Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Sicily. Island off the southern tip of the Italian peninsula in which the play opens, with Polixenes, the king of Bohemia, visiting his old friend Leontes, the king of Sicily. In Shakespeare’s time, Sicily had a reputation for crimes of jealousy and revenge that Shakespeare used in this play by having Leontes turn against Polixenes when he suspects that his friend is having an affair with his wife. Leontes’ Sicilian heritage—and the play’s insightful analyses of a jealousy so intense that it is mad—puts in context his irrational behavior in rejecting his pregnant wife Hermione and their son Mamilius. Leontes consults the Greek oracle at Delphi and rejects its judgment against his delusions. Following his son’s death, Leontes finally accepts his guilt and undertakes familiar Christian penances, performed with saintly sorrow. The final scene is in a chapel, in which the statue of the supposedly dead Hermione comes alive in a resurrection that restores lost ones, so that the sad tale for winter has a happy ending.


*Bohemia. Mountainous inland country that now forms part of the Czech Republic. The play alludes to Bohemia’s having a seacoast, but it is accessible by water only on rivers. Known as a site of romantic adventure in Shakespeare’s time, Bohemia is a place where a bear eats a man shipwrecked in a storm, shepherds care for an abandoned infant, and young love thrives. Shakespeare both moved the pastoral celebration of Arcadia from its southern location to a northern clime bathed in light and made it a realistic sheep-shearing. But the regeneration of this spring/summer festival is marred by the jealousy and wrath of Polixenes, the wronged friend of the opening. When all return to Sicily, where there was “winter/ In storm perpetual,” calm and light come with forgiveness and the promise of fruitfulness in the marriage of Perdita and Florizel.