The Winter’s Tale
by William Shakespeare
Presented by Paul W. Collins
© Copyright 2012 by Paul W. Collins
The Winter’s Tale
By William Shakespeare
Presented by Paul W. Collins
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Note: Spoken lines from Shakespeare’s drama are in the public domain, as is the Globe edition (1864) of his plays, which provided the basic text of the speeches in this new version of The Winter’s Tale. But The Winter’s Tale, by William Shakespeare: Presented by Paul W. Collins is a copyrighted work, and is made available for your personal use only, in reading and study.
Student, beware: This is a presentation, not a scholarly work, so you should be sure your teacher, instructor or professor considers it acceptable as a reference before quoting characters’ comments or thoughts from it in your report or term paper.
One fine winter evening in the golden days of long ago, two mellow ambassadors share a bottle of fine, rare wine to complete their sumptuous supper, and they reflect fondly on the amicable relations between their countries. Bohemia, to the north on the Adriatic Sea, flourishes in the bounty of its fertile, productive fields; here in the south, urbane Sicilia prospers from its commerce, conducted all across the broad Mediterranean.
Lord Archidamus, an elderly guest accompanying his own nation’s monarch, is enjoying their visit—a lengthy one. “If you shall chance, Camillo, to visit Bohemia, on a like occasion whereon my services are now on foot, you shall see, as I have said, great difference betwixt our Bohemia and your Sicilia.”
Lord Camillo, his hair already silvering, tells his friend, “I think this coming summer the King of Sicilia means to pay Bohemia the visitation which he justly owes him.”
“Whereupon our entertainment here shall shame us,” moans Archidamus, aware of the southern court’s greater sophistication. “But we will be justified by our loves; for indeed—”
“I beseech you—” Camillo interrupts gently; he has tried to make the guests at King Leontes’ palace feel at home.
“Verily I speak it, in the freedom of my knowledge,” says Archidamus, smiling. “We cannot with such magnificence… in so rare….” He shakes his head. “I know not what to say.
“We will give you sleepy drinks,” he concludes, wryly, “so that your senses, unintelligent of our insufficience, may, though they cannot praise us, as little accuse us!”
Camillo laughs. “You’d pay a great deal too dearly for what’s given freely!”
“Believe me,” says Archidamus, “I speak as my understanding instructs me, and as mine honesty puts it to utterance.”
King Leontes has often told Lord Camillo, his advisor and something of a confessor, about his friendship with the royal visitor. “Sicilia cannot show himself overly kind to Bohemia! They were trained together in their childhood, and there was rooted betwixt them then such an affection that it cannot choose but branch now!
“Since their more-mature dignities and royal necessities have made separation of their society, their encounters, though not in person, have been regally attorneyed, with interchange of gifts, letters, loving embassies. They have seemed to be together, though absent—‘shook hands’ as over a vast, and embraced, as it were, from the ends of opposèd winds.
“May the heavens continue their loves!”
Archidamus nods. “I think there is not in the world either malice or matter to alter it!” They both enjoy the alliance—and they have an added reason to expect it to continue: both kings have sons as heirs. The visitors have been charmed by the Sicilian boy. “You have an unspeakable comfort in your young prince—Mamillius is a gentleman of the greatest promise that ever came into my note!” Both lords feel keenly the importance of royal succession.
“I very well agree with you in the hopes for him,” says Camillo. “He is a gallant child: one who indeed remedies the subjects, makes old hearts fresh! They that went on crutches ere he was born desire yet their life, hoping to see him a man!”
“Would they else be content to die?”
Camillo laughs. “Yes—if there were no other excuse why they should desire to live! And if the king had no son, they would desire to live, even on crutches, till he had one!”
King Polixenes of Bohemia tells his host he has decided that he must return to his northern home. “Nine changes of the watery star”—monthly cycles of the moon—“hath been in the shepherd’s note since we have left our throne without a burthen!
“Time as long again could be filled up, my brother, with our thanks, and yet we should for perpetuity go hence in debt! And therefore, like ciphers”—zeroes—“that by placement stand as if rich, I’d multiply one ‘We thank you!’ by many thousands to go with it!”
“Hold your thanks a while, and pay them when you depart,” urges King Leontes gently, in the throne room with his wife and young son.
“Sir, that’s tomorrow,” says Polixenes. “I am petitioned by my fears of what may chance or breed upon our absence, and hopes that no sharp winds may blow at home!—making us say, ‘This is put forth too truly’”—admit that detractors are right. “Besides, I have stayed to tire even your royalty.”
“We are tougher, brother, than you can put us to’t!”
Polixenes laughs, but shakes his head. “No longer a stay.”
“One seven-night longer!”
“Very sooth, tomorrow—”
“Then we’ll part the time between,”—split the difference, “and in that I’ll hear no gainsaying!” insists Leontes
“Press me not so, I beseech you,” says Polixenes apologetically. “There is no tongue that moves—no, none i’ the world!—which could win me as soon as yours. So it would now, were there necessity in your request, although ’twere needful I denied it.
“But my affairs do ever drag me homeward—which to hinder were, by your leave, a whip to me, my stay a charge and trouble to you. To spare us both: Farewell, our brother!”
Leontes turns to his pregnant wife, Hermione. “Tongue tied, our queen? Speak you!”
“I had thought, sir, to have held my peace until you had drawn oaths from him to stay!” she replies. “You, sir, charge him too coldly! Tell him you are certain all in Bohemia’s well!—as the assurance of by-gone days”—its history of prosperity—“proclaims! Say that to him, and he’s beaten from his best ward!”—loses the key defensive position.
Leontes nods. “Well said, Hermione!”
But she knows what really calls the Bohemian king away: “Telling us he longs to see his son were strong—let him only say so, and we’ll let him go,” she says kindly. “Let him swear so, and he shall not stay!—we’ll thwack him hence with distaffs!”
She smiles at Polixenes. “And yet I’ll venture to borrow another week of your royal presence: when to Bohemia you take my lord, I’ll give him my commission for a month beyond the date prefixèd for his parting!” She turns to her husband for approval. “And yet indeed, Leontes, I love thee not a jar o’ the clock behind what she his lady does her lord!
“You’ll stay?” she asks the visitor.
Polixenes’ smile is warm, but he demurs. “No, madam.”
Hermione pleads, “Nay, but you will!”
“I may not, verily!”
“Verily!” laughs Hermione. “You put me off with limber vows! But, though you would seek to unsphere the stars with oaths, I should yet say, ‘Sir, no going!—Verily, you shall not go!’ A lady’s ‘verily’ is as potent as a lord’s!”
She sees that he still resists. “Will you go yet?—force me to keep you as a prisoner, not like a guest, so that you can pay your fees when you depart, and save your thanks?” Polixenes laughs; prison inmates are required to pay for their keep. “How say you? My prisoner, or my guest? By your dreaded ‘verily,’ one of them you shall be!”
Polixenes laughs again, finally persuaded. “Your guest, then, madam!” he says, with a bow. “To be your prisoner would imply an offence to you—which is less easy for me to commit than you to punish!”
Hermione beams. “Not as your jailer, then, but your kind hostess I’ll question you about my lord’s tricks and yours when you were boys! Come!—were you pretty ‘lordlings’ then?”
“We were, fair queen, two lads that thought there was no more ahead than such a day tomorrow as was today—and being boys eternally,” says Bohemian king, now a man of thirty.
Hermione glances mischievously at Leontes. “Was not my lord the verier wag o’ the two?”
“We were as twinnèd lambs that did frisk i’ the sun,” says Polixenes, “and bleated the one at the other! What we exchanged was innocence for innocence; we knew not the doctrine of ill-doing, nor dreamed that any did. Had we pursued that life, and had our weak spirits ne’er been rearèd higher with stronger blood,”—at puberty, “we should have answered heaven boldly, ‘Not guilty!’—of accusation cleared, but for that hereditarily ours”—Adam’s fall.
Hermione’s frown is comical. “By that we gather you have since tripped!”
Polixenes grins. “Oh, my most sacred lady, temptations have since then been borne to us!—for in those unfledgèd days was my wife a girl; and your precious self had then not crossed the eyes of my young play-fellow!”
“Grace, to boot!” laughs Hermione, in mock indignation. “To that make no conclusion, lest you say your queen and I are devils!” He laughs again. “Yet go on; the offences we have made you do we’ll answer to—if you first sinned with us, and then with us you did continue fault!—and if you slipped not with any but with us!”
Leontes, who has been distracted, making faces with his son, dislikes her frank tenor. He asks, curtly, “Is he won yet?” He is smiling, but the visitor has stayed quite long, and Hermione is heavy with child; she is due to give birth next month.
Hermione nods happily. “He’ll stay my lord.”
“At my request he would not,” notes Leontes, a bit piqued. He recovers: “Hermione, my dearest, thou never spokest to better purpose.”
Hermione raises an eyebrow playfully. “Never?”
“Never but once,” the king amends.
“What! Have I twice said well?” asks Hermione, in facetious surprise. “When was’t before? I prithee tell me!—cram us with praise, and make us as fat as tame things! One good deed dying tongueless slaughters a thousand waiting upon that! Our praises are our wages!
“You may ride us with one soft kiss a thousand furlongs ere with spur we beat an acre!
“But on to the goal: My last good deed was to entreat his stay; what was my first? It has an elder sister, or I mistake you!—oh, I would that her name were Grace! Only once before I spoke to the purpose… when? Nay, let me have’t!—I long!”
Her jest about longing touches a sore point. Leontes’ smile is faint as he answers, remembering his ardent courting. “Well, it was when three crabbèd months had soured themselves to death ere I could make thee open thy white hand and clasp to thyself my love! But then didst thou utter, ‘I am yours forever!’”
Hermione beams at him, touching his hand tenderly. “’Tis grace indeed,” she says softly. “Why, look you, now I have spoken to a purpose twice: the one earned forever a royal husband; the other for some while a friend.”
As the queen chats with the visiting king, Leontes again finds himself chafed by their animation. The past three months have been strained between him and his wife, whose condition has diminished their intimacy. His unsatisfied desire has led him from vague resentment to an emerging realization of actual jealousy.
He watches the two; both speak cordially following Polixenes’ decision to tarry in Sicilia. Too hot! thinks Leontes. To mingle friendship too far is mingling bloods! I have tremor cardis upon me: my heart dances—but not for joy—not joy!
Thus may entertaining put on a free face—derive a liberty from heartiness, bounty from a fertile bosom, and well become the agent. It may, I grant. But to be paddling palms and pinching fingers, as now they are, and making smiles as if practised in a looking-glass, and then sighing, as ’twere at ‘the death o’ the deer’—oh, that is entertainment my bosom likes not!—nor my brows!
The forehead of a cuckold is symbolically horned; Leontes is succumbing to an archetypal dread.
He regards his son, a lad of seven. “Mamillius, art thou my boy?”
“Aye, my good lord!”
The king nods slowly. “In effect.” Leontes sees a puzzled frown; he affectionately tousles the lad’s hair. “Why, that’s my bawcock!” he says. “What, hast smutched thy nose? They say it is a copy of mine,” he says, wiping the prince’s face with the corner of a kerchief. “Come, captain, we must be neat!”
And yet the steer and the calf are both called ‘neat.’ Each bears horns. “Not neat, but cleanly, captain,” he amends.
He sees Hermione’s reassuring pat on a held hand. Polixenes is confirming that he does indeed miss his own son. But Leontes cannot hear; his face reddens. Still virginalling upon his palm! —touching it as if stroking harpsichord keys.
He smiles at Mamillius. “How now, you wanton calf! Art thou my calf?”
“Yes, if you will, my lord.”
“Thou want’st the hair and hard forehead that I have, to be fully like me.” Leontes considers the boy’s happy face. “Yet they say we are almost as like as eggs—women say so, that will say anything….”
But were they false as blacks o’er-dyèd—as wind, as waters? False as dice would be wishèd by one who fixes no bourn ’twixt his and mine!
He watches the child carefully. Yet it were true to say this boy were like me. “Come, Sir Page, look on me with your welkin eye!” Blue-eyed Mamillius is smiling up at him. “Sweet villain! Most dear’st! My collop!”
Patting the young prince on the head, the king looks back, pondering, at Hermione. Can thy dam?— May’t be?
Suspicion!—thy invention stabs even the confirmèd! Thou dost make ‘possible’ things not held so—communicatest with dreams! How can this be: With what’s unreal thou art co-active, and followest from nothing! Then ’tis very credible thou mayst conjoin with something; and thou dost!—even what’s beyond commission!
And I find it! I add that to the infection of my brains—and the hardening of my brows! He rubs his forehead.
Polixenes has noticed his host’s sullen frown. “What means Sicilia?” he asks, concerned.
“He seems somewhat unsettled,” says Hermione, going to her husband.
Polixenes follows. “How, my lord! What cheer? How is’t with you, best brother?”
Hermione tells him. “You look as if you held a brow of much distraction! Are you disturbed, my lord?”
Leontes denies his fear. “No, in good earnest.” He pauses for a moment. “Sometimes Nature will slip—reveal its folly, its tenderness—and make of itself a pastime for harder bosoms. Looking on the lines of my boy’s face, methought I did recoil twenty-three years, and saw myself, enbreechèd, in my green velvet coat, my dagger muzzled lest it should bite its master, and so prove, as ornaments oft do, too dangerous!
“How like, methought, I was then to this kernel, this squash, this… gentleman!” He asks the boy, testing, “Mine honest friend, would you take eggs instead of money?”—let yourself be cheated with promises.
“No, my lord!” replies Mamillius fiercely. “I’d fight!”
“You would?” laughs Leontes, pleased. “Why, happy man be his dole!” He looks at Polixenes. “My brother, are you as fond of your young prince as we do seem to be of ours?”
“If I’m at home, sir,” says Polixenes, now painfully aware of having just agreed to stay away longer, “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 day short as December’s, and with his varying child-ness, cures in me thoughts that would thicken my blood!”
“So stands this squire officed with me,” claims Leontes, taking Mamillius by the hand. “We two will walk, my lord, and leave you two to your graver steps.
“Hermione, how thou lovest us, show it in our brother’s welcome; let what is dear in Sicily be cheap! Next to thyself and my young rover, he’s heir apparent to my heart.”
Hermione nods. “If you would seek us, we are yours i’ the garden; shall we attend you there?”
“To your own bents dispose you; you’ll be found, be you beneath the sky.” Leontes replies casually; but in his mind, found echoes into found out.
I am angling now, though you perceive not how I give line! In so fishing, he is already caught.
He watches his wife and his friend leave, heading for the garden. Go to, go to! Speaking with the taller king, she looks up at his face; Leontes watches her lips. How she holds up the nub, the beak to him! As they step out onto the soft, uneven soil, her hand seeks support. And takes an arm with the boldness of an allowing wife to her husband!
Gone already! The adults have moved out of sight, but he still sees an imagined rival. Inch-thick, knee-deep!—o’er head and ears, a forkèd one!
He drops Mamillius’s hand. “Go play, boy; play.”
Thy mother plays! And I play too—but a disgracèd part, whose issue will hiss me to my grave! Contempt and clamour will be my knell!
“Go, play, boy,” he mutters—picturing the royal visitor. “Play.”
There have been, or I am much deceived, cuckolds ere now; and many a man there is, even now while I ponder this, who holds his wife by the arm, who little thinks she has been sluiced in’s absence; but his pond was fished by his near neighbour—by his neighbour Sir Smile!
But there’s comfort in’t, whiles other men have gates, and those gates opened, as are mine, against their will! Should all despair who have revolted wives, a tenth of mankind would hang themselves! Physic for’t there is none; this is a bawdy planet! Lechery will strike where ’tis powerful—and ’tis prominent, believe it, from east to west, north and south!
Be it concluded there’s no barricado for a belly! Know’t: it will let the enemy in and out—with bag and baggage! Many thousands of us have the disease, yet feel’t not.
He sees that Mamillius has been watching him brood. “How now, boy?”
“I am like you, I say.”
Leontes murmurs, dryly, “Well that’s some comfort.” He sees a nobleman enter the room. “What, Camillo there?”
“Aye, my good lord,” says the senior adviser, coming to him.
“Go play, Mamillius,” says Leontes. “Thou’rt an honest man,” he says sourly, watching the boy trot off to find his nursemaid Emilia.
The king nods toward the garden. “Camillo, this great sir will stay yet longer.”
The advisor smiles, surprised but pleased; he likes Polixenes, and has previously heard the king urge him to extend the visit. “You had much ado to make his anchor hold; yet when you cast it out, it ever came up.”
“Didst note it?”
“He would not stay as you petitioned—made his business more material.” Camillo thinks the visitor has neglected his own dominion for too long.
“Didst perceive it?” Leontes now finds another layer of worry: his standing with his courtiers. They’re here with me already!—whispering, sounding! ‘Sicilia is a….’
He doesn’t want to think cuckold, let alone speak the word. But now, it seems, the matter is open to public comment—out of his hands. ’Tis far gone, when I shall be last to gust it!
He wants to learn more. “How came’t, Camillo, that he did stay?”
“At the good queen’s entreaty.”
“‘At the queen’s’ be’t,” says Leontes dourly. “‘Good’ should be pertinent, but, as it is, it is not!
“Was this understanding taken by any pate but thine?—for thy perception is seeking, will draw in more than the common block’s. Not noted, is’t, but by the finer natures?—by some severals of extraordinary head-piece? Lower messes”—common feeders—“perchance are to this business purblind…. Say.”
“Business, my lord?” Camillo is puzzled. “I think most understand that Bohemia stays here longer—”
“Stays here longer.”
Camillo is nonplussed. “To satisfy Your Highness, and the entreaties of our most gracious mistress—”
“‘Satisfy!’” cries Leontes. “The entreaties of your mistress! ‘Satisfy!’—let that suffice!
“I have trusted thee, Camillo, with all the nearest things to my heart, as well as my chamber-councils, wherein priest-like thou hast cleansed my bosom. I from thee departed, thy penitent, reformèd.
“But we have been deceived through thy integrity!—deceived by that which seems so!”
“Be it forbid, my lord!” says the loyal lord.
In his arrogant certainty, King Leontes brooks no dissent. “Abiding upon’t, thou art not honest!—or, if thou inclinest that way, thou art a coward who boxes honesty behind, refraining from the course requirèd! Or else thou must be counted a servant—grafted in my serious trust, but therein negligent!—or else a fool that seest a game played home, the rich stake drawn—and takest it all for jest!”
Camillo is taken aback, but defiant. “My gracious lord, I may be negligent, foolish and fearful—man is not free of every one of these; and among the infinite doings of the world, his negligence, his folly, his fear, sometimes show forth.
“But in your affairs, my lord, if ever I were willful or negligent, it was my folly; if industriously I played the fool, it was my negligence, not weighing well the end; if ever fearful to do a thing where I the issue”—result—“doubted—when nonperformance did cry out against execution—’twas a fear which oft infects the wisest!
“These, my lord, are such allowèd infirmities that honesty is never free of!
“But, I 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!”
His dereliction seems obvious to Leontes. “Ha’ not you seen, Camillo? But that’s beyond doubt!—you have, or your eye-glass is thicker than a cuckold’s horn!—or heard, for about a vision so apparent, Rumour cannot be mute!—or thought, for cogitation resides not in that man who does not think my wife is slippery!
“If thou wilt confess, then say my wife’s a hobby-horse!—deserves a name as rank as any flax-wench that puts out before her troth-plight! Say’t, and affirm!—or else impudently naysay, having neither eyes nor ears nor thought!”
But Camillo is appalled. “I would not be a stander-by to hear my sovereign mistress clouded so without my immediate vengeance taken!
“Beshrew thy heart, you never spoke what did become you less than this!—reiterating which were sin as deep as that, even were it true!”
Leontes glowers at him. “Is whispering nothing? Is leaning cheek to cheek? Is meeting noses? Kissing with inside lip? Stopping the career of laughing 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 blinded by the pin and web”—as if with cataracts—“but theirs, only theirs who would be wicked unseen!
“Is this nothing? Why, then the world and all that’s in’t is nothing!—the covering sky is nothing!” he cries. “My wife is nothing, Bohemia nothing—nor no thing”—a term for penis—“have these nothings, if this be nothing!”
Camillo stares at him, aghast. “Good my lord, be cured of this diseased opinion!—and betimes!—for ’tis most dangerous!”
“Say it be. ’Tis true!” insists Leontes
“No!—no, my lord!”
“It is!—you lie, you lie!” cries Leontes angrily. “I say thou liest, Camillo, and I despise thee!—pronounce thee a gross lout, a mindless slave!—or else a hovering temporizer, who canst with thine eyes at once see good and evil, inclining to them both! Were my wife’s liver as infected as her life, she would not live the running of one glass!”—an hour.
“Who does infect her?” demands Camillo, exasperated.
“Why, he that wears her like a medal hanging about his neck!—Bohemia!—who, if I had true servants about me, bearing eyes to see alike mine honour and their profit, for their own particular thrifts they would do that which would undo more doing!”
The counselor is shocked to realize that the distraught king has begun to wish for Polixenes’ death.
Leontes glares. “Aye, and thou, his cupbearer—whom I from meaner form have benched and reared to ‘Your Worship’—who mayst see plainly as heaven sees earth and earth sees heaven how I am gallèd!—mightst bespice a cup, to give mine enemy a lasting blink!—which draught to me were a cordial!”
But the nobleman is loath to abuse hospitality by murdering a guest; he tries to reason with the king. “Sir—my lord—I could do this—and with no rash potion, but with a lingering dram that should not work maliciously like poison. But I cannot believe this defect to be in my dread mistress, so sovereignly being honourable!
“I have loved thee—”
Leontes interrupts: “Make that thy topic and go rot!” He is furious at Camillo’s balking. “Dost think I am so muddy, so unsettled, as to arraign 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’ the prince, my son, who I do think is mine and love as mine—without ripe cause for it?
“Would I do this? Could a man so breach?”
Camillo can see that argument merely fuels the king’s fury, and that he needs time to become calm. “I must believe you, sir.” He nods slowly, gravely. “I do; and will fetch off Bohemia for’t—provided that, when he’s removèd, Your Highness will take again your queen as she was yours at first—even for your son’s sake!—thereby forestalling the injury from tongues in courts and kingdoms known as allied to yours.”
Leontes nods. “Thou dost advise me even as I mine own course have set down.” He scowls. “I’ll give no blemish to her honour—none!”
Camillo hears the sarcasm—and equivocation. “My lord, go then, and with a countenance as clear as friendship wears at feasts, keep with Bohemia, and with your queen.” Camillo sees that Leontes is watching him closely; he too can mislead: “I am his cupbearer; if from me he have wholesome beverage, account me not your servant.”
Says the king “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,” says Camillo grimly, his longtime loyalty already suffering division.
Leontes heads out into the garden. “I will seem friendly—as thou hast advisèd me.”
Oh, miserable lady! thinks Lord Camillo.
But as for me, what case stand I in? Must I be the poisoner of good Polixenes? My ground for doing it is obedience to a master—one in rebellion with himself, who will have all that are his be so, too!
From doing this deed, promotion follows…. He shakes his head. Even if I could find example of thousands who had struck anointed kings and flourished after, I’d not do’t!—and since not brass nor stone nor parchment bears one, let villainy itself forswear’t!
To do’t not is certainly for me a break-neck; I must forsake the court!
He can only wish for better fortune—for all. O, happy star, reign now!
Here comes Bohemia….
Polixenes is returning from the garden. He has sensed a curtness in Leontes’ abrupt leave-taking, in his leading Hermione away—almost pulling her. This is strange! Methinks my favour here begins to warp…. And now he sees that his friend’s kindly ambassador stares at the ground, offering no greeting. “Not speak? Good day, Camillo!”
“Hail, most royal sir.”
“What is the news i’ the court?”
“None rare, my lord.”
Polixenes glances back toward the garden. “The king hath on him such a countenance as if he had lost some province!—and in a region loved as he loves himself! Even now I met him with customary compliment, but he, wafting his eye to the contrary, and falling the lid with much contempt, speeds from me!—and so leaves me to consider what is breeding that changeth thus his manner….”
The ambassador looks away. “I dare not know, my lord.”
“How? Dare not! You do know, yet dare not?—be intelligible to me! ’Tis hereabouts, for what you know yourself you must, and cannot say you dare not.”
He sees the nobleman’s discomfort. “Good Camillo, your changing complexions are to me a mirror which shows me that mine is changèd, too—for I must be a party in this alteration, finding myself thus altered with’t!”
“There is a sickness which puts some of us in distemper,” Camillo tells him, distraught, “but I cannot name the disease. Yet it is caught from you who yet are well.”
“How? Caught from me?” asks Polixenes, perplexed. “Make me not sighted like the basilisk!”—the serpent whose gaze is lethal. “I have looked on thousands who have sped the better for my regard, but killed none so!
“Camillo, as you are certainly a gentleman—clerical in experience thereunto, which no less adorns our gentry than noble names of our parents, in whose succession we are gentle—I beseech you: if you know aught which does behoove my ignorant knowledge to be informed thereof, imprison’t not by concealment!”
Camillo is in ethical torment. “I may not answer.”
“A sickness caught from me; and yet I am well….” Polixenes’ concern grows stronger. “I must be answered! Dost thou hear, Camillo: I conjure thee by all the parts of man which honour does acknowledge—whereof not the least is this suit of mine—that thou declare what incidency thou dost guess—if harm is creeping toward me!—how far off, how near, which way to be prevented, if it’s to be—if not, how best to bear it!”
“Sir, I will tell you, since I am chargèd in honour, and by him that I think honourable! Therefore mark my counsel, which must be followed even as swiftly as I mean to utter it!—or to both yourself and me cry ‘Lost!’—and so the end!”
“On, good Camillo!”
“I am appointed by him to murder you!”
Polixenes’ eyes widen. “By whom, Camillo?”
“By the king.”
“He thinks—nay, with all confidence he swears, as if he had seen’t or been an instrument to press you to’t!—that you have touched his queen forbiddenly!”
Polixenes stares, aghast at the idea. “Oh, then may best blood turn into an infected jelly!—worse than the great’st infection that e’er was heard or dreaded!
“Turn then my freshest reputation to an odour that strikes the dullest nostril where I arrive, and may my approach be shunnèd—aye, hated too!—and my name be yoked with his that did betray the Best!”—Judas.
Camillo shakes his head sadly: “Swear against his thought by each particular star in heaven, and by all their influences!—you may as well forbid the sea to obey the moon as by oath to counsel, remove or shake the fabric of his folly!—whose belief is piled upon his foundation, and will continue during the standing of his body.”
Polixenes is amazed by the change. “How could this have grown?”
“I know not,” says Camillo, increasingly apprehensive, “but I am sure ’tis safer to avoid what’s grown than question how ’twas born! If, therefore, you dare trust my honesty—that lies enclosèd in this trunk which you shall bear along, impawnèd—away tonight!
“To your followers”—servants—“I will whisper the business, and will, by twos and threes at several posterns”—gatehouses—“clear them from the city. As for myself, I’ll put my fortunes, which by my revealing this are lost, here into your service.
“Be not uncertain; for, by the honour of my parents, I have uttered truth!—which if you seek to prove,”—by confronting Leontes, “I’ll dare not be with you! Nor shall you be safer than one condemnèd by the king’s own mouth—his execution thereby sworn!”
Polixenes nods. “I do believe thee—I saw his heart in’s face! Give me thy hand! Be pilot to me,” he says, as they shakes hands, “and thy place”—rank and position—“shall ever neighbour mine! My ships are ready, as my people did expect my departure hence two days ago.
“This jealousy is over a precious creature; as she is rare must it be great; as his person is mighty must it be violent!—and as he does conceive he is dishonoured by a man who ever professed to love him, why, his revenges must for that be made more bitter!
“Fear o’ershades me! O good expedition, be my friend!—and comfort the gracious queen, a party in his theme, yet nothing in his ill-taken suspicion.” He can hardly believe that he is suspected; Hermione, he thinks, is beyond reproach.
“Come, Camillo! I will respect thee as a father if thou bear’st my life off hence! Let us avoid!”
“Please it Your Highness to take the urgent hour, it is in mine authority to command the keys of all the posterns! Come, sir, away!”
The sun is already setting on Sicilia as they hurry from the palace.
Under duress, Camillo promised to “fetch off Bohemia.” He wonders: when Polixenes has indeed gone, will Leontes keep his word?
Attended by two of her waiting-gentlewomen, the queen has been playing with her son in the castle’s royal quarters. He is happy and boisterous, but she tires easily in her eighth month, and his enthusiasm taxes her now-limited energy.
“Take the boy to you,” she pleads wearily. “He so troubles me, ’tis past enduring!”
“Come, my gracious lord, shall I be your playfellow?” asks the older, Margaret.
“No,” protests Mamillius, “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!” He regards the younger. “I love you better.”
“And why so, my lord?” asks Emilia, smiling.
He looks at her cosmetics. “Because your brows are not black. Yet black brows, they say, become some women best—so long as there be not too much hair there, but a semicircle or a half-moon made with a pen!”
Emilia laughs. “Who taught you this?”
“I learnt it out of women’s faces,” says Mamillius. “Pray now, what colour are your eyebrows?”
She grins. “Blue, my lord!”
“Nay, that’s a mock! I have seen a lady’s nose that has been blew, but not her eyebrows!”
Even Margaret laughs. But she chides: “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’d wanton with us, if we would have you!”
“She is spread of late into a goodly bulk,” observes Emilia. “May a goodly time encounter her!”
The boy returns to his mother, and clings quietly.
Hermione is surprised—but pleased. “What wisdom stirs amongst you?” she asks the other women, who simply smile. She kisses Mamillius. “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 scary tale’s best for winter,” the boy decides. “I have one about spirits and goblins!”
“Let’s have that, good sir! Come on, and sit down! Do your best to fright me with your sprites!—you’re powerful at it!”
“There was a man—”
“Nay, come, sit down; then on,” says the queen.
“—dwelt by a churchyard.” He moves closer, sits beside her, and whispers: “I will tell it softly; yond crickets shall not hear it!”
“Come on, then, and give’t me in mine ear,” says Hermione. The child starts to share a ghost story with his mother alone.
The gentlewomen rise as Leontes approaches with several noblemen, and enters the room.
“Was he met there by his train?” the king asks Lord Antigonus, his chief deputy. “And Camillo with him?”
“Behind a tuft of pines I espied them,” Antigonus tells him. “Never saw I men scour so”—crouch so furtively—“on their way! I eyed them even to their ships.”
Leontes mutters, “How blest am I in my just censure, in my true opinion; how accursèd in being so blest! Alack for lesser knowledge!
“There may be, in the cup, a spider steepèd, and a man may drink the venom, yet partake of no harm, for his knowledge is not infected. But if one present the abhorrèd ingredient to his eye, making known what he hath drunk, he grabs at his throat, cracks 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 crown!—my life! All’s true that was suspected! That false villain whom I employed was pre-employèd by him! He has discovered my design, and I remain a pinchèd thing—yea, a very trick for them to play at will!
“How came the posterns so easily open?” Gate guards should have stopped the escape.
“By his great authority, which often hath prevailed no less than so at your command.”
Leontes nods angrily. “I know’t too well!”
He turns to glare at the queen. “Give me the boy!” he demands. “I am glad you did not nurse him! Though he does bear some signs of me, yet you have too much blood in him!”
She stares at him. “What is this—sport?”
Leontes motions to the other women. “Bear the boy hence; he shall not come about her!—away with him!” Emilia, alarmed, hurries Mamillius off to his bedchamber. “And let her ‘sport’ herself and that she’s big with!” growls the king. He glares at Hermione. “For ’tis Polixenes has made thee swell thus!”
She rises, shocked, but fiercely defiant. “But I say he has not!—and, I’ll be sworn you should believe my saying, howe’er you may lean to the nayward!”
Leontes turns to the noblemen and scoffs. “You, my lords, look on her—mark her well! Only set about to say, ‘She is a goodly lady,’ and the justice of your hearts will thereto add, ‘’Tis a pity she’s not honest nor honourable!’ Praise her but for this, her without-door form—which, on my faith deserves high speech—and straight will follow a shrug—the hm… or um…—those petty brands that calumny doth use!
“When you have said ‘she’s goodly,’ these shrugs, these hems and haws, 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!”
He can see their appalled looks. “Oh, I am out of what Mercy does!—for calumny will sear Virtue itself!” A victim’s anger over the humiliation he has imposed upon himself keeps him from seeing the irony.
Hermione is stricken—hurt and indignant. “Should a villain say so—the most resplendent villain in the world—he were so much more the villain! You, my lord, do but mistake!”
“You have mistook, my lady!—Polixenes for Leontes!
“O thou… thing!—just what I’ll not call a creature of thy place,”—rank—“lest barbarism, making me the precedent, should use a like language for all degrees, and leave off mannerly distinguishment betwixt prince and beggar!
“I have said she’s an adulteress; I have said with whom. Moreover, she’s a traitor!—and Camillo is a federary with her—one who knows what she should shame to know herself: that with her most-vile principal she’s a bed-server!—even as bad as those whom vulgars give the bold’st titles!” The courtiers know he means whore. “And she was privy to this, their late escape!”
“No, by my life!” cries Hermione. “Privy to none of this!” She looks at him in dismay. “How it will grieve you, when you shall come to clearer knowledge, that you thus have publishèd me! Gentle my lord, you scarce can right me thoroughly even by saying you did mistake!”
“No!” insists Leontes angrily. “If I mistake in those foundations which I build upon, the earth is not big enough to bear a school-boy’s top! Away with her! To prison!”
Seeing that the stunned noblemen are motionless, he bullies: “He who shall speak for her is fully as guilty as what he speaks of!”
Hermione struggles to understand. “There’s some ill planet now reigning! I must be patient till the heavens look down with an aspect more favourable!
“Good my lords, I am not prone to weeping, as our sex commonly are—the lack of which vain dew perchance shall dry your pities. But I have that honourable grief lodgèd here,” she says, a hand over her heart, “which burns worse than tears could drown!
“I beseech you all, my lords, with thoughts so qualified as your charities shall best instruct you, measure me!” She turns from them in stately resignation. “And so may the king’s will be performed.”
The noblemen blanch at seeing the queen, so strong in her maternal fragility, being thus abused.
Leontes is irked by their inaction: “Shall I be heard?”
Hermione is steely. “Who is’t that goes with me? I beseech Your Highness that my women may be with me; for you see my plight requires it.” She tells her tearful waiting-women, “Do not weep, good fools, there is no cause!—when you shall know your mistress has deservèd prison, then abound in tears as it comes out. This action I now go on stems from my better grace!”—duty as a wife. “Adieu, my lord. I never wished to see you sorry; now I trust I shall.
“My women, come; you have leave.” She leads them away.
Leontes shouts after them, “Go, do our bidding!—hence!”
One of the older lords appeals for moderation: “I beseech Your Highness, call the queen back again!”
Antigonus tells the king, “Be certain what you do, sir, lest your justice prove violation—in the which three great ones suffer: yourself, your queen, your son!”
An elderly nobleman is in tears. “For her, my lord, I dare lay down my life—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 of which you accuse her!”
Antigonus pleads vigorously: “If it prove she’s otherwise, I’ll keep to my stables—where I’ll lodge my wife! I’ll go in couples with her,”—stay yoked together, “and trust her no farther than I see and feel her!
“For every inch of woman in the world—aye, every dram of woman’s flesh—is false, if she be!”
Leontes scowls. “Hold your peace!”
“Good my lord—” begins the graybeard.
Says Antigonus, “It is for you we speak, not for ourselves! You are abusèd—and by some putter-on who will be damned for’t! I would I knew the villain! I would land-damn him!”—inflict temporal punishment. He stammers in frustration: “Be she honour-flawed… I have three daughters: the eldest is eleven, the second nine, and third one five— If this prove true, they’ll pay for’t: by mine honour I’ll clip ’em all!—fourteen they shall not see, to bring false generations!
“They are co-heirs, but I had rather thus geld myself than they should not produce fair issue!”
Leontes waves the lords away. “Cease! No more! You smell this business with a sense as cold as in a dead man’s nose! But I do see’t!—and feel it, as you feel doing thus!”—he claps his hands together sharply before his face. He shows his reddened palms. “And see withal the instruments that feel!”
But Antigonus shakes his head. “If it be so, we need no grave to bury honesty!—there’s not a grain of it to sweeten the face of the whole dungy earth!”
Leontes is angry. “What? Lack I credit?”
“I had rather you did lack it than I, my lord, upon this ground!” says the stern lord defiantly. “And more it would content me to have her honour true than your suspicion!—be blamèd for’t how you might!”
The king grows imperious: “Why, what need we commune with you on this?—rather follow our forceful instigation! Our prerogative calls not your counsels; our natural goodness simply imparts this! If you, either stupefied or seeming so through skill, cannot or will not relish the truth as we do, inform yourselves that we need no more of your advice! The matter—the loss, the gain, the ordering of’t—all is properly ours!”
Lord Antigonus foresees the scandal that will ensue. “But I wish, my liege, you had only in your silent judgment tried it, without more overt action!”
“How could that be?” demands Leontes. “Either thou art most ignorant, though agèd, or thou wert born a fool! Camillo’s flight—added to their familiarity, which was as gross as conjecture ever touchèd, which lacked nought for confirmation but sight, seeing all other circumstances made, up to the deed—doth push this proceeding onward!”
He raises a hand to bar further objection. “Yet, for a greater assurance—for in an act of this importance ’twere most piteous to be wild—I have dispatchèd, in post to sacred Delphos—to Apollo’s temple—Cleomenes and Dion, whom you know to be stuffed with sufficiency. Now, they will bring all from the oracle—whose spiritual counsel had, I shall stop or spur me.
“Have I done well?” he demands.
Grudgingly, Antigonus yields; there may yet be relief. “Well done, my lord.”
“Though I am satisfied, and need no more than what I know,” says the king, “yet shall the oracle give rest to the minds of others—such as he whose ignorant credulity will not come up to the truth!
“Too have we thought it good that away from our free person she should be confinèd, lest treachery of the two fled hence be left for her to perform!
“Come, follow us; we are to speak it in public, or this business will raze us all.”
As they head toward the castle’s entrance, Antigonus thinks, wryly, Raise—to laughter, as I take it, if the good truth were known!
Birth and Condemnation
Lady Paulina, wife of Lord Antigonus, comes down the stone steps into a dim, torch-lighted corridor deep within the old castle and approaches the jailer’s dismal chambers; with her are her steward and two attendants.
“The keeper of the prison—call to him,” Paulina tells the steward. “Let him have knowledge who I am.” He bows, and walks past the low door of the subterranean dungeon.
Paulina thinks of poor Hermione. Good lady, no court in Europe is too good for thee!—what dost thou then in prison?
She sees her man return with the warden. “Now, good sir, you know me, do you not?”
The jailer bows, his iron keys jingling. “As a worthy lady, and one whom I much honour.”
“Pray you, then, conduct me to the queen.”
“I may not, madam,” he says, wringing his hands apologetically. “To the contrary I have express commandment.”
“Here’s an age!—locking honesty and honour away from the access of gentle visitors! Is’t lawful, pray you, to see her women? Any of them? Emilia?”
He nods. “So please you, madam, to put apart these your attendants, I shall bring Emilia forth.”
“I pray now, call her.” Paulina motions for the others to wait in the passage. “Withdraw yourselves.”
The jailer looks down at his feet, discomfited. “And, madam, I must be present at your conference.”
“Well, be’t so, prithee.” He bows and goes. “Here’s such ado as to make no stain into a stain that surpasses colouring!” After a moment, the jailer brings Emilia to her. “Dear gentlewoman, how fares our gracious lady?”
Emilia is highly distraught. “As well as one so great and so forlorn may hold together! In her frights and griefs—of which never hath tender lady borne greater!—she has somewhat before her time deliverèd!”
Paulina stares, taken aback. “A boy?”
“A daughter!—and a goodly babe, vigorous and likely to live,” Emilia reports. “The queen receives much comfort in’t!—says, ‘My poor prisoner, I am as innocent as you!’”
Paulina concurs: “I dare be sworn!” She imagines how conditions must be in the dank cells beyond. “These dangerous, unsafe lunes i’ the king—beshrew them!—he must be told of’t—and he shall!” she cries. “The office becomes a woman best; I’ll take’t upon me!
“If I prove honey-mouthed, let my tongue blister, and never be the trumpet any more to my red-lookèd anger!
“Pray you, Emilia, commend my best obedience to the queen. I’ll undertake to be her advocate to the loudest, and if she dares trust me with her little babe, I’ll show’t to the king.
“We do not know how he may soften at the sight o’ the child. Often the silence of pure innocence persuades when speaking fails.”
Emilia is hopeful. “Most worthy madam, your honour and your goodness are so evident that your free undertaking cannot fail to bring a thriving issue! There is no other lady living so meet for this great errand!
“Please it Your Ladyship, I’ll immediately visit the next room to acquaint the queen with your most noble offer! She but today stammered this design!—but durst not tempt a minister of honour, lest he should be denied….”
Paulina’s face reveals determination. “Tell her, Emilia. I’ll use that tongue I have! If wit flow from it as boldness from my heart, let it not be doubted I shall do some good!”
Emilia curtseys. “Now be you blest for it! I’ll to the queen. Please you, come somewhat nearer.” She hurries back to Hermione’s cell.
The jailer is apprehensive. “Madam, if’t please the queen to send the babe, I know not what I shall incur to let it pass, having no warrant!”
“You need not fear it, sir,” Paulina assures him. “This child was prisoner to the womb, and is by law and process of great Nature thence freed and enfranchisèd—not a party to the anger of the king, nor guilty of the trespass of the queen—as if any be!”
The jailer nods. “I do believe it.”
“Do not fear you,” says Paulina. “Upon mine honour, I will stand betwixt you and danger.”
King Leontes paces, alone, ruminating vengefully about his festering humiliation. Nor night nor day, no rest! It is but weakness to bear the matter thus, mere weakness!
His impotent sleeplessness infuriates him. If only 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!—half of my rest might come to me again.
He summons whatever servant attends in the royal bedchambers. “Who’s there?”
The man comes to him. “My lord?”
“How does the boy?” Mamillius has been bedridden with fever.
“He took good rest tonight; ’tis hoped his sickness is dischargèd.”
“You see his nobleness: perceiving the dishonour of his mother, he straight declined, drooped, took it deeply, fastened and fixed the shame of it in himself!—threw off his spirit, his appetite, his sleep, and downright languished,” moans Leontes. “Leave me here alone; go, see how he fares.”
The elderly servant doubts that dishonor is what afflicts a fearful seven-year-old who has been forbidden to see his imprisoned mother; but he bows, silently, and leaves.
Leontes paces—and again pictures Polixenes. Fie, fie! no thought of him!—my revenges that way recoil upon me! In himself he’s too mighty! Then in his parties, his alliances, let him be—until a time that may serve. As for present vengeance, take it on her! Camillo and Polixenes laugh at me, make their pastime of my sorrow! They would not laugh if I could reach them!—nor shall she, within my power!
He hears a disturbance from beyond a closed door.
- A man insists, “You must not enter!”
- Lady Paulina’s voice replies sharply: “Nay, rather, good my lords, be seconds to me! Fear you more his tyrannous passion than for the queen’s life?—alas, a gracious, innocent soul—more free than he is jealous!”
- “That’s enough!” says her husband, Lord Antigonus.
- “Madam, he hath not slept tonight—commanded that none should come at him!” says a servant angrily.
- “Not so hot, good sir!” counters Paulina. “I come to bring him sleep! ’Tis such as you—who creep by him like shadows, and do sigh at each of 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 the distemper that presses him from sleep!”
Leontes, hearing the contention, is annoyed; he calls, “Whose noise there, ho?”
The door flies open. Says Paulina disdainfully, striding into the room, “No noise, my lord, but needful conference with some of Your Highness’s flatterers!” She holds the king’s infant daughter, and is followed by her husband and two other lords.
Leontes is angry. “How? Away with that audacious lady! Antigonus, I charged thee that she should not come about me! I knew she would—”
“I told her so, my lord!” says Antigonus. “On your displeasure’s peril, and on mine, she should not visit you!”
“What?—canst not rule her?” demands Leontes contemptuously.
“From all dishonesty he can,” says Paulina. “In this—unless he take the course that you have done—commit me for committing honour!—trust it, he shall not rule me!”
Antigonus throws up his hands: “Now you hear! Look you, when she will take the reins, I let her run!—she’ll not stumble!”
Paulina strides to Leontes—who turns away. “Good my liege, I do come, and I beseech you to hear me!—who profess myself your loyal servant, your physician, your most obedient counsellor—yet one who dares, in confronting your evils, to appear less so than such of these who most seem yours!
“You see I come from your good queen—”
“Good queen?” growls Leontes.
“Good queen, my lord, good queen!” cries Paulina angrily. “I say good queen!—and would by combat make her good”—fight to prove her honor—“if were I a man!—even the worst among you!” The listening noblemen flush.
Leontes motions to the others. “Force her hence.”
Paulina faces them, cradles the baby in her left arm, and raises the flaring nails of her right hand. “Let him that makes but trifles of his eyes first lay hand on me!” She turns to the king. “Of mine own accord I’ll go—but first I’ll do my errand!
“The good queen—for she is good!—hath brought you forth a daughter—here ’tis—and commends it to your blessing.” Gently, she lays the swaddled child on the floor before him.
“Out!” cries Leontes. “A man-like witch! Hence with her, out o’ doors! A most intelligencing bawd!”—spying go-between.
“Not so! I am as ignorant in that as you in so entitling me!” retorts Paulina, “and no less honest than you are mad!—which I’ll warrant is enough, as this world goes, to pass for honest!”
“Traitors! Will you not push her out?” demands Leontes. “Give her the bastard!” He glares at Antigonus. “Thou dotard!—thou art woman-tinèd—unroostered by thy Dame Hen here! Take up the bastard! Take’t up, I say—give’t to thy crone!”
Paulina warns her husband: “Forever unvenerable be thy hands if thou takest up the princess under that forcèd baseness which he has put upon her!”
Leontes scowls. “He dreads his wife.”
“So I would you did,” cries Paulina. “Then ’twere past all doubt you’d call your children yours!”
Leontes frowns. “A nest of traitors!”
Antigonus protests: “I am none, by this good light!”
Paulina tells the noblemen, “Nor I!—nor any but one that’s here—and that’s himself! For he the sacred honour of himself, his queen, his hopeful son, his babe, betrays to slander, whose sting is sharper than the sword’s!
“If he wills not at once to remove the root of his opinion—which is rotten as ever oak or stone was sound!—he cannot be compelled to’t. And as his case now stands, it is accurst!”
“A callat of boundless tongue!” cries Leontes, “who late hath beaten her husband and now baits me!” He gestures toward the infant. “This brat is none of mine!—it is the issue of Polixenes! Hence with it!—and, together with the mother, commit them to the fire!”
The courtiers gape.
Paulina stands unmoved. “It is yours!—but we might lay the old proverb to your charge: for being like you, ’tis so much the worse!” She points to the sleeping baby. “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 valleys, the dimples of his chin and cheek, his smiles, the very mould and frame of hand, nail, finger!
“And thou, good goddess Nature, who hast made it so like to him that begot it, if thou hast the ordering of the mind, too, amongst all colours allow more yellow in’t!—lest Hermione suspect as he does: that her children are not her husband’s!”—lacking his jaundiced outlook.
Leontes fumes, staring at Antigonus. “A gross hag!—and thou, scoundrel, who wilt not stay her tongue, art worthy to be hanged!”
Antigonus shakes his head. “Hang all the husbands that cannot do that feat, you’ll leave yourself hardly one subject!”
“Once more: take her hence!” demands the king.
Paulina sneers: “A most unworthy and unnatural lord, who can do no more than thus!”
Leontes shouts at her: “I’ll have thee burnt!”
“I care not! It is an heretic who makes the fire, not she who burns in’t! I’ll not call you ‘tyrant’—but this most cruel usage of your queen—unable to produce in accusation more than your own weak-hingèd fantasy—somewhat savours of tyranny!—and will reveal you as scandalous—yea, ignoble!—to the world!”
Leontes is furious with the lords. “On your allegiance, out of this chamber with her!
“Were I a tyrant, where were her life?—she’d dare not call me so, even if she did know me one! Away with her!”
Antigonus starts to force her from the room.
“I pray you, do not push me!” she insists, shoving him away. “I’ll be gone.” She tells Leontes, “Look at your babe, my lord!—’tis yours! May Jove send her a better guiding spirit!
“What needs these hands?” she protests, as her husband compels her to go. Lady Paulina is disgusted with the entire court. “You who are thus so tender with his follies will never do him good—not one of you!
“Farewell; we are gone.”
Leontes rages at her husband: “Thou, traitor, hast set on thy wife to this!
“My child? Away with’t!” The king needs to punish someone. “And thou, that hast a heart so tending toward it, take it hence!—and see it instantly consumed in fire!—even thou, and none but thou! Take it up straight!”
Antigonus kneels to gather up the pink bundle. He rises, and as he smoothes her blanket, smiles down at the child.
Says Leontes, “Within this hour bring me word ’tis done!—and by good testimony, or I’ll seize thy life!—with whatever else thou call’st thine!
“If thou refuse and wilt encounter with my wrath, say so!—the bastard’s brains with these my proper hands shall I dash out! Go!—take it to the fire—for thou set’st on thy wife!”
“I did not, sir!” cries Antigonus. “These lords, my noble fellows, if they please, can clear me of it!”
“We can!” a white-haired nobleman assures the king as the others nod. “My royal liege, he is not guilty of her coming hither!”
“You’re liars all!”
“I beseech Your Highness, give us better credit!” pleads the old lord, kneeling. “We have always served you truly!—and beseech you so to esteem 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!” And they do.
“Am I a feather for each wind that blows?” Leontes steps toward Antigonus and looks at the peaceful infant’s face. “Shall I live on to see this bastard kneel—and call me Father? Better burn it now than curse it then!”
Still, as looks down at her he cannot help wavering. After a moment he swallows. “But let it be; let it live.”
Then, as he gazes at Antigonus, his anger returns. “It shall not, neither! You, sir, come you hither; you that with Lady Cackle, your midwife, have been so tenderly officious to save this bastard’s life—for ’tis a bastard as surely as this beard’s grey!—what will you venture to save this brat’s life?”
“Anything, my lord, that my ability may undergo!—and nobleness impose,” says Antigonus proudly. “At least thus much: I’ll pawn the little blood which I have left to save the innocent! Anything possible!”
“It shall be possible,” mutters Leontes, drawing his blade. “Swear by this sword thou wilt perform my bidding.”
Antigonus touches the cross-shaped hilt. “I will, my lord!”
Leontes sheathes the weapon. “Mark—and see’st thou perform it! For the failure of any point in’t shall not only be death to thyself but to thy lewd-tongued wife, who, 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 deserted place quite out of our dominions—and that there thou leave it, without further 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 away!”
Says Antigonus, tears in his eyes, “I swear to do this, though immediate death had been more merciful!
“Come on, poor babe. May some powerful spirit instruct the hawks and ravens to be thy nurses. Wolves and bears, they say, casting their savageness aside, have done like offices out of pity,” he says, with a pointed glance at Leontes.
Antigonus now regards the king sadly. “Sir, be prosperous in more than this deed does require.” He looks at the newborn in his arms. “And may blessing against this cruelty fight on thy side, poor thing, condemnèd to loss.” He leaves the room.
The other nobles stand motionless, glum and silent—but with pleading looks.
“No!—I’ll not rear another’s issue!” cries Leontes adamantly.
A servant hurries in from the corridor. “Please it Your Highness, riders from those you sent to the oracle have come this hour! Cleomenes and Dion, being well arrivèd from Delphos, are both landed, and are on their way to the court!”
“So please you, sir, their speed hath been beyond account!” says the elderly lord, amazed.
Leontes nods. “Twenty-three days they have been absent. ’Tis good speed—foretells that great Apollo will have the truth of this appear suddenly!
“Prepare you, lords! Summon a session, so 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!”
Gulls wheel and cry in the clear sky over the calm Ionian Sea, and a long, sleek galley now lies at anchor on Sicilia’s eastern coast. Immediately after it landed, two noblemen dispatched messengers to notify the king, at the castle in the valley two leagues away, of their imminent arrival at his court.
They have voyaged swiftly to and from Greece to petition at the ancient shrine of a world-renowned oracle, and their hasty visit in Delphi proved enjoyable.
Says Lord Cleomenes, as they walk briskly along the pebbled shore, “The climate’s delicate, the air most sweet, fertile the isle—the temple much surpassing the common praise it bears!”
Lord Dion remembers the priests. “I shall report, for most it caught me, the celestial robes—methinks I so should term them—and the reverence of the grave wearers!
“Oh, the sacrifice!—how ceremonious, solemn and unearthly it was i’ the offering!”
“And, after all, the bursting, ear-deafening voice of the oracle, akin to Jove’s thunder!—so surprised my sense that I was nothing!” says Cleomenes.
Dion is eager to deliver the written rulings provided by the Delphic sacristan. “If the event o’ the journey prove as successful for the queen—oh, be’t so!—as it hath been to us rare, pleasant, and speedy, the time is worth the use of’t!”
“May great Apollo turn all to the best!” says Cleomenes. “Those proclamations, forcing faults upon Hermione, I little like!”
As they hurry toward the stable at the south end of the wharf, Dion touches the leather pouch hanging at his side. “The oracle is thus by Apollo’s great divine sealed up; when the contents shall be disclosèd, something rare will even then rush to knowledge!
“The violent carriage of it will clear or end the business!
“Go! Fresh horses!” he tells an attendant, who runs on ahead. “And gracious be the issue!”
A Day of Judgment
King Leontes solemnly addresses the Court of Justice, a panel comprising ten lords he has summoned to the palace. “This session, to our great grief we pronounce, pushes ’gainst our heart: the party tried, the daughter of a king, our wife, and one by us too much belovèd.
“Let us be cleared of being tyrannous, since we so openly proceed in justice, which shall have due course—even to the guilt and the purgation!
“Produce the prisoner.”
An officer calls toward a side room where the jailer waits: “It is his highness’ pleasure that the queen appear in person here in court.” He turns to the hall, crowded with nobles and courtiers, with their attendants and other commoners. “Silence!”
Queen Hermione is led in, guarded by two stolid soldiers. Lady Paulina follows, with gentlewomen attending her and the queen.
“Read the indictment,” says Leontes.
The officer of the guard holds up a scroll. “‘Hermione, queen to the worthy Leontes, King of Sicilia, thou art here accused and arraigned for 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 practise 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.’”
Hermione faces the king. “Since what I am to say must be that which contradicts thine accusation, and the testimony on my part being no other but what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot me to say ‘not guilty’—mine integrity being accounted falsely, it shall even as I express it be so receivèd.
“But hear this: if powers divine behold our human actions—as they do!—then doubt not but that innocence shall make false accusation blush—and make tyranny tremble at patience.
“You best know, my lord, who least will seem to do so, that my past life hath been as continent, as chaste, as true, as I am now unhappy!—which is more than a stage story could pattern, though devisèd and played to take spectators!
“For behold me!—a fellow of the royal bed, who owns a moiety of the throne; a great king’s daughter; the mother to a hopeful prince—here standing to prate and talk—for life and honour!—before whomever pleases to come and hear!”
She speaks proudly: “As for life, I prize it as I would weigh grief—sparely. But as for honour, ’tis bequeathèd from me to mine—and for only that I stand!
“I appeal to your own awareness, sir, of how well I was in your grace before Polixenes came to your court—and of how I merited to be so!
“Since he came, for what encounter un-occurrent have I been constrainèd to appear thus?
“If one jot beyond the bound of honour, either in act or will, I that way inclined, hardened be the hearts of all that hear me, and may my near’st of kin cry ‘Fie!’ upon my grave!”
Leontes sneers. “I ne’er heard yet that any of these bolder voices had less impudence in gainsaying what they did than in performing it first!”
“That’s true enough—through ’tis a saying, sir, not due to me!”
“You will not confess it!”
“What comes to me in name of more fault than I am mistress of, I must acknowledge not at all!
“As for Polixenes, with whom I am accused, I do confess I loved him as in honour was requirèd, with such a kind of love as might become a lady like me—with a love even such as yourself commanded!—so, and no other! Which not to have done, I think, had been in me both disobedience and ingratitude to you, and toward your friend from infancy—whose love he had freely spoken, ever since he could speak, that it was yours!
“As for conspiracy, I know not how it tastes—though it now be dished up for me to try! All I know of it is that Camillo was an honest man; as to why he left your court, the gods themselves, knowing no more than I, are ignorant!”
Leontes shakes his head. “You knew of his departure—and you know what you have underta’en to do in’s absence!”
“Sir, you speak a language that I understand not! My life—and I lay it down—stands as the target of your dreams!”
“Your actions are my ‘dreams’!” cries Leontes angrily. “You had a bastard by Polixenes—and I but dreamed it? You were past all shame!—those of your crime are so!—past all truth!—which to deny worries, more than it avails!
“As thy brat hath been cast out by itself, no father owning it—which is, indeed, more criminal in thee than it!—so thou shalt feel our justice, in whose easiest passage look for no less than death!”
Hermione dismisses his rage. “Sir, spare your threats!—the bug which you would fright me with I seek! Life cannot be commodious to me: the crown and comfort of my life, your favour, I do give up as lost—for I do feel it gone, but know not how it went.
“My second joy, and first fruit of my body—from his presence I am barrèd, like one infectious!
“My third comfort, starrèd most unluckily, is dragged from my breast, the innocent milk in its most innocent mouth, out to murder!
“My self on every post proclaimed a strumpet! With immense hatred, denied the child-bed privilege which belongs to women of all manner!”—nursing her infant. “Lastly, hurried here to this place i’ the open air before I have gotten back even limited strength!
“Now, my liege, tell me: what blessings have I here alive that should make me fear to die?
“But yet hear this!” she cries, facing him squarely. “Mistake me not; life I prize not a straw—but mine honour I would free! If I shall be condemned upon surmises, all proofs sleeping else but what your jealousies awake, I tell you ’tis severity, and not law!”
She turns to the noble jurors. “Your Honours all, I do refer me to the oracle!—Apollo be my judge!”
The presiding lord nods to her. “This your request is altogether just. Therefore bring forth, and in Apollo’s name, his oracle.”
Two soldiers go out into the corridor.
“The Emperor of Russia was my father,” says Hermione sorrowfully. “Oh, that he were alive, and here beholding his daughter’s trial!—that he did but see the fullness of my misery—yet with eyes of pity, not revenge.”
The soldiers return with two Sicilian lords.
The captain of the guard approaches the noblemen. “You here shall swear, upon this sword of justice, that you, Cleomenes and Dion, have been both at Delphos, and from thence have brought the sealed-up oracle, deliverèd by the hand of great Apollo’s priest; and that since then you have not dared to break the holy seal, nor read the secrets in’t.”
“All this we swear,” the lords say together, each touching the cross of the sword’s hilt.
The king motions for them to proceed. “Break up the seals and read.” The red wax is cracked, and the open document is handed to the officer.
He reads aloud—smiling: “‘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.’”
The graybeard lord presiding over the panel beams. “Now blessèd be the great Apollo!”
Hermione looks upward. “Praisèd!”
The king glowers. “Hast thou read truly?”
“Aye, my lord, even so as it is here set down.”
Leontes is furious. “There is no truth at all i’ the oracle! The sessions shall proceed! This is sheer falsehood!”
But now a servant of the royal household runs into the hall, calling, “My lord the king, the king—”
“What is this business?” demands Leontes.
“Oh, sir, I shall be hated to report it!” says the man, in tears. “The prince—your son—from merely imagined fear of the queen’s doom, is gone!”
Leontes pales, staggered. “Apollo is angry!—and the heavens themselves do strike at my injustice!” He sees the queen faint and fall to the floor. “How now, there?”
Lady Paulina rushes to her and grasps her hand; she kneels beside Hermione, searching for signs of life. “This news is mortal to the queen!” she cries to the court. “Look down, and see what Death is doing!”
Leontes is growing frantic. “Take her hence! Her heart is but o’erchargèd—she will recover!
“I have too much believed mine own suspicion!
“I beseech you, tenderly apply to her some remedies for life!”
Paulina and the waiting-gentlewomen follow the officers who carefully bear the queen, on a narrow litter, away from the gray stone hall.
King Leontes falls to his knees, looking upward. “Apollo, pardon my great profaneness ’gainst thine oracle!” he pleads. “I’ll reconcile me to Polixenes!—woo my queen anew!—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!” he confesses, before the judges, courtiers and commoners.
He recalls with horror: “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 thus done, he—most humane and filled with honour—to my kingly guest unclaspèd my practise, quit his fortunes here, which you knew great, and to the hazard of all incertainties himself commended, no richer than his honour!
“How he glisters thorough my rust! And how his pity does my deeds make the blacker!”
Lady Paulina returns, highly distraught. “Woe the while!” she wails. “Oh, cut my lace, lest rending it I break my heart too!”
“What fit is this, good lady?” asks the chief judge.
Paulina confronts Leontes. “What studièd torments, tyrant, hast for me?” she shrieks. “What wheels? Racks? Fires? What flaying? Boiling in lead 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—fantasies too weak for boys, too green and idle for girls of nine!—oh, think what they have done!—and then run mad!—indeed, stark mad!
“For all thy by-gone fooleries were but spices!
“That thou betrayedst Polixenes, ’twas nothing!—that did but show thee to be a fool—inconstant and damnably ingrateful!
“Nor was’t much thou wouldst have poisoned good Camillo’s honour, to have him kill a king!
“Poor trespasses, with more monstrous standing by!—whereof I reckon the casting forth to crows of thy baby daughter to be or little or none!—though a devil would have given up water in the fire ere he’d done’t!
“Nor is’t directly laid to thee, the death of the young prince—whose honourable thoughts, too high for one so tender, cleft the heart that could perceive how a gross and foolish sire blemished his gracious mother! No, that is not laid to thy answer!
“But the last!—O lords, when I have spoken, cry woe!
“The queen, the queen—the sweet’st, dear’st creature, is dead!—and vengeance for it is not yet droppèd down!”
The white-haired lord gasps, appalled by the news. “The higher powers forbid!”
“I say she’s dead! I’ll swear’t! If word nor oath prevail, go and see! If you can find tincture or lustre in her lip, her eye—heat outward or breath within—I’ll serve you as I would do the gods!”
She steps toward the kneeling King Leontes. “But oh, thou tyrant, do not repent these things!—they are heavier than all thy woe could stir!—a thousand kneelings for ten thousand years, together with fasting naked upon a barren mountain, and ever in perpetual winter storm, could not move the gods to look the way thou wert!
“Therefore betake thee to nothing but despair!”
“Go on, go on!” groans Leontes, crushed, his head hanging low. “Thou canst not speak too much!—I have deserved for all tongues to talk their bitterest!”
But the judge motions Paulina away. “Say no more! Howe’er the business goes, you have made a fault in the boldness of your speech!”
Livid, she regards him with sarcasm. “Oh, I am sorry for’t!” She rails at the other lords of the court: “All faults that I do make—when I come to know them!—I shall repent. Alas, I have showed too much the rashness of a woman!
“He is touchèd—to the noble heart!” She turns to the king, her face distorted by anger. “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 punished, who have put you in mind of what you would rather forget!
“Now, good my liege—sir!—royal sir!—forgive a foolish woman!
“The love I bore your queen—” She strikes her forehead: “Lo!—fool again! I’ll speak of her no more!—nor of your children!
“I’ll not remember, before you, my own lord—who is lost too!
“Take your patience to you, and I’ll say nothing!”
Leontes looks up at her, tears flowing. “Thou didst speak most well when speaking but the truth!—which I can perceive is much harsher than being pitied by thee!” He sobs, hands held to his head. Then his arms fall, hanging at his sides. He tells the court officers, “Prithee, take me to the dead bodies of my queen and son.” The soldiers help him to rise.
His eyes are swollen from weeping. “One grave shall be for both.
“Over them shall the causes of their death appear—unto my shame perpetual!
“Once each day I’ll visit the chapel where they lie, and shedding tears there shall be my recreation! So long as nature will endure this exercise, so long I vow to use it daily!
“Come, and lead me unto these sorrows….”
In a small boat approaching the windy, rock-strewn coast of the northeastern Adriatic, a worried sea captain looks ahead as two of his sailors, rowing hard in choppy water, struggle against the wind to reach the shore. With them is the grizzled Lord Antigonus, holding a blanketed infant wrapped in a lady’s fine cloak; a wooden chest lies at his feet.
As the seamen secure the boat, the Sicilian nobleman climbs an eroding hillside to the grassy plain above. He looks down at the waves now creeping up along the barren strand. “Our ship hath touched upon the deserts of Bohemia. Thou art perfected, then,” he assures the captain, who had questioned their recently revised destination; his assignment has been accomplished.
“Aye, my lord—but I fear we have landed in ill time!” says the captain, his voice raised against the growing gusts. He sets the heavy chest down near a patch of brush in a thin stand of old pine. “The skies look grimly, and threaten present blusters! My conscience says the heavens are angry with what we have to do, and frown upon us!”
“Their sacred wills be done,” murmurs Antigonus. “Go, get aboard; look to thy bark. I’ll not be long before I call upon thee.”
“Make your best haste, and go not too far i’ the land!” the mariner warns. “’Tis like to be loud weather; besides, this place is famous for the creatures of prey that keep upon’t!”
Antigonus nods. “Go thou away; I’ll follow instantly.”
The captain looks sadly at the tiny child. “I am glad at heart to be so rid o’ the business!” He goes back down to his men.
Antigonus kneels. “Come, poor babe.” He lays the infant on a soft bed of brown pine-needles beneath some sheltering boughs.
“I have heard, but not believed, that the spirits o’ the dead may walk again. If such thing be, thy mother appeared to me last night!—for ne’er was a dream so like a waking!
“To me comes a creature, her head sometimes tilted to one side, some to another—I never saw a vessel of like sorrow!—or one so becoming!—in robes pure white, like very sanctity, she did approach in my cabin, where I lay, thrice bowed before me—then gaped, as if to begin some speech.
“Her eyes became two spouts; their fury spent, anon did this break-from her: ‘Good Antigonus, since fate, against thy better disposition, but in accord with thine oath, hath made thy person the thrower-out of my poor babe, places remote enough are in Bohemia—there weep, and leave it crying. And, for the babe is counted lost forever, Perdita, I prithee, call’t.
“‘For this ungentle business, put on thee by my lord, thou ne’er shalt see thy wife, Paulina, more!’
“And so, with moans, she melted into air!
“Affrighted much, I did in time collect myself—and thought this was so, and no slumber!”
He muses. I do believe Hermione hath sufferèd death, and that, this being indeed the issue of King Polixenes, Apollo would it should here be laid, for either life or death upon the earth of its right father.
Dreams are toys… yet for this once—yea, superstitiously—I will be squarèd with this one!
He smoothes the blanket tenderly. “Blossom, speed thee well! There lie—and there thy description,” he says, placing beside her a leather-bound packet of letters he wrote during the voyage; they reveal only that Perdita is the daughter a foreign queen, and that treasure comes with her. He tugs the wooden box, hastily filled at home from his own wealth, to slide it next to the baby. “There are these, which may, if Fortune please, both sustain thee, pretty, and ever remain thine.”
Antigonus hears thunder. “The storm begins, poor wretch, who for thy mother’s fault art thus exposèd to loss and what may follow! Weep I cannot, but my heart bleeds; and most accursèd am I to be by oath enjoined to this! Farewell!”
He regards the dark skies. “The day frowns more and more! Thou’rt likely to have a lullaby too rough! I never saw the heavens so dim by day!”
He rises, and turns toward the shore. Suddenly he hears a loud, guttural growl. “A savage clamour!” he mutters. “Well may I get aboard!”—and then he spots, already loping heavily toward him, the low, sinister shape of a large brown bear.
The chase is on! he thinks, clambering in terror down the rough hillside, with the big beast snarling in close pursuit. I am gone forever!
A poor Bohemian shepherd leans against his tall staff, weary after an afternoon of futile searching among the hills.
I would there were no age between ten-and-three and twenty, he thinks sourly, or that youth would sleep out the rest! For there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, and fighting!
His son, a lad of ten, has come along today to help him search; just now he darted away to a cliff to watch, looking out over the sea, as a dark storm moves toward them.
But older boys are the source of the shepherd’s annoyance. Hark you now, would any but these boiled-brains of nineteen and two-and-twenty hunt in this weather? They have scared away two of my best sheep, which I fear the wolf will sooner find than the master!
If anywhere I’ll have them, ’tis by the seaside, grazing in ivy….
Meandering along the line of hills sloping down toward shore, looking for his sheep, he spots an anomaly: bright green fabric among some straggling brush. He looks upward. Good luck, an’t be thy will!
What have we here! Mercy on ’s, a barne, a very pretty barne! A boy or a girl, I wonder? He crouches to peer at Perdita. A pretty one; a very pretty one!
Surely some escape!—though I am not bookish, yet I can read ‘waiting-gentlewoman’ in the ’scape. He has heard about abandonment of out-of-wedlock offspring. This has been some stair-work, some trunk-work, some behind-door-work! They who begot this were warmer than the poor thing is here!
I’ll take it up for pity. He holds the quiet child, sated with cow’s milk while aboard the galley. The shepherd sits down to rest on a span of rock. Yet I’ll tarry till my son come; he hallooed but even now.
“Woh-a, ho ho-a!” he calls.
“Halloh-a, ho-a!” cries the tall boy, coming up the rise toward him.
“What, art so near?” He motions his son forward. “If thou’lt see a thing to talk on when thou art dead and rotten, come hither!” But now he perceives that the lad is perturbed. “What ailest thou, man?”
“I have seen two such sights!—on sea and on land!—” He shakes his head: “But I am not able to say it is a sea, for it is now the sky!—betwixt swell and firmament you cannot thrust a bodkin’s point!”
“Why, boy, how is that?”
“I would you did but see how it chafes, how it rages, how it takes up the shore! But that’s not the fright!—
“Oh, the most piteous cries of the poor souls! Sometimes seeing ’em, then not seeing ’em!—now the ship boring the moon with her main-mast!—and anon swallowed in yest and froth!—as if you’d tossed a cork into a barrel of wine!
“And then for the land-service!—to see how the bear tore out his shoulder-bone!—hear how he cried to me for help!—said his name was Antigonus, a nobleman!
“But, to make an end of the ship: seeing how the sea flap-dragoned it!”—gulped it down. “First how the poor souls roared, and the sea mocked them!
“Then how the poor gentleman roared, and the bear mocked him!—both roaring louder than the sea or weather!”
The shepherd stares, wide-eyed. “Name of Mercy!—when was this, boy?”
“Now, now!—I have not blinked since I saw these sights! The men are not yet cold under water, nor the bear half-dined on the gentleman—he’s at it now!”
The shepherd looks seaward. “Would I had been by, to have helped the poor man!”
The boy feels frustration. “I would you had been by the ship’s side, to have helped her where your charity would have lacked footing!”—as if he’d be more help with the bear.
“Heavy matters! Heavy matters,” moans the shepherd, cradling the baby. “But look thee here, boy! Now bless thyself: thou mettest with things dying, I with things new-born! Here’s a sight for thee! Look thee—a bearing-cloth for a squire’s child!”
The boy smiles to see the infant’s solemn serenity despite the howling weather.
The shepherd moves to the wooden chest. “Look thee here!—take up, take up, boy!—open’t! So let’s see!
“It was told me I should be made rich by the fairies!” He looks at the baby. “This is some changeling!
“Open’t! What’s within, boy?”
The lad pulls back the iron hasp and lifts the hinged wooden cover; he is startled—and delighted. “You’re a-made, old man!” he cries. “If the sins of your youth are forgiven you, you’re to live well! Gold! All gold!”
But the shepherd is wary. “This is fairy gold, boy, and ’twill prove so! Up with’t, keep it close! Home, home by the nearest way! We are lucky, boy—but to be so still requires nothing but secrecy! Let my sheep go! Come, good boy, the shortest way home!”
But his young son turns toward the sea. “Go you with your foundling. I’ll see if the bear be gone from the gentleman, and how much it hath eaten; they are never vicious but when they are hungry.
“If there be any of him left, I’ll bury it.”
“That’s a good deed. If thou mayest discern by that which is left of him who he is, fetch me to the sight of him.”
“Marry, will I.” The boy regards his father. “And you shall help to put him i’ the ground.”
The shepherd nods; he will return. “’Tis a lucky day, boy; and we’ll do good deeds on’t!”
In Fair Bohemia
Behold, in a shimmering twilight, an ethereal image: a white-haired man, at once both coming and going—and holding a tall hour-glass.
“I who please some, try all, in both joy and terror, good and bad—who takes and unfolds error—now take it upon me, under the name of Time, to use my wings!
“My passage is swift; impute it not to me a crime that I slide o’er sixteen years, and leave untrod the growth of that wide gap, since it is in my power to o’erthrow law, and in one self-born hour to supplant an o’erwhelmèd custom!
“The same am I—from ere ancient’st order that was, to what is now receivèd. I was witness to the times that brought them in; so shall I be to the freshest things now reigning—then make the glistening of this present as stale as my tale now seems within it.
“So let me pass! Your patience this allowing, I turn my glass,”—he does so, “and give my scene such growing as if you had slept!—leaving behind Leontes and the effects of his absurd jealousies—so grievous that he shuts himself away!
“Imagine, gentle spectator, that now I may be in fair Bohemia….
“And remember well what is to be noted: the son o’ the king I now name to you Florizel—and with speed so pacèd do speak of Perdita, now grown to a grace equal with wonder!
“What of her ensues I will not prophesy; let Time’s news be known when ’tis brought forth!
“A shepherd’s daughter, and what to her adheres, which here follows after, is the argument of Time.” Says the stooped old figure dryly, “Of this allow, if you have ever spent time worse ere now!”
He adds, glancing back with a smile as he turns away, “If never yet, Time himself doth say: he wishes earnestly you never may!”
Inland from the busy seaport where wide, round-bottomed ships lie at anchor, laden with golden grain and bound for many distant ports, stands the palace of Bohemia, now splendid in the morning sunlight. King Polixenes walks in the garden with his trusted old adviser—one to whom he has long felt he owes his life.
“I pray thee, good Camillo, be no more importunate!” says Polixenes earnestly. “’Tis a sickness to deny thee anything—a death to grant this!”
But the former Sicilian ambassador, too, pleads: “It is sixteen years since I saw my country! Though I have for the most part been airèd abroad, I desire to lay my bones there. Besides, my old master hath sent for me—the penitent king, whose deep sorrows I might somewhat allay, unless I o’erween to think so—which is another spur to my departure.”
“As thou lovest me, Camillo, wipe not out the rest of thy services by leaving me now in the need I have of thee! Thine own goodness hath made it better not to have had thee than thus to lack thee! Having made for me businesses which, without thee, none can sufficiently manage, thou must either stay to execute them thyself, or take away with thee the very services thou hast done! Which, if I have not enough rewarded—as too much I cannot!—being more thankful to thee shall be my study, and my profit therein reaping thy friendship!”
His brow furrows. “Prithee speak no more of that fatal country, Sicilia—whose very naming punishes me with the remembrance of that, as thou callest him, penitent, reconcilèd king—my brother, whose loss of his most-precious queen and children are even now to be lamented afresh!”
He thinks of his own boy, now a man of twenty-three—and increasingly independent. “Say to me: when sawest thou Prince Florizel, my son?” He frowns again. “Kings are no less unhappy, their issue not being gracious, than they are in losing them when they have proven virtues.”
“Sir, it is three days since I saw the prince. What his happier affairs may be are to me unknown; but I have missingly noted he is of late much retirèd from court, and is less frequent to his princely exercises than formerly he hath appearèd.”
Polixenes nods. “I have considered as much, Camillo, and with some care!—so far that I have eyes under my service”—spies—“which look into his removedness—from whom I have this intelligence: that he is seldom far from the house of a most-humble shepherd—a man, they say, who from very nothing, and beyond the imagination of his neighbours, has grown unto an unimpeachable estate!”
“I have heard, sir, of such a man, who hath a daughter of most rare note! The report of her is extended more than can be thought to begin from such a cottage.”
“That’s likewise part of my intelligence!—and I fear the angle”—fishing lure—“that plucks our son thither!
“Thou shalt accompany us to the place, where we will—not appearing as what we are—have some question with the shepherd, from whose simplicity I think it not uneasy to get the cause of my son’s resort thither.
“Prithee, immediately be my partner in this business—and lay aside thy thoughts of Sicilia!”
Camillo bows. “I willingly obey your command.”
Polixenes warmly clasps an arm around his shoulders. “My best Camillo!
“We must disguise ourselves,” he says, as they head into the castle.
On the dry, rutted road near a cottage at the edge of town, a jolly peddler whistles cheerfully as he comes to the farm village where today hard-working local shepherds are celebrating the annual shearing of sheep and selling of the wool. The crafty rascal Autolycus intends to leave the peasants shorn as well.
Sunshine and blue sky move the vagrant to sing a ribald rhyme:
“When daffodils begin to peer,
With Heigh! the wayward wench, o’er dale,
Why, then comes in the sweet o’ the year—
For the red blood”—ardor—“reins-in winter’s pale!
“A white sheet bleaching on the hedge,
With Heigh! the sweet birds, oh, how they sing!
Doth set my fugging teeth on edge—
For a quart of ale “—what he’ll get for the stolen linen—“is a dish for a king!
“The lark, that tirra-lyra chants,
With Heigh, with Heigh, the thrush and the jay,
Has summer songs for me and my ‘aunts,’
While we lie tumbling in the hay!”
He recalls a recent run of ill fortune. I have served Prince Florizel, and in my time wore three-pile! —costly livery. But now I am out of service.
“But shall I go mourn for that, my dear?
The pale moon shines by night!—
And when I wander here and there,
I then do most go right!
“If tinkers may have leave to live,
And bear a sow-skin budget,
Then my account I may as well give—
And in the stocks avouch it!”
My traffic is sheets; when the hawk builds, —the pilferer is feathering his nest, as it were— watch your lesser linen!
My father named me after Autolycus—who, being, as I am, littered under Mercury, was likewise a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles.
In homage, perhaps, to the fleet-footed Greek exemplar of thieves described by Homer, he straightens and brushes his thin, sun-faded coat, wine-stained doublet, and dusty breeches, ignoring the blotches and spatters of mud on his stockings. With dice by drabs I purchased this caparison, and my ‘revenue’ is the simple cheat!
But Autolycus shuns the armed robber’s rougher work: Knocks—and gallows—are too powerful along the highway!—beating and hanging are terrors to me! He shrugs. As for the life to come, I sleep without a thought of it.
He spots, approaching, a young man whom he might well fleece. A prize! A prize!
The shepherd’s son, now a handsome man of twenty-six, is looking down as he goes, and muttering to himself about the sale of his wool. “Let me see. Fifteen hundred shorn; every ’leven-wether tods; every tod yields a pound and odd shilling… what comes the wool to?”
Autolycus drops to the ground and tips his pack of sundry wares onto its side, preparing a well practiced trap. If the springe hold, the gamecock’s mine!
The rustic abandons mental calculation: I cannot do’t without counters. He remembers his errand in town, and finds a folded scrap in a pocket.
Let me see; what am I to buy for our sheep-shearing feast? Three pound of sugar, five pound of currants, rice—what will this sister of mine do with rice? But my father hath made her mistress of the feast, and she lays it on! She hath made four and twenty nose-gays for the shearers—three-man-song men all, and very good ones! But they are, most of them, means and basses—only one puritan—a teasing term for tenor—amongst them—and he sings psalms to horn-pipes! —mild lyrics set to sailors’ bold dances.
He looks again at the list. I must have saffron to colour the warden-pies, mace… dates? He checks, hopefully. None; that’s not on my note. Nutmegs, seven; a root or two of ginger, but that I may beg; four pound of prunes, and as many of raisins o’ the sun.
Autolycus cries out: “Oh, that ever I was born!” He writhes on the turf by the road.
“I’ the name of me!” cries the rustic—he eschews profanity—upon seeing him.
“Oh, help me, help me! Only pluck off these rags—and then death, death!”
Says the strong young shepherd, kneeling beside the slender traveler, “Alack, poor soul, thou hast need of more rags to lay on thee, rather than have these off!”
Autolycus never argues with a mark, but he offers an explanation. “Oh, sir, the loathsomeness of them offends me more than the stripes”—welts—“I have received—which are mighty ones, and millions!”
“Alas, poor man!—a million of beatings could add up to a great matter!” says the lad.
“I am robbed, sir, and beaten!—my money and apparel taken from me, and these detestable things put upon me!”
“What, by a man on horse, or man afoot?”
A new rider would have been noted here. “Afoot, man!—sweet sir, afoot man!”
“Indeed he should be a footman, judging by the garments he has left with thee!” The young man wrinkles his nose. “If this be a horseman’s coat, it hath seen very hot service!” He rises. “Lend me thy hand; I’ll help thee up. Come, lend me thy hand….”
Autolycus warily raises one arm. “Oh, good sir, tenderly… oh!”
“Alas, poor soul!”
“Oh, good sir, softly, good sir! I fear, sir, my shoulder-blade is out!”
“How now? Canst stand?” He leans down and, his big, sun-browned hands beneath the apparent victim’s arms, help the man to rise.
Autolycus, meanwhile, has stolen the pouch of coins from beneath his coat. “Softly, dear sir; good sir, softly! You ha’ done me a charitable office,” he says, enjoying the irony.
“Dost lack any money?” asks the kindly countryman. “I have a little money for thee…”
“No, good sweet sir!” says Autolycus hastily, “no, I beseech you, sir! I have a kinsman not past three quarters of a mile hence, unto whom I was going; I shall there have money, or any thing I want. Offer me no money, I pray you; that kills my heart!”
“What manner of fellow was he that robbed you?”
Autolycus describes the knave who is, indeed, responsible for his decline: “A fellow, sir, that I have known to go about with troll-my-dame!”—the three-card find-the-queen cheat. “Yet I knew him once to be a servant of the prince! I cannot tell, good sir, for which of his virtues it was, but certainly he was whipped out of the court!”
“His vices, you should say,” the local man corrects. “There’s no virtue that’s whipped out of the court; they’d cherish it, to make it stay there.” He shrugs. “And yet it will do no more than abide”—nobles’ virtuousness is more assumed than practiced.
“Vices I would say, sir!” says Autolycus. “I know this man well: he hath since been an ape-leader and a process-server and a bailiff. Then he compassed a motion of the prodigal son,”—toured a puppet version of the parable, “and married a tinker’s wife”—not a term of admiration—“within a mile of where my land and living lie!”—lie indeed; he has no property, nor revenue from any. “And, having flown over many knavish professions, he settled solely on rogue!
“Some call him Autolycus.”
“Out upon him!” cries the shepherd angrily, recognizing the infamous name. “A prick, for my life!—prick! He haunts wakes, fairs and bear-baitings!”
“Very true, sir!—he, sir, he!—that’s the rogue who put me into this apparel!”
“Not a more cowardly rogue in all Bohemia,” mutters the shepherd contemptuously. “If you had but looked big and spit at him, he’d have run!”
“I must confess to you, sir, I am no fighter; I am flawed of heart that way—and that he knew, I warrant him!”
“How do you now?”
Autolycus touches his own shoulder gingerly. “Sweet sir, much better than I was!” he says, aware of the purloined purse’s heft. “I can stand and walk. I will even now take my leave of you, and pace softly towards my kinsman’s.”
“Shall I bring thee on the way?”
“No, good-facèd sir; no, sweet sir.”
“Then fare thee well! I must go buy spices for our sheep-shearing.”
“Prosper you, sweet sir!” He watches the shepherd striding away, unaware of being penniless, toward the market. Your purse is not hot enough to purchase your spice!
The vagrant rubs his hands together happily—and he considers various disguises. I’ll be with you at your sheep-shearing, too! If I make not this cheat bring out another—and prove the shearers sheep—let me be unenrollèd, and my name put in the book of virtue!
He sings as he digs around in his case for a distinctive false moustache:
“Jog on, jog on the foot-path way,
And merrily hunt the stile-a!”—steps over a wall.
“A merry heart goes all the day;
Your sad one tires in a mile-a!”
Outside the shepherd’s cottage stands Prince Florizel; as usual when he is visits here, the young nobleman is disguised, pretending to be “Doricles,” a country gentleman—one whose costly clothes are always new and fresh.
Perdita is serving as this year’s wool-festival queen, and he has brought her a flowery dress fit for a harvest deity who wears garlands. He beams. “These, your unusual clothes, to each part of you do give a life!—not as shepherdess, but Flora, appearing at April’s front! Your sheep-shearing is as a meeting of the petty gods—and you the queen of’t!”
Only Perdita knows who he really is; and, acutely aware of the disparity between their social ranks, she is somewhat discomfited by their apparel. “Sir, my gracious lord, chiding at your extremes becomes me not, so pardon that I name them: your high self, the gracious mark o’ the land, you have obscurèd with a swain’s wearing—and me, poor lowly maid, most goddess-like prankèd up! But that our feasts at every meal have folly, and the feeders digest it as a custom, I should blush to see you so attirèd—it’s worn, I think, to show myself a glass!”—a mirror reflecting her true rank—she believes—as a commoner engaging in imposture.
Florizel reassures her yet again. “I bless the time when my good falcon made its flight across thy father’s ground!” He met her while engaged in the sport of falconry.
“Now may Jove afford you cause!” She adjusts her flowers. “Your greatness hath not been used to fear; for me, the difference forges dread! Even now I tremble to think that your father could, by some accident, pass this way just as you did! Oh, the Fates!—how he would look, seeing his noble work so vilely bound up! What would he say? And how could I, in these my borrowed flaunts, behold the sternness of his presence?”—his commanding dignity, bolstered by courtiers in attendance.
Florizel smiles. “Apprehend nothing but jollity! The gods themselves, humbling their deities for love, have taken the shapes of beasts upon them: Jupiter became a bull, and bellowed; the green Neptune, a ram, and bleated—and the fire-robèd god, golden Apollo, became a poor, humble swain, as I seem now.
“Their transformations were never for a rarer example of beauty,” he says, gazing at her—and adding, “nor in a way so chaste, since my desires run not before mine honour, nor my lust burn hotter than my promise.” They are both virgins.
Perdita frets. “Oh, but, sir, your resolution cannot hold when ’tis opposèd, as it must be, by the power of the king! Of these two necessities, which then will speak: one must be that you change this purpose—or I lose my life!”
Florizel takes her hand. “Dearest Perdita, I prithee darken not the mirth o’ the feast with these forcèd thoughts! Either I’ll be thine, my fair, or not my father’s! For I cannot be mine own—nor anything to any—if I be not thine! To this I am most constant, though Destiny say no!
“Be merry, gentle!—stifle such thoughts as those with everything that you behold the while! Your guests are coming!—lift up your countenance as if it were the day of celebration of that nuptial which we two have sworn shall come!”
Perdita will try. “O Lady Fortune,” she pleads, “stand you auspicious!”
“See—your guests approach! Address yourself to entertain them sprightly, and let’s be ready with mirth!”
Along with the villagers now joining in the festive event comes the aging shepherd, returning from town with his son; they bring the young man’s female friends, Mopsa and Dorcas.
And two courtly gentlemen with full, white beards have strolled down the road from the palace; they stand away from the others, observing with amusement.
“Fie, daughter!” cries the shepherd jovially. “When my old wife lived, upon this day she was pantler, butler, cook!—both dame and servant!—welcomed all, served all!—would sing her song and dance her turn, now here, at upper end o’ the table, now i’ the middle—on his shoulder, and his!—her face on fire, with labour and the thing she took to quench it: she would to each one sip!
“You are as retired as if you were a feasted one, and not the hostess of the meeting!” He motions toward two visitors. “Pray you, bid these unknown friends welcome to us; for it’s the way to make us more friends, once better known! Come, blench your blushes, and present yourself as that which you are: Mistress o’ the Feast!
“Come on and bid all welcome to your sheep-shearing, so your good flock shall prosper!”
She smiles, nods, and begins here duties, walking among the happy crowd.
Perdita curtseys to the courtiers. “Sir, welcome!” she tells Lord Camillo. “It is my father’s will I should take on me the hostess-ship o’ the day.” She turns to the disguised King Polixenes. “You’re welcome, sir!
“Give me those flowers there, Dorcas.” She selects some fresh, aromatic greens with tiny blue blossoms from the basket, and hands bunches to the lords. “Reverend sirs, for you there’s rosemary and rue; these keep seeming, and savour all the winter long! Grace and remembrance be to you both, and welcome to our shearing!”
Polixenes chuckles. “Shepherdess, a fair one are you!—well you fit our ages with flowers of winter!”
Perdita thinks. “Sir, before the year grows ancient—not yet at summer’s death, nor to the birth of trembling winter—the fairest flowers o’ the season are our carnations”—a regal name derived from coronation. She shrugs. “And their streakèd gillyvors, which some call ‘nature’s bastards.’ Of that kind our rustic garden’s barren, and I care not to get slips of them.”
“Wherefore, gentle maiden, do you neglect them?” asks the king.
“For I have heard it said there is an artifice which their pièdness shares with great creating Nature.”
Polixenes considers the deliberate blending. “Say there be; yet a nature is made better by no method unless Nature makes that method—so, over that art which you say adds to nature is an art that Nature makes,” he argues. “You see, sweet maid, we marry a gentler scion to the wildest stock, and so conceive from bark of baser kind a bud of nobler race! This is an art which does change, mend rather, the art of Nature itself.”
Perdita says, politely, “It is so.”
“Then make your garden rich in gillyvors,” urges Polixenes, “and do not call them bastards!”
But Perdita shakes her head; she distrusts mating based on appearance. “I’ll not put a dibble in earth to set one slip of them!”—plant a single gillyvor. “No more than, were I painted,”—enhanced by cosmetics, “would I wish that this youth”—she looks to her swain-prince—“should say ’twere well!—and only therefore desire to breed by me!”
She offers the gentlemen a more-vivid selection. “Here’s flowers for you: hot lavender; mints; savoury marjoram; the marigold—that goes to bed wi’ the sun, and with him rises weeping! These are flowers of midsummer—and I think they are given to men of middle age.” She sees that they smile, pleased. “You’re very welcome!”
Lord Camillo, as impressed with the young shepherdess’s poise as her beauty, bows. “I should leave grazing, were I your flock, and live only by gazing!”
Perdita laughs. “Oh, alas!—you’d be so lean that blasts of January would blow through and through you!”
She turns to Prince Florizel. “Now, my fair’st friend, I would I had some flowers of the spring that might become your time of day.” She smiles at Dorcas and Mopsa. “And yours, and yours—upon virgin branches growing yet, maidenhood swearing.”
Wisely, the two are silent.
Perdita looks up, thinking wistfully of the season past. “O Proserpina, now for the frighted flowers that thou let’st fall from Dis’s waggon: daffodils, that come before the swallow dares, and face the winds of March with beauty; violets, dim, but sweeter than the lids of Juno’s eyes or Cytherea’s breath; pale primroses that die unmarrièd ere they can behold bright Phoebus in his strength—a malady most insidious to maidens!—bold oxlips; and the crown imperial, lilies of all kinds, the flower-de-luce being one.
“Oh, these I lack to make garlands for you,” she tells the young women, “and, for my sweet friend,” she says, glancing at Florizel, “to strew o’er and o’er him!”
Florizel teases: “What—like a corpse?”
“No!” cries Perdita, “like a stream bank for Love”—Cupid—“to lie and play upon! Not like a corpse! If to be buried, only quick,”—living, “and in mine arms!
“Come, take your flowers!” she murmurs, blushing again. “Methinks I play as I have seen them do in Whitsun pastorals!”—Pentecost programs. “Surely this robe of mine does change my disposition!”
Florizel adores her. “What you do always betters what is done! When you speak, sweet, I’d have you do it ever; when you sing, I’d have you buy and sell so, so give alms, pray so!—and in ordering your affairs, sing them too! When you do dance, I wish you were like a wave on the sea, that you might ever do nothing but that!—ever move, still so, and own no other function! Each of your doings, singular in each particular, crowns what you are doing in the present deed, so that all your acts are a queen’s!”
The festival queen cries in mock alarm, “Oh, Doricles, your praises are too large! But that your youth and the true blood which peepeth fairly through’t do plainly give you out to be an unstainèd shepherd, I might fear, with some wisdom, my Doricles, that you wooed me the false way!”
Florizel laughs. “I think you have as little skill in fearing as I have purpose to put you to’t! But come: our dance, I pray! Your hand, my Perdita!—as turtledoves pair, that never mean to part!”
“I’ll affirm with ’em!” says Perdita happily. She curtseys to the noblemen, and the lovers go, hand-in-hand, to join the other couples preparing to dance.
The king is quite taken with the young woman: “This is the prettiest low-born lass that ever ran on the greensward!” he tells Lord Camillo. “Nothing she does or seems but smacks of something greater than herself!—too noble for this place!”
The courtier, watching the pair, smiles. “He is telling her something that makes her blood look out!” The blush sets off her complexion. “Good sooth, she is the queen of curds and cream!”
Amid the gathering crowd of rustics, the old shepherd’s son, a lusty lad savoring the holiday, claps his hands over his head to summon the musicians. “Come on, strike up!”
Dorcas taunts him about her new rival. “If Mopsa must be your mistress!” she says, proffering a white bulb, ”marry, garlic!—to mend her kissing with!”
Mopsa, laughing, shoves her hand away. “Now, in good time!” She purses her lips.
But the man refuses to be distracted. “Come, strike up!” he calls, and he takes Mopsa’s hand.
The musicians, their tabors, bells and flutes ready, respond with enthusiasm—and to their lively tune, the shepherds and farmers’ daughters join gaily in a vigorous morris dance.
Festival and Flight
Polixenes asks the old man, “Pray, good shepherd, what fair swain is this who dances with your daughter?”
“They call him Doricles, and he boasts himself to have a worthy breeding; and, taking it upon his own behavior, I believe it! He looks like sooth. He says he loves my daughter; I think so, too, for never gazed the moon upon the water as he’ll stand and read, as ’twere, my daughter’s eyes!” He watches the young people. “And, to be plain, I think there is not half a kiss to choose which loves the other best!”
“She dances neatly,” the king notes.
“So she does anything, though I report it who should be silent,” says the fatherly shepherd. He alone has read the princess’s history; and he has preserved her dowry. “If young Doricles do light upon her, she shall bring him that which he dreams not of!”
Running from the cottage, a servant of the household, a lad of fifteen, comes to the older shepherds. “Oh, master, if you did but hear the pedlar at the door, you would never dance again after a tabour and pipe!—no, the bagpipe could not move you!
“He sings several tunes, faster than you’ll count money!—he utters them as if he had eaten ballads, and all men’s ears grow to his tones!”
Cries the shepherd, “He could never have come better!—he shall come in! I love a ballad—and even too well if it be doleful matter merrily set down, or a very pleasant thing indeed, but sung lamentably!”
“He hath songs for man or woman of all sizes!” the boy reports. “No milliner can so fit his customers with gloves!
“He has the prettiest love-songs for maids, which is unusual—and some that are beyond bawdry!—with delicate refrains on dildos and dyings,”—finishing sex, “jump her and thump her!
“Where some stretch-mouthed rascal”—puritan—“would mean mischief, and break a foul gap, as it were, into the matter—he makes the maid to answer: ‘Whoops!—do me no harm, good man!’—putting him off, slighting him with, ‘Whoops!—do me no harm, good man!’”
Polixenes laughs at the skilful avoidance of offending. “This is a brave fellow!”
The shepherd, though, is pleased. “Believe me, thou talkest of an admirably behavèd fellow! Has he any unbraided wares?”—sewing materials.
The boy nods enthusiastically. “He hath ribbons of all the colours i’ the rainbow, points”—pins—“more than all the lawyers in Bohemia can learnedly handle, though they come to him by the gross!—inkles, caddisses, cambrics, linens! Why, he sings about ’em as if they were gods or goddesses! You would think a smock were a she-angel, he so chants to the sleeve-end and the needlework about the square of’t!”
“Prithee bring him in,” the old shepherd tells the boy. “And let him approach singing!”
Perdita, who has overheard them, frowns. “Forewarn him that he use no scurrilous words in’s tunes,” she urges, as the boy runs to fetch the itinerant merchant.
The younger shepherd is eager: “You can benefit from these pedlars, who have more in them than you’d think, sister!”
Perdita raises an eyebrow: “Aye, good brother—or want to think!” As mistress of the revels, she feels responsible for maintaining propriety.
Coming from the front of the farmhouse, Autolycus arrives in his current disguise, sporting a substantial moustache. As the dancers pause to gather around him, he sings, loudly and brightly, about his wares:
“Linen white as driven snow;
Silk as black as e’er was crow!
Gloves scented sweet as damask roses;
Masks for faces, and some for noses!
Beaded bracelet, necklace amber;
Perfume for a lady’s chamber;
Golden quoifs and stomachers,
For my lads to give their dears!
Pins and poking-sticks of steel—
Whatever maids lack, from head to heel!
Come buy of me, come, come buy!
Buy, lads, else your lasses cry! Come buy!”
The young shepherd watches astutely as the peddler opens his case and displays the range of colorful frippery. He tells Autolycus, “Thou shouldst take no money from me, if I were not in love with Mopsa. But, being enthralled as I am, it will also mean bondage for certain ribbons and gloves!”
“I was promised them before the feast,” notes Mopsa, a bit tartly, “but they come not too late now.”
Dorcas regards her sourly. “He hath promised you more than that, or there be liars!”
“He hath paid you all he promised,” retorts Mopsa. “It may be that he has paid you more—which will shame you to give him again!”—return, if she’s pregnant.
“Is there no manners left among maids?” protests the young shepherd. “Will they wear their plackets”—gossips’ sleeves—“where they should bear their faces?” He watches them bicker. “Is there no milking time, or when you are going to bed, or kiln-hole for whispering of these secrets, but you must be tittle-tattling before all our guests?” he demands. They ignore him, voices rising. “’Tis well they are whispering!” he says, as the women continue to squabble. “Clam o’er your tongues, and not a word more!”
Mopsa tells him, taking his arm, “I have done. Come, you promised me a tawdry-lace and a pair of sweet gloves!”—perfumed ones.
He urges thrift: “Have I not told thee how I was cozened on the way, and lost all my money?”
“And indeed, sir, there are cozeners abroad,” says the pedlar, nodding in sympathy. “Therefore it behooves men to be wary!”
“Fear not thou, man; thou shalt lose nothing here,” the shepherd assures him.
“I hope that’s so, sir, for I have about me many parcels of charge!”—others’ goods, on consignment; and he is keenly aware of the peasants’ heavy purses, waiting to be emptied—or filched.
The shepherd and his friends examine the merchandise. “What hast here? Ballads?”
“Pray now, buy some!” cries Mopsa. “I love the songs printed about life—for then we are sure they are true!”
Autolycus selects such a scandalous sheet: “Here’s one, to a very doleful tune, on how a usurer’s wife was brought to bed—for twenty money-bags per refrain!”—a jest on both the song element and each instance of her withholding. “And how she longed to eat adders’ heads, and toads carbonadoed!”—scored and broiled.
Mopsa peers at the paper. “Is it true, think you?”
“Very true—and but a month old!”
“Bless me from marrying a usurer!” says Dorcas disdainfully.
The peddler points at the sheet, verifying for Mopsa: “Here’s the midwife’s name on’t, one Mistress Tale-Porter—and five or six honest wives that were present. Why would I carry lies abroad?”
She squeezes the shepherd’s arm. “Pray you now, buy it!”
“Come on, lay it by,” he tells the peddler. “Let’s first see more ballads; and we’ll buy the other things anon.” His father will have some money with him.
“Here’s another ballad,” says Autolycus, “about a fish that appeared upon the coast on Wednesday the four-score of April, forty thousand fathom above water, and sang this ballad against the hard hearts of maids. It was thought to be a woman who was turned into a cold fish because she would not exchange flesh with one that loved her. The ballad is very pitiful—and as true!”
Dorcas is doubtful. “Is it true, think you, too?” she asks the shepherd.
“Five justices’ signatures to it!” says Autolycus, “and more witnesses than my pack will hold!”
“Lay it by, too,” the shepherd tells him. “Another!”
“This is a merry ballad, but a very pretty one….”
Mopsa is eager. “Let’s have some merry ones!”
Autolycus shows them the song. “Why, this is a surpassingly merry one, and goes to the tune of ‘Two Maids Wooing a Man.’ There’s scarce a maid westward”—outside the Orient—“but she sings it! ’Tis in request, I can tell you!”
“We can both sing it!” says Mopsa. She looks at the music, and tells Dorcas, “If thou’lt bear a part, thou shalt hear; but ’tis in three parts….”
Sniffs her rival, “We had the tune of’t a month ago!”
“I can bear my part!” offers Autolycus; the play on bare goes unnoticed. “You must know ’tis my occupation! Have at it with you!”
And so they begins to sing:
Autolycus: “‘Get you hence, for I must go; where, it fits not you to know.’”
Mopsa: “‘Oh, whither?’”
Mopsa: “‘It becomes thine oath full well for thou to me thy secrets tell!’”
Dorcas: “‘Me, too; let me go thither!’”
Mopsa: “‘If thou goest to the grange or mill—’”
Dorcas: “‘If to either, thou dost ill!’”
Dorcas: “‘What, neither?’”
Dorcas: “‘Thou hast sworn my love to be!’”
Mopsa: “‘Thou hast sworn it more to me! Then whither goest? Say whither!’”
The delighted shepherd tells Autolycus, “We’ll have this song out anon, by ourselves!
“My father and the gentlemen are in serious talk, and we’ll not trouble them now. Come, bring away thy pack after me!
“Wenches, I’ll buy for you both! Pedlar, let us have the first choice! Follow me, girls!” They move toward the cottage, to consider.
And you shall pay well for ’em! thinks Autolycus. He waves aloft an array of fluttering ribbons, and sings, as customers congregate and follow:
“Will you buy, any tape
Or lace for your cape,
My dainty duck, my dear-a?
Any silk? Any thread?
Any toys for your head
Of the new’st and finest ware-a?
Come to the pedlar!
Money’s a meddler”—a play on medlar, fruit and, analogically, pudenda,
“That doth utterly all men wear-a!”
From the farmhouse, the servant rushes up to the old shepherd, even more stirred up than before. “Master, there is three carters, three shepherds, three neat-herds, and three swine-herds that have made themselves men all of hair!”—by donning goat-hides.
“They call themselves ‘salt-tears,’”—satyrs, actually, “and they have a dance!—which the wenches, because they are not in it, say is”—he mimics their scorn—“a gallimaufry of gambols!
“But the men themselves are o’ the mind that—if it be not too rough for some that know little but bowling—it will please plentifully!”
The shepherd shows concern. “Away! We’ll none of’t! Here has been too much homely foolery already!” He turns to the taller gentleman. “I know, sir, we weary you….”
“You’re wary of those that refresh us!” says Polixenes, smiling at the old man. “Pray, let’s see these four threes of herdsmen!”
The boy tells him eagerly, “One three of them, by their own report, sir, hath danced before the king! And not the worst of that three but jumps twelve foot and a half, by the squire!”—he means square, a carpenter’s tool.
The graybeard waves him back. “Leave your prating; let them come in!—but quickly now, since these good men are pleasèd.”
Polixenes will have a surprise for the shepherd. “Oh, father, you’ll know more of that hereafter.”
The lad is already running. “Why, they stay at the door, sir!”
The dozen shaggy satyrs center themselves in the festive throng and begin their dance, a spirited—and explicit—tribute to fertility.
During the exuberant performance the king questions the old man further about “Doricles.”
As the dancers take their bows and the spectators applaud, Polixenes speaks privately to Camillo. “He’s simple, and tells much.” They watch Florizel chat with Perdita and squeeze her hand. “Is it not too far gone? ’Tis time to part them.”
The disguised monarch approaches his son. “How now, fair shepherd! Your heart is full of something that does take your mind from feasting!” he chuckles. “Sooth, when I was young, and handed love as you do, I was wont to load my she with knickknacks! I would have ransacked the pedlar’s silken treasury!—have poured it out for her acceptance! You have let him go, and nothing marted with him!—if your lass should interpret this as abuse, and call it your lack of love or bounty, you would be straited for a reply!—at least, if you make a care of happily holding her!”
Florizel smiles, unconcerned. “Old sir, I know she prizes not such trifles as those are! The gifts she looks for from me are packed and locked up in my heart!
“Which I have given already!—but not delivered….” A slight frown appears.
A change comes over his face, and he turns to Perdita. “O, hear me breathe my life before this ancient sir, who, it would seem, hath sometime lovèd!
“I take thy hand—this hand, as soft as a dove’s down—and white as an Ethiopian’s tooth, or the fannèd snow that’s sifted twice o’er by the northern blasts—”
“What follows this?” the king asks Camillo. “How prettily the young swain seems to wash a hand that was fair before!” He sees the young man’s blush. “I have put you out,” he says apologetically. “But on with to your protestation: let me hear what you profess!”
“Do!—and be witness to ’t!”
“And this my neighbour, too?” asks Polixenes.
“And he—and more than he!” cries Florizel. “All men!—the earth, the heavens and all! Were I crownèd most imperial monarch thereof, and most worthily!—were I the fairest youth that ever made eye swerve!—had I force and knowledge more than was ever man’s!—without her love, I would not prize them!—for her love I’d employ them all, and commend them to her service!—or condemn them to their own perdition!”
“Fairly offered!” says Polixenes.
Camillo concurs: “This shows a sound affection!”
Asks the old shepherd, “But, my daughter, say you the like to him?”
Perdita smiles. “I cannot speak so well!—nothing so well—nor mean any better!” Her eyes glisten. “But in the purity of his thoughts I trace the pattern of mine own!”
“Take hands!—a bargain!” cries the shepherd, confirming their betrothal. “And, friends unknown, you shall bear witness to ’t: I give my daughter to him, and will make her portion”—inheritance—“equal his!”
Unlike the visitors, “Doricles” is aware of his own princely potion: “Ah, that must be i’ the virtue of your daughter!” One having died, I shall have more than you can yet dream of!—enough then for your wonder! “But, come on, contract us, before these witnesses!”
“Come, your hand; and, daughter, yours.” The shepherd brings them together.
But now Polixenes intercedes “Soft a while, swain, I beseech you! Have you a father?”
“I have—but what of him?”
“Knows he of this?”
“He neither does nor shall.”
The sovereign seems puzzled. “Methinks a father is, at the nuptial of his son, the guest that best becomes the table! Pray you, hear me once more: is your father grown incapable of reasonable affairs? Is he stupid with age and altering rheums? Can he not speak?—hear?—know man from man?—dispute his own estate? Lies he bed-ridden, doing nothing but again what he did being childish?”
“No, good sir!” says Florizel happily. “He has his health—and ampler strength, indeed, than most have at his age.”
Polixenes frowns. “By my white beard, you offer him, if this be so, a wrong somewhat unfilial! There’s reason a son should choose himself a wife, but as good reason that the father, all of whose joy is in nothing else but fair posterity, should hold some counsel in such a business!”
The prince agrees politely. “I yield all this, but for some other reasons, my grave sir, which ’tis not fit that you know, I will not acquaint my father with this business.” He believes the king would forbid his marriage to a commoner.
“Let him know’t,” urges Polixenes.
“He shall not.”
“Prithee, let him!”
“No, he must not.”
The shepherd touches Florizel’s sleeve kindly. “Let him, my son.” He smiles, thinking of the princess’s treasure. “He shall not need to grieve at knowing of thy choice!”
“Come, come, he must not!” insists Florizel. “Mark our contract,” he says, and again turns to Perdita.
But Polixenes, furious, pulls off the false whiskers. “Mark your divorce, young sir!—whom Son I dare not call!—thou art too base to be acknowledgèd!—thou, a sceptre’s heir, who thus affect’st a sheep-hook!”
He glares at the shepherd: “Thou, old traitor, I am sorry that by hanging thee I can but shorten thy life one week!” He glares at Perdita. “And thou, fresh piece of excellent witchcraft, who certainly must know the royal fool thou copest with—”
The shepherd, wide-eyed, now recognizes the king: “Oh, my heart!”
“—I’ll have thy beauty scratched with briers, and made more homely than thy state!”
The monarch turns to his son. “As for thee, fond boy, if ever I may know thou dost but sigh because thou shalt no more see this trinket—as I intend that thou never shall!—we’ll bar thee from succession!—hold thee not of our blood!—no, not our kin, further back than Deucalion!”—since before the Flood. “Mark thou my words!
“Follow us to the court!”
But Polixenes pauses; he can see that Camillo is appalled—and very likely is remembering another harsh, royal condemnation. The king addresses the shepherd. “Thou, churl, for this time, though full with our displeasure, yet we free thee from the deadly blow of it.
“As for you, enchantment,” he tells Perdita, “worthy enough for a herdsman!—yea, for him too who makes himself, but for our honour therein, unworthy even of thee!—if ever henceforth thou open these rural latches to his entrance, or hoop his body more with thy embraces, I will devise for thee a death as cruel as thou art tender to’t!”
With that, the king storms away, to return to the palace.
“Even here undone,” says Perdita sadly.
But she stands before the humble home proudly—and somewhat surprised at her response to the king’s presence. “I was not much afeard!—for once or twice I was about to speak, and tell him plainly: the selfsame sun that shines upon his court hides not its visage from our cottage, but looks on both alike!”
She faces the prince tearfully. “Will’t please you, sir, be gone? I told you what would come of this! Beseech you, of your own state take care!” She pulls off her crown of flowers. “From this dream of mine being now awake, I’ll queen it no inch farther, but milk my ewes—and weep!”
Lord Camillo is watching the very distraught old shepherd, whose hand is clutched over his heart. “Why, how now, father?—speak ere thou diest!”
The man shakes his head. “I cannot speak!—nor think, nor dare to know that which I know!” He tells the prince, “Oh, sir, you have undone a man of fourscore three, who thought to fill his grave in quiet!—yea, to die upon the bed my father died in, to lie close by his honest bones!
“But now some hangman must put on my shroud, and lay me where no priest shovels in dust!” He turns to Perdita. “O cursèd wretch!—thou knew’st this was the prince?—and wouldst adventure to mingle faith with him? Undone! Undone!” The shepherd staggers feebly into his cottage. “If I might die within this hour, I have lived to die when I desire!”
The prince meets Perdita’s sorrowful gaze. “Why look you so upon me? I am but sorry, not afeard!—delayed, but nothing altered! What I was, I am!—more straining on for the plucking back!—not unwillingly following my leash!”
Warns Camillo, “Gracious my lord, you know your father’s temper! At this time he will allow no speech!—which I do guess you do not purpose to him. And as hardly will he endure your sight as yet, I fear! Then come not before him till the fury of his highness settles!”
“I do not purpose it.” Florizel regards the disguised gentleman carefully: “I think… Camillo?”
The nobleman removes the false whiskers and bows. “Even he, my lord.”
Perdita wrings her hands, dismayed. “How often have I told you ’twould be thus?—how often said my dignity would last but till ’twere known!”
“It cannot fail but by the violation of my faith!” insists the prince, “and then let Nature crush the sides o’ the earth together!—and mar all the seeds within!
“Lift up thy looks!
“From my succession wipe me, Father! I am heir to my affection!”
Camillo would urge caution. “Be advisèd—”
“I am!—and by my fancy!” cries the youth. “If my reason will thereto be obedient I’ll have reason; if not, my senses, better pleasèd with madness, do bid it welcome!”
Camillo shakes his head. “This is desperation, sir!”
“So call it—but as it does fulfil my vow, I needs must think it honesty!” argues Florizel. “Camillo, not for Bohemia’s throne, nor all the pomp that may thereat be gleaned—not for all the sun sees, or the guarded earth wombs, or the profound sea hides in unknown fathoms will I break my oath to this, my fair belovèd!
“Therefore, I pray you, as you have ever been my father’s honoured friend: when he shall miss me—as, in faith, I mean not to see him again!—cast your good counsels upon his anger! And let myself and Fortune tug, during the time to come.
“This you may know, and so deliver: I am putting to sea with her whom here on shore I cannot hold! And, most opportune to our need, I have a vessel that rides fast by, preparèd but for this design! What course I mean to hold shall nothing benefit your knowledge, nor concern me by the reporting.”
“Oh, my lord,” says Camillo, kindly but urgently, “I would your spirit were easier, for taking advice—or stronger, given your need!”
“Hark, Perdita!” says the prince, drawing her aside to explain further, and to offer assurance.
Camillo is thinking, hard. He’s immovable—resolvèd for flight!
Now were I happy if his going I could frame to serve my turn: save him from danger, do him love and honour—and purchase the sight again of dear Sicilia, and that unhappy king, my master, whom I so much thirst to see!
Florizel turns back to him and smiles apologetically. “Now, good Camillo, I am so fraught with curious business that I’ll leave without ceremony—”
But the courtier has an idea to propose. “Sir, I think you have heard of my poor services, i’ the love that I have borne your father?”
“Very nobly have you deservèd! It is my father’s music to speak your deeds, not little of his care to have them recompensed as well as thought on!”
“Well, my lord, if you may please to think I love the king—and through him what is nearest to him, which is your gracious self—embrace but my direction.
“If your more ponderous and settled project may suffer alteration, on mine honour I’ll point you where you shall have such receiving as shall become Your Highness!—
“Where you may enjoy your mistress—from whom, I see, there’s no disjunction to be made but by your ruin, may heavens forefend!
“Marry her, and my best endeavours in your absence will strive to qualify your father’s discontent, and bring him up to liking!”
Florizel is growing hopeful. “How, Camillo, may this, almost a miracle, be done?—so that I may entrust it to thee—and after, call thee something more than man!”
“Have you thought on a place whereto you’ll go?”
“Not any, yet,” the prince confesses, “but though an unthought-on incidence is guilty in what we wildly do, we profess ourselves not to be the slaves of chance, and flies in every wind that blows.”
“Then list to me! If you will not change your purpose, and will undergo this flight, follow it thus: make for Sicilia, and there present yourself and your fair princess—for so I see she must be—’fore Leontes!
“She shall be garbed as becomes the partner of your bed!” he promises. “Methinks I see Leontes: opening his free arms, and weeping forth his welcomes, he asks forgiveness of thee, the son, as if ’twere the father’s person!—kisses the hands of your fresh princess!—o’er and o’er divides him ’twixt his unkindness and his kindness: the one he chides to hell!—and bids the other grow, faster than thought or time!”
The prince considers. “Worthy Camillo, what colour shall I hold up before him for my visitation?”
The advisor is ready: “Sent by the king your father!—to greet Leontes, and to give him comforts!
“Sir, the manner of your bearing towards him, what you as if from your father shall deliver, and things known but betwixt us three”—the kings and Camillo—“I’ll write down!—which shall point forth for you what at every sitting you must say, so that he shall not perceive but that you have your father’s bosom there, and speak his very heart!”
Florizel is nearly convinced. “I am bound to you! There is some sap in this!”
Camillo nods. “A cause more promising than a wild dedication of yourselves to unpathèd waters, undreamèd shores!—most certain of miseries enough, with no hope to help you as you shake off one but to take another, and with nothing so certain as your anchors’ doing their best office if they can but stay you where you’ll be loath to be!
“Besides, you know, prosperity is the very bond of love, whose fresh complexion and whose heart affliction alters together.”
The shepherdess disagrees—politely—with the lord: “One of these is true; I think affliction may subdue the cheek, but not take in the mind.”
“Ah, say you so?” Camillo is actually quite pleased with the considered contradiction. He smiles. “There shall not at your father’s house these seven years be born such another!”
“My good Camillo, she is as forward of her upbringing as she is i’ the rear of our birth,” says Florizel, unaware of her true parentage.
Says Camillo, “I cannot say ’tis pity she lacks instruction—for she seems a mistress to most who teach!”
“With your pardon, sir,” says she, “for that I’ll blush your thanks!”
“My prettiest Perdita!” says the prince, taking her hand. “But, oh, the thorns we stand upon!
“Camillo—preserver of my father, now of me!—the medicine of our house!—how shall we do? We are not furnishèd like Bohemia’s son, nor shall so appear in Sicilia!” He is dressed as the gentle but bucolic Doricles.
“My lord, fear none of this,” Camillo tells him, regarding the venture abroad. “I think you know my fortunes do all lie there; it shall be my care to have you royally appointed, as if the scene you play were thine!
“For instance, sir, so that you may know you shall not lack one word….”
He further details his scheme for the displaced lovers.
The crafty peddler Autolycus returns from the cottage to the road—laughing to himself. What a fool Honesty is!—and Trust, his sworn brother, a very simple gentleman! I have sold all my trumpery!—not a counterfeit stone, not a ribbon, glass, pomander, brooch, table-book, ballad, knife, tape, glove, shoe-tie, bracelet, or horn-ring to keep my pack from fasting!
They thronged to be first to buy, as if my trinkets had been hallowed, and brought a benediction to the buyer!—by which means I saw whose purse was best in the mixture; and what I saw, for my good use I remembered!
The young shepherd was an unwitting accomplice. My clown, who lacks somewhat of being a reasoning man, grew so in love with the wenches’ song that he would not stir his pettitoes till he had learned both tune and words—which so drew the rest of the herd to me it was without sense! With all their other senses stuck into ears, you might have pinched a placket! —a woman’s private pocket, as it were. ’Twas nothing to geld a codpiece of a purse! I could have filed off keys that hung on chains!—no feeling! Nor hearing, except my Sir Song—and admiring the nothing of it!
He laughs aloud. So in that time of lethargy I picked and cut most of their festival purses! And had not the old man come in with a whoo-bub against his daughter and the king’s son, and scared my choughs from the chaff, —crows from straw— I had not left a purse alive in the whole army!
Suddenly he stops, realizing that a nobleman and two young people have come near. He slides his newly fat sack of coins into the pack lying flat at his feet.
Lord Camillo is elaborating upon his scheme: “Nay, but my letters—by those means’ being there so soon as you arrive—shall clear that doubt!”
Says Florizel, “And those that you’ll procure from King Leontes….”
Camillo nods. “Shall satisfy your father!”
Perdita is pleased. “Happy be you!—all that you speak shows fair!”
Camillo spots the disguised Autolycus. “Who have we here? We’ll make an instrument of this—omit nothing that may give us aid!” The fleeing couple still must get to the prince’s ship.
The guilty vagabond is not sure what he might have expressed aloud. If they have overheard me just now, why, hanging!
“How now, good fellow!” says Camillo. “Why shakest thou so? Fear not, man; here’s no harm intended to thee.”
Says Autolycus humbly, bowing, “I am a poor fellow, sir…”
“Well, be so still; here’s nobody will steal that from thee!” says Camillo jovially, eyeing the peddler’s seedy clothing. “Yet for the outside of thy poverty we must make an exchange. Therefore discase thee instantly—thou must understand there’s a necessity in’t!—and switch garments with this gentleman!
“Though the pennyworth on his side be the worse, yet hold thee—there’s some boot!” He gives the peddler several coins.
Autolycus is quite apprehensive now, in the familiar presence of the prince he once served and the nobleman. Looking away, he mumbles, “I am a poor fellow, sir.” I know ye well enough!
“Nay, prithee, dispatch!” urges Camillo; he motions toward Florizel, who has removed his new coat and is unbuttoning the spotless doublet. “The gentleman is half flayed already!”
“Are you in earnest, sir?” I smell a trick in’t!
“Dispatch, I prithee!” says Florizel, starting to pull down his clean trousers. Perdita steps aside, and demurely looks away.
“Indeed, I have had earnest,” says Autolycus tremulously, staring at the money. “But I cannot with conscience take it….”
“Unbuckle, unbuckle!” demands Lord Camillo impatiently.
Soon, the prince and the pickpocket have traded disguises.
Camillo turns to Perdita, whose gown could draw unwanted attention. “Fortunate mistress—may my prophecy come home to ye!—you must retire yourself into something covert! Take your sweetheart’s velvet cap and pluck it o’er your brows, to muffle your face. Dismantle you,”—remove the festive flowers, “and, as best you can, disliken the truth of your own seeming, so that you may—for I do fear eyes!—get over to shipboard undescried.”
She cheerfully agrees. “I see the play so lies that I must bear a part!” she laughs, pulling the cap from Florizel’s head.
“No remedy,” says Camillo. He looks to the men. “Have you done there?”
Florizel has been satisfactorily transformed. “Should I now meet my father, he would not call me Son!”
“Nay, you shall not have no hat,” says Camillo, taking the peddler’s tawdry one and handing it to the prince. “Come, lady, come!
“Farewell, my friend!” he tells Autolycus.
“Adieu, sir!” says the cutpurse gratefully, resplendent in his new clothes.
Florizel takes his lady’s hand. “Oh, Perdita, what have we twain forgot? Pray you, a word….”
As they talk, Lord Camillo thinks. What I do next shall be to tell the king of this escape, and whither they are bound—wherein my hope is that I shall so prevail as to force him to go after! In his company I shall re-view Sicilia, for whose sight I have a yeoman’s longing!
The prince and his shepherdess are ready to head toward the waiting vessel. “Fortune speed us! Thus we set on, Camillo, to the sea-side!”
“The swifter speed the better!” calls Camillo, as they go.
And then he hurries along the road to the palace; he has some news for the angry King Polixenes.
Autolycus, hatless, but in a gentleman’s clean garb, however ill-fitting on his wiry frame, has been pondering the others’ haste. I understand their business! I heard it!
Having an open ear, a quick eye, and a nimble hand is necessary for a cut-purse! A good nose is requisite also—to smell out work for the other senses.
And I see that this is a time when the unjust man doth thrive! What an exchange had this been without boot! He regards the gratuity in his hand. What a boot is here with this exchange!
Surely the gods do this year connive with us, and we may do anything!—extempore!
The prince himself is going about a piece of iniquity: stealing away from his father with his clog at his heels. If I thought it were honesty to acquaint the king withal, I would not do’t. I hold it the more knavery to conceal it, and therein am I constant to my profession.
The rascal sees the two shepherds emerging from their home—looking worried; the father carries a leather pouch, the son a heavy wooden box. Autolycus turns away and kneels to add the coins to his sackful; but he listens carefully. Here is more matter for a hot brain! He rises and rubs his hands together gleefully. Every lane’s end—every shop, church, session, hanging—yields a careful man work!
The woeful young shepherd tells his father, “See, see what a man you are now! There is no other way but to tell the king she’s a changeling—and none of your flesh and blood!”
The old man is distraught. “Nay, but hear me…”
“Nay, but hear me!”
“Go on, then.”
“She being none of your flesh and blood, your flesh and blood has not offended the king—and so your flesh and blood is not to be punished by him! Show those things you found near her, those secret things—all but what she has with her! This being done, let the law go whistle, I warrant you!”
The father finally agrees to it. “I will tell the king—all, every word!—yea, and his son’s pranks, too!—who, I may say, is no honest man, neither to his father nor to me, trying to make me the king’s brother-in-law!”
“Indeed, in law was the farthest off you could have been from him; even then your blood had been the dearer by I know how much an ounce!”—more valuable, yet more likely to be lost.
Very wisely, puppies! thinks Autolycus.
“Well, let us to the king,” says the elderly shepherd, holding up the bundle of Antigonus’s letters. “There is in this fardel that which will make him scratch his beard!”
Autolycus considers: I know not what impediment this complaint may be to the flight of my master….
With his father, the young man starts up the road to see the king, and show him the box full of gold. “Pray heartily he be at palace!”
Behind them, Autolycus moves quickly. Though I am not naturally honest, I am so sometimes by chance! Let me pocket up my pedlar’s excrement, he thinks, pulling off the false moustache. In his gentlemanly new guise he strides boldly to the shepherds. “How now, rustics! Whither are you bound?” he demands, with a supercilious demeanor.
“To the palace, an it like Your Worship,” the old man replies.
Autolycus is imperious: “Your affairs there—what, with whom—the containing of that fardel—the place of your dwelling, your names, your ages, of what having, breeding—and anything that is fitting to be known, divulge!”
The son wants to proceed. “We are but plain fellows, sir—”
“A lie!—you are rough and hairy,” says Autolycus haughtily; plain can mean shaven. “Let me have no lying! It becomes none but tradesmen—and they often give us soldiers the lie”—a challenge. “But if we pay them for it”—respond—“with a stampèd coin, not stabbing steel,” he says, “then they do not give us the lie!”
“Your Worship had likely have given us one,” notes the young man sourly, “if you had not taken it yourself with the matter”—by so confessing.
The father regards the apparent gentleman. “Are you a courtier, an’t like you, sir?”
“Whether it like me or no, I am a courtier,” Autolycus replies. He waves a hand toward his new attire. “Seest thou not the air of the court in these enfoldings? Hath not my gait in it the measure of the court?” He tips back his head to look down at the shepherd. “Receives not thy nose court odor from me? Reflect I not on thy baseness with courtly contempt?
“Thinkest thou, because I insinuate to tease from thee thy business, I am therefore no courtier? I am courtier cap-à-pé!”—head to toe. He glares. “And one that will either push on or pluck back thy business there!—wherefore I command thee to open thy affairs!”
But the old shepherd will be careful with his long-held secrets. “My business, sir, is to the king.”
“What advocate hast thou to him?”
“I know not, an’t like you….”
The son thinks a bribe is being demanded; he whispers to his father, “‘Advocate’ is the courtly word for a pheasant. Say you have none.”
“None, sir;” says the old man. “I have no cock.” At Autolycus’s laugh he flushes. “Nor hen.”
The rogue sighs and looks upward, wagging his head. “How blessed are we that are not simple men! Yet Nature might have made me as these are; therefore I will not disdain.” Noticing a long ivory toothpick in a pocket of the doublet, he extracts it and begins to use it thoughtfully.
- The son, impressed by the rudeness, again whispers. “This cannot be but a great courtier!”
- The father has doubts: “His garments are rich, but he wears them not handsomely.”
- “He seems to be the more noble for being eccentric!—a great man, I’ll warrant!” He watches the peddler. “I know by the picking of his teeth!”—gentlemen’s habit, he has observed.
Autolycus finishes and spits. “The fardel there,” he says, wiping fingers dry on his coat, “what’s in the fardel? Wherefore that box?”
“Sir, there lie such secrets in this fardel and box which none must know but the king,” the shepherd replies, “and which he shall know within this hour, if I may come to the speech of him!”
Autolycus shakes his head. “Age, thou hast lost thy labour.”
“The king is not at the palace; he is gone aboard a new ship, to purge melancholy, and air himself. For, if thou beest capable of serious things, thou must know that the king is full of grief.”
“So ’tis said, sir—over his son, who would have married a shepherd’s daughter.”
“If that shepherd be not in hand-fast”—custody—“let him fly!” cries Autolycus angrily. “The curses he shall have!—the tortures he shall feel!—will break the back of man, the heart of monster!”
The son stares, aghast. “Think you so, sir?”
“Nor shall he alone suffer what wit can make heavy, and vengeance bitter, but those that are germane to him, though removèd fifty times,”—however distantly related, “shall all come unto the hangman! Which, though it be a great pity, yet it is necessary!—an old, sheep-whistling rogue, a ram-tender, offering to have his daughter come into grace?” He frowns in disgust. “Some say he shall be stoned; but that death is too soft for him, say I! Draw our throne into a sheep-cote?—all deaths are too few!—the sharpest too easy!”
The wide-eyed young man gulps. “Do you hear, an’t like you, sir… had the old man e’er a son, sir?”
“He has a son—who shall be flayed alive!” says Autolycus, “then annointed over with honey, and set on the head of a wasp’s nest!—there to stand till he be three-quarters-and-a-dram dead! Then recovered again with aqua vitae,”—liquor, “or some other hot infusion—then, raw as he is, and in the hottest day prognostication proclaims, he shall be set against a brick wall, with the sun looking a downward eye upon him, where it is to behold him bitten to death by flies!”
He looks cheerfully at the cowering country men. “But why talk we of those traitorly rascals, whose miseries are to be smiled at, their offences being so capital?
“Tell me, for you seem to be honest, plain men, what you have for the king. Being somewhat gently considered,”—paid—“I’ll bring you where he is; aboard, tender your persons to his presence, whisper to him in your behalfs!—and if it be in a man besides the king to effect your suits, here is the man shall do it!”
The son pulls the father aside. “He seems to be of great authority! Close with him!—give him gold!—and though authority be a stubborn bear, yet it is oft led by the nose with gold!”—like the brass ring that subdues a captive show-bear. “Show the inside of your purse to the outside of his hand with no more ado!
“Remember: ‘stoned,’ and ‘flayed alive’!”
The old shepherd opens his small leather pouch and hands the peddler its three coins. “An’t please you, sir, to undertake the business for us, here is what gold I have.” His small savings are hidden at home. “I’ll make it as much more!—and leave this young man in pawn till I bring it you!”
“After I have done what I promised…” says the scoundrel scrupulously.
The counterfeit courtier sighs in apparent annoyance at such a trivial matter. “Well, give me the moiety”—first half. He narrows his eyes, looking at the son. “Are you a party in this business?”
“Of some sort, sir,” mumbles the man. “But though my case be a pitiful one, I hope I shall not be flayed out of it!” Case is also a term for body.
“No, that’s the case of the shepherd’s son,” says Autolycus, pocketing the gold. “Hang him!—he’ll be made an example!”
The young shepherd nods weakly. “Comfort, good comfort.” He whispers urgently to his father. “We must go to the king and show our strange sights! He must know ’tis none of your daughter—nor my sister! We are gone else!”
He tells the peddler, “Sir, I will give you as much as this old man does, when the business is performèd, and remain, as he says, your pawn till it be brought you!”
The knave considers, rubbing his stubbly chin. “I will trust you,” he says shamelessly. He points. “Walk before, toward the sea-side; go on the right hand. I will but ‘look upon the hedge’”—relieve himself—“and follow you.”
“We are blest in this man, as I may say,” says the younger shepherd, “even blest!”
The old man concurs. “Let’s go before, as he bids us! He was provided to do us good!”
Carrying the princess’s gold and the letters, the two head down the lane and toward the sea, where they expect to come before the king—and where Florizel’s ship lies at anchor, being readied, hurriedly, for his imminent journey south.
Autolycus watches them go, chuckling to himself. If I had a mind to be honest, I see that Fortune would not allow me!—she drops booty into my mouth!
I am courted now by a double opportunity: gold, and a means to do the prince my former master good—and who knows how that may turn back to my advancement?
I will take these two moles, these blind ones, aboard to him. If he think it fit to shore them again, and that the complaint they have to the king concerns him nothing, let him call me rogue for being so far officious!—for I am proof against that title and what shame else belongs to’t!
To him will I present them. There may be matter in it!
Years suffused with grief and regret have weighed heavily upon Leontes—and his increasingly concerned court. On this gloomy morning he sits, hunched down on the throne of Sicilia, subdued and miserable.
“Sir, you have done enough,” Lord Cleomenes tells the ruler, “and have performed a saint-like sorrow! No fault could you have made which you have not redeemèd—indeed, paid down more penitence than done trespass! At last do as the heavens have done: forget your evil; with them forgive yourself!”
Leontes shakes his head mournfully. “Whilst I remember her and her virtues, I cannot forget my blemishes in them, and so still think of the wrong I did myself—which was so much that heirless it hath made my kingdom—and destroyed the sweetest companion that e’er man bred his hopes out of!”
Lady Paulina stands ready to augment his suffering. “True, too true, my lord. If, one by one, you wedded all in the world—or took something good from each of the all-that-are to make a perfect woman—she whom you killed would still be unparalleled!”
Leontes moans. “So I think: killed. She I killed. I did so!
“But thou strikest me sorely, to say I did! Is it as bitter upon thy tongue as in my thought? Now—for good, now—say so but seldom.”
Cleomenes, frowning, goes further: “Nor at all, good lady! You might have spoken a thousand things that would have done the time more benefit!—and graced your kindness better!”
Paulina sneers. “You are one of those that would have him wed again.”
Lord Dion sees broader issues. “If you would not so, you pity not the state, nor the remembrance of his most sovereign name!—you consider little what dangers, by his highness’ fail of issue, may drop upon this kingdom, and infect uneasy lookers-on!”—arouse ambition in rival nations’ rulers.
Dion continues: “What were more holy than to rejoice that the former queen is well?”—in heaven. “What holier than, for royalty’s repair—for present comfort and future good—to bless the bed of majesty again with a sweet fellow to’t?”
Paulina is adamant. “There is none worthy, compared to her that’s gone!
“Besides which, the gods must have their secret purposes fulfilled! Has not the divine Apollo said—is’t not the tenor of his oracle—that King Leontes shall not have an heir till his lost child be found? That it shall be is as monstrous to our human reason as for my Antigonus to break from his grave and come to me again!—he who, on my life, did perish with the infant!
“’Tis your counsel that my lord should to the heavens be contrary!—oppose against their wills!” She regards Leontes. “Care not about your issue; the crown will find an heir! Great Alexander left his to ‘the worthiest,’ so that his successor was likely to be the best.”
Leontes speaks humbly. “O good Paulina—who holdest the memory of Hermione, I know, in honour—had I squared me to thy counsel then, even now I might have lookèd full upon my queen’s eyes!—have taken treasure from her lips!”—kisses.
“And left more rich for what they yielded!”—Hermione’s wise counsel.
He nods. “Thou speak’st truth; no more such wives—therefore, no wife! One worse but better usèd would make her sainted spirit possess again her corpse!—and appear, soul vexèd, on this stage where we, offender, are now!—and begin, to me, with ‘Why?’”
“Had she such power, she had just cause!”
“She had!—and would incense me to murder her that I married!—and I would do so!
“Were the ghost that walked to say, ‘I bid you mark her eye, and tell me for what dull part in’t you chose her!’—then I’d so shriek that your ears should rift to hear me!
“And her words that followed should be, ‘Remember mine!’”
Leontes remembers them well: “Stars, stars!—all eyes else dead coals!” he sobs. “Fear thou for no wife—I’ll have no wife, Paulina!”
She regards him. “Will you swear never to marry but by my free leave?”
He confirms it: “Never, Paulina, as my spirit be blest!”
She tells the courtiers, “Then, good my lords, bear witness to his oath!”
Cleomenes frowns. “You tempt him over-much!”
Paulina persists. “Unless another as like Hermione as is her picture confront his eye!”
The nobleman would object. “Good madam—”
“I have done,” says she. “Yet if my lord will marry—if you will, sir, and no remedy but you will—then give me the office to choose a queen for you. She shall not be so young as was your former; but she shall be such as, if your first queen’s ghost walked, it should take joy to see her in your arms.”
Leontes agrees. “My true Paulina, we shall not marry till thou bid’st us.”
She says, sternly, “That shall be when your first queen’s again in breath!—never till then!”
The courtiers scowl, but before they can protest further, a gentleman hurries into the throne room and bows before the king. “One that gives himself out as Prince Florizel—son of Polixenes!—with his princess, she the fairest I have yet beheld!—desires access to your high presence!”
Leontes rises, startled and puzzled by the unheralded deputation. “What with him?—he comes not like to his father’s greatness! His approach, so out of circumstance and sudden, tells us ’tis not a visitation framèd, but forced by need and accident. What train?”
“But few, and those but lowly.”
“His princess, say you, with him?”
The gentleman beams. “Aye!—the most peerless piece of earth, I think, that e’er the sun shone bright on!”
Lady Paulina glances sorrowfully upward. “Oh, Hermione, as every present time doth boast itself above a better one gone, so must thy grave give way to what’s seen now!”
She glares at the gentleman—a poet as well, who had eulogized the queen. “She had not been, nor was not to be, equalled!—thus your verse flowed with her beauty—once! Sir, you yourself have said and writ so; but your wording now is colder than its theme! ’Tis cruelly ebbed, your saying now you have seen a better!”
The gentleman bows. “Pardon, madam!—for the one I have almost forgot, your pardon.
“But the other, when she has obtainèd your eye, will have your tongue too! This is a creature who, would she begin a sect, might quench the zeal of all professing else!—make proselytes of who she but bid follow!”
Paulina scoffs. “What? Not women!”
“Women will love her for being more worthy than any man; men, for being the rarest of all women!”
Leontes turns to his advisor. “Go yourself, Cleomenes; attend our honoured friends, and bring them to our embracement!” The nobleman bows and goes. “Still, ’tis strange he thus should steal upon us….”
Says Paulina, “Had our prince, the jewel of children, seen this hour, he had comparèd well with this lord!—there was not full a month between their births.”
Leontes’ pain grows at the mention of Mamillius. “Prithee, no more! Cease! Thou know’st he dies to me again when talked of!” He presses his hands to his head. “When I shall see this gentleman, thy speech will surely bring me to consider that which may unfurnish me of reason!”
He watches, trembling, as Cleomenes accompanies Florizel and Perdita into the hall. “They are come….”
And then the king smiles—for the first time in a long time—at the handsome young man. “Your mother was most true to wedlock, prince—for, conceiving you, she did print your royal father off! Your father’s image is so hit in you—his very air!—that, were I but twenty-one, I should call you brother, as I did him, and speak of something wildly by us performèd before!”
Leontes embraces Florizel warmly. “Most dearly welcome!” He turns now, and gazes upon Perdita. “And you, fair princess! O goddess, alas, I lost two who ’twixt heaven and earth might thus have stood, begetting wonder, as you, gracious couple, do!”
He lays a hand on Florizel’s shoulder. “And I then lost—all through mine own folly!—the society, amity, too, of your brave father—whom I, though bearing misery, desire to look upon once more in my life!”
Says Florizel, “By his command have I here touched Sicilia, and from him give you all greetings that a king, as a friend, can send his brother! And had not the infirmity which attends worn time somewhat seized his wishèd ability, he had himself measured the lands and waters ’twixt your throne and his to look upon you, whom he loves—he bade me say so—more than all those living that bear other sceptres!”
Leontes, highly moved, thinks of Polixenes. “O my brother—good, gentle man!—the wrongs I have done thee stir afresh within me; and these, thy especially kind offices, speak to my delaying slackness!
“Welcome hither,” he tells the young people, “as is the spring to the earth!”
The king is entranced with Perdita. “But hath he exposed this paragon to the fearful usage—at least ungentle!—of dreadful Neptune, to greet a man not worth her pains, much less the adventure of her person?”
“Good my lord, she came here from Libya,” Florizel tells Leontes.
“Where the warlike Smalus, that noble, honoured lord, is feared and loved?”
“Most royal sir, from him—whose daughter tears proclaimèd his, parting with her! From thence we have crossèd, a prosperous southern wind being friendly, to execute the charge my father gave me for visiting Your Highness.
“My best train I have from your Sicilian shores dismissèd,” he claims, to explain his small retinue, “who for Bohemia bend, sir, to report not only my success in Libya, but my arrival, and my wife’s, here where we are in safety.”
“May the blessèd gods purge all infection from our climate whilst you draw air here!” Leontes’ smile is tinged with sadness. “You have a father full of grace, a holy, gentle man against whose person, sacred as it is, I have done sin! For which the heavens, taking angry note, have left me issueless, and your father blest as he from heaven merits—with you, worthy of his goodness!”
He looks, sadly, at Polixenes’ grown son and daughter-in-law. “What might have been, had I a son and daughter now to look upon?—such goodly things as you….”
Just then a gentleman rushes in, approaches the king and bows. Clearly apprehensive, he blurts out, “Most noble sir, that which I shall report would bear no credit, were not the proof so nigh!
“Please you, great sir, Bohemia greets you from himself by me!—desires you to arrest his son!—who has, his dignity and duty both cast off, fled from his father, from his hopes!—and with a shepherd’s daughter!”
Leontes stares. “Where’s Bohemia? Speak!”
“Here in your city!—I come from him now! If I speak amazèdly, it becomes my marveling at my message!
“Whiles he was hastening to your court—in chase, it seems, of this fair couple—on the way he met the father of this seeming lady, and her brother, both having quit their country with this young prince!”
Florizel is appalled. “Camillo—whose honour and whose honesty till now endurèd all weathers—has betrayed me!”
“Lay’t so to his charge!”—tell him so, says the Sicilian courtier. “He’s with the king your father!”
Leontes is again startled. “Who? Camillo?”
“Camillo, sir!—I spake with him; he now is questioning those poor men! Never saw I wretches so quake!—they kneel, they kiss the earth—forswear themselves as often as they speak! Bohemia stops his ears and threatens them with divers deaths-in-death!”
“Oh, my poor father!” moans Perdita. “The heavens have set spies upon us!—will not have our contract celebrated!”
Now Leontes frowns. “Are you married?” he demands.
“We are not, sir,” Florizel confesses, “nor are we likely to be! I can see that the stars will kiss the valleys first! For us, high and low,”—prince and commoner, “the odds are alike!”
Again Leontes challenges: “My lord, is this the daughter of a king?”
“She is—once she’s my wife!”
“Judging by your good father’s speed, I’d say that ‘once’ will come along very slowly!
“I am most sorry that you have broken from his liking, where you were tied by duty!—and sorry that your choice is not as rich in worth as in beauty; so that you might well enjoy her.”
Florizel takes Perdita by the hand. “Dear, look up! Though Fortune should chase us with my father as a visible enemy, she hath no jot of power to change our loves!”
He turns to Leontes. “Beseech you, sir, remember when you owed no more to time than I do now; with thought of such affections, step forth as mine advocate!—at your request, my father will grant precious things as he would trifles!”
Leontes cannot stop watching Perdita—who closely resembles Hermione. “Would he do so, I’d beg your precious mistress, whom he does count but a trifle.”
Paulina is irked. “Sir!—my liege, your eye hath too much youth in’t! Not a month ’fore your queen died she was more worthy such gazes than what you look on now!”
The king nods. He says softly, “Even in these looks I made, I thought of her.
“But your petition is yet unanswered,” he tells Florizel. “I will speak to your father! Your honour not having been o’erthrown by your desires, I am friend to them and you!
“Upon which errand I now go; therefore follow me. Come, good my lord!”
Straightening his royal robes, he leads the way.
A group of courtiers emerges from the Sicilian palace in animated conversation, still stirred by poignant and portentous events.
Outside, before the broad marble portico, one is intercepted by a visitor from the Prince of Bohemia’s ship—Autolycus, who craves information. “Beseech you, sir, were you present at this revelation?” he asks.
The portly gentleman is eager to talk. “I was by at the opening of the fardel!—heard the old shepherd deliver the manner how he found it!” His face reveals annoyance. “Whereupon, after a little amazedness, we were all commanded out of the chamber! But this methought I heard: the shepherd saying he found the child!”
“I would most gladly know the issue of it!” says Autolycus.
“I can make but a broken delivery of the business. The exchanges I perceived between the king and Camillo were very notes of admiration!—staring at one another, their eyes seemed almost to start from the cases! There was speech in their silence, language in their very gestures; they looked as if they had heard of a world destroyed—or one ransomèd! A discernible passion of wonder appeared in them!
“Not even the wisest beholder, knowing no more than was seen, could say if the import were joy or sorrow!—but in the extremity of one it must needs be!”
He looks back as another courtier rushes from the palace’s wide entrance. “Here comes a gentleman that haply knows more…. The news, Rogerio?”
“Nothing but bonfires!”—public celebrations, the tall man reports happily. “The oracle is fulfillèd: the king’s daughter is found!
“So great a deal of wonder has broken out within this hour that ballad-makers may not be able to express it!” He looks toward the graybeard hastily following him. “Here comes the Lady Paulina’s steward—he can deliver you more!
“How goes it now, sir?” he asks the man. “This news which is callèd true is so like an old tale that the verity of it is in strong suspicion! Has the king found his heir?”
Grasping the younger man’s sleeve, the blissful steward nods, “Most true, if ever truth were pregnant with evidence! That which you hear you’ll swear you’ve seen, there is such unity in the proofs!—the green mantle, Queen Hermione’s, her jewels about the neck of it—the letters of Antigonus found with it, which they know to be in his handwriting—the majesty of the young creature and resemblance to the mother—the effects of nobleness, which nature shows to be above her rearing—and many other circumstances proclaim her, with all certainty, to be the king’s daughter!
“Did you see the meeting of the two kings?” asks Rogerio.
“Then have you lost a sight which was to be seen!—cannot be spoken! There might you have beheld one joy crown another!—and in such a manner that it seemed Sorrow wept to take leave of them, for the joys waded in tears!
“There was casting up of eyes, holding up of hands!—with countenances in such distraction that they were to be known by garment, not by face!
“Our king, being ready to leap out of himself for joy at finding his daughter, now, as if that joy were become a loss, cries out, ‘Oh, thy mother, thy mother!’—then asks Bohemia’s forgiveness—then embraces his son-in-law—then again harries his daughter with hugging her—and now he thanks the old shepherd!—who stands by like a fountain, weather-bitten through many kings’ reigns!
“I never heard of another encounter such as this!—which lames the report trying to follow it, and undoes description in doing it!”
The tall courtier asks, “What, pray you, became of Antigonus, who carried the child hence?”
“Again ’tis like an old tale—which will have matter to rehearse, though credit be asleep and not an eye open,” says the old man. “He was torn to pieces by a bear!—thus avouches the shepherd’s son, who has not only his innocence, which seems much, to justify him, but a handkerchief and rings of his that Paulina knows.”
“What became of his bark and his followers?” asks the stout gentleman.
“Wrecked!—the same instant of their master’s death,” the steward tells them gravely, “and in the view of the shepherd. So all of the instruments which aided in exposing the child were lost, even then when it was found!
“But, oh, the noble combat that ’twixt joy and sorrow was fought in Paulina! She had eyes first declinèd for the loss of her husband—then elevated that the oracle was fulfilled! She lifted the princess from the earth and locked her in embracing!—as if she would pin her to her heart, so that she might no more be in danger of losing!”
The younger gentleman marvels. “The dignity of this pageant was worthy the audience of kings and princes!—for by such was it acted!”
Again the old steward nods—and remembers tearfully. “One of the most touching sights of all—and that which, dangling in mine eyes, caught the water, if not the fish—was when, at the relation of the queen’s death—with the manner how she came to’t confessèd bravely, and lamented by the king—attentiveness wounded his daughter, till from one sigh of dolour to another she did—with an Alas! I would fain say it: bleed tears!—for I am sure my heart wept blood!
“Whoever was most marble then changèd colour!—some swooned, all sorrowed! If all the world could have seen’t, the woe had been universal!”
“Are they returnèd to the court?”
“No—the princess hearing of her mother’s statue which is in the keeping of Paulina—a work many years in doing, and now newly completed by that rare Italian master, Julio Romano, who—had he eternity, and could he put breath into his piece—would beguile Nature from her custom,”—accepting her own work, “so perfectly is he her surrogate!
“He so near to Hermione hath done ‘Hermione’ that they say one would speak to her, and stand in hope of answer!
“Thither, all in readiness for its reception, are they gone; and there they intend to sup.”
“I thought Paulina had some great matter there in hand,” says the taller gentleman, “for she hath privately, twice or thrice a day ever since the death of Hermione, visited that removèd house. Shall we thither, and with our company add to the rejoicing?”
“Who that has the benefit of access would not be thence? Every wink of an eye, some new grace will be born!” says his companion. “Our absence makes us unthrifty to our knowledge! Let’s along!”
The three courtiers stride away toward Paulina’s home, leaving the erstwhile peddler behind.
Thinks Autolycus ruefully, Now, had I not the stain of my former life on me, would preferment drop on my head!
I took the old man and his son aboard to the prince—told him I heard them talk of a fardel, and I knew not what. But, overly fond of the shepherd’s daughter—at that time, so he then took her to be—who began to be much sea-sick, he found himself little better! Extremity of weather continuing, this mystery remained undiscoverèd.
But ’tis all one to me, for had I been the finder-out of this secret, it would not have pleased, given my earlier discredits.
He watches as two of his fellow passengers, the Bohemian shepherds, walk from the palace together, deep in conversation—and in costly new clothes. Here come those I have done good to against my will—and already appearing in the blossoms of their fortune!
“Come, boy,” says the old man. “I am past more children, but thy sons and daughters will be gentleman-born!”
The son spots Autolycus. “You are well met, sir!” he says angrily. “You denied to fight with me this other day, because I was not gentleman-born! See you these clothes? Say that you see them and still think me not gentleman-born!” he demands defiantly. “You were best not say these robes are not gentlemen-born! Give me the lie!—do, and find out whether I am not now gentleman-born!”
Autolycus bows graciously. “I know, sir, you are now born a gentleman.”
“Aye!—and have been so any time these four hours!” the youth proclaims proudly.
“And so have I, boy!” notes his father.
“So you have! But I was gentleman-born before my father: for the king’s son took me by the hand and called me brother; and then the two kings called my father brother; and then the prince, my brother, and the princess, my sister, called my father Father—and so we wept!—and there was the first gentleman-like tears that ever we shed!”
The old man beams. “We may live, son, to shed many more!”
“Aye!—or else ’twere hard luck, being in so preposterous estate as we are!”
Autolycus addresses the younger of the newly elevated pair. “I humbly beseech you, sir, to pardon me all the faults I have committed to Your Worship, and to give your good report of me to the prince, thy master.”
“Prithee, son, do,” urges the kindly old shepherd, “for we must be gentle, now we are gentlemen.”
The younger one regards the rogue. “Thou wilt amend thy life?”
Autolycus immediately bows, humbly. “Aye, an it like Your Good Worship!”
The young shepherd is pleased. “Give me thy hand!” They shake. “I will swear to the prince thou art as honest a true a fellow as any is in Bohemia!”
The older man raises an eyebrow. “You may say it, but not swear it.”
“Not swear it, now I am a gentleman? Let boors and franklins”—peasants and yeomen—“say it—I’ll swear it!”
“How if it be false, son?”
“Even if it be ever so false, a true gentleman may swear it in the behalf of his friend!” He smiles kindly at Autolycus. “And I’ll swear to the prince thou art a tall fellow of thy hands,”—honorable in accord with his stature, “and that thou wilt not be drunk.
“I know thou wert no tall fellow of thy hands, and that thou wilt be drunk! Yet I’ll swear it—as I would thou wouldst be a tall fellow of thy hands.”
“I will prove so, sir, to my power!”
The shepherd laughs. “Aye!—by any means prove a tall fellow!” He regards the slender man, smaller, yet bold. “If I don’t wonder how thou darest venture to be drunk, not being a tall fellow, trust me not!
“Hark! The kings and the princes, our kindred, are going to see the queen’s picture!” He claps an arm around the rascal’s shoulders.
“Come, follow us! We’ll be thy good masters!”
Lady Paulina welcomes a royal party into her home: King Leontes and King Polixenes; Prince Florizel with Perdita, his affianced; Lord Camillo and several other courtiers, all with attendants. Following at a respectful distance are the two freshly minted gentlemen and their new serving-man.
They stroll through several rooms dedicated to the lady’s impressive collection of paintings and statuary, and find, in the last chamber, musicians quietly playing hautboys and flutes.
Says Leontes happily—but with a trace of irony, “O grave and good Paulina, the great comfort that I have had of thee!”
“Sovereign sir, what, I did not well, I meant well,” she replies. “All my services you have paid home!” she says, having witnessed his daughter’s joyful return. “And that you have vouchsafed to visit my poor house—with your crownèd brother and these, your contracted heirs of your kingdoms—is a surplus of your grace, which never my life may last to answer!”
Says Leontes apologetically, aware of the number of visitors, “Ah, Paulina, we honour you with trouble. But we came to see the statue of our queen; your gallery have we passèd through, much contented with its many singularities, but we saw not that which my daughter came to look upon: the statue of her mother.”
“As she lived peerless, so her dead likeness, I do well believe, excels whatever yet you looked upon—or hand of man hath done!” says Paulina. “Therefore I keep it lonely, apart.” She stands before a curtained alcove. “But here it is; prepare to see a life as lively imitated as ever still sleep mockèd death! Behold, and say ’tis well!”
She draws back the drapery, revealing the newly painted statue of Queen Hermione; softly lighted by candles, one at each side, it stands quite lifelike on the plinth. The guests who knew her gaze up, amazed.
“I like your silence,” says Paulina. “It the more shows off your wonder! But yet speak; first, you, my liege. Comes it not something near?”
Leontes, blinking, stares. “Her natural posture! Chide me, dear stone, so that I may say indeed thou art Hermione!” Tears blur his vision. “Or rather, thou art she in thy not chiding—for she was as tender as infancy and grace!”
He wipes his eyes, and compares the image to that still lively in his memory. “But yet, Paulina, Hermione was not so much wrinkled, nothing so agèd as this seems….”
Polixenes, studying the statue, concurs. “Oh, not by much.”
Says Paulina, “So much the more our carver’s excellence, which lets go by some sixteen years, and makes her look as if she lives now.”
Leontes is again stricken with deep regret. “And as now she might have seen—as much as was to my good comfort as is now piercing to my soul! Oh, thus she stood, with even such majesty of life!—life as warm when first I wooed her as now it coldly stands!”
Tears again flow. “I am ashamed! Does not the stone rebuke me for being more stone than it? O royal piece, there’s magic in thy majesty, which has my evils conjured to remembrance—and taken the spirit from thy admiring daughter, standing like stone with thee!”
Perdita is indeed entranced by the image of her mother. “Give me leave!—and do not say ’tis in superstition that I kneel, and then implore her blessing.” She moves toward the figure. “Lady, dear queen, who ended when I but began, give me that hand of yours to kiss….”
Paulina intervenes. “Oh, patience! The statue is but newly fixèd—the colour’s not dry!”
Camillo pities Leontes, who is quietly weeping. “My lord, the sorrow was too sorely laid on that sixteen winters cannot blow away, so many summers dry! Scarce did ever any joy live so long; no sorrow but killed itself much sooner!”
And Polixenes touches the other king’s arm. “Dear my brother, let him that was the cause of this grief have power to take off so much from you as he will piece up in himself!”
Paulina moves toward the alcove. “Indeed, my lord, if I had thought the sight of my poor image—for the stone of it is mine—would thus have wrought you, I’d not have showed it.”
“Do not draw the curtain!” cries Leontes.
But Paulina reaches to close the drape. “No longer shall you gaze on’t, lest your fancy may think anon it moves!”
“Let be, let be!” pleads Leontes urgently. “Would I were dead if methinks not that already! Who was he that did make it?” The king points. “See, my lord!—would you not deem that it breathed?—and that those veins did verily bear blood?”
Polixenes nods. “Masterly done! A very life seems warm upon her lip!”
Like the others, Leontes now stands transfixed, motionless. He whispers: “The feature of her eye has motion in’t—and we are mocked as art!”
“I’ll draw the curtain,” says Paulina. “My lord’s almost so far transported that he’ll think anon it lives!”
Leontes steps toward the statue. “Oh, sweet Paulina, make me to think so!—for twenty years together!”—the rest of his life. “No settled senses in the world can match the pleasure of that madness! Let it alone!”
Paulina faces him. “I am sorry, sir, I have thus far stirred you! Yet I could afflict you further….”
“Do, Paulina!—for this affliction has a taste as sweet as any cordial comfort!”
He moves closer. “Methinks still that there is an air comes from her,” he murmurs. “What fine chisel could ever yet cut breath?” Suddenly he decides: “Let no man mock me, but I will kiss her!”
“Good my lord, forbear!” protests Paulina, blocking his way. “The ruddiness upon her lip is wet!—you’ll mar it if you kiss it—stain your own with oily painting! Shall I draw the curtain?”
“No, not these twenty years!” cries Leontes.
Perdita nods. “So long could I stand by, a looker-on!”
“Either forbear, and immediately quit the chapel,” says Paulina, “or resolve you for more amazement!
“If you can bear to behold it, I’ll make the statue move indeed!—descend and take you by the hand! But then you’ll think—which I protest against—I am assisted by wicked powers!”
Leontes, pale, cannot abandon the image of Hermione. “What you can make her do, I am content to look upon—what to speak, I am content to hear—for ’tis as easy to make her speak as move!”
Paulina tells the visitors, “It is required that you do awake your faith! Then all stand still!
“As for those who think it is unlawful business I am about, let them depart.”
“Proceed!” commands Leontes. “No foot shall stir!”
Paulina turns. “Music, awake her! Strike!” A tabor is sounded, and the other musicians comply as well.
“’Tis time,” says Paulina softly. “Descend—be stone no more! Approach!—strike with marvel all that look upon thee!” she tells the statue, tearfully. “Come; I’ll fill up your grave.
“Stir! Nay, come away!—bequeath to Death your numbness, for from him dear Life redeems you!” She reaches up.
And the statue moves.
“You perceive she stirs!” cries Paulina, as Queen Hermione takes her hand and steps down from the pedestal.
The others back away. “Start not,” says Paulina. “Her actions shall be holy!—and you’ll hear that my spell is lawful! Do not shun her until you see her die again, or else you kill her doubly!” She turns to Leontes, who seems frozen. “Nay, present your hand! When she was young you wooed her; now in age is she become the suitor?”
Leontes takes Hermione’s hand. “Oh,” he gasps, “she’s warm!” Again he blinks. “If this be magic, let it be an art as lawful as eating!”
Polixenes, delighted, watches the royal pair. “She embraces him!”
“She hangs about his neck!” notes Camillo. “If she moves as living, let her speak, too!”
“Aye, and make’t manifest where she has lived,” says Polixenes, “or how been stolen from the dead!”
Paulina quiets them. “That she is living, were it but told you, would be hooted at like an old tale! But, though yet she speaks not, it is apparent that she lives! Mark a little while.”
She turns to Perdita. “Please you to interpose, fair madam! Kneel, and ask for your mother’s blessing!” She addresses her friend the queen. “Turn, good lady; our lost one is found!”
Hermione looks upward and speaks. “You gods, look down, and from your sacred vials pour your graces upon my daughter’s head!”
She takes the astonished Perdita’s hand, and embraces her. “Tell me, mine own, where hast thou been preservèd?—where lived—how found thy father’s court!
“For thou shalt hear that I, knowing by Paulina that the oracle gave hope thou wast in being, have preservèd myself to see the outcome!”
Paulina tells her, postponing explanations, “There’s time enough for that, lest they desire upon this push to trouble your joys with like relation!” She motions to urge the guests from the gallery. “Go together, you precious winners all!—your exultation partake of, every one!
“I, an old turtledove, will wing me to some withered bough, and there my mate, that’s never to be found again, lament till I am lost.”
But Leontes, holding Hermione’s hand, has resumed command. “Oh, peace, Paulina! Thou shouldst a husband take—by my consent, as I by thine take a wife!
“This is the match made between us by vow! Thou hast found mine—if how is yet to be explained; for I saw her, as I thought, dead, and have in vain said many a prayer upon her grave.
“But to find thee an honourable husband I need not seek far for him—I partly know his mind!
“Come, Camillo, and take her by the hand whose worth and honesty are richly noted!—and here justifièd by us, a pair of kings!” Polixenes smiles and nods. “Let’s from this place!”
Hermione seems to hold back.
Leontes asks, gently “What? Look upon my brother. I beseech both your pardons,” he says, touching Polixenes’ sleeve, “that e’er I put between your holy looks my ill suspicion!”
He goes to Florizel. “This is son unto this king,” he tells Hermione, “troth-plight to your daughter—and, heavens directing, our son-in-law!
“Good Paulina, lead us from hence, where we may leisurely, each one, demand an answer to the others’ parts, performèd in this wide gap of time since first we were dissevered!
“Hastily lead away!”