Sicilia. A room in Leontes’ palace.
(Queen Hermione; Mamillius; First Lady; Second Lady; Leontes; Antigonus; Lords)
Mamillius is playing in the company of his mother and her ladies, whom he is quickly outgrowing. Hermione tries to calm him down by asking him to tell her a tale; just as he’s about to tell a horror story, Leontes bursts in with the lords of his court and orders Hermione’s arrest for adultery. He has Mamillius carried off to avoid his being infected by her mother. He accuses her of treason, of Camillo being her accomplice, his evidence being that Camillo has fled with Polixenes. Leontes’s lords, led by Antigonus, beg him to show her mercy as she is escorted out with her ladies, but he insists that he has all the proof he needs to condemn her. To prove he is no tyrant, Leontes points out that he has sent emissaries to the oracle at Delphi to question Apollo about the truth of the case. He himself is quite convinced, but he is sure that the oracle will convert the skeptics of his court. Antigonus comments that they are likely to become the laughingstock of the world. (234 lines)
Enter Hermione, Mamillius, Ladies.
Take the boy to you; he so troubles me,
’Tis past enduring.
Come, my gracious lord,
Shall I be your playfellow?
No, I’ll none of you.
Why, my sweet lord?
You’ll kiss me hard and speak to me as if
I were a baby still.—I love you better.
And why so, my lord?
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.
Who taught’ this?
I learn’d it out of women’s faces. Pray now
What color are your eyebrows?
Blue, my lord.
Nay, that’s a mock. I have seen a lady’s nose
That has been blue, but not her eyebrows.
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.
She is spread of late
Into a goodly bulk. Good time encounter her!
What wisdom stirs amongst you? Come, sir, now
I am for you again. Pray you sit by us,
And tell ’s a tale.
Merry, or sad, shall’t be?
As merry as you will.
A sad tale’s best for winter. I have one
Of sprites and goblins.
Let’s have that, good sir.
Come on, sit down, come on, and do your best
To fright me with your sprites; you’re pow’rful at it.
There was a man—
Nay, come sit down; then on.
Dwelt by a churchyard. I will tell it softly,
Yond crickets shall not hear it.
Come on then,
And give’t me in mine ear.
Enter Leontes, Antigonus, Lords, and others.
Was he met there? His train? Camillo with him?
Behind the tuft of pines I met them; never
Saw I men scour so on their way. I ey’d them
Even to their ships.
How blest am I
In my just censure! In my true opinion!
Alack, for lesser knowledge! How accurs’d
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
Th’ 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 pandar.
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?
By his great authority,
Which often hath no less prevail’d than so
On your command.
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.
What is this? Sport?
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.
But I’d say he had not;
And I’ll be sworn you would believe my saying,
Howe’er you lean to th’ nayward.
You, 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
’Tis pity she’s not honest—honorable.
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 adult’ress.
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.
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 adult’ress, 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 vild 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.
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.
No; if I mistake
In those foundations which I build upon,
The centre is not big enough to bear
A schoolboy’s top. Away with her, to prison!
He who shall speak for her is afar off guilty
But that he speaks.
There’s some ill planet reigns;
I must be patient, till the heavens look
With an aspect more favorable. 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 honorable grief lodg’d 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!
Shall I be heard?
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 deserv’d 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.
Go, do our bidding; hence!
Exit Queen guarded, with Ladies.
Beseech your Highness call the Queen again.
Be certain what you do, sir, lest your justice
Prove violence, in the which three great ones suffer,
Yourself, your queen, your son.
For her, my lord,
I dare my life lay down—and will do’t, sir,
Please you t’ accept it—that the Queen is spotless
I’ th’eyes of heaven and to you—I mean,
In this which you accuse her.
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.
Hold your peaces.
Good my lord—
It is for you we speak, not for ourselves.
You are abus’d, and by some putter-on
That will be damn’d for’t. Would I knew the villain,
I would land-damn him. Be she honor-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 honor,
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.
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
Grasps his arm.
—and see withal
The instruments that feel.
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.
What? Lack I credit?
I had rather you did lack than I, my lord,
Upon this ground; and more it would content me
To have her honor true than your suspicion,
Be blam’d for’t how you might.
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 ord’ring on’t, is all
And I wish, my liege,
You had only in your silent judgment tried it,
Without more overture.
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 th’ 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,
Cleomines 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?
Well done, my lord.
Though I am satisfied, and need no more
Than what I know, yet shall the oracle
Give rest to th’ minds of others—such as he,
Points at Antigonus.
Whose ignorant credulity will not
Come up to th’ truth. So have we thought it good
From our free person she should be confin’d,
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.
To laughter, as I take it,
If the good truth were known.