The “tale” of The Winter’s Tale unfolds in scenes set sixteen years apart. In the first part of the play, Leontes, king of Sicilia, plays host to his friend Polixenes, king of Bohemia. Suddenly, Leontes becomes unreasonably jealous of Polixenes and Leontes’s pregnant wife, Hermione. Leontes calls for Polixenes to be killed, but he escapes.
Hermione, under arrest, gives birth to a daughter; Leontes orders the baby to be taken overseas and abandoned. The death of the couple’s young son, Mamillius, brings Leontes to his senses, too late. Word arrives that Hermione, too, has died. In Bohemia, a shepherd finds and adopts the baby girl, Perdita.
Sixteen years later, the story resumes. Polixenes’s son, Florizell, loves Perdita. When Polixenes forbids the unequal match, the couple flees to Sicilia, where the tale reaches its conclusion. Perdita’s identity as a princess is revealed, allowing her and Florizell to marry; Leontes and Polixenes reconcile; and Hermione returns in the form of a statue, steps down from its pedestal, and reunites with her family.