The following morning Queen Hermione, who was as yet unaware of Leontes’ lunatic jealousy and the hasty departure of Polixenes and Camillo, was in her private chambers accompanied by several ladies-in-waiting and her son Prince Mamillius. The Queen was in the last stages of a difficult and unusually tiring pregnancy.
"Take Mamillius for a while, he’s so active he exhausts me," said the Queen to one of her ladies.
"Come, my young man, shall I be your playmate?" the lady said to Mamillius.
"No, I'll not play with you!"
"Why, my sweet lord?"
"You'll kiss me hard and speak to me as if I was still a baby. I love you better," Mamillius said to another lady-in-waiting.
"And why is that, my lord?"
"Not because your brows are blacker, yet black brows, they say, are more becoming to some women, as long as there is not too much hair there, but in a semicircle or a half-moon made with a pen."
"Who told you this?" the lady asked startled.
"I learnt it from women's faces. Tell me, what colour are your eyebrows?"
"Blue, my lord," the second lady said.
"No, that's a mock! I have seen a lady's nose that was blue, but not her eyebrows!" Mamillius retorted
"Listen to it!" the first lady squealed. "The Queen, your mother, grows fast. We shall soon be presenting our services to a fine new prince one of these days and then you’ll play with us if we will have you."
"Yes, she looks very pregnant. Good luck when her time comes, I say," the second lady added.
"What wisdom stirs amongst you?" Queen Hermione asked. "Come, Mamillius, now I am able for you again- please, sit by us, and tell us a tale."
"A happy tale or a sad tale?
"The happiest you can think of," Hermione said.
"A sad tale's best for winter. I have one about ghosts and goblins," Mamillius said.
"Let's have that one, young man. Come on, sit down. Come, do your best to frighten me with your ghosts- you're good at it."
"There was a man-"
"No, come, sit down by me. Carry on."
"- who lived by a churchyard. I will tell it softly so the ladies won't hear."
"Come on, then, and give it to me in my ear."
As Hermione relaxed, finding maternal pleasure in being amused by her son, King Leontes entered the chamber accompanied by Antigonus and several other lords. Several of the ladies scattered sensing the King's foul mood, but Hermione and Mamillius were preoccupied.
"Was he met there?" King Leontes boomed. "His followers too? Camillo was with him?"
"From behind the pines trees I saw them. Never have I seen men hurry so. I kept sight of them until they got to the harbour," a lord said.
"How blessed I am in my just censure, in my justified suspicion! Alas, I wish I knew less! How accursed it is to be so blessed! There could be a spider in a drinking cup, and one may drink, depart, and yet not swallow venom, for knowledge of the spider is the actual infection. Present the abhorrent ingredient to the eye, make known what has been drunk, and the throat will crack. The abdomen is racked violently. I have drunk, and I have seen the spider. Camillo was his help in this, his pander. There is a plot against my life, my crown. All my suspicions have been confirmed. That false villain whom I employed was already on the payroll of Polixenes. Camillo told Polixenes of my plans. I remain tormented. Yes, I am a pawn in their game, a game they play at will. How was it the city gates opened so easily?"
"By Camillo's great authority. He has often issued these orders," the lord said.
"I know it too well," King Leontes said. "Give me the boy, Hermione. I am glad you did not nurse him. Though he does bear a resemblance to me, there's too much of your blood in him."
"What is this? A prank?" Hermione asked.
"Take the boy away. He shall not come into contact with her. Away with him! Let her sport herself with that she's big with, for it was Polixenes who has made her with child."
"I say he has not," Hermione screamed. “It is enough I should swear so, however much you insist otherwise."
"My lords, look on her, mark her well. Be but about to say she is a goodly lady, and the justice of your hearts will thereto add it's a pity she's not honest, honourable. Praise her but only for her beauty, which on my faith merits many compliments, and instantly the shrug, the hum or the ha, these small signs of vice that judgement sees. Oh, it's not true! The shrug, the hum and the ha, when you have said she's goodly. But let it be known from me, I who have most cause to grieve it- she's an adulteress!"
Hermione looked stunned and tearful. The physical demands of her pregnancy only added to her distress.
"Should a villain say so, even the most accomplished villain, he'd be twice the villain! You, my lord, are mistaken," Hermione countered.
"You, my lady, mistook Polixenes for Leontes. Oh, you thing! I'll not call you the name you deserve, lest barbarism makes me the precedent and common language becomes the choice of all, eliminating distinction between the conversation of royalty and the conversation of the beggar. As I have said, she's an adulteress. I have said with whom. More, she's a traitor and Camillo is her cohort. One that knows what she would be ashamed to admit with any other than her lover- she's a bed-hopper, even as bad as those to whom the crude-talkers give bold names. Yes, and she's party to their escape."
"By my life, I know none of this. How this will grieve you, when you come to know that you have publicly humiliated me! Leontes, you can right this wrong now just by saying you are mistaken."
"No, if I'm mistaken in the findings on which I build my argument then the earth is not big enough to bear a schoolboy's spinning top! Away with her! To prison! He who shall speak for her is guilty too, even if he is miles away."
"Some ill planet marks my fate. I must be patient till the heavens look upon me with an aspect more favourable. My good lords, I am not prone to weeping, as my sex commonly is. The lack of that vain dew will perhaps curtail your sympathy, but I have an honourable grief lodged here in my heart which burns worse than tears drown. I beg you all, my lords, may your thoughts be as charitable your instincts before you judge me, and so the King's wishes will be fulfilled."
The lords stood hesitant and bewildered.
"Shall I be obeyed?" Leontes boomed and gestured for Hermione to be taken away.
"Who will accompany me? I beg Your Highness, may my women be with me? You see my condition requires it. Do not weep, good fools. There is no cause. When you know your mistress has deserved prison then abound in tears as I am sentenced. This experience will only strengthen my character. Adieu, my lord. I never wished to see you sorry, now I know I shall. My women, come. You have permission to accompany me.”
"Go, obey me! Now!"
The guards jumped at Leontes' fury and rushed Hermione and her sobbing ladies to the prison.
"I beg your highness, call the Queen back!" a lord implored.
"Be certain of what you do, sir," Antigonus said, "otherwise your justice will prove violent- and the three greatest sufferers will be yourself, your wife and your son."
"For her, my lord, I'd lay down my life and will do, sir," the lord persisted. "Please I beg you to accept that the Queen is spotless in the eyes of heaven and to you. I mean, in the matter you accuse her."
As the lord spoke Antigonus gained confidence and once again spoke on Hermione's behalf.
"If it is proved she's was unfaithful, I'll lodge my wife in my stables. I’ll leash her to me so we go around like an attached couple of hounds. That way I feel and see her as far as I trust her. For every inch of woman in the world, aye, every pound of woman's flesh is false, if Queen Hermione be false."
"Silence!" Leontes yelled.
"But-" the lord attempted to say.
"It is for you we speak, not for ourselves," Antigonus interjected. "You have been misled and the culprit who deceived you will be dammed. If I knew the villain I would birch him myself. If her honour is suspect, my own daughters will pay for it! The eldest is eleven, the second and the third, nine, and five- if this proves true, I'll geld them all. Fourteen they shall not see. They will not give birth to false generations, they are co-heirs and I would rather castrate myself than have them produce ill-gotten children."
The protestations of the lords did not sway King Leontes.
"No more. You smell this business with a sense as cold as a dead man's nose, but I do see it and feel it as you feel nothing and I see what initiates this putrid business."
"If that be so, we need no grave to bury honesty- for it doesn't exist anywhere on this whole dungy earth," Antigonus retorted.
"What! Are you suggesting I lack credibility?"
"On this occasion," another lord said in support of Antigonus, "I rather you did than I, my lord. I would be happier with her honour being true rather than your suspicion. Take that as you will."
"Why do I even have to bother consulting you on this matter when I can if I wish follow my own instinct? It is my prerogative not to seek your counsel, but my natural goodness does so. If you, stupid or simply pretending to be, cannot or will not confront a truth the way I do, then inform yourselves, I need no more of your advice. The matter, the loss, the gain, the verdict, is all my own business."
"And I wish, my liege, you had in your silent judgement tried the case, without any ballyhoo," Antigonus retorted.
"How could that be? Either you are most ignorant because of your age, or you were born a fool. Camillo's flight publicised their familiarity, which was sufficient to get tongues wagging. That in itself made up for the lack of witnesses. Camillo's behaviour only brought matters to a head, demanding instant action. In a matter of this importance it would be folly to be rash- so I’ve despatched the very capable Cleomenes and Dion to Delphi, to the sacred oracle of Apollo. From there they will bring the facts. Have I done well?"
"Well done, King Leontes," said a lord
"Though I am satisfied and need no more evidence than that which I already know, the oracle's pronouncements shall satisfy the minds of others, such as Antigonus, whose ignorant credulity will not or cannot face the truth. So I have thought it appropriate that in the meantime the defendant, currently at liberty, should be confined, away from me lest the murderous crime she plotted with her lover be left for her to complete. Come, follow me. I am to speak in public, for the resolution of this messy business will raise us all."
"Yes, raise a laugh, if the good truth were known," Antigonus muttered under his breath.