The prince and the actress: The Winter’s Tale

A woman sits on a grassy bank in front of a tree. She is very pale, with a serious expression. She wears a low-cut white dress with lace trim, a fichu across her breast, and blue ribbons on the bodice. Her hands are in her lap; one hand holds an object, too small to make out. On the right sits an alert fox dog with white fur. The background includes more trees and a cloudy sky.

On 3 December 1779, at a royal command performance of The Winter’s Tale, the Prince of Wales noticed Mary Robinson, the young woman playing Perdita. They began a love affair shortly after George gained his majority.

Robinson’s signature role made allusions to The Winter’s Tale irresistible both to satirists, and to the Prince himself. Perdita’s lover is Florizel, a young prince disguised as a shepherd who woos a woman he believes to be a commoner, in defiance of his father’s wishes.

George, a passionate devotee of masquerade, signed many of his letters to Robinson ‘Florizel’. He also had Robinson painted by Thomas Gainsborough in ‘Perdita’ costume, mediating his first major love affair through Shakespearean precedent.

Objects in this room