Alone in his private quarters King Leontes was feverish and irritable. He stood ranting at the walls:
"Night and day, I can't sleep. It is weakness to act in this way- weakness! If only the cause was not alive, well, part of the cause- she, the adulteress. The harlot king is quite beyond my reach. A target I can't see, safe from any plot I can hatch. But she I can get my hands on! Say that she were gone, burning at the stake, then a modicum of rest might come to me again. Who's there?"
"My lord?" a servant asked, uncertain why the King was making so much noise in his solitude.
"How is my son?"
"He slept well. It is hoped his sickness is over."
"Ah, to see his nobleness! Comprehending the dishonour of his mother, he instantly declined, deteriorated, took it deeply, fastened and affixed the shame on himself, threw off his good spirits, his appetite, his sleep, and sulked himself ill. Leave me alone. Go, attend to Mamillius."
The servant bowed and left, obviously troubled by the King's behaviour.
"Polixenes, Polixenes! The thought of my revenge on him recoils upon me. His alliances and friends make him too mighty. Let him be until the time is right. For present vengeance, I have her. Camillo and Polixenes laugh at me, make my sorrow their hobby, they wouldn't be laughing if I could reach them. She who is under my control will not laugh."
The King suddenly paused he heard scuffling and fumbling outside the door. His mental state made him clutch his dagger.
"You must not enter," he heard an attendant shout.
But it was too late. Paulina defiantly burst into the hallway of Leontes' private chambers carrying his new-born daughter.
"Don't stop me, my good lords, support me. Do you fear his tyranny more than you respect the Queen's life? A gracious innocent soul, more innocent than he is jealous."
"That's enough!" Antigonus shouted to Paulina, his wife.
"Madam," a servant meekly said, "he did not sleep last night and ordered that he was not to be disturbed."
"Calm down, good sir- I come to bring him sleep. It is such as you, you who creep like shadows past him and do sigh at each of his needless heavings, such as you who nourish the cause of his insomnia. I come with words as medicinal as they are true, they will purge him of the mood that denies him sleep."
"What's the noise out there?" Leontes boomed.
"No noise, my lord, but important news and glad tidings for Your Highness," Paulina called with confidence.
Leontes recognised Paulina's voice and wailed at Antigonus.
"What? Away with that audacious lady! Antigonus, I ordered you that she should not be allowed to come near me. I knew she would."
By this time Paulina had opened the last door of the chamber and was confronting Leontes.
"I told her, my lord, of your displeasure and of my own, and that she shouldn't visit you," Antigonus said apologetically.
"You can't control her?" Leontes sneered.
"In all things dishonest, he can. In this matter, no," Paulina said. "Unless he takes the course that you have taken and locks me up for being honourable. Trust me, he cannot control me."
"Now, look you here," Antigonus said to Paulina, and turned apologetically to Leontes: "When she will take the rein I let her run, but she'll not stumble."
"King Leontes, I come and I beg you to hear me. Those who profess to be your most loyal servants, your most reliable doctors and wisest advisors do nothing but fan the flames of your discomfort. Yet I, who appear defiant and awkward, am your loyal servant. I come from your good Queen."
"Good Queen, my lord, good Queen! I say good Queen. Even if I was the most insignificant man at your court I would challenge you for saying otherwise."
"Get her out of here!" Leontes screamed.
"Let him that ignores what he sees lay a hand on me. I will leave of my own accord, but first I'll do my errand. The good Queen, for she is good, has given you a daughter. Here she is. I bring her to you for your blessing.”
Paulina laid the child on the floor, where it giggled obliviously. The infant had no effect on Leontes.
"Out! A witch in human form! Out with her, out of the door. A very conniving bawd!"
"Not so! I am as ignorant in that as you are in slurring me, and I’m no less honest than you are mad- which is more than enough to pass for honest in this mad world."
"Traitors!" Leontes screamed. "Will you not push her out? Give her the bastard. Antigonus, you old fool! Hen-pecked, frightened fool! Pick up the bastard! Take it, I say! Give it to that old bat!"
"Your hands will be soiled forever if you take your princess daughter by that base name of your choice!"
"Antigonus is frightened of his wife!" Leontes sneered.
"And I wish you were of yours!" Paulina retorted. "Then doubtless you'd call your children your own."
"A nest of traitors!"
"I am not, by this good light," Antigonus said.
"Nor I," Paulina said, "nor any but one that's here, and that's Leontes, for he slanders the sacred honour of himself, Hermione, Mamillius and his babe. His sting is sharper than that of a sword, and he will not change his opinion just because he is King. The root of his opinion is rotten as ever oak or stone was sound."
"A hag of boundless tongue, who has recently battered her husband and is now ready for me! This brat is not mine, it is the child of Polixenes. Away with it and together with its mother I commit them to hell!"
"It is yours. And, I’d like to remind you of the old proverb: So like you, she’s the worse for it. Behold, my lords, although the features are little, the double of the father. Eyes, nose, lip, the way it frowns, his forehead, the contours of the face, the pretty dimples of his chin and cheek, his smiles, the very mould and frame of hand, nail, finger. And you, good goddess Nature, have made her so like him that fathered her that if she has a mind of a similar order to his she, twenty years from now, will suspect her children are not her husband's!"
"A gross hag, and as for you, Antigonus, you deserve to hang for not containing her tongue."
"If you hang all the husbands who cannot do that, you'll leave yourself hardly one subject!" Antigonus said.
"Once again, get rid of her!"
"A most unworthy and unnatural lord can do no more," Paulina said.
"I'll have you burnt at the stake."
"I don't care. It is a heretic that makes the fire, not she burning in it. I'll not call you tyrant, but this most cruel treatment of your Queen, unable to produce any evidence beyond your batty notions, reeks of tyranny and history will judge you," Paulina shot back.
"On your allegiance, get her out of the chamber! If I were a tyrant, would she be alive still? Paulina wouldn't call me such if she knew I was. Away with her!"
The infant was now sobbing at the disturbance, as Antigonus and the other lords hustled her out of the door.
"I pray you, do not push me. I'll be gone. Look to your daughter, my lord. It is yours. Jove sent her, a better guiding spirit! You don't need to push me, you who are so tender with his follies. You will never do him any good, not one of you. So, so, farewell. I am going."
When Paulina was finally removed, Antigonus and the other lords returned to King Leontes.
"You, traitor!" Leontes hissed at Antigonus. "You put your wife up to this! My child? Away with it! You, who have a heart so tender, take it away and see it instantly consumed with fire. Yes, you, only you. Pick up the child. Within this hour bring me word that it's done, and it better be true or I'll have you executed and seize all your property. If you refuse and would rather face my wrath, say so. Then I'll smash out the bastard's brains with my own hands. Go, take it to the fire- that is your reward for putting your wife up to this."
"I did not, sir. These lords, my noble fellows, if they please, can confirm this."
"We can, my royal liege. He is not guilty of her coming here."
"You're all liars."
"Your Highness," a lord said, "give us more credit. We have always served you truly, and beg you to continue to hold us in esteem, and on our knees we beg, as reward for our dear services past and to come, that you do change your decision, which being so horrible and so bloody, must lead on to some foul consequence. We all kneel."
"I am a feather for each wind that blows. Shall I live on to see this bastard kneel and call me father? Better to burn it now than curse it later. But so be it. Let it live- but it shall neither kneel before me or call me father. Antigonus, come here, you who have been so tenderly officious with Nursemaid Paulina, the midwife. To save this bastard's life, for it is a bastard as sure as your beard's grey, what will you do to save this brat's life?"
"Anything, my lord, that my ability can complete and nobleness impose. At least thus much, I’ll pawn the little life left in me to save the innocent, anything possible."
"It shall be possible. Swear by this sword you will perform my bidding."
"I will, my lord."
"Listen and obey. Failure to complete my order to the letter will result in death for you and your lewd-tongued wife, whom on this occasion I pardon. I order you as liegeman to my court, that you carry this female bastard away and that you take it to some remote and desert place out of our dominions, and that there you will abandon it without any more mercy, to its own fate and favour of the climate. As by strange fortune it came to us, I do in justice order you, on your life, to take it to some foreign place where destiny may nurse it or kill it. Pick it up."
"I swear to do this, though an immediate death would have been more merciful. Come on, poor babe, may some powerful spirit instruct the kites and ravens to be your nurses! Wolves and bears, they say, casting their savageness aside have been sympathetic and loving to abandoned babes. Sir, be more prosperous than you deserve for ordering this! And blessings to you, little thing, condemned to die."
The other lords stood motionless as Antigonus left carrying the laughing child to embark on fulfilling his gruesome task.
"No, I'll not rear another man's child."
The chamber was hushed for some minutes, with neither Leontes nor the attendant lords saying a thing. Then a servant entered and bowed before Leontes.
"Please your highness, advance messengers from the party you sent to the oracle have arrived at the palace. Cleomenes and Dion have returned safe and well from Delphi. They have recently docked and are hurrying to the court."
"So please you, sir, their speed has exceeded expectations," a lord said, hoping the oracle message would resolve everything.
"They've only been away twenty-three days, they've made good time. We will instantly have the truth from the great Apollo! You lords, prepare. Summon a court of law. We must arraign our most disloyal lady, as she has been publicly accused, so she will have a just and public trial. While she lives my heart is a burden to me. Leave me, and think upon my bidding."