When was the play written? And what stories inspired Shakespeare to write it?
It is generally agreed that The Winter's Tale was written around 1609-11.
The first recorded performance of the play was at The Globe on 15 May 1611, and later that year it was presented at Whitehall before King James I.
In 1613 the play was presented as part of the wedding celebrations of James' daughter Elizabeth to Frederick V, later King of Bohemia.
It was first printed at the end of the Comedies section in the First Folio in 1623.
Shakespeare's principal source was Robert Greene's popular novella Pandosto: The Triumph of Time, first published in 1588 and then reprinted in 1607 as Dorastus and Fawnia. Although there are frequent linguistic echoes of Greene's tale, Shakespeare changed the character names and introduced several alterations to the plot.
He makes Leontes' suspicion of Hermione more groundless than in the original and revises the original story's tragic ending: in Greene's version, the Leontes character kills himself after discovering he has lusted after his own daughter.
The characters Paulina, Antigonus and Autolycus do not appear in the source and are Shakespearean invention.
Also absent from the source is the bear. Shakespeare may have been inspired to introduce one by Mucedorus, a chivalric romance which had been revived at court around 1610 and which included scenes featuring a bear.
It has been speculated both that Shakespeare was responsible for writing additional scenes for the revival of Mucedorus and that live bears would have been used in performance at this time, specifically polar bear cubs belonging to King James, though the evidence for either claim is not conclusive.