Leontes becomes prisoner to the story he has created in his own mind (Hermione's adultery).
in The Winter's Tale Shakespeare reveals King Leontes' destruction of his happiness when Leontes confuses his jealous imagination with reality; then the playwright finally reconstructs the family and the happiness of Leontes, after Leontes has passed a sufficient number of years in sincere repentance.
Leontes seems delighted that Hermione has convinced Polixenes to stay, but suddenly he reveals that he is jealous of Polixenes. Seeing that Leontes is upset, Hermione and Polixenes ask him what is wrong. Leontes, however, avoids a truthful answer by claiming that he is merely remembering when he was the age of his
Leontes takes a walk with his son, Mamillius, thinking that this will set up Polixenes and Hermione for a compromising situation. Hermione, however, innocently discloses where she and Polixenes will be, and Leontes indulges in satiric swipes at her imagined infidelity. Then he sends Mamillius off to play, before asking for Camillo's assessment of the relationship between Hermione and Polixenes. Camillo's straightforward responses, however, are twisted by the jealous king, and Camillo protests: The imagined bawdiness which Leontes interprets from his wife's and Polixenes' actions is wrong.
Leontes then tries to extract an agreement that his list of observed actions (between Hermione and Polixenes) proves that his wife's and Polixenes' affair is a reality. Camillo urges the king to heal "this diseased opinion," but Leontes cannot be convinced. He suggests that Camillo poison Polixenes. Camillo admits that he could do it, but he states that he will never believe that Hermione was unfaithful. Camillo agrees to poison Polixenes if Leontes promises not to reveal what he believes about Hermione. Leontes promises, then joins the innocent couple. Beset by protests from his astonished advisers, Leontes insists that they refuse to see the evidence before them. The king quiets the protesters by revealing that he has sent for an interpretation from the oracle at Delphos.
After the birth of Hermione's baby (a girl), Paulina, the wife of one of the lords of Sicilia, Antigonus, attempts to persuade Leontes to retract his accusations as she presents his beautiful, innocent baby to him. But she selects a poor time to approach Leontes. He has just stated that killing Hermione would allow him to sleep again,
The message declares that Hermione, Polixenes, Camillo and the baby are all innocent. It further states that Leontes is "a jealous tyrant" and asserts that "the King shall live without an heir, if that which is lost be not found." Leontes declares that the message contains no truth, and he orders the trial to proceed. Just then, a servant announces that Mamillius has died. Hermione seems to faint, and Paulina announces that the news has killed the queen.
The Chorus narrates that a bridge in time occurs at the opening of Act IV, and it also summarizes the highlights of an interim of sixteen years. Then, Polixenes and Camillo enter in the middle of an argument about Camillo's decision to return to Leontes after his long sixteen-year separation. Polixcnes warns him that returning could be fatal to Camillo. Besides, he needs Camillo. Camillo, however, wants to return to his native country for he is growing old, and he thinks that he can comfort the now-repentant Leontes.
The final scene at Hermione's statue is the setting for the play's "renewal." When they first enter, Leontes is suffering, but Perdita steadfastly stares at the lifelike statue. Paulina then amazes them all by commanding the statue to move. At last, Hermione speaks, and everyone learns that she has remained alive (but hidden) all these sixteen years. As they all exit to enjoy their new happiness, Leontes ends Paulina's loneliness by choosing the good Camillo to be her husband.
Leontes The King of Sicilia. As noted by Polixenes at the beginning of the play, Leontes has everything that love, loyalty, family and power can provide — until he is dominated by jealousy and tyranny. After he has caused those most dear to him to die and disappear, he repents for sixteen years until he is ready to be offered a second chance for happiness. When he is again given the opportunity for love and loyalty, he is ready to cultivate and encourage these qualities, because he now understands and appreciates their values.