A room of state in the same.

Enter LEONTES, HERMIONE, MAMILLIUS, POLIXENES, CAMILLO, and Attendants

POLIXENES

Nine changes of the watery star hath been
The shepherd's note since we have left our throne
Without a burthen: time as long again
Would be find up, my brother, with our thanks;
And yet we should, for perpetuity,
Go hence in debt: and therefore, like a cipher,
Yet standing in rich place, I multiply
With one 'We thank you' many thousands moe
That go before it.

LEONTES

Stay your thanks a while;
And pay them when you part.

POLIXENES

Sir, that's to-morrow.
I am question'd by my fears, of what may chance
Or breed upon our absence; that may blow
No sneaping winds at home, to make us say
'This is put forth too truly:' besides, I have stay'd
To tire your royalty.

LEONTES

We are tougher, brother,
Than you can put us to't.

POLIXENES

No longer stay.

LEONTES

One seven-night longer.

POLIXENES

Very sooth, to-morrow.

LEONTES

We'll part the time between's then; and in that
I'll no gainsaying.

POLIXENES

Press me not, beseech you, so.
There is no tongue that moves, none, none i' the world,
So soon as yours could win me: so it should now,
Were there necessity in your request, although
'Twere needful I denied it. My affairs
Do even drag me homeward: which to hinder
Were in your love a whip to me; my stay
To you a charge and trouble: to save both,
Farewell, our brother.

LEONTES

Tongue-tied, our queen?
speak you.

HERMIONE

I had thought, sir, to have held my peace until
You have drawn oaths from him not to stay. You, sir,
Charge him too coldly. Tell him, you are sure
All in Bohemia's well; this satisfaction
The by-gone day proclaim'd: say this to him,
He's beat from his best ward.

LEONTES

Well said, Hermione.

HERMIONE

To tell, he longs to see his son, were strong:
But let him say so then, and let him go;
But let him swear so, and he shall not stay,
We'll thwack him hence with distaffs.
Yet of your royal presence I'll adventure
The borrow of a week. When at Bohemia
You take my lord, I'll give him my commission
To let him there a month behind the gest
Prefix'd for's parting: yet, good deed, Leontes,
I love thee not a jar o' the clock behind
What lady-she her lord. You'll stay?

POLIXENES

No, madam.

HERMIONE

Nay, but you will?

POLIXENES

I may not, verily.

HERMIONE

Verily!
You put me off with limber vows; but I,
Though you would seek to unsphere the
stars with oaths,
Should yet say 'Sir, no going.' Verily,
You shall not go: a lady's 'Verily' 's
As potent as a lord's. Will you go yet?
Force me to keep you as a prisoner,
Not like a guest; so you shall pay your fees
When you depart, and save your thanks. How say you?
My prisoner? or my guest? by your dread 'Verily,'
One of them you shall be.

POLIXENES

Your guest, then, madam:
To be your prisoner should import offending;
Which is for me less easy to commit
Than you to punish.

HERMIONE

Not your gaoler, then,
But your kind hostess. Come, I'll question you
Of my lord's tricks and yours when you were boys:
You were pretty lordings then?

POLIXENES

We were, fair queen,
Two lads that thought there was no more behind
But such a day to-morrow as to-day,
And to be boy eternal.

HERMIONE

Was not my lord
The verier wag o' the two?

POLIXENES

We were as twinn'd lambs that did frisk i' the sun,
And bleat the one at the other: what we changed
Was innocence for innocence; we knew not
The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dream'd
That any did. Had we pursued that life,
And our weak spirits ne'er been higher rear'd
With stronger blood, we should have answer'd heaven
Boldly 'not guilty;' the imposition clear'd
Hereditary ours.

HERMIONE

By this we gather
You have tripp'd since.

POLIXENES

O my most sacred lady!
Temptations have since then been born to's; for
In those unfledged days was my wife a girl;
Your precious self had then not cross'd the eyes
Of my young play-fellow.

HERMIONE

Grace to boot!
Of this make no conclusion, lest you say
Your queen and I are devils: yet go on;
The offences we have made you do we'll answer,
If you first sinn'd with us and that with us
You did continue fault and that you slipp'd not
With any but with us.

LEONTES

Is he won yet?

HERMIONE

He'll stay my lord.

LEONTES

At my request he would not.
Hermione, my dearest, thou never spokest
To better purpose.

HERMIONE

Never?

LEONTES

Never, but once.

HERMIONE

What! have I twice said well? when was't before?
I prithee tell me; cram's with praise, and make's
As fat as tame things: one good deed dying tongueless
Slaughters a thousand waiting upon that.
Our praises are our wages: you may ride's
With one soft kiss a thousand furlongs ere
With spur we beat an acre. But to the goal:
My last good deed was to entreat his stay:
What was my first? it has an elder sister,
Or I mistake you: O, would her name were Grace!
But once before I spoke to the purpose: when?
Nay, let me have't; I long.

LEONTES

Why, that was when
Three crabbed months had sour'd themselves to death,
Ere I could make thee open thy white hand
And clap thyself my love: then didst thou utter
'I am yours for ever.'

HERMIONE

'Tis grace indeed.
Why, lo you now, I have spoke to the purpose twice:
The one for ever earn'd a royal husband;
The other for some while a friend.

LEONTES

[Aside] Too hot, too hot!
To mingle friendship far is mingling bloods.
I have tremor cordis on me: my heart dances;
But not for joy; not joy. This entertainment
May a free face put on, derive a liberty
From heartiness, from bounty, fertile bosom,
And well become the agent; 't may, I grant;
But to be paddling palms and pinching fingers,
As now they are, and making practised smiles,
As in a looking-glass, and then to sigh, as 'twere
The mort o' the deer; O, that is entertainment
My bosom likes not, nor my brows! Mamillius,
Art thou my boy?

MAMILLIUS

Ay, my good lord.

LEONTES

I' fecks!
Why, that's my bawcock. What, hast
smutch'd thy nose?
They say it is a copy out of mine. Come, captain,
We must be neat; not neat, but cleanly, captain:
And yet the steer, the heifer and the calf
Are all call'd neat.--Still virginalling
Upon his palm!--How now, you wanton calf!
Art thou my calf?

MAMILLIUS

Yes, if you will, my lord.

LEONTES

Thou want'st a rough pash and the shoots that I have,
To be full like me: yet they say we are
Almost as like as eggs; women say so,
That will say anything but were they false
As o'er-dyed blacks, as wind, as waters, false
As dice are to be wish'd by one that fixes
No bourn 'twixt his and mine, yet were it true
To say this boy were like me. Come, sir page,
Look on me with your welkin eye: sweet villain!
Most dear'st! my collop! Can thy dam?--may't be?--
Affection! thy intention stabs the centre:
Thou dost make possible things not so held,
Communicatest with dreams;--how can this be?--
With what's unreal thou coactive art,
And fellow'st nothing: then 'tis very credent
Thou mayst co-join with something; and thou dost,
And that beyond commission, and I find it,
And that to the infection of my brains
And hardening of my brows.

POLIXENES

What means Sicilia?

HERMIONE

He something seems unsettled.

POLIXENES

How, my lord!
What cheer? how is't with you, best brother?

HERMIONE

You look as if you held a brow of much distraction
Are you moved, my lord?

LEONTES

No, in good earnest.
How sometimes nature will betray its folly,
Its tenderness, and make itself a pastime
To harder bosoms! Looking on the lines
Of my boy's face, methoughts I did recoil
Twenty-three years, and saw myself unbreech'd,
In my green velvet coat, my dagger muzzled,
Lest it should bite its master, and so prove,
As ornaments oft do, too dangerous:
How like, methought, I then was to this kernel,
This squash, this gentleman. Mine honest friend,
Will you take eggs for money?

MAMILLIUS

No, my lord, I'll fight.

LEONTES

You will! why, happy man be's dole! My brother,
Are you so fond of your young prince as we
Do seem to be of ours?

POLIXENES

If at home, sir,
He's all my exercise, my mirth, my matter,
Now my sworn friend and then mine enemy,
My parasite, my soldier, statesman, all:
He makes a July's day short as December,
And with his varying childness cures in me
Thoughts that would thick my blood.

LEONTES

So stands this squire
Officed with me: we two will walk, my lord,
And leave you to your graver steps. Hermione,
How thou lovest us, show in our brother's welcome;
Let what is dear in Sicily be cheap:
Next to thyself and my young rover, he's
Apparent to my heart.

HERMIONE

If you would seek us,
We are yours i' the garden: shall's attend you there?

LEONTES

To your own bents dispose you: you'll be found,
Be you beneath the sky.

Aside

I am angling now,
Though you perceive me not how I give line.
Go to, go to!
How she holds up the neb, the bill to him!
And arms her with the boldness of a wife
To her allowing husband!

Exeunt POLIXENES, HERMIONE, and Attendants

Gone already!
Inch-thick, knee-deep, o'er head and
ears a fork'd one!
Go, play, boy, play: thy mother plays, and I
Play too, but so disgraced a part, whose issue
Will hiss me to my grave: contempt and clamour
Will be my knell. Go, play, boy, play.
There have been,
Or I am much deceived, cuckolds ere now;
And many a man there is, even at this present,
Now while I speak this, holds his wife by the arm,
That little thinks she has been sluiced in's absence
And his pond fish'd by his next neighbour, by
Sir Smile, his neighbour: nay, there's comfort in't
Whiles other men have gates and those gates open'd,
As mine, against their will. Should all despair
That have revolted wives, the tenth of mankind
Would hang themselves. Physic for't there is none;
It is a bawdy planet, that will strike
Where 'tis predominant; and 'tis powerful, think it,
From east, west, north and south: be it concluded,
No barricado for a belly; know't;
It will let in and out the enemy
With bag and baggage: many thousand on's
Have the disease, and feel't not. How now, boy!

MAMILLIUS

I am like you, they say.

LEONTES

Why that's some comfort. What, Camillo there?

CAMILLO

Ay, my good lord.

LEONTES

Go play, Mamillius; thou'rt an honest man.

Exit MAMILLIUS

Camillo, this great sir will yet stay longer.

CAMILLO

You had much ado to make his anchor hold:
When you cast out, it still came home.

LEONTES

Didst note it?

CAMILLO

He would not stay at your petitions: made
His business more material.

LEONTES

Didst perceive it?

Aside

They're here with me already, whispering, rounding
'Sicilia is a so-forth:' 'tis far gone,
When I shall gust it last. How came't, Camillo,
That he did stay?

CAMILLO

At the good queen's entreaty.

LEONTES

At the queen's be't: 'good' should be pertinent
But, so it is, it is not. Was this taken
By any understanding pate but thine?
For thy conceit is soaking, will draw in
More than the common blocks: not noted, is't,
But of the finer natures? by some severals
Of head-piece extraordinary? lower messes
Perchance are to this business purblind? say.

CAMILLO

Business, my lord! I think most understand
Bohemia stays here longer.

LEONTES

Ha!

CAMILLO

Stays here longer.

LEONTES

Ay, but why?

CAMILLO

To satisfy your highness and the entreaties
Of our most gracious mistress.

LEONTES

Satisfy!
The entreaties of your mistress! satisfy!
Let that suffice. I have trusted thee, Camillo,
With all the nearest things to my heart, as well
My chamber-councils, wherein, priest-like, thou
Hast cleansed my bosom, I from thee departed
Thy penitent reform'd: but we have been
Deceived in thy integrity, deceived
In that which seems so.

CAMILLO

Be it forbid, my lord!

LEONTES

To bide upon't, thou art not honest, or,
If thou inclinest that way, thou art a coward,
Which hoxes honesty behind, restraining
From course required; or else thou must be counted
A servant grafted in my serious trust
And therein negligent; or else a fool
That seest a game play'd home, the rich stake drawn,
And takest it all for jest.

CAMILLO

My gracious lord,
I may be negligent, foolish and fearful;
In every one of these no man is free,
But that his negligence, his folly, fear,
Among the infinite doings of the world,
Sometime puts forth. In your affairs, my lord,
If ever I were wilful-negligent,
It was my folly; if industriously
I play'd the fool, it was my negligence,
Not weighing well the end; if ever fearful
To do a thing, where I the issue doubted,
Where of the execution did cry out
Against the non-performance, 'twas a fear
Which oft infects the wisest: these, my lord,
Are such allow'd infirmities that honesty
Is never free of. But, beseech your grace,
Be plainer with me; let me know my trespass
By its own visage: if I then deny it,
'Tis none of mine.

LEONTES

Ha' not you seen, Camillo,--
But that's past doubt, you have, or your eye-glass
Is thicker than a cuckold's horn,--or heard,--
For to a vision so apparent rumour
Cannot be mute,--or thought,--for cogitation
Resides not in that man that does not think,--
My wife is slippery? If thou wilt confess,
Or else be impudently negative,
To have nor eyes nor ears nor thought, then say
My wife's a hobby-horse, deserves a name
As rank as any flax-wench that puts to
Before her troth-plight: say't and justify't.

CAMILLO

I would not be a stander-by to hear
My sovereign mistress clouded so, without
My present vengeance taken: 'shrew my heart,
You never spoke what did become you less
Than this; which to reiterate were sin
As deep as that, though true.

LEONTES

Is whispering nothing?
Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses?
Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career
Of laughing with a sigh?--a note infallible
Of breaking honesty--horsing foot on foot?
Skulking in corners? wishing clocks more swift?
Hours, minutes? noon, midnight? and all eyes
Blind with the pin and web but theirs, theirs only,
That would unseen be wicked? is this nothing?
Why, then the world and all that's in't is nothing;
The covering sky is nothing; Bohemia nothing;
My wife is nothing; nor nothing have these nothings,
If this be nothing.

CAMILLO

Good my lord, be cured
Of this diseased opinion, and betimes;
For 'tis most dangerous.

LEONTES

Say it be, 'tis true.

CAMILLO

No, no, my lord.

LEONTES

It is; you lie, you lie:
I say thou liest, Camillo, and I hate thee,
Pronounce thee a gross lout, a mindless slave,
Or else a hovering temporizer, that
Canst with thine eyes at once see good and evil,
Inclining to them both: were my wife's liver
Infected as her life, she would not live
The running of one glass.

CAMILLO

Who does infect her?

LEONTES

Why, he that wears her like a medal, hanging
About his neck, Bohemia: who, if I
Had servants true about me, that bare eyes
To see alike mine honour as their profits,
Their own particular thrifts, they would do that
Which should undo more doing: ay, and thou,
His cupbearer,--whom I from meaner form
Have benched and reared to worship, who mayst see
Plainly as heaven sees earth and earth sees heaven,
How I am galled,--mightst bespice a cup,
To give mine enemy a lasting wink;
Which draught to me were cordial.

CAMILLO

Sir, my lord,
I could do this, and that with no rash potion,
But with a lingering dram that should not work
Maliciously like poison: but I cannot
Believe this crack to be in my dread mistress,
So sovereignly being honourable.
I have loved thee,--

LEONTES

Make that thy question, and go rot!
Dost think I am so muddy, so unsettled,
To appoint myself in this vexation, sully
The purity and whiteness of my sheets,
Which to preserve is sleep, which being spotted
Is goads, thorns, nettles, tails of wasps,
Give scandal to the blood o' the prince my son,
Who I do think is mine and love as mine,
Without ripe moving to't? Would I do this?
Could man so blench?

CAMILLO

I must believe you, sir:
I do; and will fetch off Bohemia for't;
Provided that, when he's removed, your highness
Will take again your queen as yours at first,
Even for your son's sake; and thereby for sealing
The injury of tongues in courts and kingdoms
Known and allied to yours.

LEONTES

Thou dost advise me
Even so as I mine own course have set down:
I'll give no blemish to her honour, none.

CAMILLO

My lord,
Go then; and with a countenance as clear
As friendship wears at feasts, keep with Bohemia
And with your queen. I am his cupbearer:
If from me he have wholesome beverage,
Account me not your servant.

LEONTES

This is all:
Do't and thou hast the one half of my heart;
Do't not, thou split'st thine own.

CAMILLO

I'll do't, my lord.

LEONTES

I will seem friendly, as thou hast advised me.

Exit

CAMILLO

O miserable lady! But, for me,
What case stand I in? I must be the poisoner
Of good Polixenes; and my ground to do't
Is the obedience to a master, one
Who in rebellion with himself will have
All that are his so too. To do this deed,
Promotion follows. If I could find example
Of thousands that had struck anointed kings
And flourish'd after, I'ld not do't; but since
Nor brass nor stone nor parchment bears not one,
Let villany itself forswear't. I must
Forsake the court: to do't, or no, is certain
To me a break-neck. Happy star, reign now!
Here comes Bohemia.

Re-enter POLIXENES

POLIXENES

This is strange: methinks
My favour here begins to warp. Not speak?
Good day, Camillo.

CAMILLO

Hail, most royal sir!

POLIXENES

What is the news i' the court?

CAMILLO

None rare, my lord.

POLIXENES

The king hath on him such a countenance
As he had lost some province and a region
Loved as he loves himself: even now I met him
With customary compliment; when he,
Wafting his eyes to the contrary and falling
A lip of much contempt, speeds from me and
So leaves me to consider what is breeding
That changeth thus his manners.

CAMILLO

I dare not know, my lord.

POLIXENES

How! dare not! do not. Do you know, and dare not?
Be intelligent to me: 'tis thereabouts;
For, to yourself, what you do know, you must.
And cannot say, you dare not. Good Camillo,
Your changed complexions are to me a mirror
Which shows me mine changed too; for I must be
A party in this alteration, finding
Myself thus alter'd with 't.

CAMILLO

There is a sickness
Which puts some of us in distemper, but
I cannot name the disease; and it is caught
Of you that yet are well.

POLIXENES

How! caught of me!
Make me not sighted like the basilisk:
I have look'd on thousands, who have sped the better
By my regard, but kill'd none so. Camillo,--
As you are certainly a gentleman, thereto
Clerk-like experienced, which no less adorns
Our gentry than our parents' noble names,
In whose success we are gentle,--I beseech you,
If you know aught which does behove my knowledge
Thereof to be inform'd, imprison't not
In ignorant concealment.

CAMILLO

I may not answer.

POLIXENES

A sickness caught of me, and yet I well!
I must be answer'd. Dost thou hear, Camillo,
I conjure thee, by all the parts of man
Which honour does acknowledge, whereof the least
Is not this suit of mine, that thou declare
What incidency thou dost guess of harm
Is creeping toward me; how far off, how near;
Which way to be prevented, if to be;
If not, how best to bear it.

CAMILLO

Sir, I will tell you;
Since I am charged in honour and by him
That I think honourable: therefore mark my counsel,
Which must be even as swiftly follow'd as
I mean to utter it, or both yourself and me
Cry lost, and so good night!

POLIXENES

On, good Camillo.

CAMILLO

I am appointed him to murder you.

POLIXENES

By whom, Camillo?

CAMILLO

By the king.

POLIXENES

For what?

CAMILLO

He thinks, nay, with all confidence he swears,
As he had seen't or been an instrument
To vice you to't, that you have touch'd his queen
Forbiddenly.

POLIXENES

O, then my best blood turn
To an infected jelly and my name
Be yoked with his that did betray the Best!
Turn then my freshest reputation to
A savour that may strike the dullest nostril
Where I arrive, and my approach be shunn'd,
Nay, hated too, worse than the great'st infection
That e'er was heard or read!

CAMILLO

Swear his thought over
By each particular star in heaven and
By all their influences, you may as well
Forbid the sea for to obey the moon
As or by oath remove or counsel shake
The fabric of his folly, whose foundation
Is piled upon his faith and will continue
The standing of his body.

POLIXENES

How should this grow?

CAMILLO

I know not: but I am sure 'tis safer to
Avoid what's grown than question how 'tis born.
If therefore you dare trust my honesty,
That lies enclosed in this trunk which you
Shall bear along impawn'd, away to-night!
Your followers I will whisper to the business,
And will by twos and threes at several posterns
Clear them o' the city. For myself, I'll put
My fortunes to your service, which are here
By this discovery lost. Be not uncertain;
For, by the honour of my parents, I
Have utter'd truth: which if you seek to prove,
I dare not stand by; nor shall you be safer
Than one condemn'd by the king's own mouth, thereon
His execution sworn.

POLIXENES

I do believe thee:
I saw his heart in 's face. Give me thy hand:
Be pilot to me and thy places shall
Still neighbour mine. My ships are ready and
My people did expect my hence departure
Two days ago. This jealousy
Is for a precious creature: as she's rare,
Must it be great, and as his person's mighty,
Must it be violent, and as he does conceive
He is dishonour'd by a man which ever
Profess'd to him, why, his revenges must
In that be made more bitter. Fear o'ershades me:
Good expedition be my friend, and comfort
The gracious queen, part of his theme, but nothing
Of his ill-ta'en suspicion! Come, Camillo;
I will respect thee as a father if
Thou bear'st my life off hence: let us avoid.

CAMILLO

It is in mine authority to command
The keys of all the posterns: please your highness
To take the urgent hour. Come, sir, away.

Exeunt

 

Later that evening King Leontes was trying to coax King Polixenes to extend his visit to Sicily, but the guest was resisting. Leontes was accompanied by his wife Hermione and their young son Mamillius.
"Nine full moons have passed on the shepherd's watch since I left my throne in Bohemia without an occupant," King Polixenes said. "And it would take another nine moons, Leontes, just to thank you for my stay, and I will be eternally grateful when I leave. I multiply my thanks forever, adding a zero until a hundred thanks becomes a thousand and so on. Indeed, ten thousand thanks before I go!"
"Postpone your thanks a while yet and express them when you leave," Leontes retorted amicably.
"Leontes, that's tomorrow. I'm questioned by my fears as to what may be happening or unfolding in Bohemia during my absence. I don't want to return to some dissent that justified my worries. Besides I have stayed long enough to tire you."
"I am tougher than you think, brother!"
"I can't stay any longer!" Polixenes exclaimed.
"Oh, just one more week!"
"I must leave tomorrow," Polixenes insisted.
"Tomorrow! A week! We'll split the time between us then and in that your host will not be refused."
"Curtail your coaxing, please. There is no tongue that persuades me more! None, none in all the world could win me over so quickly. And so it would be now if there was any necessity in your request, however much I should deny it. Bohemian domestic matters call me homeward. To hinder my return through friendship would only cause problems and regret, to avoid both I must say farewell, Leontes."
King Leontes, undettered by Polixenes’ insistence, turned to his wife, Queen Hermione, to cajole their guest into staying.
"Hermione, don't sit tongue-tied, you speak to him!"
"I had thought," Queen Hermione said, "to have held my peace until you had him swear he couldn't stay. You, sir, charge him too coldly. Tell him, you are sure all in Bohemia is well. We heard that only yesterday from the courier. Tell him this: he's lost the game on his best excuse."
"Well said, Hermione."
"To say that he longs to see his son," the Queen added, "would make sense but let him say that, then let him go home. Let him swear that is the case and he can go. In fact we women will chase him off to fulfill his paternal responsibility. Polixenes, I think Bohemia and its heir can risk us borrowing you for another week! When Leontes visits Bohemia you have my permission to delay his departure by one month. Although, Leontes, I don't love you a tick less than any other woman loves her husband I would allow you to stay in Bohemia if Polixenes pleaded! You'll stay, Polixenes?"
"No, madam."
"No, but you will?" Queen Hermione pleaded.
"I may not, indeed."
"Indeed!" the Queen said. "You put me off with feeble excuses! But I, though you would seek to remove the stars from their usual position with oaths, should yet say, Sir, you're not going. Indeed, you shall not go- a lady's indeed is as potent as a lord's. Will you go? Will you force me to keep you as a prisoner, not like a guest? If that be the case, you'll have to pay your discharge fee when you depart! What do you say to that? My prisoner? Or my guest? Which shall it be?"
"Your guest, then, madam. To be your prisoner implies I have offended, which is for me less easy to commit than you to punish."
"Not your gaoler, then, but your kind hostess. Come, I've been meaning to question you about the tricks you and my husband got up to when you were boys. You were handsome young things then?"
"We were, Hermione, two lads who thought there was nothing more to life but such a day tomorrow as today, and being young something that is eternal."
"Was not my lord the prankster of the two?" 
"We were like twin lambs playing in the sun, one bleating at the other. What we shared was innocence for innocence. We knew nothing of the doctrine of ill-doing, nor did we dream that any others did. If we had pursued that life, and our childish spirits never been allow to mature with stronger blood, we should have answered heaven on Judgement Day boldly, Not guilty, cleared of all but the original sin we were born with."
"By this I gather you have been guilty since," Queen Hermione said mockingly.
"Oh, Hermione! Temptations have since littered our path! For in those young days my wife was a girl and your precious self had not yet crossed the eyes of my young friend."
"Goodness gracious! Don't pursue that line of thought or you'll say your wife and I are temptations! But go on, the offences we have made you commit we will answer for if you first sinned, continued to do so and if you sinned not with any but us."
"Is he won over yet?" King Leontes asked Hermione.
"He'll stay, my lord."
"At my request he would not! Hermione, my dearest, you have never spoken to better purpose."
"Never?" Hermione exclaimed mockingly.
"Never, but once."
"What! Have I only twice spoken well? When was the last occasion? Tell me- cram me with praise, and make your compliments as fat as the fireside dog. One good deed unpraised leaves the rest of our good intentions to die wanting. Don't ration compliments! One soft kiss can get you a thousand furlongs whereas a lash of the spur merely gains a few paces! But to the goal. My last good deed was to get Polixenes to stay. What was my first? It has a precedent, or I misunderstand you. Oh, I hope my one and only other good deed pleased you as much as this one! Only once before I have spoken as well! When? Tell me, tell me! I long to hear about it."
"Why, that was when those three dreary months prior to courtship had saddened me to distraction. Before I could make you open your white hand and commit your love to me. Then you said, I am yours for ever."
Queen Hermione smiled, delighted at her husband's explanation: "It is grace indeed. Why, look at you now! I have spoken graciously twice. The first time forever earned a royal husband, the second for your lifelong friend."
As the Hermione smiled at Polixenes, King Leontes' mood suddenly changed. As Polixenes took Hermione’s hand Leontes was consumed by an inexplicable jealousy.
"Too hot, too hot!" Leontes said to himself. "To mingle friendship as far as this is mingling blood. I have tremors in my heart at this sight. It dances- but not for joy, not for joy. This hospitality may look free and have an innocent face, derived from liberty, from heartiness, from bounty, a generous spirit, and very becoming of the hostess- that I grant. But holding hands and smiling and rejoicing as if it’s the culmination of the hunt? This is a display of hospitality that neither my heart nor my head likes!"
The presence of his son, Prince Mamillius, only aggravated Leontes' condition. He looked at the child closely but coolly.
"Are you my son?" he whispered in the child's ear.
"Yes, my good lord."
While speaking to his son, Leontes glanced at Hermione and Polixenes with increasing suspicion.
"In faith! That's my lad! What has dirtied your nose? They say it is a copy of mine. Come, captain, we must be neat and clean, young captain. And yet neat is what we call the steer, the heifer and the calf. Still they play with their hands! How now, you playful calf! Are you my calf?" he asked of Mamillius, not making sense to the child.
"Yes, if you want to play, my lord."
"You want a rough coat and the horns that I have, to be full like me. Yet they say we are like peas in a pod- women say so, but they will say anything. But were they being false, like cloth dyed black for a mourning occasion? Unreliable like the wind and water! Dice are loaded by the one who wins by any means. Yet it is true to say this boy looks like me. Come, sir page, look on me with your blue eye. Sweet villain! My cherished offspring! Can your mother look me in the eye? May it be jealousy that stabs my heart! Lust can make possible the impossible, as though I communicate with my dreams. How can this be? How can one create from nothing? Actually it's very plausible one can perceive something that is real, that’s what I’m doing, beyond my expectations, and it leads to a corruption of my heart and my mind!"
Mamillius stood rapt listening to his father but unable to follow to his confused thinking.
"What's wrong with Leontes?" Polixenes asked Hermione.
"He seems a trifle out of sorts."
"How, my lord! Where is you cheer?" Polixenes called over to Leontes. "How are you, best brother?"
"You look as if you have a head full of worries!" Hermione added. "Are you well, my lord?"
"Oh, nothing, I’m fine. You know how sometimes one’s nature will betray its folly, its tenderness, and make itself ridiculous with bouts of sentimentality! Looking at the contours of my boy's face, my thoughts turned to twenty-three years ago, and I saw myself not yet in breeches, in my green velvet coat, my dagger muzzled, in case it should wound its master, and so prove, as ornaments often do, too dangerous. How like I then was to this kernel, this sapling, this gentleman," Leontes said, and turning to Mamillius he asked, "My honest friend, will you take eggs for money?"
"No, my lord, I'll fight."
"You will! Why, happy man you have my luck! Polixenes, are you as fond of your young prince as we seem to be of ours?"
"When at home, sir, he is all the exercise I need, all the laughter, everything to talk about. One minute my sworn friend and then my enemy, my favourite, my soldier, statesman- everything. He exhausts me until a July day seems as short as a December afternoon. And with his varying childish ways he cures me of the thoughts that darken my mood."
Sworn friend, then my enemy. Those curious words unhinged Leontes yet further. He wasn't exactly sure what Polixenes meant but the sentiments seemed akin to his own thinking.
"Mamillius does the same for me. We two will take a walk, Polixenes, and leave you to your serious talk. Hermione, show our love in Polixenes' welcome. Let what is expensive in Sicily be cheap next to you and my young rover, he's close to my heart."
"If you want us, you'll find us in the garden," Hermione said. "Will you join us there?"
"Do as you please. You'll be found, as long as you are beneath the sky!"
Polixenes and Hermione were oblivious to Leontes’ sarcasm. Once again Leontes was seething with a jealous rage that inflamed him more as he spoke to himself: "I am fishing now, though you don't know how I give the line. Take the bait! Take the bait! How she holds up her mouth to his! And how she walks arm in arm with the boldness of a wife who knows she has a complacent husband!"
As Polixenes and Hermione disappeared from his view, Leontes' jealously swelled.
"Off they go! Incontestable evidence that they are knee-deep in sin! Go, play, boy, play. Your mother plays, and I play too, but so disgraceful is my part, that it is a role which will jeer me to my grave. Contempt and clamour will be my knell. Go, play, boy, play. There have been, or I am much deceived, cuckolds before now. And many a man there is, even now as I speak, who holds his wife by the arm, little thinking that she has been sluiced in his absence and his pond fished by his nearest neighbour, Sir Smile! Yes, there's comfort in knowing that this is widespread. Other men have gates and those gates opened, just like mine, against their wishes. If all who have had adulterous wives despaired, a tenth of mankind would hang themselves. A cure for this there is none. It is the bawdy planet of Venus that strikes, believe it. From east, west, north and south, this is the conclusion: a woman's womb cannot be barricaded. Know this, it will admit and discharge the enemy with bag and baggage. Many thousands of husbands have the disease, and are oblivious to the symptoms. How now, Mamillius!" Leontes barked at the baffled child.
"I am like you, they say."
"Why that's some comfort. What, Camillo are you there?"
"Aye, my good lord," Camillo answered.
"Go play, Mamillius. You are an honest boy."
Mamillius ran off to get some of the servants to play with him in one of his games.
"Camillo, this great sir will yet stay longer."
"Well, it certainly took some effort to get him to change his mind," Camillo said.
"You noticed?" Leontes said, consumed by suspicion.
"He would not stay at your petitions, insisting matters of state were calling him home." Camillo said, thinking he was merely explaining rather than fuelling Leontes’ paranoia.
"You noticed that, too?"
Leontes turned away from Camillo and paced the room. His suspicions were becoming more elaborate.
"They're gossiping already," he told himself, "whispers are doing the rounds. Leontes is in for a shock! It must be far gone if I’m the last to get wind of it. How was it, Camillo, that he choose to stay?"
"Why, at good Queen Hermione's pleading!"
"At the Queen's behest. Good, should be pertinent but, as it is, it is not. Was this grasped by any other understanding head but yours? Your head takes in the intricacies more readily than the blockheads. It hasn’t been noted, has it, by the more sensitive and astute natures? The lower masses are ignorant of this business? Tell me."
"Business, my lord! I think most understand Polixenes is simply extending his stay."
"Meaning?"
"He stays here longer," Camillo said respectfully but hesitantly as though the question was a trick.
"Yes, but why?"
"To satisfy Your Highness and at the request of our most gracious mistress."
"Satisfy? The request of your mistress! Satisfy! Let that suffice. I have trusted you, Camillo, with all the nearest things to my heart. You have been privy to the most private matters and, priest-like, you have cleansed my soul. Often after one of our talks I have left feeling like a reformed penitent. But I have been deceived by your integrity, which was never what it seemed."
"No, my lord!"
"To elaborate, you are not honest, or, if you are inclined towards honesty you are only honest when your cowardice is weak. And cowardice keeps honesty under its thumb. The other scenario is that despite being one of my most trusted servants you are negligent- or simply a fool who watches a domestic game played for the highest stakes and takes it all for jest."
"My gracious lord, I may be negligent, foolish and fearful. Of every one of these things no man is free, and inevitably his negligence, his folly and his fear, surface in all the things that go on in the world. But in your affairs, my lord, if ever I was willfully negligent, it was my folly. If industriously I played the fool, it was my negligence that didn't consider the outcome. If ever I failed to carry out one of your orders it was because I was seized by the kind of fear that befalls even the wisest, this, my lord, is the kind of thing that even honesty can never escape. But, I beg your grace, be plainer with me. Let me see my trespass for what it is. If I then deny it, it is not mine."
"Have you not seen them, Camillo? But that's past doubt, you have, or your eye-glass is thicker than a cuckold's horn. Or maybe you've heard, since even bad eyesight can catch up with the gossip. Any man with a brain in his head must think Hermione is crafty. If you peevishly deny- I didn't see or hear anything- that my wife is loose and doesn't deserve the same names as hurled at any village wench, say so and explain yourself."
"I can't stand here and listen to my sovereign mistress being defamed so without demanding a retraction. I've never heard you say anything less appropriate than this. Even to repeat it would be as bad as the sin you accuse her of- even if true!"
"Is whispering nothing? Is leaning cheek to cheek? Is meeting noses? Kissing with inside lip? Halting in the middle of everything with longing sighs? Infallible evidence of adultery. Playing footsie at the dinner table. Skulking in corners? Wishing the day to pass? Hours were minutes? Noon was midnight? And all eyes blind but theirs, theirs only, that would, unseen, be wicked? Is this nothing? Why, then the world and all that's in it is nothing- the covering sky is nothing. Polixenes is nothing. Hermione is nothing. Everything is nothing, if this adultery be nothing."
"My lord," Camillo pleaded, "rid yourself of this diseased opinion as soon as possible. For it is most dangerous."
"Say it is so, say it’s true."
"No, no, my lord."
"It is! You lie, you lie! I say you lie, Camillo, and I hate you. I pronounce you a gross lout, a mindless slave, or else a sniveling hesitant sycophant, who cannot with his own eyes differentiate between good and evil. If my wife's liver was as infected as her morals an hour glass would be more than her life expectancy."
"Who infects her?" Camillo asked hesitantly.
"Why, he that wears her like a medal hanging around his neck."
Camillo looked at Leontes mystified, anxious not to incur his wrath but obviously uncertain as to whom the King was referring.
"Polixenes! If I was surrounded by reliable truthful servants who understood that while my honour remains intact they gain and profit whenever I do then I wouldn't be in this situation. Yes, you, his cupbearer, whom I have promoted and praised, can see as plainly as Heaven sees earth and vice versa, that I am wounded to the quick. For me you can add something fatal to his nightly cordial, something that will give him everlasting sleep and me a similarly long peace."
"Sir, my lord, I could do this, but not with a rash potion, but with a lingering dram that should not work suddenly like poison. But I cannot believe this flaw in my mistress, so honourable is Hermione. I have loved you-"
"If you are going to question me, go rot. Do you think I am so confused and unsettled that I would willingly put myself through this? Would I sully the purity and whiteness of my sheets, which was the preserve of sleep and is now a bed of thorns, nettles, tails of wasps? Would I give scandal to the blood of the Prince my son, whom I do think is mine and love as mine, without reason to do so? Would I do this? Can a man delude himself in such matters?"
"I must believe you, sir. I do, and I will see to Polixenes. But on condition that when he's removed, you will again take Hermione as your own, as you did in the beginning, even if only for your son's sake, and thereby silencing dangerous talk in courts and kingdoms known and allied to Sicily."
"You advise this, and it is my own course. I'll give no blemish to her honour, none."
"My lord, go then, and with a countenance as clear as friendship wears at feasts, be amicable with Polixenes and Hermione. I am his cupbearer, if from me he drinks a wholesome beverage then count me not your servant."
"This is all I ask. Do it and you shall have one half of my heart. Do not do it, and you will have split your own heart."
"I'll do it, my lord."
"I will appear friendly to Polixenes, as you have advised."
King Leontes left Camillo in solitude to ponder the awful situation.
"Oh miserable lady! Oh, miserable me! What a situation to be in! I must be the poisoner of good Polixenes, and my grounds for doing so is obedience to a master who is at war with himself, and demands that his friends be so too. Do this deed and promotion will follow. Even if I could find examples of thousands who had killed anointed kings and flourished afterwards, I would not do it. But since there is neither verbal nor documentary evidence of this let villainy itself refuse to carry out this order. I will have to leave the Sicilian court. To do it or not do it, either way I will suffer. Oh, no, here comes Polixenes! Maybe this is a sign!"
At first Camillo could not bring himself to speak to Polixenes, the weight of the preceding minutes was crippling him.
"This is strange! I think my stock has dropped in the court of Leontes. Cat got your tongue, Camillo? Camillo, good afternoon."
"Hail, most royal sir!"
"What is the news in the court?"
"Nothing new, my lord."
"No? The King has a countenance which suggests he has lost some province, a region loved as he loves himself. When I met him there and greeted him with customary compliment, he rolled his eyes, muttered something, and sped off. Leaving me to wonder what has happened to affect his mood in such a way."
"I dare not know, my lord."
"Why, dare not! Do not? Do you know, and dare not repeat? Make sense, what is it you know? It is only to yourself you are saying you cannot and dare not. Good Camillo, your changing complexion is a mirror which shows me that in the eyes of some mine has changed too. Obviously I must be a party to this mood change in Leontes, your face tells me as much."
"There is an ailment that is contaminating the court, but I cannot name the disease, and it is caught from you, but you are still in good health."
"How! Caught from me! I don't have the deadly gaze of the basilisk one reads about in myths. I have looked on thousands who have been all the better for it- and so far have killed none. Camillo, your talents have led you to your current status, and you are no less than those of us who have merely inherited title and rank, so I beg you, if you know something I should know tell me rather than concealing it to keep me in ignorance."
"I cannot answer."
"A sickness caught from me- yet I am well! I must be answered. Do you hear me, Camillo, tell me by all that is honourable in man, the least of which is my request. Tell what inkling you have of something harmful coming my way. How far off? How near? How to prevent it? If unavoidable, how best to bear it?"
"Sir, I will tell you, since I am asked in honour and by a man I that I consider to be honourable. Therefore take heed as swiftly as I utter it, or both of us will suffer and with no fond farewell!"
"Carry on, good Camillo."
"I have been appointed by him to murder you."
"By whom, Camillo?"
"By the King."
"For what?"
"He thinks, no, with all confidence he swears, as if he had seen it or had asked you to do it, that you have touched Hermione inappropriately."
"Oh, then my best blood turn to an infected jelly and my name be tarnished like Judas who betrayed Jesus! May my fine reputation become a stench which plagues even the least sensitive nostrils wherever I go! May I be shunned and hated like the most lethal contagion."
"You can deny his suspicions by swearing on all the stars and gods, but it would be easier to forbid the sea to follow the movements of the moon than get Leontes to question his belief. His folly will live as long as he lives."
"What provoked this?"
"I don't know. But I'm sure it’s safer to avoid what has grown than question how it was born. If therefore you dare trust the honesty that exists in my being, which I will bring as a pledge, we should flee tonight. I will get wind of this to your diplomats and courtiers and will discreetly have them leave the city through different gates. My fate, I'll put in your hands. My services are at your disposal- I have no future in Sicily. Don't be wary, for by the honour of my parents, I have told you the truth. If you seek it yourself, I dare not stand by, nor shall you be safer than one Leontes has condemned and sworn to execute."
"I believe you. I saw his heart in his face. Give me your hand. Guide me and your place will always be next to mine. My ships are ready since my people expected my departure two days ago. This jealousy is for a precious creature. Since Hermione is rare, then it must be great, and as Leontes is mighty, it must be violent, and as he believes he is dishonoured by a man for whom he professed affection, his vengeance will be made more bitter. Fear overshadows me. May our departure save us and Hermione, though she must remain here to be subjected to his fury despite doing nothing to justify his suspicion. Come, Camillo. I will respect you as a father if you save me tonight. Let's go."
"It is in my authority to command the keys of all the gates. Please, Polixenes, let us waste no time. Come, sir, away."