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The Winter’s Tale


ACT II  SCENE I A room in Leontes’ palace.
[Enter HERMIONE, MAMILLIUS, and Ladies]
HERMIONE Take the boy to you: he so troubles me,
‘Tis past enduring.
First Lady Come, my gracious lord,
Shall I be your playfellow?
MAMILLIUS No, I’ll none of you. 5
First Lady Why, my sweet lord?
MAMILLIUS You’ll kiss me hard and speak to me as if
I were a baby still. I love you better.
Second Lady And why so, my lord?
MAMILLIUS Not for because 10
Your brows are blacker; yet black brows, they say,
Become some women best, so that there be not
Too much hair there, but in a semicircle
Or a half-moon made with a pen.
Second Lady Who taught you this? 15
MAMILLIUS I learnt it out of women’s faces. Pray now
What colour are your eyebrows?
First Lady Blue, my lord.
MAMILLIUS Nay, that’s a mock: I have seen a lady’s nose
That has been blue, but not her eyebrows. 20
First Lady Hark ye;
The queen your mother rounds apace: we shall
Present our services to a fine new prince
One of these days; and then you’ld wanton with us,
If we would have you. 25
Second Lady She is spread of late
Into a goodly bulk: good time encounter her!
HERMIONE What wisdom stirs amongst you? Come, sir, now
I am for you again: pray you, sit by us,
And tell ‘s a tale. 30
MAMILLIUS Merry or sad shall’t be?
HERMIONE As merry as you will.
MAMILLIUS A sad tale’s best for winter: I have one
Of sprites and goblins.
HERMIONE Let’s have that, good sir. 35
Come on, sit down: come on, and do your best
To fright me with your sprites; you’re powerful at it.
MAMILLIUS There was a man–
HERMIONE Nay, come, sit down; then on.
MAMILLIUS Dwelt by a churchyard: I will tell it softly; 40
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 45
Saw I men scour so on their way: I eyed them
Even to their ships.
LEONTES How blest am I
In my just censure, in my true opinion!
Alack, for lesser knowledge! how accursed 50
In being so blest! There may be in the cup
A spider steep’d, and one may drink, depart,
And yet partake no venom, for his knowledge
Is not infected: but if one present
The abhorr’d ingredient to his eye, make known 55
How he hath drunk, he cracks his gorge, his sides,
With violent hefts. I have drunk,
and seen the spider.
Camillo was his help in this, his pander:
There is a plot against my life, my crown; 60
All’s true that is mistrusted: that false villain
Whom I employ’d was pre-employ’d by him:
He has discover’d my design, and I
Remain a pinch’d thing; yea, a very trick
For them to play at will. How came the posterns 65
So easily open?
First Lord By his great authority;
Which often hath no less prevail’d than so
On your command.
LEONTES I know’t too well. 70
Give me the boy: I am glad you did not nurse him:
Though he does bear some signs of me, yet you
Have too much blood in him.
HERMIONE What is this? sport?
LEONTES Bear the boy hence; he shall not come about her; 75
Away with him! and let her sport herself
With that she’s big with; for ’tis Polixenes
Has made thee swell thus.
HERMIONE But I’ld say he had not,
And I’ll be sworn you would believe my saying, 80
Howe’er you lean to the nayward.
LEONTES You, my lords,
Look on her, mark her well; be but about
To say ‘she is a goodly lady,’ and
The justice of your bearts will thereto add 85
‘Tis pity she’s not honest, honourable:’
Praise her but for this her without-door form,
Which on my faith deserves high speech, and straight
The shrug, the hum or ha, these petty brands
That calumny doth use–O, I am out– 90
That mercy does, for calumny will sear
Virtue itself: these shrugs, these hums and ha’s,
When you have said ‘she’s goodly,’ come between
Ere you can say ‘she’s honest:’ but be ‘t known,
From him that has most cause to grieve it should be, 95
She’s an adulteress.
HERMIONE Should a villain say so,
The most replenish’d villain in the world,
He were as much more villain: you, my lord,
Do but mistake. 100
LEONTES You have mistook, my lady,
Polixenes for Leontes: O thou thing!
Which I’ll not call a creature of thy place,
Lest barbarism, making me the precedent,
Should a like language use to all degrees 105
And mannerly distinguishment leave out
Betwixt the prince and beggar: I have said
She’s an adulteress; I have said with whom:
More, she’s a traitor and Camillo is
A federary with her, and one that knows 110
What she should shame to know herself
But with her most vile principal, that she’s
A bed-swerver, even as bad as those
That vulgars give bold’st titles, ay, and privy
To this their late escape. 115
HERMIONE No, by my life.
Privy to none of this. How will this grieve you,
When you shall come to clearer knowledge, that
You thus have publish’d me! Gentle my lord,
You scarce can right me throughly then to say 120
You did mistake.
LEONTES No; if I mistake
In those foundations which I build upon,
The centre is not big enough to bear
A school-boy’s top. Away with her! to prison! 125
He who shall speak for her is afar off guilty
But that he speaks.
HERMIONE There’s some ill planet reigns:
I must be patient till the heavens look
With an aspect more favourable. Good my lords, 130
I am not prone to weeping, as our sex
Commonly are; the want of which vain dew
Perchance shall dry your pities: but I have
That honourable grief lodged here which burns
Worse than tears drown: beseech you all, my lords, 135
With thoughts so qualified as your charities
Shall best instruct you, measure me; and so
The king’s will be perform’d!
LEONTES Shall I be heard?
HERMIONE Who is’t that goes with me? Beseech your highness, 140
My women may be with me; for you see
My plight requires it. Do not weep, good fools;
There is no cause: when you shall know your mistress
Has deserved prison, then abound in tears
As I come out: this action I now go on 145
Is for my better grace. Adieu, my lord:
I never wish’d to see you sorry; now
I trust I shall. My women, come; you have leave.
LEONTES Go, do our bidding; hence!
[Exit HERMIONE, guarded; with Ladies]
First Lord Beseech your highness, call the queen again. 150
ANTIGONUS Be certain what you do, sir, lest your justice
Prove violence; in the which three great ones suffer,
Yourself, your queen, your son.
First Lord For her, my lord,
I dare my life lay down and will do’t, sir, 155
Please you to accept it, that the queen is spotless
I’ the eyes of heaven and to you; I mean,
In this which you accuse her.
ANTIGONUS If it prove
She’s otherwise, I’ll keep my stables where 160
I lodge my wife; I’ll go in couples with her;
Than when I feel and see her no farther trust her;
For every inch of woman in the world,
Ay, every dram of woman’s flesh is false, If she be.
LEONTES Hold your peaces. 165
First Lord Good my lord,–
ANTIGONUS It is for you we speak, not for ourselves:
You are abused and by some putter-on
That will be damn’d for’t; would I knew the villain,
I would land-damn him. Be she honour-flaw’d, 170
I have three daughters; the eldest is eleven
The second and the third, nine, and some five;
If this prove true, they’ll pay for’t:
by mine honour,
I’ll geld ’em all; fourteen they shall not see, 175
To bring false generations: they are co-heirs;
And I had rather glib myself than they
Should not produce fair issue.
LEONTES Cease; no more.
You smell this business with a sense as cold 180
As is a dead man’s nose: but I do see’t and feel’t
As you feel doing thus; and see withal
The instruments that feel.
ANTIGONUS If it be so,
We need no grave to bury honesty: 185
There’s not a grain of it the face to sweeten
Of the whole dungy earth.
LEONTES What! lack I credit?
First Lord I had rather you did lack than I, my lord,
Upon this ground; and more it would content me 190
To have her honour true than your suspicion,
Be blamed for’t how you might.
LEONTES Why, what need we
Commune with you of this, but rather follow
Our forceful instigation? Our prerogative 195
Calls not your counsels, but our natural goodness
Imparts this; which if you, or stupefied
Or seeming so in skill, cannot or will not
Relish a truth like us, inform yourselves
We need no more of your advice: the matter, 200
The loss, the gain, the ordering on’t, is all
Properly ours.
ANTIGONUS And I wish, my liege,
You had only in your silent judgment tried it,
Without more overture. 205
LEONTES How could that be?
Either thou art most ignorant by age,
Or thou wert born a fool. Camillo’s flight,
Added to their familiarity,
Which was as gross as ever touch’d conjecture, 210
That lack’d sight only, nought for approbation
But only seeing, all other circumstances
Made up to the deed, doth push on this proceeding:
Yet, for a greater confirmation,
For in an act of this importance ’twere 215
Most piteous to be wild, I have dispatch’d in post
To sacred Delphos, to Apollo’s temple,
Cleomenes and Dion, whom you know
Of stuff’d sufficiency: now from the oracle
They will bring all; whose spiritual counsel had, 220
Shall stop or spur me. Have I done well?
First Lord Well done, my lord.
LEONTES Though I am satisfied and need no more
Than what I know, yet shall the oracle
Give rest to the minds of others, such as he 225
Whose ignorant credulity will not
Come up to the truth. So have we thought it good
From our free person she should be confined,
Lest that the treachery of the two fled hence
Be left her to perform. Come, follow us; 230
We are to speak in public; for this business
Will raise us all.
To laughter, as I take it,
If the good truth were known. 235

Next: The Winter’s Tale, Act 2, Scene 2