The Winter's Tale | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Winter's Tale | Act 4, Scene 3 | Summary



Autolycus, a quick-witted rogue who is an expert in disguise and trickery, enters with a song hailing summer. Employing a ruse that his shoulder is out of joint, he deftly steals the purse of the Clown. Autolycus pretends that he has been the victim of thievery—by a scoundrel named Autolycus! After the Clown departs, Autolycus looks forward to further opportunities for thievery at the upcoming sheep-shearing festival. He closes the scene with another snatch of song.


Except for the songs of Autolycus, this scene is written in prose, the standard medium for the dialogue of "low" characters in Shakespeare. The robbery of the Clown's purse is carried off with considerable humor and comic effect. The scene marks a definitive shift of tone in the play as a whole, with Autolycus as a pivotal character whose entertainment of the audience manages to distract spectators from the tragic events in Sicilia.

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