Once Upon A Time…
There were two kings of the neighbouring kingdoms of Sicilia and Bohemia who were great friends. The King of Bohemia, Polixenes, was visiting his friend, King Leontes, who was trying to persuade him to stay longer. But King Polixenes had been away a long time, and it was time to get back to his own kingdom. But Leontes’ queen, Hermione, also asked him to stay, and her eloquence was such that King Polixenes decided to stay. His easy agreement to Hermione’s plea made King Leontes quite suspicious and terribly jealous that the two were secretly lovers, and he asked his faithful advisor Camillo poison his friend.
Camillo thought the King was wrong, but the jealous Leontes would not listen, so Camillo reluctantly agreed to do as his king asked. However, Camillo later confessed all to King Polixenes, and told him to flee home. Touched by is concern, the Bohemian King promised to shelter Camillo from Leontes’ anger, and they fled to Bohemia together.
Then, one winter’s night, as the queen’s son Mamillus was telling her a story, the furious King Leontes had his wife arrested for adultery, for he believed that by running away King Polixenes had shown his guilt in the affair, and that the baby the Queen was carrying was not his but Polixenes’. Queen Hermione heartily denied this, but the King would not listen, and he ordered her and her ladies in waiting to be taken to jail. The king’s lords tried to get him to see reason, and he still would not listen, but he agreed to ask the powerful Oracle of Delphi for the truth.
While in prison, the queen gave birth to a baby, a princess. Hermione’s trusted companion, Paulina, resolved to take the baby to King Leontes, in hopes that the sight of his new daughter would rid him of his jealousy. However the King became even angrier, and after Paulina scolded him for his stubborn madness, she left the baby with the King. But the king told lord Antigonus to get rid of the baby, or be charged with treason. Faced with this unhappy choice, Antigonus took the baby away, just as messengers returned from the Oracle.
King Leontes appointed himself judge in his wife’s trial, and although she defended herself eloquently, the king still refused to listen, and sentenced his queen to death. However, the Oracle’s answer was then read aloud: the queen is innocent, Leontes is a jealous tyrant, and he will live thereafter without an heir until what has been lost is found. As Leontes denied the truth for a third time some terrible news came – prince Mamillus had died of a broken heart for his mother, so the king was truly without an heir. The queen fainted to hear this horrible news, and was taken away by Paulina.
The King finally came to his senses, and was horrified by what he had done, but it was too late – the prince was dead, his daughter lost, and Paulina, upon returning, announced that Queen Hermione had died too, out of grief for her children. The penitent King swore to spend the rest of his days paying for the sins that cost him his family…
…Sixteen years passed, and one day in the Kingdom of Bohemia, King Polixenes asked his advisor Camillo why his son Florizel, had been lately absent from Court. Camillo told him that the prince was spending time at a shepherd’s cottage, where lived a maiden of great beauty. The king did not want his son to marry a mere shepherdess, so he and Camillo decided to disguise themselves to spy on Florizel.
In the meantime out in the countryside, a rascally thief named Autolycus was making his way towards town. He encountered a boy who told him of a great spring festival, and after robbing the unsuspecting boy, the wily thief decided to go to the festival to rob more people, but in disguise.
At the shepherd’s cottage, the beautiful maiden, named Perdita, was out walking with Prince Florizel, who was in disguise as Doricles. They were very much in love, and although Perdita did not know he was a prince, she knew he was higher born, and worried that his father would disapprove of her. The prince assured her that he would always be true to her. When her father the shepherd arrived with a crowd of people (including the disguised King and Camillo), many other people commented on Perdita’s beauty and bearing – there was something very special about her that could not be denied.
However, the King was very upset to hear of his son’s love for a mere shepherdess, and once he revealed himself as the king, he became angry with even the shepherd and his son, and ordered them never to see the prince again or else face execution. After warning the prince to stay away from Perdita, the king stormed back to his castle.
Florizel, however, remained true to his word and steadfast to Perdita, and Camillo advised them to flee to Sicilia – his old home – where the grieving King Leontes would welcome him as Polixenes’s son. The good Camillo offered to try to appease the king’s anger toward Perdita.
Perdita and Florizel agreed to flee, but the prince needed a further disguise to get to the ship that would take them to Sicilia, so he traded clothes with the rascal Autolycus before running off to their ship. Just then, the worried shepherd and his son came along, planning to tell the king that Perdita was not part of their family, but merely a child they found abandoned in the wilderness. Thinking to play atrik on them, the rogue Autolycus fooled them into going to the same ship on which Florizel and Perdita were planning to escape.
Back in Sicilia, with Paulina constantly reminding him of his past sins, King Leontes had grieved for his lost family for sixteen long years. But he eagerly welcomed news of Prince Florizel’s arrival, until it transpired that King Polixenes had arrived as well. Angry that his son had eloped with the fair Perdita, King Polixenes arrested the shepherd and his son. King Leontes resolved to help put things right between his friend and the prince, and went to meet him.
There it was revealed that Perdita, the child found in the forest sixteen years before, was actually King Leontes lost daughter, abandoned on the shores of Bohemia so long ago. The reunited father and daughter went to see Paulina, who had a statue of Perdita’s mother, Queen Hermione. Overcome with joy to see the image of Hermione, each wished to hold the statue’s hand, but Paulina would not allow it. Instead, she offered to bring the statue to life, and before the shocked company, the real, living Queen Hermione was restored to her daughter and husband. Leontes and his queen were reunited, he and Polixenes were friends once more, the loyal Paulina was betrothed the equally loyal Camillo, and Florizel was allowed to marry the princess Perdita.
And they all lived happily ever after.