A room in LEONTES' palace.

Enter HERMIONE, MAMILLIUS, and Ladies

HERMIONE

Take the boy to you: he so troubles me,
'Tis past enduring.

First Lady

Come, my gracious lord,
Shall I be your playfellow?

MAMILLIUS

No, I'll none of you.

First Lady

Why, my sweet lord?

MAMILLIUS

You'll kiss me hard and speak to me as if
I were a baby still. I love you better.

Second Lady

And why so, my lord?

MAMILLIUS

Not for because
Your brows are blacker; yet black brows, they say,
Become some women best, so that there be not
Too much hair there, but in a semicircle
Or a half-moon made with a pen.

Second Lady

Who taught you this?

MAMILLIUS

I learnt it out of women's faces. Pray now
What colour are your eyebrows?

First Lady

Blue, my lord.

MAMILLIUS

Nay, that's a mock: I have seen a lady's nose
That has been blue, but not her eyebrows.

First Lady

Hark ye;
The queen your mother rounds apace: we shall
Present our services to a fine new prince
One of these days; and then you'ld wanton with us,
If we would have you.

Second Lady

She is spread of late
Into a goodly bulk: good time encounter her!

HERMIONE

What wisdom stirs amongst you? Come, sir, now
I am for you again: pray you, sit by us,
And tell 's a tale.

MAMILLIUS

Merry or sad shall't be?

HERMIONE

As merry as you will.

MAMILLIUS

A sad tale's best for winter: I have one
Of sprites and goblins.

HERMIONE

Let's have that, good sir.
Come on, sit down: come on, and do your best
To fright me with your sprites; you're powerful at it.

MAMILLIUS

There was a man--

HERMIONE

Nay, come, sit down; then on.

MAMILLIUS

Dwelt by a churchyard: I will tell it softly;
Yond crickets shall not hear it.

HERMIONE

Come on, then,
And give't me in mine ear.

Enter LEONTES, with ANTIGONUS, Lords and others

LEONTES

Was he met there? his train? Camillo with him?

First Lord

Behind the tuft of pines I met them; never
Saw I men scour so on their way: I eyed them
Even to their ships.

LEONTES

How blest am I
In my just censure, in my true opinion!
Alack, for lesser knowledge! how accursed
In being so blest! There may be in the cup
A spider steep'd, and one may drink, depart,
And yet partake no venom, for his knowledge
Is not infected: but if one present
The abhorr'd ingredient to his eye, make known
How he hath drunk, he cracks his gorge, his sides,
With violent hefts. I have drunk,
and seen the spider.
Camillo was his help in this, his pander:
There is a plot against my life, my crown;
All's true that is mistrusted: that false villain
Whom I employ'd was pre-employ'd by him:
He has discover'd my design, and I
Remain a pinch'd thing; yea, a very trick
For them to play at will. How came the posterns
So easily open?

First Lord

By his great authority;
Which often hath no less prevail'd than so
On your command.

LEONTES

I know't too well.
Give me the boy: I am glad you did not nurse him:
Though he does bear some signs of me, yet you
Have too much blood in him.

HERMIONE

What is this? sport?

LEONTES

Bear the boy hence; he shall not come about her;
Away with him! and let her sport herself
With that she's big with; for 'tis Polixenes
Has made thee swell thus.

HERMIONE

But I'ld say he had not,
And I'll be sworn you would believe my saying,
Howe'er you lean to the nayward.

LEONTES

You, my lords,
Look on her, mark her well; be but about
To say 'she is a goodly lady,' and
The justice of your bearts will thereto add
'Tis pity she's not honest, honourable:'
Praise her but for this her without-door form,
Which on my faith deserves high speech, and straight
The shrug, the hum or ha, these petty brands
That calumny doth use--O, I am out--
That mercy does, for calumny will sear
Virtue itself: these shrugs, these hums and ha's,
When you have said 'she's goodly,' come between
Ere you can say 'she's honest:' but be 't known,
From him that has most cause to grieve it should be,
She's an adulteress.

HERMIONE

Should a villain say so,
The most replenish'd villain in the world,
He were as much more villain: you, my lord,
Do but mistake.

LEONTES

You have mistook, my lady,
Polixenes for Leontes: O thou thing!
Which I'll not call a creature of thy place,
Lest barbarism, making me the precedent,
Should a like language use to all degrees
And mannerly distinguishment leave out
Betwixt the prince and beggar: I have said
She's an adulteress; I have said with whom:
More, she's a traitor and Camillo is
A federary with her, and one that knows
What she should shame to know herself
But with her most vile principal, that she's
A bed-swerver, even as bad as those
That vulgars give bold'st titles, ay, and privy
To this their late escape.

HERMIONE

No, by my life.
Privy to none of this. How will this grieve you,
When you shall come to clearer knowledge, that
You thus have publish'd me! Gentle my lord,
You scarce can right me throughly then to say
You did mistake.

LEONTES

No; if I mistake
In those foundations which I build upon,
The centre is not big enough to bear
A school-boy's top. Away with her! to prison!
He who shall speak for her is afar off guilty
But that he speaks.

HERMIONE

There's some ill planet reigns:
I must be patient till the heavens look
With an aspect more favourable. Good my lords,
I am not prone to weeping, as our sex
Commonly are; the want of which vain dew
Perchance shall dry your pities: but I have
That honourable grief lodged here which burns
Worse than tears drown: beseech you all, my lords,
With thoughts so qualified as your charities
Shall best instruct you, measure me; and so
The king's will be perform'd!

LEONTES

Shall I be heard?

HERMIONE

Who is't that goes with me? Beseech your highness,
My women may be with me; for you see
My plight requires it. Do not weep, good fools;
There is no cause: when you shall know your mistress
Has deserved prison, then abound in tears
As I come out: this action I now go on
Is for my better grace. Adieu, my lord:
I never wish'd to see you sorry; now
I trust I shall. My women, come; you have leave.

LEONTES

Go, do our bidding; hence!

Exit HERMIONE, guarded; with Ladies

First Lord

Beseech your highness, call the queen again.

ANTIGONUS

Be certain what you do, sir, lest your justice
Prove violence; in the which three great ones suffer,
Yourself, your queen, your son.

First Lord

For her, my lord,
I dare my life lay down and will do't, sir,
Please you to accept it, that the queen is spotless
I' the eyes of heaven and to you; I mean,
In this which you accuse her.

ANTIGONUS

If it prove
She's otherwise, I'll keep my stables where
I lodge my wife; I'll go in couples with her;
Than when I feel and see her no farther trust her;
For every inch of woman in the world,
Ay, every dram of woman's flesh is false, If she be.

LEONTES

Hold your peaces.

First Lord

Good my lord,--

ANTIGONUS

It is for you we speak, not for ourselves:
You are abused and by some putter-on
That will be damn'd for't; would I knew the villain,
I would land-damn him. Be she honour-flaw'd,
I have three daughters; the eldest is eleven
The second and the third, nine, and some five;
If this prove true, they'll pay for't:
by mine honour,
I'll geld 'em all; fourteen they shall not see,
To bring false generations: they are co-heirs;
And I had rather glib myself than they
Should not produce fair issue.

LEONTES

Cease; no more.
You smell this business with a sense as cold
As is a dead man's nose: but I do see't and feel't
As you feel doing thus; and see withal
The instruments that feel.

ANTIGONUS

If it be so,
We need no grave to bury honesty:
There's not a grain of it the face to sweeten
Of the whole dungy earth.

LEONTES

What! lack I credit?

First Lord

I had rather you did lack than I, my lord,
Upon this ground; and more it would content me
To have her honour true than your suspicion,
Be blamed for't how you might.

LEONTES

Why, what need we
Commune with you of this, but rather follow
Our forceful instigation? Our prerogative
Calls not your counsels, but our natural goodness
Imparts this; which if you, or stupefied
Or seeming so in skill, cannot or will not
Relish a truth like us, inform yourselves
We need no more of your advice: the matter,
The loss, the gain, the ordering on't, is all
Properly ours.

ANTIGONUS

And I wish, my liege,
You had only in your silent judgment tried it,
Without more overture.

LEONTES

How could that be?
Either thou art most ignorant by age,
Or thou wert born a fool. Camillo's flight,
Added to their familiarity,
Which was as gross as ever touch'd conjecture,
That lack'd sight only, nought for approbation
But only seeing, all other circumstances
Made up to the deed, doth push on this proceeding:
Yet, for a greater confirmation,
For in an act of this importance 'twere
Most piteous to be wild, I have dispatch'd in post
To sacred Delphos, to Apollo's temple,
Cleomenes and Dion, whom you know
Of stuff'd sufficiency: now from the oracle
They will bring all; whose spiritual counsel had,
Shall stop or spur me. Have I done well?

First Lord

Well done, my lord.

LEONTES

Though I am satisfied and need no more
Than what I know, yet shall the oracle
Give rest to the minds of others, such as he
Whose ignorant credulity will not
Come up to the truth. So have we thought it good
From our free person she should be confined,
Lest that the treachery of the two fled hence
Be left her to perform. Come, follow us;
We are to speak in public; for this business
Will raise us all.

ANTIGONUS

[Aside]
To laughter, as I take it,
If the good truth were known.

Exeunt

 

 

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.