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.
Mamillius Young son of Leontes; Prince of Sicilia. At a young age, Mamillius is wrenched away from his mother and forbidden to see her again. The moody, precocious boy dies, presumably of a broken heart, before his mother's sexual fidelity and innocence is accepted by his father. Mamillius' death seems, to Leontes, to be a punishment by the gods and causes Leontes to realize that his persecution of his wife has been a horrible mistake.
Camillo A lord of Sicilia with a natural inclination to be a valuable friend. After he decides to join Polixenes rather than kill him, Camillo becomes just as valuable an adviser to the Bohemian king as he had been to Leontes. He is also wise and skilled enough to reconcile the love between Polixenes and his son, Florizel, into a tapestry of reunion and reconciliation among all the surviving, original sufferers in the play.
Antigonus Another lord of Sicilia. He seems to be the most influential lord in Leontes' court after Camillo leaves. Unfortunately, he does not possess the necessary skills to counter the chaos and madness caused by Leontes' temporary tyranny. He cannot control his wife, Paulina, nor can he contrive a humane fate for the infant Perdita. He deserves sympathy, however, for trying his best and for placing Perdita in the right place at the right time for both survival and a return to the life for which she was born. Antigonus suffers more than circumstances justify, however, when he is chased and devoured by a bear.
Cleomenes and Dion Two more lords of Sicilia. Their most important role in the play is to fetch and deliver the oracle's message from Delphos.
Polixenes King of Bohemia and childhood friend of Leontes. When Leontes ends their friendship, Polixenes develops in a different and more wholesome way. But he has his own personal crisis, which involves the perfidy of his son, Florizel. Unlike Leontes, Polixenes seeks advice at the time that he seeks facts, and although Polixenes ignores advice at the climax of his crisis, his wise choice of an adviser and his absence of tyranny eventually contribute to the concluding reconciliation at the end of the play.
Florizel The son of Polixenes; Prince of Bohemia. A brash and high-spirited young man, he is willing to throw away all responsibilities, loyalty, and filial love in exchange for the chance to live with and love Perdita. Because he listens to Camillo and cares about Perdita, he is able to emerge from his ardent, youthful fantasy without destroying anyone. But he is tempted by headstrong emotions, a key to his character that is, he is capable of being selfish and self-centered.
Archidamus A lord of Bohemia who plays no further role after he has described the barrenness of Bohemia in the opening scene.
Old Shepherd The shepherd who finds and raises Perdita. For some reason, he has no name. Although he does appropriate the gold that was left with his foundling "daughter," he otherwise seems to raise Perdita in a fair and nurturing atmosphere. For instance, no character is aware of any different treatment or attitude toward his "real" child and his "foster" child.
Clown The son of the old shepherd also exists without a name. Identified only as the traditional clown role that he fills in the play, the character is developed enough to be a remarkable favorite for generations of audiences.
Autolycus Another favorite character from this play. A rogue who had once served Prince Florizel, he lives and delights by his wits. He plays a minor but key role in the final reconciliation; and when the goodhearted clown promises to reward Autolycus, the groundwork is prepared for our feeling that rewarding the rogue is more just than punishing him for his earlier thievery.
A Mariner He exists long enough to transport Perdita to Bohemia, regret his actions, and die in a storm.
Hermione Queen of Sicilia; the wife of Leontes. Russian by birth, this character is an unbelievably pure combination of virtues, including a sufficiently patient optimism that sustains her through sixteen years while she hides and waits for the right moment to rejoin her repentant husband. She never utters a sigh or a word of remonstrance about the loss of her children or her freedom after she forgives Leontes.
Perdita The daughter of Leontes and Hermione; Princess of Sicilia; later, the wife of Florizel, and Princess of Bohemia. Without any environmental influence, she grows up with a quality of royalty being one of her most innate traits and with an uncanny resemblance to her mother in behavior as well as appearance. Her outstanding virtue is common sense, which Florizel needs from their union more than he ever seems to realize. This quality is also used effectively to bring authenticity to a character who would otherwise be only two-dimensional.
Paulina Wife, then widow of Antigonus. A loyal lady-in-waiting to Hermione, she voices the conscience of Leontes in an irritating and scolding tone. But she is unarguably diligent and, therefore, she deserves her final reward of marriage to the good Camillo.
Emilia Another attendant of Hermione.
Mopsa and Dorcas Two shepherdesses who dramatize the role models for young women of their social level; they fail to sway Perdita from her natural inclinations toward graciousness and gentility.
Chorus The Chorus makes a mid-plot appearance in order to provide an exposition of the interim of sixteen years.