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The Winter's Tale

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Act II, Scene 1

A room in LEONTES’ palace.


[Enter HERMIONE, MAMILLIUS, and Ladies]

  • Hermione. Take the boy to you: he so troubles me,
    'Tis past enduring.
  • First Lady. Come, my gracious lord,
    Shall I be your playfellow? 600
  • Mamillius. You'll kiss me hard and speak to me as if
    I were a baby still. I love you better.
  • Mamillius. Not for because
    Your brows are blacker; yet black brows, they say,
    Become some women best, so that there be not
    Too much hair there, but in a semicircle
    Or a half-moon made with a pen. 610
  • Mamillius. I learnt it out of women's faces. Pray now
    What colour are your eyebrows?
  • Mamillius. Nay, that's a mock: I have seen a lady's nose 615
    That has been blue, but not her eyebrows.
  • First Lady. Hark ye;
    The queen your mother rounds apace: we shall
    Present our services to a fine new prince
    One of these days; and then you'ld wanton with us, 620
    If we would have you.
  • Second Lady. She is spread of late
    Into a goodly bulk: good time encounter her!
  • Hermione. What wisdom stirs amongst you? Come, sir, now
    I am for you again: pray you, sit by us, 625
    And tell 's a tale.
  • Mamillius. A sad tale's best for winter: I have one
    Of sprites and goblins. 630
  • Hermione. Let's have that, good sir.
    Come on, sit down: come on, and do your best
    To fright me with your sprites; you're powerful at it.
  • Hermione. Nay, come, sit down; then on. 635
  • Mamillius. Dwelt by a churchyard: I will tell it softly;
    Yond crickets shall not hear it.
  • Hermione. Come on, then,
    And give't me in mine ear.

[Enter LEONTES, with ANTIGONUS, Lords and others]

  • Leontes. Was he met there? his train? Camillo with him?
  • First Lord. Behind the tuft of pines I met them; never
    Saw I men scour so on their way: I eyed them
    Even to their ships.
  • Leontes. How blest am I 645
    In my just censure, in my true opinion!
    Alack, for lesser knowledge! how accursed
    In being so blest! There may be in the cup
    A spider steep'd, and one may drink, depart,
    And yet partake no venom, for his knowledge 650
    Is not infected: but if one present
    The abhorr'd ingredient to his eye, make known
    How he hath drunk, he cracks his gorge, his sides,
    With violent hefts. I have drunk,
    and seen the spider. 655
    Camillo was his help in this, his pander:
    There is a plot against my life, my crown;
    All's true that is mistrusted: that false villain
    Whom I employ'd was pre-employ'd by him:
    He has discover'd my design, and I 660
    Remain a pinch'd thing; yea, a very trick
    For them to play at will. How came the posterns
    So easily open?
  • First Lord. By his great authority;
    Which often hath no less prevail'd than so 665
    On your command.
  • Leontes. I know't too well.
    Give me the boy: I am glad you did not nurse him:
    Though he does bear some signs of me, yet you
    Have too much blood in him. 670
  • Leontes. Bear the boy hence; he shall not come about her;
    Away with him! and let her sport herself
    With that she's big with; for 'tis Polixenes
    Has made thee swell thus. 675
  • Hermione. But I'ld say he had not,
    And I'll be sworn you would believe my saying,
    Howe'er you lean to the nayward.
  • Leontes. You, my lords,
    Look on her, mark her well; be but about 680
    To say 'she is a goodly lady,' and
    The justice of your bearts will thereto add
    'Tis pity she's not honest, honourable:'
    Praise her but for this her without-door form,
    Which on my faith deserves high speech, and straight 685
    The shrug, the hum or ha, these petty brands
    That calumny doth use—O, I am out—
    That mercy does, for calumny will sear
    Virtue itself: these shrugs, these hums and ha's,
    When you have said 'she's goodly,' come between 690
    Ere you can say 'she's honest:' but be 't known,
    From him that has most cause to grieve it should be,
    She's an adulteress.
  • Hermione. Should a villain say so,
    The most replenish'd villain in the world, 695
    He were as much more villain: you, my lord,
    Do but mistake.
  • Leontes. You have mistook, my lady,
    Polixenes for Leontes: O thou thing!
    Which I'll not call a creature of thy place, 700
    Lest barbarism, making me the precedent,
    Should a like language use to all degrees
    And mannerly distinguishment leave out
    Betwixt the prince and beggar: I have said
    She's an adulteress; I have said with whom: 705
    More, she's a traitor and Camillo is
    A federary with her, and one that knows
    What she should shame to know herself
    But with her most vile principal, that she's
    A bed-swerver, even as bad as those 710
    That vulgars give bold'st titles, ay, and privy
    To this their late escape.
  • Hermione. No, by my life.
    Privy to none of this. How will this grieve you,
    When you shall come to clearer knowledge, that 715
    You thus have publish'd me! Gentle my lord,
    You scarce can right me throughly then to say
    You did mistake.
  • Leontes. No; if I mistake
    In those foundations which I build upon, 720
    The centre is not big enough to bear
    A school-boy's top. Away with her! to prison!
    He who shall speak for her is afar off guilty
    But that he speaks.
  • Hermione. There's some ill planet reigns: 725
    I must be patient till the heavens look
    With an aspect more favourable. Good my lords,
    I am not prone to weeping, as our sex
    Commonly are; the want of which vain dew
    Perchance shall dry your pities: but I have 730
    That honourable grief lodged here which burns
    Worse than tears drown: beseech you all, my lords,
    With thoughts so qualified as your charities
    Shall best instruct you, measure me; and so
    The king's will be perform'd! 735
  • Hermione. Who is't that goes with me? Beseech your highness,
    My women may be with me; for you see
    My plight requires it. Do not weep, good fools;
    There is no cause: when you shall know your mistress 740
    Has deserved prison, then abound in tears
    As I come out: this action I now go on
    Is for my better grace. Adieu, my lord:
    I never wish'd to see you sorry; now
    I trust I shall. My women, come; you have leave. 745
  • Leontes. Go, do our bidding; hence!

[Exit HERMIONE, guarded; with Ladies]

  • First Lord. Beseech your highness, call the queen again.
  • Antigonus. Be certain what you do, sir, lest your justice
    Prove violence; in the which three great ones suffer, 750
    Yourself, your queen, your son.
  • First Lord. For her, my lord,
    I dare my life lay down and will do't, sir,
    Please you to accept it, that the queen is spotless
    I' the eyes of heaven and to you; I mean, 755
    In this which you accuse her.
  • Antigonus. If it prove
    She's otherwise, I'll keep my stables where
    I lodge my wife; I'll go in couples with her;
    Than when I feel and see her no farther trust her; 760
    For every inch of woman in the world,
    Ay, every dram of woman's flesh is false, If she be.
  • Antigonus. It is for you we speak, not for ourselves: 765
    You are abused and by some putter-on
    That will be damn'd for't; would I knew the villain,
    I would land-damn him. Be she honour-flaw'd,
    I have three daughters; the eldest is eleven
    The second and the third, nine, and some five; 770
    If this prove true, they'll pay for't:
    by mine honour,
    I'll geld 'em all; fourteen they shall not see,
    To bring false generations: they are co-heirs;
    And I had rather glib myself than they 775
    Should not produce fair issue.
  • Leontes. Cease; no more.
    You smell this business with a sense as cold
    As is a dead man's nose: but I do see't and feel't
    As you feel doing thus; and see withal 780
    The instruments that feel.
  • Antigonus. If it be so,
    We need no grave to bury honesty:
    There's not a grain of it the face to sweeten
    Of the whole dungy earth. 785
  • First Lord. I had rather you did lack than I, my lord,
    Upon this ground; and more it would content me
    To have her honour true than your suspicion,
    Be blamed for't how you might. 790
  • Leontes. Why, what need we
    Commune with you of this, but rather follow
    Our forceful instigation? Our prerogative
    Calls not your counsels, but our natural goodness
    Imparts this; which if you, or stupefied 795
    Or seeming so in skill, cannot or will not
    Relish a truth like us, inform yourselves
    We need no more of your advice: the matter,
    The loss, the gain, the ordering on't, is all
    Properly ours. 800
  • Antigonus. And I wish, my liege,
    You had only in your silent judgment tried it,
    Without more overture.
  • Leontes. How could that be?
    Either thou art most ignorant by age, 805
    Or thou wert born a fool. Camillo's flight,
    Added to their familiarity,
    Which was as gross as ever touch'd conjecture,
    That lack'd sight only, nought for approbation
    But only seeing, all other circumstances 810
    Made up to the deed, doth push on this proceeding:
    Yet, for a greater confirmation,
    For in an act of this importance 'twere
    Most piteous to be wild, I have dispatch'd in post
    To sacred Delphos, to Apollo's temple, 815
    Cleomenes and Dion, whom you know
    Of stuff'd sufficiency: now from the oracle
    They will bring all; whose spiritual counsel had,
    Shall stop or spur me. Have I done well?
  • Leontes. Though I am satisfied and need no more
    Than what I know, yet shall the oracle
    Give rest to the minds of others, such as he
    Whose ignorant credulity will not
    Come up to the truth. So have we thought it good 825
    From our free person she should be confined,
    Lest that the treachery of the two fled hence
    Be left her to perform. Come, follow us;
    We are to speak in public; for this business
    Will raise us all. 830
  • Antigonus. [Aside]
    To laughter, as I take it,
    If the good truth were known.