The Winter's Tale


William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale text guide


The Winter’s Tale is one of the later plays by Shakespeare, and is sometimes therefore classified by critics as one of the Last Plays. However, it is also known (since the C19th) as a Romance Play:
This does not mean ‘romance’ in the sense of ‘a love story’, though all four plays usually classified as Shakespearean Romances – Cymbeline, Pericles, The Tempest, and The Winter’s Tale - certainly involve love between men and women.

It is much closer to the idea of the ‘romances’ of medieval times. Romances, like the story of Pandosto by Robert Greene which is the main source of Shakespeare’s play, were tales written in the so-called Romance languages of French, Spanish and Portuguese in which fantasy and the supernatural played a large part. The genre had a wide vogue from Classical times (e.g. Apuleius’ Golden Ass) into the medieval period (e.g. stories of King Arthur and his knights) and later.

The play shows what happens when self-centred obsession – in this case, Leontes’ irrational jealousy – sets out on a path of destruction. However, it also shows that faith, hope and unselfish love can overcome such evil. It also shows the power of divine grace (see Themes and significant ideas) which can lead to repentance and redemption.


William Shakespeare

William ShakespeareA prolific writer of plays and poems, Shakespeare became well-known in London around 1592. The theatre his had shares in, The Globe, staged many of his plays from 1598. Read more . . .

Context of The Winter's Tale

Elizabethan IShakespeare was born just after the middle of the sixteenth century, a century which, in England, was fraught with extraordinary events. It was marked by discord, violence and change, particularly affecting the monarchy and the practice of the Christian religion in England. Read more . . .

Dive in to The Winter's Tale text guide

Synopses and commentary - Scene by scene synopsis, commentary and analysis of the entire play.

Characters in the play - Detailed analysis of all the main characters in The Winter's Tale and their role in the overall plot.

The Winter's Tale Timeline - Helpfully puts history, literary events and Marlowe's life side by side so you can make sense of events.

Structure - Research the different structures in the play, such as the time scale used.

The Winter's Tale e-book - Read the play and research the text, all for free and online.

How to do well in your essays

Decide what the key words of the question are, and underline them.

If you are asked to analyse an extract, read it through two or three times.

Do not adopt the first possible approach - be willing to dispute the terms of the question if you are given the opportunity.

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