Summary and Analysis
Autolycus organizes the majority of the events in this scene, which is a great help since it is told in fragments. First, Autolycus questions three gentlemen about proceedings in the nearby palace of Leontes. Gradually, he gathers information about the shepherd's testimony. The first gentleman heard only a vague reference to someone's finding a child; thus, he could not guess from what he saw whether or not Leontes and Camillo gestured in joy or sorrow. A second gentleman knows that people are celebrating because "the king's daughter is found." A third gentleman, steward to Paulina, fists enough evidence to dispel doubt about this truth "pregnant/ By circumstance." All major characters in the royal drama were observed to have behaved with a mixture of joy and sorrow when they learned about all of the sorrows that occurred sixteen years ago and rejoiced at today's news. Now, they are gathering at the site of a remarkably lifelike statue of Hermione to eat dinner, during which they hope to witness new and exciting discoveries.
Autolycus reflects on how close he came to being the one to reveal these facts. When he sees the clown and the shepherd, he observes: "Here come those I have done good to against my will." He acknowledges the clown's favorite reward: I know you are now, sir, a gentleman born." Autolycus patiently listens to the two men boast that they have been "gentlemen born" for four hours. Then, Autolycus begs them to forgive his transgression and to provide a favorable report to Prince Florizel. Both the clown and shepherd agree because they believe that as "gentlemen" they should be generous. Thus, they invite Autolycus to accompany them in the capacity of a servant to view Hermione's statue.
This scene dramatizes the effect of repentance and reconciliation that is, reward. Leontes has repented and Autolycus has nearly done away with his knavery. All of the major characters are reconciled. Rewards are given to the clown and the shepherd. Their primary reward, the rank of gentlemen, along with the reconciliation accomplished by the recognition of Perdita's royal rank, helps restore order because all are placed in a proper rank for the marriage. Unity with universal order is achieved by unifying most of the straggling elements of the plot.
Narration informs the audience about the reconciliations. All of the emotional scenes occur offstage. But Shakespeare does provide guidelines for action which could be used to enliven the dull narrative: ". . . the king and Camillo/ . . . seemed almost) With staring on one another, to tear the cases/ Of their eyes. A notable passion of wonder appeared in them."