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The Winter's Tale Scenes

Scene 2

Sicilia. A room of state in Leontes’ palace.

(Leontes; Hermione; Mamillius; Polixenes; Camillo; Attendants)

Leontes urges his friend Polixenes of Bohemia to stay longer, but Polixenes insists that he must return the next day, having already been absent from his kingdom for nine months. Leontes urges his pregnant wife Hermione to help convince Polixenes to stay, and she finally bullies him into extending his visit by a week. They engage in light-hearted conversation, Polixenes talking about his childhood with Leontes. Seeing them so friendly, Leontes becomes suspicious, thinking they are far too close. He tries to distract himself by talking to Mamillius, but his fears are too strong and he becomes convinced that he is being cuckolded. He covers up his fears when Polixenes and Hermione notice his discomfort, and he and his best friend discuss their children. Polixenes and Hermione go for a walk in the garden, and Leontes is even more convinced by how quickly they leave him. As he tells Mamillius to go play, his diseased imaginings grow strongly and strongly until he is fully convinced that his wife is cheating on him with his best friend. He begins to sound out Camillo’s opinion in the matter, twisting things to find his evidence, to Camillo’s distress and horror. Camillo defends the Queen’s honor, but Leontes is too far gone in his conviction, and demands that Camillo poison Polixenes. Camillo agrees on condition that Leontes swear to be kind to Hermione afterwards. The King insists he will not cast any slurs on her reputation. Camillo is torn between duty to his King and duty to himself. When Polixenes enters, sensing a coldness in his treatment, Camillo is soon brought to admit what has happened. He urges the Bohemian King to flee, and asks to come along. Polixenes agrees, and they leave. (536 lines)

Enter Leontes, Hermione, Mamillius, Polixenes, Camillo, and Attendants.


Nine changes of the wat’ry star hath been

The shepherd’s note since we have left our throne

Without a burden. Time as long again

Would be fill’d 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 more

That go before it.


Stay your thanks a while,

And pay them when you part.


Sir, that’s tomorrow.

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.


We are tougher, brother,

Than you can put us to’t.


No longer stay.


One sev’nnight longer.


Very sooth, tomorrow.


We’ll part the time between ’s then; and in that

I’ll no gainsaying.


Press me not, beseech you, so.

There is no tongue that moves, none, none i’ th’ 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.


Tongue-tied our queen? Speak you.


I had thought, sir, to have held my peace until

You had 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.


Well said, 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’ th’ clock behind

What lady she her lord. You’ll stay?


No, madam.


Nay, but you will?


I may not, verily.



You put me off with limber vows; but I,

Though you would seek t’ unsphere the stars with oaths,

Should yet say, “Sir, no going.” Verily,

You shall not go; a lady’s “verily” is

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.


Your guest then, madam.

To be your prisoner should import offending,

Which is for me less easy to commit

Than you to punish.


Not your jailer 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?


We were, fair queen,

Two lads that thought there was no more behind

But such a day tomorrow as today,

And to be boy eternal.


Was not my lord

The verier wag o’ th’ two?


We were as twinn’d lambs that did frisk i’ th’ sun,

And bleat the one at th’ other. What we chang’d

Was innocence for innocence; we knew not

The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dream’d

That any did. Had we pursu’d 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.


By this we gather

You have tripp’d since.


O my most sacred lady,

Temptations have since then been born to ’s: for

In those unfledg’d days was my wife a girl;

Your precious self had then not cross’d the eyes

Of my young playfellow.


Grace to boot!

Of this make no conclusion, lest you say

Your queen and I are devils. Yet go on,

Th’ offenses 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.


Is he won yet?


He’ll stay, my lord.


At my request he would not.

Hermione, my dearest, thou never spok’st

To better purpose.




Never, but once.


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 heat an acre. But to th’ 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 th’ purpose? When?

Nay, let me have’t; I long.


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 forever.”


’Tis Grace indeed.

Why, lo you now! I have spoke to th’ purpose twice:

The one forever earn’d a royal husband;

Th’ other for some while a friend.

Gives her hand to Polixenes.



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 practic’d smiles,

As in a looking-glass; and then to sigh, as ’twere

The mort o’ th’ deer—O, that is entertainment

My bosom likes not, nor my brows! Mamillius,

Art thou my boy?


Ay, my good lord.


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 heckfer, and the calf

Are all call’d neat.—Still virginalling

Upon his palm?—How now, you wanton calf,

Art thou my calf?


Yes, if you will, my lord.


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 any thing. But were they false

As o’er-dy’d 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,

Communicat’st with dreams (how can this be?),

With what’s unreal thou co-active 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 hard’ning of my brows).


What means Sicilia?


He something seems unsettled.


How? My lord?


What cheer? How is’t with you, best brother?


You look

As if you held a brow of much distraction.

Are you mov’d, my lord?


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 ornament oft does) too dangerous.

How like (methought) I then was to this kernel,

This squash, this gentleman. Mine honest friend,

Will you take eggs for money?


No, my lord, I’ll fight.


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?


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.


So stands this squire

Offic’d with me. We two will walk, my lord,

And leave you to your graver steps. Hermione,

How thou lov’st 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.


If you would seek us,

We are yours i’ th’ garden. Shall ’s attend you there?


To your own bents dispose you; you’ll be found,

Be you beneath the sky.


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 disgrac’d a part, whose issue

Will hiss me to my grave: contempt and clamor

Will be my knell. Go play, boy, play. There have been

(Or I am much deceiv’d) cuckolds ere now,

And many a man there is (even at this present,

Now, while I speak this) holds his wife by th’ arm,

That little thinks she has been sluic’d in ’s absence,

And his pond fish’d by his next neighbor—by

Sir Smile, his neighbor. 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’s none.

It is a bawdy planet, that will strike

Where ’tis predominant; and ’tis pow’rful—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?


I am like you, they say.


Why, that’s some comfort.

What? Camillo there?


Ay, my good lord.


Go play, Mamillius, thou’rt an honest man.

Exit Mamillius.

Camillo, this great sir will yet stay longer.


You had much ado to make his anchor hold,

When you cast out, it still came home.


Didst note it?


He would not stay at your petitions, made

His business more material.


Didst perceive it?


They’re here with me already, whisp’ring, rounding:

“Sicilia is a so-forth.” ’Tis far gone,

When I shall gust it last.—How came’t, Camillo,

That he did stay?


At the good Queen’s entreaty.


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.


Business, my lord? I think most understand

Bohemia stays here longer.




Stays here longer.


Ay, but why?


To satisfy your Highness and the entreaties

Of our most gracious mistress.



Th’ 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 cleans’d my bosom: I from thee departed

Thy penitent reform’d. But we have been

Deceiv’d in thy integrity, deceiv’d

In that which seems so.


Be it forbid, my lord!


To bide upon’t: thou art not honest; or

If thou inclin’st that way, thou art a coward,

Which hoxes honesty behind, restraining

From course requir’d; 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 tak’st it all for jest.


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 willful-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,

Whereof 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.


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 rumor

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.


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.


Is whispering nothing?

Is leaning cheek to cheek? Is meeting noses?

Kissing with inside lip? Stopping the career

Of laughter 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.


Good my lord, be cur’d

Of this diseas’d opinion, and betimes,

For ’tis most dangerous.


Say it be, ’tis true.


No, no, my lord.


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 wive’s liver

Infected as her life, she would not live

The running of one glass.


Who does infect her?


Why, he that wears her like her medal hanging

About his neck, Bohemia—who, if I

Had servants true about me, that bare eyes

To see alike mine honor 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 bench’d and rear’d to worship, who mayst see

Plainly as heaven sees earth and earth sees heaven,

How I am gall’d—mightst bespice a cup,

To give mine enemy a lasting wink;

Which draught to me were cordial.


Sir, my lord,

I could do this, and that with no rash potion,

But with a ling’ring dram that should not work

Maliciously, like poison; but I cannot

Believe this crack to be in my dread mistress

(So sovereignly being honorable).

I have lov’d thee—


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’ th’ 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?


I must believe you, sir.

I do, and will fetch off Bohemia for’t;

Provided that, when he’s remov’d, 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.


Thou dost advise me

Even so as I mine own course have set down.

I’ll give no blemish to her honor, none.


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.


This is all:

Do’t, and thou hast the one half of my heart;

Do’t not, thou split’st thine own.


I’ll do’t, my lord.


I will seem friendly, as thou hast advis’d me.



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 villainy 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.

Enter Polixenes.


This is strange; methinks

My favor here begins to warp. Not speak?

Good day, Camillo.


Hail, most royal sir!


What is the news i’ th’ court?


None rare, my lord.


The King hath on him such a countenance

As he had lost some province and a region

Lov’d as he loves himself. Even now I met him

With customary compliment, when he,

Wafting his eyes to th’ contrary and falling

A lip of much contempt, speeds from me, and

So leaves me to consider what is breeding

That changes thus his manners.


I dare not know, my lord.


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 chang’d complexions are to me a mirror

Which shows me mine chang’d too; for I must be

A party in this alteration, finding

Myself thus alter’d with’t.


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.


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 experienc’d, 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.


I may not answer.


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 honor 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.


Sir, I will tell you,

Since I am charg’d in honor and by him

That I think honorable. Therefore mark my counsel,

Which must be ev’n as swiftly followed as

I mean to utter it; or both yourself and me

Cry lost, and so good night!


On, good Camillo.


I am appointed him to murder you.


By whom, Camillo?


By the King.


For what?


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



O then, my best blood turn

To an infected jelly, and my name

Be yok’d with his that did betray the Best!

Turn then my freshest reputation to

A savor 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!


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 pil’d upon his faith, and will continue

The standing of his body.


How should this grow?


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 tonight!

Your followers I will whisper to the business,

And will by twos and threes at several posterns

Clear them o’ th’ city. For myself, I’ll put

My fortunes to your service, which are here

By this discovery lost. Be not uncertain,

For by the honor of my parents, I

Have utt’red 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.


I do believe thee:

I saw his heart in ’s face. Give me thy hand,

Be pilot to me, and thy places shall

Still neighbor 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 dishonor’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.


It is in mine authority to command

The keys of all the posterns. Please your Highness

To take the urgent hour. Come, sir, away.



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