Summary and Analysis
As the celebration party strolls through Paulina's estate on their way to Hermione's statue, Leontes praises the hostess for her years of good service. When Paulina reveals Hermione, who is standing like a statue, the group is stunned into silence. Leontes speaks first of the statue's lifelike appearance, then notes: "Hermione was not so much wrinkled, nothing/ So aged as this seems." Paulina explains that the artist imagined how she would look now. Not surprisingly, Leontes feels rebuked by the lifelike statue. Perdita tries to touch it, but Paulina warns her that the paint on the statue is not yet dry.
Leontes' painful sorrow is so evident that Camillo, Polixenes, and Paulina each try to ease his suffering. Leontes' intense desire for Hermione increases, and when Paulina tries to draw the curtain in front of the statue, she is forbidden to do so by Leontes. Perdita also expresses a desire to continue to look at the statue.
Then Paulina offers to make the statue move if no one accuses her of consorting with evil spirits. Leontes encourages her. Calling for music, Paulina commands Hermione to descend from her pedestal. Leontes touches Hermione and wonders at her warmth: "If this be magic, let it be an art/ Lawful as eating."
Hermione embraces Leontes, and Polixenes and Camillo suddenly wonder aloud if she is alive. When Paulina turns Hermione's attention to Perdita, Hermione speaks. First, she praises the gods, then she asks Perdita how she survived; finally, she states that with hope in the oracle's message, she preserved herself for this very moment.
Paulina blesses the reunited family and then offers to withdraw:
I, an old turtle [turtledove],
Will wing me to some withered bough and there
My mate, that's never to be found again,
Lament till I am lost. (V.iii. 132–35)
But Leontes forestalls her loneliness by arranging a match with Camillo. After some conciliatory remarks to all aggrieved parties, Leontes organizes a departure to exchange reminiscences.
In this scene, Leontes, Camillo, Hermione, and Paulina all earn their rewards. In contrast, Polixenes, Florizel, and Perdita receive their rewards.
The thematic confusion of illusion with reality is best illustrated by the statue. This time, Leontes errs by confusing the real Hermione with her illusory role as a lifeless statue: "The fixture of her eye has motion in 't,/ As we are mocked with art." Magic is mentioned, but the reality is its own miracle.
Because of the general repentance, reconciliation and rewards and the specific reunion of family and friends, the ending is more clearly an element of the Romance than being in the genre of Comedy, History, or Tragedy. In the conclusion, the concept of renewal is added to the themes of prosperity and destruction that are more typical of Shakespearean tragedies. Thus, after Leontes has passed through sufficient years of repentance, he and all other major parties are poised for reconciliation, rewards and, above all, the renewal of their families. This renewal (the reuniting of a family) is precipitated by the daughter — a feature this play has in common with the other "problem plays." Symbolic of this renewal is the resurrection of Hermione.
Reminiscent of the sadness, as well as the joy that love brings in the "problem plays" is Paulina's dirge to her brave, dead husband, Antigonus. Although love and marriage dominate the action, this reminder of all the suffering endured by the loving family and friends since the beginning of the play haunts the observer. Yet, perhaps the entire possibility of a happy ending is suspect. Even when reality seems in focus again, Shakespeare confronts us with the unprovable illusion/reality controversies of resurrection and rebirth. Allusion to seasonal cycles of rebirth as a part of nature cannot prove within the world of this play that all destruction is a part of a cycle of rebirth. Time is still a shadow, and the play ends with memories of the world's mixture of illusion and reality, happiness and sadness, love and hate. Any of these lovers is capable of inflicting destruction and grief on their loved ones.
But from the thematic perspective, with all characters now correctly exercising the use of Free Will, they are expected to contribute to (and benefit from) the orderly maintenance of the universe. Their exit is an orderly representation of the Cosmic Dance and level of the Heavenly Order coming together in harmony.