The play was not published until the First Folio of 1623. In spite of tentative early datings (see below), most critics believe the play is one of Shakespeare's later works, possibly written in 1610 or 1611. A 1611 date is suggested by an apparent connection with Ben Jonson's Masque of Oberon, performed at Court 1 January 1611, in which appears a dance of ten or twelve satyrs; The Winter's Tale includes a dance of twelve men costumed as satyrs, and the servant announcing their entry says "one three of them, by their own report, sir, hath danc'd before the King." (IV.iv.337-38). Arden Shakespeare editor J.H.P. Pafford found that "the language, style, and spirit of the play all point to a late date. The tangled speech, the packed sentences, speeches which begin and end in the middle of a line, and the high percentage of light and weak endings are all marks of Shakespeare's writing at the end of his career. But of more importance than a verse test is the similarity of the last plays in spirit and themes."
In the late 18th century, Edmond Malone suggested that a "book" listed in the Stationers' Register on 22 May 1594, under the title "a Wynters nightes pastime", might have been Shakespeare's, though no copy of it is known. In 1933, Dr. Samuel A. Tannenbaum wrote that Malone subsequently "seems to have assigned it to 1604; later still, to 1613; and finally he settled on 1610–11. Hunter assigned it to about 1605."