Summary of Acts 1-3
v Act 1- The audience/ readers are made aware of the current state of affairs in the play by a lord of Sicilia and Bohemia. King Polixenes is visiting his friend King Leontes of Sicilia. He has been at the palace for nine months and is ready to depart. The King attempts to make him say but is unsuccessful. However his wife Hermione is able to persuade the Bohemian king to stay. Her ability to do this has planted in the king, a seed of jealousy. From then on Leontes becomes madly motivated by jealousy. He suspiciously inspects his son Mamillius to prove whether he is his father or not and regards Polixenes and Hermione’s interactions closely.
Leontes then summons Camillo and asks if he has noticed anything suspicious between Polixenes and Hermione. Camillo says no but is unsuccessful in convincing the King that he is mistaken. He is the given orders to poison Polixenes. However, he does not comply and shares the plans with Polixenes. The two then flee to Bohemia.
v Act 2 – In the beginning of this Act we see the interaction between Hermione and her son Mamillius. Mamillius recounts a sad tale to his mother which coincides with the winter atmosphere. Leontes then storms into the room and publicly accuses Hermione of being adulterous. Hermione tries to refute his claims but is unsuccessful and is imprisoned. After Hermione is taken away Antigonus tries to plead with the King but the King is already convinced that he is right. However, he decides to ask the oracle of Delphi for a prophecy and sends 2 men on the journey.
Paulina, loyal to Hermione, tries to visit the Queen but is denied by the guards. She is able to speak to one of the ladies (Emilia) and finds out that the Queen has had a baby daughter. With some reluctance by the guard Paulina is able to take the baby with her to show Leontes. An action that she believes will change the King’s mind about the entire affair.
Mamillius, the young prince falls ill due to the absence of his mother, however, the jealous Leontes attributes this to him suffering because of his mother’s shame. Paulina then presents the baby to Leontes who becomes furious. He asks Antigonus if he cannot control his wife. Paulina then speaks out and openly argues with the King, and act which defies the traditional role of women at that time. When Paulina leaves the King tells Antigonus to dispose of the baby by burning it, after some pleading by Antigonus he orders him to leave it in the wilderness.
v Act 3- On their way back from the oracle of Delphi, Cleomentes and Dion discuss the atmosphere and remark that their journey was pleasant. They also express their hope of the Queen’s innocence. In the mean time, Leontes holds a case in court regarding Hermione’s adultery, he also charges her with treason for involvement in the escape of Camillo and Polixenes. Hermione pleads and defends herself by saying her blatant loyalty makes her innocent. The two men then enter the court with the oracle’s prophecy. Hermione is found innocent of course and the King is regarded as a jealous tyrant. The oracle also prophesizes that he will be without an heir if he does not find Perdita. However, in his jealous madness he disregards the oracle’s prophecy. A servant then enters and announces that Mamillius has died, consequently Hermione faints and is later pronounced dead. The King belatedly realizes that he has been wrong all along; Paulina fiercely defends the Queen and blames him for her death. Leontes promises to visit his son and wife’s grave once every day and also promises to repent for all his sins.
Meanwhile, Antigonus who is unaware of the oracle’s prophecy has arrived at the Bohemian coast with the baby. In an aside, he tells the audience that Hermione appeared to him in a dream bearing the child’s name (Perdita) and telling him that he would not see Sicilia or his wife again. He then lays Perdita down and lays jewels and a note with her name around her. He is chased away by a bear and after a while, a shepherd and his son come upon Perdita. The clown establishes that he saw a bear kill a man (Antigonus). They vow to raise the baby as their own.