The Winter’s Tale, by William Shakespeare

Act II

Scene I. 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

Scene II. A prison.

Enter Paulina, a Gentleman, and Attendants

Paulina

The keeper of the prison, call to him; let him have knowledge who I am.

Exit Gentleman

Good lady,
No court in Europe is too good for thee;
What dost thou then in prison?

Re-enter Gentleman, with the Gaoler

Now, good sir,
You know me, do you not?

Gaoler

For a worthy lady
And one whom much I honour.

Paulina

Pray you then,
Conduct me to the queen.

Gaoler

I may not, madam:
To the contrary I have express commandment.

Paulina

Here’s ado,
To lock up honesty and honour from
The access of gentle visitors!
Is’t lawful, pray you,
To see her women? any of them? Emilia?

Gaoler

So please you, madam,
To put apart these your attendants, I
Shall bring Emilia forth.

Paulina

I pray now, call her.
Withdraw yourselves.

Exeunt Gentleman and Attendants

Gaoler

And, madam,
I must be present at your conference.

Paulina

Well, be’t so, prithee.

Exit Gaoler

Here’s such ado to make no stain a stain
As passes colouring.

Re-enter Gaoler, with Emilia

Dear gentlewoman,
How fares our gracious lady?

Emilia

As well as one so great and so forlorn
May hold together: on her frights and griefs,
Which never tender lady hath born greater,
She is something before her time deliver’d.

Paulina

A boy?

Emilia

  A daughter, and a goodly babe,
Lusty and like to live: the queen receives
Much comfort in’t; says ‘My poor prisoner,
I am innocent as you.’

Paulina

I dare be sworn
These dangerous unsafe lunes i’ the king, beshrew them!
He must be told on’t, and he shall: the office
Becomes a woman best; I’ll take’t upon me:
If I prove honey-mouth’d let my tongue blister
And never to my red-look’d anger be
The trumpet any more. Pray you, Emilia,
Commend my best obedience to the queen:
If she dares trust me with her little babe,
I’ll show’t the king and undertake to be
Her advocate to the loud’st. We do not know
How he may soften at the sight o’ the child:
The silence often of pure innocence
Persuades when speaking fails.

Emilia

Most worthy madam,
Your honour and your goodness is so evident
That your free undertaking cannot miss
A thriving issue: there is no lady living
So meet for this great errand. Please your ladyship
To visit the next room, I’ll presently
Acquaint the queen of your most noble offer;
Who but to-day hammer’d of this design,
But durst not tempt a minister of honour,
Lest she should be denied.

Paulina

Tell her, Emilia.
I’ll use that tongue I have: if wit flow from’t
As boldness from my bosom, let ’t not be doubted
I shall do good.

Emilia

  Now be you blest for it! I’ll to the queen: please you, come something nearer.

Gaoler

Madam, if’t please the queen to send the babe,
I know not what I shall incur to pass it,
Having no warrant.

Paulina

  You need not fear it, sir:
This child was prisoner to the womb and is
By law and process of great nature thence
Freed and enfranchised, not a party to
The anger of the king nor guilty of,
If any be, the trespass of the queen.

Gaoler

I do believe it.

Paulina

  Do not you fear: upon mine honour,
I will stand betwixt you and danger.

Exeunt

Scene III. A room in Leontes’ palace.

Enter Leontes, Antigonus, Lords, and Servants

Leontes

Nor night nor day no rest: it is but weakness
To bear the matter thus; mere weakness. If
The cause were not in being — part o’ the cause,
She the adulteress; for the harlot king
Is quite beyond mine arm, out of the blank
And level of my brain, plot-proof; but she
I can hook to me: say that she were gone,
Given to the fire, a moiety of my rest
Might come to me again. Who’s there?

First Servant

My lord?

Leontes

How does the boy?

First Servant

  He took good rest to-night;
’Tis hoped his sickness is discharged.

Leontes

To see his nobleness!
Conceiving the dishonour of his mother,
He straight declined, droop’d, took it deeply,
Fasten’d and fix’d the shame on’t in himself,
Threw off his spirit, his appetite, his sleep,
And downright languish’d. Leave me solely: go,
See how he fares.

Exit Servant

Fie, fie! no thought of him:
The thought of my revenges that way
Recoil upon me: in himself too mighty,
And in his parties, his alliance; let him be
Until a time may serve: for present vengeance,
Take it on her. Camillo and Polixenes
Laugh at me, make their pastime at my sorrow:
They should not laugh if I could reach them, nor
Shall she within my power.

Enter Paulina, with a child

First Lord

You must not enter.

Paulina

Nay, rather, good my lords, be second to me:
Fear you his tyrannous passion more, alas,
Than the queen’s life? a gracious innocent soul,
More free than he is jealous.

Antigonus

That’s enough.

Second Servant

Madam, he hath not slept tonight; commanded
None should come at him.

Paulina

Not so hot, good sir:
I come to bring him sleep. ’Tis such as you,
That creep like shadows by him and do sigh
At each his needless heavings, such as you
Nourish the cause of his awaking: I
Do come with words as medicinal as true,
Honest as either, to purge him of that humour
That presses him from sleep.

Leontes

What noise there, ho?

Paulina

No noise, my lord; but needful conference
About some gossips for your highness.

Leontes

How!
Away with that audacious lady! Antigonus,
I charged thee that she should not come about me:
I knew she would.

Antigonus

  I told her so, my lord,
On your displeasure’s peril and on mine,
She should not visit you.

Leontes

What, canst not rule her?

Paulina

From all dishonesty he can: in this,
Unless he take the course that you have done,
Commit me for committing honour, trust it,
He shall not rule me.

Antigonus

La you now, you hear:
When she will take the rein I let her run;
But she’ll not stumble.

Paulina

Good my liege, I come;
And, I beseech you, hear me, who profess
Myself your loyal servant, your physician,
Your most obedient counsellor, yet that dare
Less appear so in comforting your evils,
Than such as most seem yours: I say, I come
From your good queen.

Leontes

Good queen!

Paulina

Good queen, my lord,
Good queen; I say good queen;
And would by combat make her good, so were I
A man, the worst about you.

Leontes

Force her hence.

Paulina

Let him that makes but trifles of his eyes
First hand me: on mine own accord I’ll off;
But first I’ll do my errand. The good queen,
For she is good, hath brought you forth a daughter;
Here ’tis; commends it to your blessing.

Laying down the child

Leontes

Out!
A mankind witch! Hence with her, out o’ door:
A most intelligencing bawd!

Paulina

Not so:
I am as ignorant in that as you
In so entitling me, and no less honest
Than you are mad; which is enough, I’ll warrant,
As this world goes, to pass for honest.

Leontes

Traitors!
Will you not push her out? Give her the bastard.
Thou dotard! thou art woman-tired, unroosted
By thy dame Partlet here. Take up the bastard;
Take’t up, I say; give’t to thy crone.

Paulina

For ever
Unvenerable be thy hands, if thou
Takest up the princess by that forced baseness
Which he has put upon’t!

Leontes

He dreads his wife.

Paulina

So I would you did; then ’twere past all doubt
You’ld call your children yours.

Leontes

A nest of traitors!

Antigonus

I am none, by this good light.

Paulina

Nor I, nor any
But one that’s here, and that’s himself, for he
The sacred honour of himself, his queen’s,
His hopeful son’s, his babe’s, betrays to slander,
Whose sting is sharper than the sword’s; and will not —
For, as the case now stands, it is a curse
He cannot be compell’d to’t — once remove
The root of his opinion, which is rotten
As ever oak or stone was sound.

Leontes

A callat
Of boundless tongue, who late hath beat her husband
And now baits me! This brat is none of mine;
It is the issue of Polixenes:
Hence with it, and together with the dam
Commit them to the fire!

Paulina

It is yours;
And, might we lay the old proverb to your charge,
So like you, ’tis the worse. Behold, my lords,
Although the print be little, the whole matter
And copy of the father, eye, nose, lip,
The trick of’s frown, his forehead, nay, the valley,
The pretty dimples of his chin and cheek,
His smiles,
The very mould and frame of hand, nail, finger:
And thou, good goddess Nature, which hast made it
So like to him that got it, if thou hast
The ordering of the mind too, ’mongst all colours
No yellow in’t, lest she suspect, as he does,
Her children not her husband’s!

Leontes

A gross hag
And, lozel, thou art worthy to be hang’d,
That wilt not stay her tongue.

Antigonus

Hang all the husbands
That cannot do that feat, you’ll leave yourself
Hardly one subject.

Leontes

Once more, take her hence.

Paulina

A most unworthy and unnatural lord
Can do no more.

Leontes

  I’ll ha’ thee burnt.

Paulina

I care not:
It is an heretic that makes the fire,
Not she which burns in’t. I’ll not call you tyrant;
But this most cruel usage of your queen,
Not able to produce more accusation
Than your own weak-hinged fancy, something savours
Of tyranny and will ignoble make you,
Yea, scandalous to the world.

Leontes

On your allegiance,
Out of the chamber with her! Were I a tyrant,
Where were her life? she durst not call me so,
If she did know me one. Away with her!

Paulina

I pray you, do not push me; I’ll be gone.
Look to your babe, my lord; ’tis yours:
Jove send her
A better guiding spirit! What needs these hands?
You, that are thus so tender o’er his follies,
Will never do him good, not one of you.
So, so: farewell; we are gone.

Exit

Leontes

Thou, traitor, hast set on thy wife to this.
My child? away with’t! Even thou, that hast
A heart so tender o’er it, take it hence
And see it instantly consumed with fire;
Even thou and none but thou. Take it up straight:
Within this hour bring me word ’tis done,
And by good testimony, or I’ll seize thy life,
With what thou else call’st thine. If thou refuse
And wilt encounter with my wrath, say so;
The bastard brains with these my proper hands
Shall I dash out. Go, take it to the fire;
For thou set’st on thy wife.

Antigonus

I did not, sir:
These lords, my noble fellows, if they please,
Can clear me in’t.

Lords

  We can: my royal liege,
He is not guilty of her coming hither.

Leontes

You’re liars all.

First Lord

Beseech your highness, give us better credit:
We have always truly served you, and beseech you
So to esteem of us, and on our knees we beg,
As recompense of our dear services
Past and to come, that you do change this purpose,
Which being so horrible, so bloody, must
Lead on to some foul issue: we all kneel.

Leontes

I am a feather for each wind that blows:
Shall I live on to see this bastard kneel
And call me father? better burn it now
Than curse it then. But be it; let it live.
It shall not neither. You, sir, come you hither;
You that have been so tenderly officious
With Lady Margery, your midwife there,
To save this bastard’s life — for ’tis a bastard,
So sure as this beard’s grey,
— what will you adventure
To save this brat’s life?

Antigonus

Any thing, my lord,
That my ability may undergo
And nobleness impose: at least thus much:
I’ll pawn the little blood which I have left
To save the innocent: any thing possible.

Leontes

It shall be possible. Swear by this sword
Thou wilt perform my bidding.

Antigonus

I will, my lord.

Leontes

Mark and perform it, see’st thou! for the fail
Of any point in’t shall not only be
Death to thyself but to thy lewd-tongued wife,
Whom for this time we pardon. We enjoin thee,
As thou art liege-man to us, that thou carry
This female bastard hence and that thou bear it
To some remote and desert place quite out
Of our dominions, and that there thou leave it,
Without more mercy, to its own protection
And favour of the climate. As by strange fortune
It came to us, I do in justice charge thee,
On thy soul’s peril and thy body’s torture,
That thou commend it strangely to some place
Where chance may nurse or end it. Take it up.

Antigonus

I swear to do this, though a present death
Had been more merciful. Come on, poor babe:
Some powerful spirit instruct the kites and ravens
To be thy nurses! Wolves and bears, they say
Casting their savageness aside have done
Like offices of pity. Sir, be prosperous
In more than this deed does require! And blessing
Against this cruelty fight on thy side,
Poor thing, condemn’d to loss!

Exit with the child

Leontes

No, I’ll not rear
Another’s issue.

Enter a Servant

Servant

  Please your highness, posts
From those you sent to the oracle are come
An hour since: Cleomenes and Dion,
Being well arrived from Delphos, are both landed,
Hasting to the court.

First Lord

So please you, sir, their speed
Hath been beyond account.

Leontes

Twenty-three days
They have been absent: ’tis good speed; foretells
The great Apollo suddenly will have
The truth of this appear. Prepare you, lords;
Summon a session, that we may arraign
Our most disloyal lady, for, as she hath
Been publicly accused, so shall she have
A just and open trial. While she lives
My heart will be a burthen to me. Leave me,
And think upon my bidding.

Exeunt

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30