Act 4 Scene 4
At the sheep-shearing, Perdita is decked out in festive clothes, and Florizel, who is dressed like a shepherd, praises her for being not a shepherdess but Flora the goddess. Perdita responds with a modest grace that befits her sweet nature, but she also expresses concern that Polixenes may come by and be angry that they are both dressed up in this way. Florizel tells her not to worry, for the gods themselves have often taken on different forms: Apollo himself appeared as a humble shepherd. Perdita is not convinced, and still fears the power of the king, should they be discovered. Florizel again tells her to put such thoughts aside. He promises that he will be true to her, whatever happens. Then he tells her to be cheerful, because the guests are arriving.
The Old Shepherd, Clown, Mopsa and Dorcas enter, as well as the disguised Camillo and Polixenes. Old Shepherd tells the retiring Perdita to welcome their guests and act like a hostess. She is, after all, Mistress of the Feast. Perdita obeys her father, welcoming Polixenes and Camillo and giving them flowers. Polixenes comments that she has given them winter flowers, to which Perdita replies that their garden does not have carnations or gillyvors, which she does not like because they are cultivated by cross-breeding. Therefore they are not really part of nature ("nature's bastards"). Polixenes contradicts her by arguing that man-made improvements in nature are also natural, since humans are also part of the natural world. Perdita, however, is not convinced, and sticks to her original opinion. She gives Polixenes and Camillo more flowers, and tells Florizel, Mopsa and the girls that she wishes she had some spring flowers, such as daffodils, violets, primroses, oxlips and lilies to give them. Florizel then makes a very poetic speech to Perdita, in praise of her speech, her singing, and her dancing. She seems like a queen to him. Perdita modestly says that he exaggerates, but she knows the purity of his feelings for her, and she does not doubt them. Polixenes, watching the scene, says to Camillo that Perdita is the prettiest shepherdess he has ever seen; everything about her suggests that she is more than a mere country girl.
There is music and the shepherds and shepherdesses dance. Polixenes asks the shepherd who Perdita is dancing with (it is of course his own son). The shepherd replies that the man is known as Doricles, and that he has no doubt that Doricles and Perdita are deeply in love.
A servant enters and announces to Clown that there is a peddler at the door. The servant is full of praise for all the different kinds of songs that the peddler sings. The peddler is also selling his wares, which include ribbons, laces, and linen. The peddler is of course Autolycus, who enters singing a song inviting everyone to buy from him.
Clown wants to acquire some gifts for his sweetheart Mopsa, and Dorcas teases her that Clown has promised her more than that (implying that he has asked her to marry him). After Mopsa replies, Clown tells her to stop gossiping. He then says he cannot buy her the neckcloth and gloves he promised because he was robbed of all his money. Autolycus warns that there are tricksters about and everyone should be wary. Then he speaks about the printed ballads he has for sale and tells everyone about the stories they tell. Autolycus, Mopsa and Dorcas then sing one of the ballads together. Clown leads Mopsa and Dorcas away, leaving Autolycus to sing one more song before he too exits.
Twelve countrymen (shepherds, cowherds, swineherds, carters) enter disguised as satyrs and perform a dance. After this, Polixenes speaks to Florizel, chiding him for not buying his sweetheart anything from Autolycus. Florizel, who does not recognize his disguised father, replies that Perdita has no interest in such trifles; the gift he gives her is his heart. Even if he were a king, he says, and had great power and knowledge, he would not value any of those things if he did not have Perdita's love. Polixenes and Camillo are impressed by his words, and the shepherd, after having ascertained that Perdita feels the same way about Florizel, gives his daughter to Florizel in marriage. Florizel wants the ceremony to be performed immediately, and calls for witnesses. But Polixenes asks him whether his father knows about his plans. After Florizel replies that he does not, Polixenes says that a father should be present at the marriage of his son and should be consulted about his son's plans. Florizel acknowledges that this is so, but says he has his reasons for not telling his father, but he is not prepared to divulge what they are. Polixenes insists that Florizel inform his father, and the shepherd tries to persuade him as well. But Florizel will not give in. Polixenes then reveals who he is, and angrily denounces his son for wanting to marry so far beneath his social station. He sentences the shepherd to death by hanging, and accuses Perdita of using witchcraft on Florizel in order to gain his love. Then he tells Florizel that if he should express even a sigh of regret that he can no longer see Perdita, he, Polixenes, will disown him completely, denying him the royal succession. He rescinds the death sentence on the shepherd but threatens Perdita with death if she should go near Florizel again.
After Polixenes exits, Perdita is resigned to losing Florizel. The shepherd appears not to have heard that Polixenes reprieved him, and expects to be hanged. He curses his daughter, believing that she knew Florizel was a prince.
Florizel insists that nothing has changed. He still wants to marry Perdita, even if it means he is disinherited by his father. Camillo, who has put his disguise aside, tries to warn him against this course of action, but Florizel will not be persuaded. He is determined to honor his vow, and says he does not intend to see his father again. He plans to take Perdita away by sea, but he will not tell Camillo what their destination might be. Camillo has to think quickly and make a plan that will save Florizel and also allow him, Camillo, to see Leontes again in Sicilia. He tells Florizel to go ahead and marry Perdita, and he will try to appease Polixenes. When Florizel questions him, Camillo reveals his hastily conceived plan: Florizel is to go to Silesia and present himself and his wife to Leontes. Camillo believes that Leontes will welcome them, regard Florizel as a son and ask him for forgiveness, as if Florizel were Polixenes, the man Leontes wronged. Camillo further instructs Florizel that he should tell Leontes that Polixenes sent him. Camillo says he will provide written notes for Florizel to follow that will convince Leontes that Florizel is indeed expressing Polixenes' wishes. Florizel likes the plan, but says he is not dressed as a prince should be to present himself to Leontes. Camillo assures him that this problem will be overcome.
As they talk aside, Autolycus enters. He is in a good mood because he has sold all his trinkets. He has also picked some pockets, which he was able to do because everyone's attention was on Clown, who was singing one of the ballads Autolycus had sold.
Camillo, Florizel and Perdita emerge from their conference, and Camillo sees Autolycus. Autolycus hopes they have not overheard him, or he will face hanging. Camillo reassures him that they mean him no harm. But he does ask Autolycus to exchange clothes with Florizel (so that Florizel can leave the country unnoticed). Camillo tells Perdita to take Florizel's hat and pull it down over her brow to disguise herself. The last part of Camillo's plan is to inform Polixenes of where the lovers have fled. He hopes that Polixenes will then make his way to Leontes' court, and that the two men will be reconciled.
Clown and his father enter. Clown is trying to convince the shepherd that he should tell Polixenes the circumstances in which they found the baby Perdita, and explain to the king that she is not the shepherd's blood daughter. Clown hopes that this will get his father out of trouble with the king. The shepherd agrees to this course of action, and they decide to go straight to the king. But then they encounter Autolycus, in his borrowed clothes. They do not recognize him and instead take him for some important courtier, because he is wearing Prince Florizel's clothes. (Florizel was earlier described as being in festive garb for the sheep-shearing-probably a country swain's clothes. But from this incident it appears that there must have been something aristocratic about his outfit, since Clown and Old Shepherd take him for a courtier.) Autolycus interrogates them both, taking advantage of the awe with which they regard him. It comes out that they are going to see the king, but Autolycus frightens them by telling them that the king will torture and hang a shepherd for trying to get his daughter married off to a prince. The son will suffer similar tortures too. Autolycus knows perfectly well he is talking to the men concerned, but he does not reveal that he knows this, and neither do Old Shepherd and Clown confess that they are the shepherd and son in question. But this does not stop them from responding when Autolycus says he will take them to Florizel, and put in a good word for them, if they make it worth his while (that is, if they bribe him). The shepherd gives Autolycus some gold, and the agreement is made. After the shepherd and Clown exit, Autolycus, left alone, anticipates that he may be able to use this business to his advantage.
This scene introduces the young lovers who will be the instruments by which the tragic events of the first three acts will be redeemed. Florizel shows himself to be completely devoted to Perdita, for all the right reasons (since he has no idea she is really a princess), and Perdita is the embodiment of natural grace, beauty and goodness. As a shepherdess, she understands nature perfectly, and is the embodiment of the "great creating nature" whose power to bring about new life and regenerate the old is really the subject of this long scene. Everything in this scene speaks of burgeoning life, whereas the first three acts were a story of death and destruction.
The pastoral idyll is interrupted by the explosion of anger from Polixenes, who performs a similar function in this scene as Leontes did in the earlier acts. With his refusal to accept the love of Florizel for Perdita, he disrupts the smooth, harmonious flow of life. He is presented as not quite as bad as Leontes, however, since he does rescind the death sentence on Old Shepherd that he passed in anger. But his behavior is another example of the intolerance of the older generation that has to be redeemed by the love of the young.
The Winter's Tale: Novel Summary: Act 4 Scene 4
Act 4 Scene 4