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A sad tale's best for winter...
—Mamillius, The Winter's Tale II.i
The Winter's Tale is a tragicomedy (or romance, depending on your point of view) by William Shakespeare.
The plot is thus: King Leontes of Sicilia unreasonably suspects his wife, Hermione, of having an affair with his best friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia. Believing his newborn daughter Perdita is illegitimate, he sends Hermione to prison and orders his manservant Antigonus to abandon Perdita in the wilderness. Hermione pleads for reason, to no avail.
Leontes' other child, prince Mamillius, dies because he has been separated from his mother, and soon after, Hermione dies as well. Leontes realizes his error, and decides to grieve his family for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, Antigonus bemoans his job, but leaves the infant Perdita in a wild area of Bohemia, before being devoured by a bear. A shepherd and his son find the baby and resolve to care for her.
Flashforward sixteen years! Time itself comes onstage to tell the audience that Florizel, Polixenes's son, has fallen for Perdita (who knows nothing of her royal heritage). His father is none-too-pleased and decides to spy on them at a sheep-shearing festival. Florizel, after being confronted by his father, flees with Perdita to Sicilia, and everyone (including Lovable Rogue Autolycus) pursues. There, Perdita's heritage is revealed. Father and daughter reunite, just as a statue of Hermione is brought onstage. Amazingly, the statue comes to life, and so the happy family is together once more.  Autolycus becomes the servant of Perdita's foster father, and all loose ends are tied up nicely.
The play is famous for a number of things: the vast difference in tone between the first part, which plays out like a tragedy, and the second part, which is more of a pastoral comedy; the Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane scene at the end, where Hermione's statue comes to life; the name Hermione, which became famous in a certain book series; and of course, the proof that even Shakespeare knew Everything's Worse with Bears.
Trope Namer for
Tropes in The Winter's Tale:
- Aerith and Bob: Paulina and her husband Antigonus (and the king Leontes, and the other king Polixenes, etc etc etc)
- Arcadia: Bohemia, where it is always spring, unlike wintry Sicilia.
- You Fail Geography Forever: Ben Jonson's reaction to the "seacoast of Bohemia," was more or less this (Bohemia is more or less where the Czech Republic is right now). Debate rages about whether Shakespeare was trying to get someone's goat with that, or if he Just Didn't Care.
- The Other Wiki offers various explanations for this geographical error, one being that in the past the lands of Bohemia did border the Adriatic coast.
- Babies Make Everything Better: Paulina tries to invoke this. It's hard on the baby.
- The Barnum: Autolycus
- Break the Haughty: Hermione's death does this to Leontes. Turns out it was intentionally invoked by Paulina and Hermione.
- Everything's Worse with Bears
- Exit, Pursued by a Bear: The most famous stage direction ever written is the Trope Namer.
- Faux Death: Hermione
- Green-Eyed Monster: The explanation for Leontes' behaviour, though even that doesn't excuse the stuff he pulls.
- Kangaroo Court: Hermione's trial.
- King Incognito: Polixenes spying on his son.
- Lovable Rogue: Autolycus
- Mad Oracle: Completely averted; oracles have never been so blunt.
- Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Leontes suspects the paternity of both his son and his daughter
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It could be that the statue of Hermione really does come to life. It could also be that her servant, Paulina, kept her hidden for years and only decided to reveal it once her daughter shows up.
- Meaningful Name: Perdita comes from the Latin word for "lost." In Greek mythology, Autolycus was son of Hermes, god of thieves, and was a well-known crook.
- Mistaken for Cheating: Hermione
- Mood Whiplash: So much. It starts out as a tragedy, then swings around into a comedy, complete with romance and wacky hijinks.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Leontes.
- Moses in the Bulrushes: Perdita
- One Mario Limit: Readers new to the story for the past decade come with a strong association of the name "Hermione" to an altogether more modern piece of British literature. Many Shakespeare professors have noted that they have at least been relieved of the need to explain the pronunciation of the name to their students.
- In reality she was probably named after a character from Classical Mythology, the daughter of Helen of Troy.
- Pair the Spares: Paulina & Camillo.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Subverted; various disguises adopted are transparent to various degrees
- Rags to Royalty
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Paulina spends half her scenes chewing out Leontes.
- Royal Blood: Perdita.
Polixenes: "Nothing she does or seems
- Second Hand Storytelling: Perdita's reunion with her father as well as the resolving of many of the plots takes place entirely off screen, and instead we have a conversation between a few gentlemen, one of which notes how amazing it was and how it would have been a shame to miss it.
- Time Skip: Sixteen years pass between the third and fourth acts.
- Title Drop: See page quote.
- You Have Waited Long Enough: The courtiers try this on Leontes, arguing that he needs an heir.
- Except Mamillius, he kinda gets screwed