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The Winter's Tale

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Act III, Scene 2

A court of Justice.


[Enter LEONTES, Lords, and Officers]

  • Leontes. This sessions, to our great grief we pronounce,
    Even pushes 'gainst our heart: the party tried
    The daughter of a king, our wife, and one
    Of us too much beloved. Let us be clear'd
    Of being tyrannous, since we so openly 1215
    Proceed in justice, which shall have due course,
    Even to the guilt or the purgation.
    Produce the prisoner.
  • Officer. It is his highness' pleasure that the queen
    Appear in person here in court. Silence! 1220
    [Enter HERMIONE guarded;]
    PAULINA and Ladies attending]
  • Officer. [Reads] Hermione, queen to the worthy
    Leontes, king of Sicilia, thou art here accused and 1225
    arraigned of high treason, in committing adultery
    with Polixenes, king of Bohemia, and conspiring
    with Camillo to take away the life of our sovereign
    lord the king, thy royal husband: the pretence
    whereof being by circumstances partly laid open, 1230
    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. Since what I am to say must be but that
    Which contradicts my accusation and 1235
    The testimony on my part no other
    But what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot me
    To say 'not guilty:' mine integrity
    Being counted falsehood, shall, as I express it,
    Be so received. But thus: if powers divine 1240
    Behold our human actions, as they do,
    I doubt not then but innocence shall make
    False accusation blush and tyranny
    Tremble at patience. You, my lord, best know,
    Who least will seem to do so, my past life 1245
    Hath been as continent, as chaste, as true,
    As I am now unhappy; which is more
    Than history can pattern, though devised
    And play'd to take spectators. For behold me
    A fellow of the royal bed, which owe 1250
    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 'fore
    Who please to come and hear. For life, I prize it
    As I weigh grief, which I would spare: for honour, 1255
    'Tis a derivative from me to mine,
    And only that I stand for. I appeal
    To your own conscience, sir, before Polixenes
    Came to your court, how I was in your grace,
    How merited to be so; since he came, 1260
    With what encounter so uncurrent I
    Have strain'd to appear thus: if one jot beyond
    The bound of honour, or in act or will
    That way inclining, harden'd be the hearts
    Of all that hear me, and my near'st of kin 1265
    Cry fie upon my grave!
  • Leontes. I ne'er heard yet
    That any of these bolder vices wanted
    Less impudence to gainsay what they did
    Than to perform it first. 1270
  • Hermione. That's true enough;
    Through 'tis a saying, sir, not due to me.
  • Hermione. More than mistress of
    Which comes to me in name of fault, I must not 1275
    At all acknowledge. For Polixenes,
    With whom I am accused, I do confess
    I loved him as in honour he required,
    With such a kind of love as might become
    A lady like me, with a love even such, 1280
    So and no other, as yourself commanded:
    Which not to have done I think had been in me
    Both disobedience and ingratitude
    To you and toward your friend, whose love had spoke,
    Even since it could speak, from an infant, freely 1285
    That it was yours. Now, for conspiracy,
    I know not how it tastes; though it be dish'd
    For me to try how: all I know of it
    Is that Camillo was an honest man;
    And why he left your court, the gods themselves, 1290
    Wotting no more than I, are ignorant.
  • Leontes. You knew of his departure, as you know
    What you have underta'en to do in's absence.
  • Hermione. Sir,
    You speak a language that I understand not: 1295
    My life stands in the level of your dreams,
    Which I'll lay down.
  • Leontes. Your actions are my dreams;
    You had a bastard by Polixenes,
    And I but dream'd it. As you were past all shame,— 1300
    Those of your fact are so—so past all truth:
    Which to deny concerns more than avails; for as
    Thy brat hath been cast out, like to itself,
    No father owning it,—which is, indeed,
    More criminal in thee than it,—so thou 1305
    Shalt feel our justice, in whose easiest passage
    Look for no less than death.
  • Hermione. Sir, spare your threats:
    The bug which you would fright me with I seek.
    To me can life be no commodity: 1310
    The crown and comfort of my life, your favour,
    I do give lost; for I do feel it gone,
    But know not how it went. My second joy
    And first-fruits of my body, from his presence
    I am barr'd, like one infectious. My third comfort 1315
    Starr'd most unluckily, is from my breast,
    The innocent milk in its most innocent mouth,
    Haled out to murder: myself on every post
    Proclaimed a strumpet: with immodest hatred
    The child-bed privilege denied, which 'longs 1320
    To women of all fashion; lastly, hurried
    Here to this place, i' the open air, before
    I have got strength of limit. Now, my liege,
    Tell me what blessings I have here alive,
    That I should fear to die? Therefore proceed. 1325
    But yet hear this: mistake me not; no life,
    I prize it not a straw, but for mine honour,
    Which I would free, if I shall be condemn'd
    Upon surmises, all proofs sleeping else
    But what your jealousies awake, I tell you 1330
    'Tis rigor and not law. Your honours all,
    I do refer me to the oracle:
    Apollo be my judge!
  • First Lord. This your request
    Is altogether just: therefore bring forth, 1335
    And in Apollos name, his oracle.

[Exeunt certain Officers]

  • Hermione. The Emperor of Russia was my father:
    O that he were alive, and here beholding
    His daughter's trial! that he did but see 1340
    The flatness of my misery, yet with eyes
    Of pity, not revenge!

[Re-enter Officers, with CLEOMENES and DION]

  • Officer. You here shall swear upon this sword of justice,
    That you, Cleomenes and Dion, have 1345
    Been both at Delphos, and from thence have brought
    The seal'd-up oracle, by the hand deliver'd
    Of great Apollo's priest; and that, since then,
    You have not dared to break the holy seal
    Nor read the secrets in't. 1350
  • Leontes. Break up the seals and read.
  • Officer. [Reads]. Hermione is chaste;
    Polixenes blameless; Camillo a true subject; Leontes
    a jealous tyrant; his innocent babe truly begotten; 1355
    and the king shall live without an heir, if that
    which is lost be not found.
  • Lords. Now blessed be the great Apollo!
  • Leontes. Hast thou read truth? 1360
  • Officer. Ay, my lord; even so
    As it is here set down.
  • Leontes. There is no truth at all i' the oracle:
    The sessions shall proceed: this is mere falsehood.

[Enter Servant]

  • Servant. My lord the king, the king!
  • Servant. O sir, I shall be hated to report it!
    The prince your son, with mere conceit and fear
    Of the queen's speed, is gone. 1370
  • Leontes. Apollo's angry; and the heavens themselves
    Do strike at my injustice.
    [HERMIONE swoons] 1375
    How now there!
  • Paulina. This news is mortal to the queen: look down
    And see what death is doing.
  • Leontes. Take her hence:
    Her heart is but o'ercharged; she will recover: 1380
    I have too much believed mine own suspicion:
    Beseech you, tenderly apply to her
    Some remedies for life.
    [Exeunt PAULINA and Ladies, with HERMIONE]
    Apollo, pardon 1385
    My great profaneness 'gainst thine oracle!
    I'll reconcile me to Polixenes,
    New woo my queen, recall the good Camillo,
    Whom I proclaim a man of truth, of mercy;
    For, being transported by my jealousies 1390
    To bloody thoughts and to revenge, I chose
    Camillo for the minister to poison
    My friend Polixenes: which had been done,
    But that the good mind of Camillo tardied
    My swift command, though I with death and with 1395
    Reward did threaten and encourage him,
    Not doing 't and being done: he, most humane
    And fill'd with honour, to my kingly guest
    Unclasp'd my practise, quit his fortunes here,
    Which you knew great, and to the hazard 1400
    Of all encertainties himself commended,
    No richer than his honour: how he glisters
    Thorough my rust! and how his pity
    Does my deeds make the blacker!

[Re-enter PAULINA]

  • Paulina. Woe the while!
    O, cut my lace, lest my heart, cracking it,
    Break too.
  • Paulina. What studied torments, tyrant, hast for me? 1410
    What wheels? racks? fires? what flaying? boiling?
    In leads or oils? what old or newer torture
    Must I receive, whose every word deserves
    To taste of thy most worst? Thy tyranny
    Together working with thy jealousies, 1415
    Fancies too weak for boys, too green and idle
    For girls of nine, O, think what they have done
    And then run mad indeed, stark mad! for all
    Thy by-gone fooleries were but spices of it.
    That thou betray'dst Polixenes,'twas nothing; 1420
    That did but show thee, of a fool, inconstant
    And damnable ingrateful: nor was't much,
    Thou wouldst have poison'd good Camillo's honour,
    To have him kill a king: poor trespasses,
    More monstrous standing by: whereof I reckon 1425
    The casting forth to crows thy baby-daughter
    To be or none or little; though a devil
    Would have shed water out of fire ere done't:
    Nor is't directly laid to thee, the death
    Of the young prince, whose honourable thoughts, 1430
    Thoughts high for one so tender, cleft the heart
    That could conceive a gross and foolish sire
    Blemish'd his gracious dam: this is not, no,
    Laid to thy answer: but the last,—O lords,
    When I have said, cry 'woe!' the queen, the queen, 1435
    The sweet'st, dear'st creature's dead,
    and vengeance for't
    Not dropp'd down yet.
  • Paulina. I say she's dead; I'll swear't. If word nor oath 1440
    Prevail not, go and see: if you can bring
    Tincture or lustre in her lip, her eye,
    Heat outwardly or breath within, I'll serve you
    As I would do the gods. But, O thou tyrant!
    Do not repent these things, for they are heavier 1445
    Than all thy woes can stir; therefore betake thee
    To nothing but despair. A thousand knees
    Ten thousand years together, naked, fasting,
    Upon a barren mountain and still winter
    In storm perpetual, could not move the gods 1450
    To look that way thou wert.
  • Leontes. Go on, go on
    Thou canst not speak too much; I have deserved
    All tongues to talk their bitterest.
  • First Lord. Say no more: 1455
    Howe'er the business goes, you have made fault
    I' the boldness of your speech.
  • Paulina. I am sorry for't:
    All faults I make, when I shall come to know them,
    I do repent. Alas! I have show'd too much 1460
    The rashness of a woman: he is touch'd
    To the noble heart. What's gone and what's past help
    Should be past grief: do not receive affliction
    At my petition; I beseech you, rather
    Let me be punish'd, that have minded you 1465
    Of what you should forget. Now, good my liege
    Sir, royal sir, forgive a foolish woman:
    The love I bore your queen—lo, fool again!—
    I'll speak of her no more, nor of your children;
    I'll not remember you of my own lord, 1470
    Who is lost too: take your patience to you,
    And I'll say nothing.
  • Leontes. Thou didst speak but well
    When most the truth; which I receive much better
    Than to be pitied of thee. Prithee, bring me 1475
    To the dead bodies of my queen and son:
    One grave shall be for both: upon them shall
    The causes of their death appear, unto
    Our shame perpetual. Once a day I'll visit
    The chapel where they lie, and tears shed there 1480
    Shall be my recreation: so long as nature
    Will bear up with this exercise, so long
    I daily vow to use it. Come and lead me
    Unto these sorrows.