Once upon a time in Sicilia there was a King called Leontes and Queen called Hermione. When our story begins, they have a young son – Mamilius – and Hermione is pregnant and due to give birth any day. Polixenes, the King of Bohemia and Leontes’ dearest friend, is staying with them at court when suddenly, out of nowhere, Leontes not only accuses Polixenes of having an affair with Hermione, but insists that the baby isn’t his and must be Polixenes’.
Leontes, in his fury, imprisons Hermione and orders his faithful advisor, Camillo, to poison Polixenes. But Camillo, instead, tells Polixenes to flee back to Bohemia and Camillo goes with him for their safety.
Antigonus, a Lord of Sicilia, pleads the Queen’s innocence, but Leontes will not listen. While in prison, Hermione gives birth to a baby girl and Paulina, her devoted friend, takes the baby to Leontes and pleads with him to free his wife. The infuriated King will not listen and orders Antigonus to take the baby girl away and abandon her.
The tragedy compounds. Hermione is put on trial for treason and adultery followed by the news that Mamillius, distraught by the events in his family, has died. Hermione collapses, and Paulina announces that the Queen, too, is dead. Leontes – shocked into realising that his behaviour has caused the death of his son and his wife as well as the exile of his baby daughter – is filled with remorse and goes into mourning.
Meanwhile, Antigonus, sailing across the sea to abandon the baby princess is visited by a vision of Hermione, who tells him to take her daughter to Bohemia and to call her Perdita, which means ‘lost’. Antigonus abandons baby Perdita on the shores of Bohemia during a terrible storm and is eaten by a bear!
An old shepherd and his son find the abandoned child, along with gold, a shawl and a letter which prove her identity. They celebrate their new found wealth with glee and decide to adopt Perdita as their own.
Sixteen years pass and it is the day of a big sheep-shearing festival in Bohemia! Perdita has grown up and fallen in love with a young man, Florizel – the only son of King Polixenes and thus heir to the throne of Bohemia. Polixenes is unhappy … Florizel really shouldn’t be paying attention to a mere shepherd’s daughter!
A travelling entertainer called Autolycus provides songs and trinkets for the festival but tricks the Bohemians out of their money and picks their pockets. They are all enjoying themselves so much, they don’t notice his cheating ways.
At the height of the celebrations, Florizel announces his love for Perdita and asks her to marry him! Camillo, worried about how badly Polixenes has taken the news, sends Florizel and Perdita back to Sicilia, to seek refuge with Leontes.
The shepherds remember the letter and the shawl that prove that Perdita is not a shepherd’s daughter but is, instead, a long-lost princess and follow the young couple. The shepherds are in their turn pursued by Polixenes and Camillo.
Back at last in Sicilia, Leontes, Polixenes and Camillo forgive each other and Florizel and Perdita are married. But Paulina has a surprise to celebrate Perdita’s homecoming: she reveals a lifelike statue of Hermione. When Leontes touches it, the statue breathes and Leontes realises his wife is alive!
And so, Perdita, who was lost, is found and all are reconciled.