The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource

The Winter's Tale Scenes

Scene 2

Sicilia. A court of justice.

(Leontes; Lords; Hermione; Paulina; Ladies; Officers; Cleomines; Dion; Servant)

Leontes opens Hermione’s trial, announcing that he has made it a public one so that he shall not be accused of tyranny or of injustice — though he is at once judge, jury and accuser. Hermione is brought into the court and her indictment read out, accusing her of adultery and planning to kill Leontes. She denies it all and protests at the treatment meted out at her, particularly being dragged to court while still recovering from giving birth. She challenges all of Leontes’s delusions, but he clings to them. Seeing there will be no mercy from him, she puts her case in the hands of the oracle of Apollo. Dion and Cleomines bring in the scroll from Delphi, swearing that they have not opened or altered it in any way. The oracle is read out: it declares Hermione innocent, Polixenes blameless, Camillo faithful, Leontes a tyrant, and the baby his child. It also announces that Leontes shall live without an heir unless that which has been lost is found. Leontes denies the truth of the oracle and orders the trial to proceed, at which point a messenger announces that Mamillius has died. Hermione faints and is carried out, while Leontes, realizing this is Apollo’s vengeance for sacrilege, swears he will make amends for what he has done. But Paulina comes in to announce that Hermione has died, and unleashes a tirade aimed at the King, listing all his crimes. Leontes does not protest, and in the end she begs the King’s pardon, but he acknowledges that she has only spoken the truth. Leontes swears to mourn daily at the tombs of his wife and child for the rest of his life. (253 lines)

Enter Leontes, Lords, Officers.


This sessions (to our great grief we pronounce)

Even pushes ’gainst our heart—the party tried,

The daughter of a king, our wife, and one

Of us too much belov’d. Let us be clear’d

Of being tyrannous, since we so openly

Proceed in justice, which shall have due course,

Even to the guilt or the purgation.

Produce the prisoner.


It is his Highness’ pleasure that the Queen

Appear in person here in court.

Enter Hermione (as to her trial), Paulina, and Ladies attending.



Read the indictment.



“Hermione, queen to the worthy Leontes, King of Sicilia, thou art here accused and arraigned of high treason, in committing adultery with Polixenes, King of Bohemia, and conspiring with Camillo to take away the life of our sovereign lord the King, thy royal husband: the pretense whereof being by circumstances partly laid open, thou, Hermione, contrary to the faith and allegiance of a true subject, didst counsel and aid them, for their better safety, to fly away by night.”


Since what I am to say must be but that

Which contradicts my accusation, and

The testimony on my part no other

But what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot me

To say “Not guilty.” Mine integrity,

Being counted falsehood, shall (as I express it)

Be so receiv’d. But thus, if pow’rs divine

Behold our human actions (as they do),

I doubt not then but innocence shall make

False accusation blush, and tyranny

Tremble at patience. You, my lord, best know

(Who least will seem to do so) my past life

Hath been as continent, as chaste, as true,

As I am now unhappy; which is more

Than history can pattern, though devis’d

And play’d to take spectators. For behold me,

A fellow of the royal bed, which owe

A moi’ty of the throne, a great king’s daughter,

The mother to a hopeful prince, here standing

To prate and talk for life and honor ’fore

Who please to come and hear. For life, I prize it

As I weigh grief, which I would spare; for honor,

’Tis a derivative from me to mine,

And only that I stand for. I appeal

To your own conscience, sir, before Polixenes

Came to your court, how I was in your grace,

How merited to be so; since he came,

With what encounter so uncurrent I

Have strain’d t’ appear thus; if one jot beyond

The bound of honor, or in act or will

That way inclining, hard’ned be the hearts

Of all that hear me, and my near’st of kin

Cry fie upon my grave!


I ne’er heard yet

That any of these bolder vices wanted

Less impudence to gainsay what they did

Than to perform it first.


That’s true enough,

Though ’tis a saying, sir, not due to me.


You will not own it.


More than mistress of

Which comes to me in name of fault, I must not

At all acknowledge. For Polixenes

(With whom I am accus’d), I do confess

I lov’d him as in honor he requir’d;

With such a kind of love as might become

A lady like me; with a love even such,

So, and no other, as yourself commanded;

Which not to have done I think had been in me

Both disobedience and ingratitude

To you and toward your friend, whose love had spoke,

Even since it could speak, from an infant, freely,

That it was yours. Now for conspiracy,

I know not how it tastes, though it be dish’d

For me to try how. All I know of it

Is that Camillo was an honest man;

And why he left your court, the gods themselves

(Wotting no more than I) are ignorant.


You knew of his departure, as you know

What you have underta’en to do in ’s absence.



You speak a language that I understand not.

My life stands in the level of your dreams,

Which I’ll lay down.


Your actions are my dreams.

You had a bastard by Polixenes,

And I but dream’d it. As you were past all shame

(Those of your fact are so), so past all truth;

Which to deny concerns more than avails; for as

Thy brat hath been cast out, like to itself,

No father owning it (which is indeed

More criminal in thee than it), so thou

Shall feel our justice; in whose easiest passage

Look for no less than death.


Sir, spare your threats.

The bug which you would fright me with, I seek.

To me can life be no commodity;

The crown and comfort of my life, your favor,

I do give lost, for I do feel it gone,

But know not how it went. My second joy

And first-fruits of my body, from his presence

I am barr’d, like one infectious. My third comfort

(Starr’d most unluckily) is from my breast

(The innocent milk in it most innocent mouth)

Hal’d out to murder; myself on every post

Proclaim’d a strumpet; with immodest hatred

The child-bed privilege denied, which ’longs

To women of all fashion; lastly, hurried

Here to this place, i’ th’ open air, before

I have got strength of limit. Now, my liege,

Tell me what blessings I have here alive,

That I should fear to die? Therefore proceed.

But yet hear this—mistake me not; no life

(I prize it not a straw), but for mine honor,

Which I would free—if I shall be condemn’d

Upon surmises (all proofs sleeping else

But what your jealousies awake), I tell you

’Tis rigor and not law. Your honors all,

I do refer me to the oracle:

Apollo be my judge!

1. LORD.

This your request

Is altogether just; therefore bring forth,

And in Apollo’s name, his oracle.

Exeunt certain Officers.


The Emperor of Russia was my father.

O that he were alive, and here beholding

His daughter’s trial! That he did but see

The flatness of my misery, yet with eyes

Of pity, not revenge!

Enter Officers with Cleomines, Dion.


You here shall swear upon this sword of justice,

That you, Cleomines and Dion, have

Been both at Delphos, and from thence have brought

This seal’d-up oracle, by the hand deliver’d

Of great Apollo’s priest; and that since then

You have not dar’d to break the holy seal

Nor read the secrets in’t.


All this we swear.


Break up the seals, and read.



“Hermione is chaste, Polixenes blameless, Camillo a true subject, Leontes a jealous tyrant, his innocent babe truly begotten, and the King shall live without an heir, if that which is lost be not found.”


Now blessed be the great Apollo!




Hast thou read truth?


Ay, my lord, even so

As it is here set down.


There is no truth at all i’ th’ oracle.

The sessions shall proceed; this is mere falsehood.

Enter First Servant.

1. SERV.

My lord the King! The King!


What is the business?

1. SERV.

O sir, I shall be hated to report it!

The Prince your son, with mere conceit and fear

Of the Queen’s speed, is gone.


How? Gone?

1. SERV.

Is dead.


Apollo’s angry, and the heavens themselves

Do strike at my injustice.

Hermione swoons.

How now there?


This news is mortal to the Queen. Look down

And see what death is doing.


Take her hence;

Her heart is but o’ercharg’d; she will recover.

I have too much believ’d mine own suspicion.

Beseech you tenderly apply to her

Some remedies for life.

Exeunt Paulina and Ladies with Hermione.

Apollo, pardon

My great profaneness ’gainst thine oracle!

I’ll reconcile me to Polixenes,

New woo my queen, recall the good Camillo,

Whom I proclaim a man of truth, of mercy;

For being transported by my jealousies

To bloody thoughts, and to revenge, I chose

Camillo for the minister to poison

My friend Polixenes; which had been done,

But that the good mind of Camillo tardied

My swift command, though I with death and with

Reward did threaten and encourage him,

Not doing it and being done. He (most humane

And fill’d with honor) to my kingly guest

Unclasp’d my practice, quit his fortunes here

(Which you knew great), and to the hazard of

All incertainties himself commended,

No richer than his honor. How he glisters

Through my rust! And how his piety

Does my deeds make the blacker!

Enter Paulina.


Woe the while!

O, cut my lace, lest my heart, cracking it,

Break too!

1. LORD.

What fit is this, good lady?


What studied torments, tyrant, hast for me?

What wheels? Racks? Fires? What flaying? Boiling

In leads or oils? What old or newer torture

Must I receive, whose every word deserves

To taste of thy most worst? Thy tyranny,

Together working with thy jealousies

(Fancies too weak for boys, too green and idle

For girls of nine), O, think what they have done,

And then run mad indeed—stark mad! For all

Thy by-gone fooleries were but spices of it.

That thou betrayedst Polixenes, ’twas nothing—

That did but show thee, of a fool, inconstant,

And damnable ingrateful; nor was’t much

Thou wouldst have poison’d good Camillo’s honor,

To have him kill a king—poor trespasses,

More monstrous standing by; whereof I reckon

The casting forth to crows thy baby-daughter

To be or none or little—though a devil

Would have shed water out of fire ere done’t;

Nor is’t directly laid to thee, the death

Of the young Prince, whose honorable thoughts

(Thoughts high for one so tender) cleft the heart

That could conceive a gross and foolish sire

Blemish’d his gracious dam; this is not, no,

Laid to thy answer: but the last—O lords,

When I have said, cry “Woe!”—the Queen, the Queen,

The sweet’st, dear’st creature’s dead, and vengeance for’t

Not dropp’d down yet.

1. LORD.

The higher pow’rs forbid!


I say she’s dead; I’ll swear’t. If word nor oath

Prevail not, go and see. If you can bring

Tincture or lustre in her lip, her eye,

Heat outwardly or breath within, I’ll serve you

As I would do the gods. But, O thou tyrant!

Do not repent these things, for they are heavier

Than all thy woes can stir; therefore betake thee

To nothing but despair. A thousand knees,

Ten thousand years together, naked, fasting,

Upon a barren mountain, and still winter

In storm perpetual, could not move the gods

To look that way thou wert.


Go on, go on;

Thou canst not speak too much, I have deserv’d

All tongues to talk their bitt’rest.

1. LORD.

Say no more.

Howe’er the business goes, you have made fault

I’ th’ boldness of your speech.


I am sorry for’t.

All faults I make, when I shall come to know them,

I do repent. Alas, I have show’d too much

The rashness of a woman; he is touch’d

To th’ noble heart. What’s gone and what’s past help

Should be past grief. Do not receive affliction

At my petition; I beseech you, rather

Let me be punish’d, that have minded you

Of what you should forget. Now, good my liege,

Sir, royal sir, forgive a foolish woman.

The love I bore your queen—lo, fool again!—

I’ll speak of her no more, nor of your children;

I’ll not remember you of my own lord,

Who is lost too. Take your patience to you,

And I’ll say nothing.


Thou didst speak but well

When most the truth; which I receive much better

Than to be pitied of thee. Prithee bring me

To the dead bodies of my queen and son.

One grave shall be for both; upon them shall

The causes of their death appear (unto

Our shame perpetual). Once a day I’ll visit

The chapel where they lie, and tears shed there

Shall be my recreation. So long as nature

Will bear up with this exercise, so long

I daily vow to use it. Come, and lead me

To these sorrows.



Use Power Search to search the works

Please consider making a small donation to help keep this site free.


Log in or Register

Forgot username  Forgot password
Get the Shakespeare Pro app