Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Leontes (lee-ON-teez), the king of Sicilia. For many years a close friend of King Polixenes of Bohemia, Leontes, curiously, becomes insanely jealous of him. Afraid of becoming a cuckold, he imprisons Hermione, wrests her son away from her, and attempts to murder Polixenes. When he learns that Hermione is pregnant, he rails; he calls his daughter a bastard and forces Antigonus to leave the child alone in a deserted area. Finally, coming to his senses, he realizes the awful truth. Through his jealousy, he loses his child, wife, and friends.
Polixenes (poh-LIHKS-eh-neez), the king of Bohemia. The innocent victim of Leontes’ wrath, he flees to his kingdom, bewildered by his friend’s outburst. Many years later, he is to meet Leontes under much happier circumstances.
Hermione (hur-MI-uh-nee), the queen to Leontes and one of the noblest women in Shakespearean drama. Like Polixenes, she is baffled by Leontes’ jealousy. Imprisoned, with her children snatched away from her, she remains in hiding with Paulina, his devoted friend, until she is reunited with her family after sixteen years.
Perdita (PUR-dih-tuh), the daughter of Leontes and Hermione. Luckily for her, after she is abandoned she is found by an old...
(The entire section is 515 words.)
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A Bohemian lord. He appears in the first scene and tells Camillo that Bohemia could not offer its guests the same magnificence that Sicilia has offered to the Bohemian entourage. He also speaks of the bond between Leontes and Polixenes.
A Sicilian lord and Leontes's trusted advisor. He is ordered by Leontes to poison Polixenes but instead informs Polixenes of Leontes's plot against him. Camillo guides Polixenes from Sicilia and accompanies him to Bohemia. Sixteen years later, Camillo laments his lost friendship with Leontes. After Camillo and Polixenes discover Florizel's relationship with Perdita, Camillo advises the young couple to flee for Sicilia. At the play's end, Leontes selects Camillo to be Paulina's husband.
King of Bohemia, boyhood friend of Leontes. Polixenes announces that after a nine-month stay in Sicilia, he must return to Bohemia. He refuses Leontes's request that he extend his visit; but after Hermione entreats him as well, he agrees. Polixenes flees for Bohemia when Camillo informs him that Leontes suspects Polixenes and Hermione are having an affair. Sixteen years later, Polixenes is infuriated by his son Florizel's desire to wed a young shepherd girl, who is really Perdita, Leontes' daughter.
King of Sicilia, boyhood friend of Polixenes. Leontes suddenly becomes convinced that...
(The entire section is 1047 words.)
Antigonus (Character Analysis)
Antigonus is a Sicilian lord married to Paulina. He opposes the brutal way Leontes treats Hermione and the baby girl to which Hermione has just given birth. He protests that Hermione has been faithful to Leontes and says, "If it prove / She's otherwise, I'll keep my stables where / I lodge my wife" (II.i.133-35), suggesting that if one as ideally gracious as Hermione has given in to lustful desires, all women are suspect, their sexual drive differing not at all from the notoriously lusty horses in the stables. When Paulina openly accuses the Sicilian king of being ignorant and obstinate, Leontes charges Antigonus to silence his wife. Antigonus, however, either cannot or does not immediately silence her, and Leontes says, "Thou dotar, thou art woman-tir'd, unroosted / By the Dame Partlet here" (II.iii.75-76). Leontes is suggesting that Antigonus is henpecked and unable to control his wife, eventually threatening Antigonus with a charge of treason if the latter does not do what Leontes commands. Antigonus swears his allegiance to Leontes and agrees to take the baby girl to some remote place and abandon it to live or die.
Antigonus next appears in the wilderness of Bohemia. Hermione has appeared to him in a dream, instructing him to name the baby Perdita and informing him that he will never see Paulina again for his part in the cruelty done Perdita. He lays Perdita down and places a bundle next to her. The bundle contains gold, letters written by Antigonus...
(The entire section is 331 words.)
Autolycus (Character Analysis)
Autolycus is a rogue and a thief. He encounters the clown (Perdita's adoptive brother), who is on his way to buy goods for the sheep-shearing festival to be held at the clown's father's home. Autolycus pretends to have been robbed, evoking the clown's sympathy. Autolycus then proceeds to pick the clown's pocket. When Autolycus finds out about the planned rustic festivities, he determines to attend and steal even more money. He is a huge success at the festival, selling his wares and picking the pockets of the guests there. The old shepherd and his clown son are just too gullible for Autolycus to leave them alone. As they make their way to Polixenes, intending to inform the Bohemian king of the secret surrounding Perdita's origin, Autolycus pretends to be a courtier and offers to be their advocate with the king. He misdirects them to the ship which is about to carry Perdita and Florizel to Sicilia, hoping that he can gain favor with the prince by revealing the existence of the mysterious bundle found by the infant Perdita's side. The prince, however, is concerned with Perdita's seasickness and pays little attention to Autolycus. When the contents of that bundle later confirm Perdita's royalty, benefiting the old shepherd and the clown in the process, Autolycus is chagrined to learn that he has done some good despite his selfish and dishonest intentions.
Autolycus contrasts sharply with the other characters in the play struggling to demonstrate their...
(The entire section is 729 words.)
Camillo (Character Analysis)
Camillo is a Sicilian lord and trusted advisor to Leontes. He agrees to poison Polixenes when Leontes insists that he do so. But Camillo cannot bring himself to carry out the task when the time comes. He informs Polixenes of Leontes's plot to kill him and agrees to guide Polixenes from Sicilia to safety, Polixenes assuring him that he will compensate the favor by awarding Camillo the same social status and financial security in Bohemia as he now enjoys in Sicilia. Leontes accuses Camillo, in his absence, of being a traitor, but Apollo's oracle absolves Camillo of those charges. When the play shifts to Bohemia, we find Camillo some sixteen years later pining for the friendship of Leontes. He feels sorry for Leontes, who has been grieving for his deceased wife and son and regretting his harsh treatment of his infant daughter. Camillo wants to visit Leontes, but Polixenes convinces him to put that visit off, enlisting Camillo in an effort to discover why Florizel spends so much time at the home of the old shepherd. He and Polixenes discover that Florizel is in love with Perdita, one whom they believe is a lowly shepherd girl, and Polixenes strenuously objects to the marriage and even threatens Perdita and her adoptive family. Camillo then counsels Florizel to take Perdita and sail to Sicilia. In his effort to find a way to visit Leontes, he knowingly puts Florizel and Perdita in danger of being found by Polixenes; Camillo hopes that once Polixenes discovers where his...
(The entire section is 374 words.)
Hermione (Character Analysis)
Hermione is the queen of Sicilia, Leontes's wife. Leontes asks her to try and convince Polixenes to extend his visit in Sicilia a bit longer, and Hermione does it a little too well. She, at least in Leontes's view, is a little too convincing as the gracious and flattering wife, engaging in an exchange of praises with Polixenes. Like the others around her, Hermione is amazed at Leontes's sudden and unstoppable hatred of her. He imprisons her, takes away her newborn infant, and causes his son to die of grief for his mother. At her trial, Hermione appears to be a beaten and fragile woman. She feels her pleas of innocence will fall on deaf ears and thinks it unfair that she is summoned to answer ridiculous charges against her when she is still weak from childbirth. She entrusts her fate to the decision of the oracle, which proclaims her innocent, an innocence Leontes continues to refute. But after it is announced that Mamillius has died, Hermione swoons and is taken away. Paulina reenters and says Hermione, too, has died. Hermione is not seen again until the end of the play when a statue of her allegedly comes to life. Even then, she is hesitant to be friendly with Polixenes for fear that Leontes might be upset. But Leontes encourages Polixenes and Hermione to embrace; he has learned his lesson.
Hermione is glorified and placed on a pedestal, both figuratively and literally, after her presumed death. In life she appears, like many people, to be desirous of...
(The entire section is 836 words.)
Leontes (Character Analysis)
Leontes is the king of Sicilia. His jealousy of Hermione and Polixenes precipitates the tragedy of the first part of the play. He acts irrationally against the evidence that shows Hermione to have been completely faithful to him. He plots to poison Polixenes, he imprisons Hermione, and he sends his defenseless infant child to a remote area of Bohemia to live or die as fate would have it. At the trial of his wife, Leontes denounces the truth of the oracle that proclaims Hermione innocent of adultery. Immediately following Leontes's rash speech, young Prince Mamillius dies, and it is announced that Hermione dies as well. For nearly twenty years, Leontes presumes his wife to be dead, and he seems to suffer great remorse for what he has done to both her and his children. At the end of the play, he is miraculously reunited with his daughter, Perdita, and a statue of Hermione comes to life and embraces him; she is not dead after all.
In his extreme jealousy, Leontes is like Shakespeare's Othello. But unlike Othello's jealousy which results from the external manipulations of the evil Iago, Leontes's jealousy seems to stem wholly from within himself. In the end, though, the distinction does not hold, for both men are in the powerful grip of the same human emotion.
We can almost feel that emotion when Leontes describes his reaction to Hermione placing her hand in the hand of Polixenes. He says in an aside,
Too hot, too...
(The entire section is 913 words.)
Perdita (Character Analysis)
Perdita is the daughter of Hermione and Leontes, born while her mother was held in prison at the direction of Perdita's father who thought Hermione an adulteress and Perdita a bastard. Her name means "the lost one," a name given to her by Antigonus after Hermione had appeared to him in a dream, instructing him to do so. Antigonus, on the orders of Leontes, left Perdita in the barren wilds of Bohemia where she was discovered and raised by an old shepherd. Perdita displays a beauty and grace that belies her homely origins. When Polixenes complains that his son, Florizel, spends too much time at the home of the old shepherd thought to be Perdita's father, Camillo says, "I have heard, sir, of such a man, who hath a daughter of most rare note: the report of her is extended more than can be thought to begin from such a cottage" (IV.ii.41-43). Perdita has gained a reputation for qualities far surpassing her social class. Even the old shepherd cannot refrain from praising her. When Polixenes says that she dances well, the old shepherd says, "So she does anything; though I report it, / That should be silent" (IV.iv.177-78).
The ultimate endorsement of her grace and beauty is the fact that Prince Florizel falls in love with her. He steadfastly persists in that love for her, despite Polixenes's efforts to keep them apart. Perdita loves Florizel with equal intensity. The old shepherd says, "I think there is not half a kiss to choose / Who loves another best"...
(The entire section is 373 words.)
Polixenes (Character Analysis)
Polixenes is the king of Bohemia. At the beginning of the play, he is visiting Leontes, the king of Sicilia. The two kings have been friends since childhood, Polixenes fondly remembering that childhood as one of carefree innocence as yet untempered by the realities of the world. The two were then indistinguishable in their innocence and energy. Polixenes reminds Leontes, "We were as twinn'd lambs that did frisk i' the sun / And bleat the one at th' other" (I.ii.66-67). Polixenes announces that he must return home, and Leontes insists that he stay longer. Polixenes, however, stubbornly refuses to give in to Leontes's request; he misses his own young son and must attend to affairs of state in Bohemia. Polixenes, though, relents when Hermione implores him to stay. Leontes interprets Hermione's ability to influence Polixenes as proof that the two are intimately involved. When Camillo informs Polixenes of Leontes's plan to kill him, Polixenes cannot understand what has happened to the friend who has ever been close to him and so much like himself. He flees to Bohemia.
Polixenes is more like Leontes than he would, perhaps, like to think. The world has hardened the two men in similar ways. Both are made self-indulgent by the power they wield. When Polixenes discovers that his son, Florizel, means to marry Perdita, one whom Polixenes believes is a low class shepherd girl, he breaks out in a burst of passion. He threatens both Perdita and her shepherd relatives...
(The entire section is 345 words.)
Paulina (Character Analysis)
Paulina is the wife of Antigonus. When she learns that Leontes has imprisoned Hermione on charges of adultery, Paulina goes to the prison to visit the queen. Learning that Hermione has just delivered a baby girl, Paulina takes the child to Leontes, hoping to evoke pity and a change of attitude from him. Leontes declares the child a bastard, and Paulina becomes incensed. Leontes has chosen the wrong woman to make angry; Paulina is relentless in her opposition to his rash and illogical behavior. After Hermione is declared dead, Paulina hounds Leontes with her memory for sixteen years, functioning as his conscience, keeping him constantly remorseful and contrite. In the last act, several of Leontes's counselors urge him to marry and produce an heir to his kingdom. Paulina objects, reminding him of the oracle's pronouncement that he would remain without an heir until what was lost had been found. She encourages Leontes to choose an heir as the great Alexander did, on merit. Leontes agrees with her and dutifully admits that had he listened to her years ago, Hermione would still be alive. In his preface to this admission, he refers to Antigonus's wife as "Good Paulina / Who hast the memory of Hermione … " (V.i.49-50). This description is exactly correct. Paulina is the keeper of Hermione, both her memory and her living person. It is Paulina who announces that Hermione has died, and it is Paulina who keeps the statue of Hermione—a statue which, according to the...
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Other Characters (Descriptions)
Archidamus is a Bohemian lord, part of Polixenes's entourage visiting the palace of Leontes in Sicilia. He appears in the first scene of the play telling Camillo that Bohemia will not be able to match the magnificence of Sicilia's offerings to their guests if their roles are ever reversed. He and Camillo also speak about the great bond between Leontes and Polixenes, and Archidamus praises the young Prince Mamillius.
Cleomines is a Sicilian lord. He, along with Dion, is sent to Apollo's temple at Delphos with directions to bring back to Leonte's palace in Sicilia the oracle, the god Apollo's revelation of what was determined to be the truth concerning the accusation against Hermione. He and Dion make the trip to Delphos and back quite quickly. On their way back, in III.i, they discuss how impressed they were with the awe-inspiring proceedings at Apollo's temple. They also acknowledge that the contents of the oracle have been sealed by Apollo's high priest; they are ignorant of the decision of the oracle. When they arrive in Sicilia, the trial of Hermione is already in progress, and they deliver the oracle to an officer who reads it publicly. At the beginning of the last act of the play,...
(The entire section is 2753 words.)