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Act 3, Scene 2


LEONTES: This session, 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 cleared
Of being tyrannous, since we so openly     [5]
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.

[Enter] HERMIONE (as to her trial), [PAULINA, and] LADIES.


LEONTES: Read the indictment.     [10]

OFFICER: [Reads.] ³Hermione, queen to the worthy Leontes,
King of Sicilia, thou art here accused and 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     [15]
pretence 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.²

HERMIONE: Since what I am to say must be but that     [20]
Which contradicts my accusation, and
The testimony on my part no other
But what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot me
To say ³Not guilty.² Mine integrity,
Being counted falsehood, shall, as I express it,     [25]
Be so received. But thus, if powers divine
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,     [30]
Who least will seem to do so, my past life
Hath been as continent, as chaste, as true,
As I am now unhappy; which is more
Than history can pattern, though devised
And played to take spectators. For behold me,     [35]
A fellow of the royal bed, which owe
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     [40]
As I weigh grief, which I would spare; for honour,
'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,     [45]
How merited to be so; since he came,
With what encounter so uncurrent I
Have strained t' appear thus; if one jot beyond
The bound of honour, or in act or will
That way inclining, hardened be the hearts     [50]
Of all that hear me, and my near'st of kin
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.     [55]

HERMIONE:               That's true enough,
Though 'tis a saying, sir, not due to me.

LEONTES: You will not own it.

HERMIONE:                     More than mistress of
Which comes to me in name of fault, I must not
At all acknowledge. For Polixenes,
With whom I am accused, I do confess     [60]
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,
So, and no other, as yourself commanded;
Which not to have done I think had been in me     [65]
Both disobedience and ingratitude
To you and toward your friend, whose love had spoke,
Even since it could speak, from an infant, freely,
That it was yours. Now for conspiracy,
I know not how it tastes, though it be dished     [70]
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,
Wotting no more than I, are ignorant.

LEONTES: You knew of his departure, as you know     [75]
What you have underta'en to do in's absence.

HERMIONE:                                              Sir,
You speak a language that I understand not.
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,     [80]
And I but dreamed it. As you were past all shame --
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     [85]
More criminal in thee than it -- so thou
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;     [90]
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 barred, like one infectious. My third comfort,     [95]
Starred 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     [100]
To women of all fashion; lastly, hurried
Here to this place, i' th' 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.     [105]
But yet hear this -- mistake me not; for life,
I prize it not a straw; but for mine honour,
Which I would free -- if I shall be condemned
Upon surmises, all proofs sleeping else
But what your jealousies awake, I tell you     [110]
'Tis rigour 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,
And in Apollo's name, his oracle.     [115]

[Exeunt 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
The flatness of my misery, yet with eyes
Of pity, not revenge!     [120]


OFFICER: You here shall swear upon this sword of justice,
That you, Cleomenes and Dion, have
Been both at Delphos, and from thence have brought
This seal'd-up oracle, by the hand delivered
Of great Apollo's priest; and that since then     [125]
You have not dared to break the holy seal
Nor read the secrets in't.

CLEOMEMES, DION:     All this we swear.

LEONTES: Break up the seals, and read.

OFFICER: [Reads.] ³Hermione is chaste, Polixenes blameless,
Camillo a true subject, Leontes a jealous tyrant, his innocent     [130]
babe truly begotten, and the King shall live without an heir,
if that which is lost be not found.²

LORDS: Now blessed be the great Apollo!

HERMIONE:                                    Praised!

LEONTES: Hast thou read truth?

OFFICER:                               Ay, my lord, even so
As it is here set down.     [135]

LEONTES: There is no truth at all i' th' oracle.
The sessions shall proceed; this is is mere falsehood.

[Enter a SERVANT.]

SERVANT: My lord the King! the King!

LEONTES:                               What is the business?

SERVANT: O sir, I shall be hated to report it!
The Prince your son, with mere conceit and fear     [140]
Of the Queen's speed, is gone.

LEONTES:                          How? gone?

SERVANT:                                         Is dead.

LEONTES: Apollo's angry, and the heavens themselves
Do strike at my injustice. [HERMIONE faints.] How now there?

PAULINA: This news is mortal to the Queen. Look down
And see what death is doing.     [145]

LEONTES:                         Take her hence;
Her heart is but o'ercharged; she will recover.
I have too much believed mine own suspicion.
Beseech you tenderly apply to her
Some remedies for life.


                                   Apollo, pardon
My great profaneness 'gainst thine oracle!     [150]
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
To bloody thoughts, and to revenge, I chose     [155]
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
Reward did threaten and encourage him,     [160]
Not doing it and being done. He, most humane
And filled with honour, to my kingly guest
Unclasped my practice, quit his fortunes here
(Which you knew great), and to the hazard of
All incertainties himself commended,     [165]
No richer than his honour. How he glisters
Through my rust! and how his piety
Does my deeds make the blacker!

[Enter PAULINA.]

PAULINA:                               Woe the while!
O, cut my lace, lest my heart, cracking it,
Break too!     [170]

[FIRST] LORD:      What fit is this, good lady?

PAULINA: What studied torments, tyrant, hast for me?
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,     [175]
Together working with thy jealousies --
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.     [180]
That thou betrayedst Polixenes, 'twas nothing --
That did but show thee, of a fool, inconstant,
And damnable ingrateful; nor was't much
Thou wouldst have poisoned good Camillo's honour,
To have him kill a king -- poor trespasses,     [185]
More monstrous standing by; whereof I reckon
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     [190]
Of the young Prince, whose honourable thoughts
(Thoughts high for one so tender) cleft the heart
That could conceive a gross and foolish sire
Blemished his gracious dam; this is not, no,
Laid to thy answer: but the last -- O lords,     [195]
When I have said, cry ³Woe!² -- the Queen, the Queen,
The sweet'st, dear'st creature's dead, and vengeance for't
Not dropped down yet.

LORDS:                    The higher powers forbid!

PAULINA: I say she's dead; I'll swear't. If word nor oath
Prevail not, go and see. If you can bring     [200]
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
Than all thy woes can stir; therefore betake thee     [205]
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
To look that way thou wert.     [210]

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.
Howe'er the business goes, you have made fault
I' th' boldness of your speech.

PAULINA:                         I am sorry for't.
All faults I make, when I shall come to know them,     [215]
I do repent. Alas, I have showed too much
The rashness of a woman; he is touched
To th' 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     [220]
Let me be punished, that have minded you
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;     [225]
I'll not remember you of my own lord,
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     [230]
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     [235]
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
To these sorrows.


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