Incidentally, Camillo, one of the lords and counsellors of Leontes introduces the audience to the play, setting the tone of the friendship between the two royal friends Leontes, the king of Sicilia and Polixenes, the king of Bohemia, thereby foreshadowing an incipient rivalry,jealousy,betrayal and reconciliation that would characterize the play, The Winter’s Tale. Camillo being one of the characters to open the play is instructive as to the dominant role he would play in it.
Camillo’s trust-worthy character is what makes him the first person Leontes calls to express his suspicion about the perceived closeness between his wife, Hermione and the visiting king Polixenes.Being his confidant,Leontes expects him to have observed the amorous relationship and inform him, but being a man of conscience , he would not just pander to the whim of the king by sharing his flimsy suspicion and without mincing words, he vindicates the queen, ‘I would not be a stander-by to hear my sovereign mistress clouded so without my present vengeance taken,’. It is in this trusted position of a trusted ally that makes Leontes saddle Camillo with the treacherous role of poisoning Polixenes.His response to this order could be a bit ambiguous.Camillo understands the present mood of the king and disobeying him may warrant his own death. Another view could be that, he probably agrees to carry out the king’s order to please him temporarily with the hidden intention of disobeying him later.
Camillo’s sensitive and good nature is so discernible that it does not take much effort for Polixenes to see that he is behaving in a rather strange and suspicious manner and when probed further, he finds it difficult to lie. This singular perceptiveness saves both lives. In divulging the plot to Polixenes, the true state of Camillo as a person is presented. He knows the consequence of disobeying Leontes, in either being banished or even killed. Because he could not fathom being privy to another person’s death, he decides to escape. At this point, Shakespeare probably makes a contrast between the Camillo and Antigonus.Faced with the same dilemma later, of killing Perdita, Antigonus is ready to carry out the order of the king, though morally wrong. The actions of Camillo and Antigonus also engenders the theme of loyalty versus conscience. Both characters are loyal to the king, but while one draws a line between loyalty and conscience, the other, namely Antigonus blindly carries out a morally wrong order.
Consequently, the exodus to Bohemia coincidentally initiated by Antigonus starts.Camillo joins the Polixenes and he continues in his role as a credible counselllor and loyal friend, such that after many years, when he wants to return to Bohemia, Polixenes would not let him go easily. At the coincidental meeting with both Perdita and Florizel and their plot to elope, the prince is able to look up to Camillo as a trusted person and as such, is ready to take his counsel. For once, Camillo decides to be selfish by advising Perdita and Florizel to escape to Sicilia, so as to set Polixenes on their trail. This he reasons would cause his own return to his homeland and consequently reconcile the two kings.
Though planned with a different motive, this course of action of planning the fleeing of Perdita and Florizel would be one ingredient that helps resolve the major conflicts of the play.As planned, Polixenes chases his crown prince to Bohemia and Camillo follows. In the end, the three friends are reconciled. The identity of Perdita as the lost daughter of Leontes is revealed and the culmination of giving a happy ending to the play by Shakespeare is the resurrection of Hermione by the magical, Paulina. And suitably so, Camillo is aptly rewarded by the end of the play. He is restored to his beloved land and rewarded with Paulina as a wife.
The reason for Camillo’s first appearance before other major characters in the play becomes obvious later in the play, as he is aptly presented as the true counsellor,and a unifying character not only in resolving conflicts, but also in reconciling friends.