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Scene 1

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.


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.


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?

1. LORD.

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?

1. LORD.

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.

1. LORD.

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.

1. LORD.

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.

1. LORD.

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?

1. LORD.

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

Properly ours.


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?

1. LORD.

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.



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