The Winter’s Tale had its first referenced performance in May of 1611 in the diary of Simon Forman (yup, the same guy who gave us “Innogen” in his review of Cymbeline). Later in that same year, it was performed at court.
Many of Shakespeare’s plays were performed during the Restoration…but for some reason, not The Winter’s Tale. So it was after quite a respite was is revived in the eighteenth century in adaptations like The Sheep-Shearing and Florizal and Perdita (the latter by David Garrick); one would assume that the fourth act was the focal point of those versions.
While there was renewed interest in the whole play in the last century, in the past decade or so, there’s been a huge uptick in major professional productions by the likes of Sam Mendes, The Royal Shakespeare Company (three times: 2006, 2009 and 2013), Theatre Delicatessen, The Hudson Shakespeare Company of New Jersey, Kenneth Branagh, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
I don’t know… maybe in these troubled times (the winter of our collective discontent and anxiety) we need a hopeful ending, no matter how unrealistic it is (cough, deus ex machina, cough)… Maybe.
Interestingly, it has not had much of an on-screen life: a silent version, the 1980 BBC production, and a version from 1967 with Laurence Harvey as Leontes (that, alas, I cannot find).