance when he says to his son, "Thou met'st with things dying, I with things newborn."

The Bohemian "seacoast," like Delphos as the seat of Apollo's oracle, has provoked much commentary. Researchers have established that Shakespeare was in all probability quite aware that Bohemia was a landlocked region in central Europe (part of the modern-day Czech Republic). Why, then, did Shakespeare set this scene on a shoreline? The setting may contribute to the wondrous, semimagical atmosphere appropriate to the genre of romance.

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