The themes of reconciliation and forgiveness integral to Shakespearean romance are nowhere more movingly dramatized than in The Winter's Tale, a work that shows the playwright gaining control as he works in this yet experimental form. The story, adapted from the novel Pandosto ( 1588) by Robert Greene, is carefully structured in two parts, and, like Cymbeline, incorporates elements of tragedy, history, comedy, and pastoral. Here, too, we feel an allegorical tone, although it is balanced by realistic emotions and desires.
The work begins with a scene of exposition, as Camillo and Archidamus provide the background on Leontes, King of Sicilia, and his friend from boyhood, Polixenes, King of Bohemia. After Archidamus comments on the insufficiency of Bohemian hospitality, and hints at competition between the countries, Camillo dramatizes in detail the friendship of the two rulers (I, i, 21-32), and this bond appears so extraordinary that it invites challenge. The two speakers also dwell briefly on the winsomeness of Mamillius, Leontes's son:
They that went on crutches ere he was born desire yet their life to see him a man. (I, i, 39-41)
Mamillius is thus presented as the embodiment of the future: the spirit of life manifested in youth. In light of subsequent events, such faith in this particular young person proves ironic.
Scene ii introduces the main characters, and minor tension between them arises at once. Polixenes announces that he has been away from his homeland for nine months and is now prepared to return home (I, ii, 1-9). Leontes, somewhat perfunctorily, requests that his friend stay, and as Polixenes refuses elegantly, Leontes insists, although with curt sentences (I, ii, 9-10, 15-16, 17, 18-19). Thus the anxiety is exacerbated. Leontes then asks Hermione to make the request, and she complies, although not without a gibe at Leontes: "You, sir,/ Charge him too coldly" (I,ii, 29-30). She then attempts her persuasion