What is the importance of the title The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A "winter's tale" would have been understood by contemporary audiences as a fairy story or fable, not a realistic tale. It would also have been understood to be a story with a happy ending, though some of the play's darker motifs are alluded to when, near the beginning of the play, Mamillius says, "a sad tale's best for winter." One sad element is the lack of power Hermione has to defend herself against Leontes's irrational jealousy and accusations of unfaithfulness.

The title may also allude to the plot element of the innocent Hermione being frozen for many years. To the extent that this is Hermione's tale, it is a winter's tale in that she spends most of her time "dead" and frozen to the world that once knew her, just as winter is a frozen season. Her coming to life and her reconciliation with Leontes, however, gives the "winter's tale" its requisite happy ending.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The significance of the title of the play 'The Winter's Tale' by William Shakespeare is referred to in the text in several ways. Firstly, homes in those days were barely heated, especially those of the poor. People who could afford it had a fire, but usually no more than one - so to keep warm everyone would haver to sit together around it. The longest, coldest nights were in the winter and there was no television and little entertainment other than storytelling - so winter stories had to be good - and either long or numerous to fill the lengthy evenings. It is said in 'A Winter's Tale' that 'a sad tale's best for winter' so Shakespeare offers one that is based on the Classics with myths, legends and mysterious creatures.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial