THE LAST PLAYS: PART 4
THE WINTER'S TALE
For this play I'm using the edition by the University Tutorial Press, edited with
notes by William J. Rolfe, Litt.D. Harper & Brothers, 1876. And why not? This has
now served five generations in my family. We'll refer to the editor as WJR, and
provide relevant excerpts. He begins his Introduction this way:
I. THE HISTORY OF THE PLAY
The Winter's Tale, so far as we have any knowledge, was first printed in the folio
of 1623, where it is the last of the 'Comedies,' occupying pages 277 to 303
Malone found a memorandum in the Office Book of Sir Henry Herbert, the Master
of the Revels, which he gives... as follows:
'For the king's players. An olde playe called Winter's Tale, formerly allowed of by
Sir George Bucke, and likewyse by mee on Mr. Hemmings his worde that there
was nothing profane added or reformed, thogh the allowed booke was missinge,
and therefore I returned it without a fee, this 19 of August, 1623.'
Malone also discovered that Sir George Buck did not obtain full possession of his
office as Master of the Revels until August, 1610 and he therefore conjectured that
The Winter's Tale was originally licensed in the latter part of that year or the
beginning of the next. The Stationers' Registers show, however, that he had
practically the control of the office from the year 1607. This date (1610) is
confirmed by the MS. Diary of Dr. Simon Forman... which contains the following
reference to the acting of 'the Winters Talle at the glob, 1611, the 15 of maye.'
The following entry in the Accounts of the Revels, quoted by most of the editors,
has been proved to be a forgery, like the similar entries concerning The Tempest,
The Merchant of Venice, and other of Shakespeare's plays, but it is based upon
The 5th of November ,
The Kings players
A play called ye winters nightes Tayle.
The internal tests, metrical, aesthetic, and other, all tend to show that the play was
one of the poet's last productions....The tone and feeling of The Winter's Tale
place it in the same period with The Tempest and Cymbeline...It may be noted
here that Ben Jonson has a little fling at The Winter's Tale in the Induction of his
Bartholomew Fair, published in 1614: 'If there be never a Servant-Monster i'the
fayre, who can helpe it, he sayes; nor a nest of Antiques? He is loth to make
nature afraid in his playes, like those that beget Tales, Tempests, and such like
Drolleries.' The 'antiques' or 'antics' are evidently the dancing Satyrs of iv.4. as the
'servant-monster' is the Caliban of The Tempest.
What intrigues me about Jonson's typically snide remark is that he doesn't say
'like he (or him or one) that begets Tales..'.Ben Jonson knew perfectly well who
Shakespeare the poet/dramatist was, but here he seems to be implying plural
authorship.. If so, who was the second participating author, and why?
The Winter's Tale is one of the most carefully printed plays in the folio, even the
punctuation being exceptionally accurate. The style presents unusual difficulties,
being more elliptical, involved, and perplexing than that of any other work of
Shakespeare's. ...As White remarks 'it is rather surprising that the text has come
down to us in so pure a state; and the absolute incomprehensibility of one or two
passages may safely be attributed to the attempt, on the part of the printers, to
correct that which they thought corrupt in their copy, but which was only obscure.'
Following on from Ben Jonson's remark, where we have 'those' as authors of the
play; here we have an accurately written manuscript - unusual for Shakespeare;
we have a different style, elliptical, involved, perplexing; we have
incomprehensible passages, blamed on the printers. I suggest that all this points
one way, to another hand in the play. What we must do now is, first, to bear this
in mind as we review the play, to see if there's any supportive evidence for this
supposition. And next, we must look at the contemporary scene to see if there is
an actual likely candidate for this second author. Finally, we need to have a
logical reason why there is another author involved. Presumably it would not be
just with The Winter's Tale, but with at least The Tempest as well, and possibly
with the other 'late plays;' Cymbeline and Pericles. This is only a possibility at
present, although Ben Jonson's wording was quite clearly plural, but as the
conclusion is suppositious we'll just have to bear it in mind as we go along. It's
most likely that if there were two authors involved, Ben Jonson would have made
it his business to find out about it, and know who the other author was. But back
II. THE SOURCES OF THE PLOT
The story of The Winter's Tale is taken from Robert Greene's History of Dorastus
and Fawnia, which appeared first in 1588, under the title of Pandosto, and passed
through several editions. Shakespeare follows the novel in most particulars, but
varies from it in a few of some importance. For instance, in the story as told by
Greene, Bellaria (Hermione in Shakespeare) dies upon hearing of the loss of her
son; and Pandosto (Leontes) falls in love with his own daughter. and is finally
seized with a kind of melancholy or madness, in which he kills himself. The poet
appears to have changed the dénouement because he was writing a comedy, not
WJR quotes White:
'..Greene's work...is a good tale of its sort and its time... In Characterization of
personages the tale is notably coarse and commonplace...whereas there are few
more remarkable creations in all literature than Hermione, Perdita, Autolycus,
Paulina, not to notice minor characters; and its teeming wealth of wisdom and the
daring and dainty beauty of its poetry, give the play a high place in the second
rank of Shakespeare's works.'
III. CRITICAL COMMENTS ON THE PLAY
WJR quotes from Gervinus's Shakespeare Commentaries:
'Shakespeare has treated Greene's narrative in the way he has usually dealt with
his bad originals- he has done away with some indelicacy in the matter, and some
unnatural things in the form; ... but... the wildness of the fiction, the improbability
and contingency of the events, the gap in the time which divides the two actions
between two generations, could not be repaired by any art. Shakespeare,
therefore, began upon his theme in quite an opposite direction. He increased still
more the marvellous and miraculous in the given subject, he disregarded more
and more the requirements of the real and probable, and treated time, place, and
circumstances with the utmost arbitrariness. He added the character of Antigonus
and his death by the bear, Paulina and her second marriage in old age, the
pretended death and the long forbearance and preservation of Hermione,
Autolycus and his cunning tricks, and he increased thereby the improbable
circumstances and strange incidents, He over-leaped all limits, mixing up together
Russian emperors and the Delphic oracle and Julio Romano, chivalry and
heathendom, ancient forms of religion and Whitsuntide pastorals. Greene had
already taught him to pay no attention to probability with regard to place, since in
his narrative reference had already been made to the 'sea-shore' in Bohemia and
to the 'island' of Delphos. Added to this, there are mistakes in the style of those
of Cervantes, where the theft of Sancho Panza's ass is forgotten. Prince Florizel,
who (iv.4) appears in 'shepherd's clothes,' exchanges immediately afterwards his
'court garments' with Autolycus in the same scene; the old shepherd (iii.3) knows
at once, but whence does not appear, that the slaughtered Antigonus was an old
man. Jonson and Dryden have made all this of far too much consequence, even
while laughing at it. Pope has even doubted the genuineness of the play.'
These remarks seem to suggest that Shakespeare left an unfinished play, or at
least one not revised to tidy it up, and Pope's doubts about authorship again
indicate a possible dual authorship. In peripheral reading I found Stratfordians
who argued that de Vere could not be Shakespeare because he would have
known from his travels that Bohemia did not have a sea shore, and from his
classical training that Delphos was not an island but a temple to Apollo at Delphi
on the slopes of Mount Parnassus in what is now Greece. They fail to mention
'Shakespeare' was merely following his source, which he usually did in a plot,
right or wrong.
WJR continues with his quotation from Gervinus:
'...Shakespeare has written little that can compare with the fourth act of The
Winter's Tale for variety, liveliness, and beauty. But the fifth act rises still higher...'
WJR next quotes from Mrs. Jameson's Characteristics of Women (American
edition, Boston, 1857) from which we take this excerpt:
Perdita does not appear till the fourth act, and the whole of the character is
developed in the course of a single scene (the fourth)...She is first introduced in
the dialogue between herself and Florizel, where she compares her own lowly
state to his princely rank, and expresses her fears of the issue of their unequal
attachment... The impression of her perfect beauty and airy elegance of
demeanour is conveyed in two exquisite passages ... Her natural loftiness of spirit
breaks out where she is menaced and reviled by the King, as one whom his son
has degraded himself by merely looking on. She bears the royal frown without
quailing... Perdita has another characteristic... that sense of truth and rectitude,
that upright simplicity of mind, which disdains all crooked and indirect means,
which would not stoop for an instant to dissemblance, and is mingled with a noble
confidence in her love and in her lover... This love of truth, this conscientiousness,
which forms so distinct a feature in the character of Perdita, and mingles with its
picturesque delicacy a certain firmness and dignity, is maintained consistently to
'Shakespeare' usually gives us a clue in a name as to what is the story relating
to a character in his plays, and Perdita is no exception. From the French 'perdu'
= lost (perdue for feminine), deriving from the Latin 'perdo' = to destroy or ruin.
It fits the tale of an infant princess cast away and lost, to be found and raised to
teenage by a lowly shepherd, then meeting a prince, who falls in love with her,
and her true lineage is finally discovered.
Strange as it may seem, this sequence of events has a parallel in the life of de
Vere. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth, on the death of her mother, was with her two
younger sisters taken away by Burghley at the age of 11 or 12 and brought up in
his household as a Cecil. However, as fate would have it, she seems to have
fallen in love with William Stanley, the second son of the Earl of Derby. This was
not a suitable marriage for the daughter of the Earl of Oxford, also a Burghley
granddaughter. In quick succession first the Earl of Derby died, succeeded by
Ferdinando, his elder son, but then a Popish plot swirled around him, (in which
he was not interested) and this probably resulted in his premature death, most
likely by poisoning. William then became the succeeding Earl, and the looked-for
marriage could now go ahead. It was a gaudy Court affair which took place in
1595, when Elizabeth was about 20 years old, and this real life plot takes another
There are a few dedicated believers that William, 6th Earl of Derby, was actually
Shakespeare. There is a web site devoted to this cause. But when you read it,
and French Professor Abel Lefranc's 2 volume work expounding this argument,
(translated by Cecil Cragg, Merlin Books, 1988) it seems to me the evidence cited
applies equally to de Vere (Note 1). In fact, the only evidence that William Stanley
wrote any plays is from two letters sent by a Jesuit spy, George Fenner, who
wrote in 1599 that the Earl of Derby was busying himself in penning comedies for
the common players.
Another piece of this puzzle is that B. M. Ward, in his biography of de Vere,
devotes a chapter to the friendship between these two men, as William Stanley
was now the son-in-law of de Vere, and there is factual evidence that they each
stayed for some time at one another's residences (Note 2). As de Vere had
married Elizabeth Trentham in about 1591-2, and she was a gracious lady, it
seems there would have been a rapprochement between father and daughter
perhaps partly due to Elizabeth Trentham and partly to William Stanley. That, I
think is the origin of the character of a grown up Perdita in The Winter's Tale, if
de Vere is Shakespeare. And I suggest William Stanley was probably writing
comedies, but not his own. I think he was helping de Vere put together the last 4
plays: Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest. Stanley himself
could not have been Shakespeare because the 1623 first folio indicates
Shakespeare was then dead, but Stanley lived until 1642. ( See Note 3 for a
sample of his handwriting in 1607).
Now we can, I suggest, put in better context this excerpt from WJR's quotation
from Mrs. Jameson:
This love of truth, this conscientiousness, which forms so distinct a feature in the
character of Perdita, and mingles with its picturesque delicacy a certain firmness
and dignity, is maintained consistently to the last.
A further excerpt from the same source:
The character of Hermione exhibits... dignity without pride, love without passion,
and tenderness without weakness. ...and out of this exterior calm (to) produce the
most profound pathos, the most vivid impression of life and internal power- it is this
which renders the character of Hermione one of Shakespeare's masterpieces.
Hermione is a queen, a matron, and a mother; she is good and beautiful, and
royally descended. A majestic sweetness, a grand and gracious simplicity, an
easy, unforced, yet dignified self-possession, are all in her deportment, and in
every word she utters. ... The expressions 'most sacred lady,' 'dread mistress,'
'sovereign,' with which she is addressed or alluded to, the boundless devotion and
respect of those around her, and their confidence in her goodness and innocence,
are so many additional strokes to the portrait...
When she is brought to trial for supposed crimes, called on to defend herself,
'standing to prate and talk for life and honour, before who please to come and
hear,' the sense of her ignominious situation - all its shame and all its horror press
upon her, and would apparently crush even her magnanimous spirit but for the
consciousness of her own worth and innocence, and the necessity that exists for
asserting and defending both...
WJR next quotes Dowden's Shakespere from which this excerpt is taken:
Hermione is, I suppose, the most magnanimous and noble of Shakespeare's
women; without a fault, she suffers, and for sixteen years, as if for the greatest
fault. If we contrast her noble defence of herself against the shameless imputation
on her honour, with the conduct of earlier women in like case, the faltering words
and swoon of Hero, the few ill-starrd sentences of Desdemona, ... the pathetic
appeal and yet submission of Imogen, we see how splendidly Shakespere has
developt in his last great creation.
This may be pertinent for a scholar thinking the man from Stratford on Avon was
Shakespeare, a man about whose personal life virtually nothing is known. But if
de Vere is Shakespeare we can pin down what is going on here much more
accurately. De Vere made use of the women in his life in his plays. The common
thread in the heroines cited is a falsely accusing husband. That man throughout
is de Vere, as he behaved to Anne Cecil, and it took a lifetime to work his way
through the problem. Both Hero and Desdemona were replicas of Anne Cecil. I
have suggested Imogen was mostly drawn from Elizabeth Trentham. And I
suggest that the trial of Mary Queen of Scots had a profound impression on de
Vere. Unfortunately I cannot actually prove he was present by being so named in
the documentary evidence available to me, but he probably was, as, according to
Tanner (Tudor Constitutional Documents, quoting excerpts from State Trials, 1,
p.1161-1228) those present at her 1586 trial included the Archbishop of
Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Burghley as Lord Treasurer and 43 others,
including 29 peers, of which the Earl of Oxford was presumably one.
Just to give you a sense of this, here is how she began after having had a letter
from Queen Elizabeth presented to her at the trial:
...As for this letter, it seemeth strange to me that the Queen should command me
as a subject to appear personally in judgement. I am an absolute queen, and will
do nothing which may prejudice either mine own royal majesty, or other princes
of my place and rank, or my son ... The laws and statutes of England are to me
most unknown; I am destitute of counsellors, and who shall be my peers I am
utterly ignorant. My papers and notes are taken from me, and no man dareth step
forth to be my advocate. I am clear from all crime against the Queen; I have
excited no man against her; and I am not to be charged but by mine own word or
writing, which cannot be produced against me. ...
The excerpt by Tanner does not give the precise method of determining guilt, but
if the procedure was the same as at the trial of the Earl of Essex, then each peer
was required to stand and in turn state 'guilty' or 'not guilty,' and of course every
one said 'guilty.' I believe the verdict was passed on to the Star Chamber (a
Supreme Court) for sentencing. This trial and its progression to an inevitable
conclusion would have made an indelible impression on the sensitive de Vere.
(See also chapter 7).
For these reasons I see no 'development' by Shakespeare in his 'women' but find
instead he was throughout his life haunted by the problem of unjustly accusing his
wife Anne Cecil of adultery, and the various male characters were personifications
of some parts of his own character, for example, Posthumus Leonatus in
Cymbeline and in The Winter's Tale, Leontes. Both names refer to a lion, (leo)
and de Vere's Bolebec crest included a lion.
We're ready now to provide our own summary of the play. But first I want to
mention that In The Winter's Tale 4.4.724 the Clown says:
Advocate's the court-word for a pheasant...
There is a fairly long note on this in the edition I'm using. Here it is in full:
A pheasant. "As he was a suitor from the country, the clown supposes his father
should have brought a present of 'game,' and therefore imagines, when Autolycus
asks him what 'advocate' he has, that by the word 'advocate' he means a
'pheasant' (Steevens). Reed says: "In the time of Queen Elizabeth there were
Justices of the Peace called 'Basket Justices,' who would do nothing without a
present; yet, as a member of the House of Commons expressed himself, 'for half
a dozen of 'chickens' would dispense with a whole dozen of penal statutes,'"
Halliwell gives this apt illustration from the Journal of the Rev. Giles Moore, 1665:
"I gave to Mr. Cripps, solicitor, for acting for me in obtaining my qualification, and
effecting it, £1. 10 s., and I allowed my brother Luxford for going to London
thereupon, and presenting my lord with two brase of pheasants, 10s.," etc. The
patron to whom he sent the game was "Charles, Lord Goring. Earl of Norwich.'
Some editors needlessly change 'pheasant' to 'present.'
But I came across this comment in a mid 20th c. volume devoted to the Earl of
The allusion is to a distinguished family of advocates named Pheasant, very much
in evidence at Gray's Inn and in the courts in the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. Peter Phesant was a Reader at Gray's in 1582.
(EF note: a Reader is a higher grade of lecturer at a university.)
I have avoided such references which occur frequently in writings on
Shakespeare, because they generally seem to be unprovable and mere
supposition. But this is different because of the juxtaposition of advocate and
pheasant. I for one am convinced here is the right explanation of the line in the
play. Further, it shows us how a long line of literary editors of Shakespeare had
no idea what the dramatist really meant. Their man for Shakespeare, from
Stratford on Avon, had no connection with Gray's Inn, and so the editors were
grasping at straws to explain the textual meaning. But de Vere attended Gray's
Inn, he had excellent legal training, and it shows everywhere in Shakespeare's
work, although I will not be finally convinced that de Vere was Shakespeare
unless he successfully passes the hurdles of dating The Tempest and the First
Folio evidence. What this 'pheasant' reference means, though, is that the
nobleman who was Shakespeare, and probably also had legal training as many
of them did, was making this court reference for the amusement of his educated
(Court) audience. We know Hamlet told the players that clowns should stick to
their texts, and not mouth off more than was set down for them. Here we see why.
What it further means is that there are several layers of composition in these
At the first level, or deepest layer, the dramatist chose a plot which from his
reading of various 'source' books attracted his attention. If it's de Vere we can ask
ourselves why did he choose this or that plot to make into a play, and I think get
a reasonable answer. He began in his early youth being a courtier and observing
all the petty by-play between the young maids of honour and courtiers, and the
intrigues and factions among the older and more senior officials, jockeying for
position and competing with one another for the Queen's favour and attention.
That's how he came to write the clever comedies with which he began his
meteoric literary career. But Love's Labour's Lost was not his first work, it's much
too polished. He had many earlier comedies, now regarded by scholars as earlier
plays by others of little literary merit, yet having strange cadences of resonance
with Shakespeare's mature comedies. Of course. They were by the same
Next, he turned to history plays, while still at Court. This fitted the national mood
at the time, under stress from potential attack by the superpower, Spain. But there
was more to it. If by de Vere, he was the 17th earl. The line stretched back to
before the Norman Conquest. His ancestors were a part of this history. They were
courtiers and fought with their king in many a battle. So de Vere had personal
motivation in writing the history plays, and also personal information handed down
through his line of descent. He did not over-emphasize previous Oxford parts for
this would have been unseemly before a Court audience. And not all their
involvement was glorious anyway. But eventually he worked his way through the
history phase to as near the present as he safely could.
Next came the tragedies. He had by now suffered many blows from evil fortune,
and, if de Vere, we can see how they emerged in his tragic plays. Hamlet,
because there was this dichotomy in himself. He found he could not qualify as a
man of action in the northern rebellion, when he attended Sussex in charge there,
nor in the Low Countries, where he attended on Leicester in charge there. He was
more a reflective, observant academic than a man of action, and did not know how
to take appropriate action when need arose, as Hamlet did not. Lear gave his
kingdom to his daughters and became friendless and penniless, as did de Vere.
Othello: de Vere learned too late to forgive Anne Cecil as innocent, after her
death, as did Othello with Desdemona. Macbeth; de Vere saw Leicester murder
his wife to open the way to a marriage with the Queen, only to be defeated in war
and fail in his attempt at the throne. Antony and Cleopatra: de Vere had
experienced an all consuming passionate love, with Anne Vavasour, casting away
a world for a few sexual embraces, as did Antony. In the last group of four plays,
de Vere is working through his retirement experiences. He has abandoned the
Court life, he mixes with commoners, playwrights, writes for the common stage,
not for Court. But he still writes only of kings, princes, princesses, queens and
courtiers. For that was the only world he really knew. But now he has a happy
marital life. The tragedies are over. He may have lost his physical health, but he
has a loving, intelligent, cultivated wife, he has enough means for his now less
extravagant needs, he has at last a son. By marriage his eldest daughter which
was lost to him has returned to recognize through her husband what a great man
her father is in his own world. What more could he ask. He has learnt that if you
stay true to yourself, and your ideals, time heals everything. But all this is just the
first deep layer of composition.
The next layer is how he peopled his plays. His characters are real to us, as all
the editors comment. But this is for good reason. It's not just imagination by a
genius. It's showing how people he knew would react in situations he concocted
from his plots, and often he added real-life touches to bring the obvious parallels
home to his audience. This is where he so amused the Queen, who sat above it
all, while the various courtiers, even senior officials like Hatton and Burghley,
were being skewered. And they didn't forget and forgive. Hamlet, for example, is
peopled with de Vere's family and courtiers of Elizabeth.
As far back as the Merchant of Venice, Shylock a money lender in Venice
demanded his three thousand ducats from Antonio who had posted a bond for
that amount for a friend, secured by a pound of his flesh to Shylock. Antonio
expected 3 ships to return with wealthy cargoes, but unluckily for him all 3 failed
to return and he could not pay the 3000 ducats. De Vere pledged his bond for
£3000 to invest in a Frobisher voyage. (chapter 7) The ships returned without
gold or other wealth. The enterprise was bankrupt and the man who had sold
most of the shares including a large part to de Vere, ended up in prison for fraud.
His name was Michael Lok. The word 'shy' is still today a somewhat colloquial
word for short of money or cash. In that sense "shy' would probably have meant
'short-changed' and so Shylock would be understood to mean
'Short-change-Lok.' Editors have not apparently found any source for this name,
it seems it was coined by Shakespeare. I think here we have the reason for the
name - if de Vere is Shakespeare. There is another twist to it. De Vere kept
asking Burghley for more cash while he was in Venice, and eventually had to
borrow 500 crowns from the Paduan banker Baptista Nigrone. Finally money
arrived from England through the Venetian banker Pasquino Spinola. Now that
we know the origin of the 'pheasant' reference, I think we can acknowledge that
these two names are conflated in the name of Baptista Minola who comments
favourably on Padua and says he will add 20,000 crowns to someone's losses.
That's in Act 5 scene 2 of The Taming of the Shrew, another early play.
The third layer, or superficial undercurrent in the plays is revealed to us by the
references to 'Pheasant' and Julio Romano (See Note 2 to Chapter 12). These tell
us that there were allusions in the plays to topical items which the two examples
given indicate were meant for an intelligent and educated audience. There may
also have been some laughter-provoking mimicry using the sayings, habits, and
mannerisms of well known people at the time. Unfortunately for us, as they're
extraneous and were probably changed from time to time to retain topicality, these
contemporary references don't help us to date the plays.
If these three undercurrents were going on in the plays, which I think our
examples show us they were, then it can easily be seen why some plays were not
published at all, and others only appeared anonymously. So, now to our summary
of the play.
Leontes, King of Sicilia
Mamillius, young prince of Sicilia
Camillo, Antigonus, Cleomenes, Dion; four Lords of Sicilia
Polixenes, King of Bohemia
Florizel, Prince of Bohemia
Archidamus, a Lord of Bohemia
Old Shepherd, reputed father of Perdita
Clown, his son
Autolycus, a rogue
Hermione, Queen to Leontes
Perdita, daughter to Leontes and Hermione
Paulina, wife to Antigonus
Emilia, a lady attending Hermione
Mopsa, Dorcas; shepherdesses
Time, as Chorus
Scene: Sicilia and Bohemia.
Mamillius: a young prince. This name is reminiscent of the mammary glands which
secrete milk in mammals in breast feeding, and subliminally tells us the Prince is
very young. If de Vere was Shakespeare this child may have been modelled on
his young son Henry, later 18th Earl of Oxford.
Mopsa: clearly an association with 'mops' placing her in the servant class, as
does the name of her companion Dorcas (doorkeeper?).
ACT 1 SCENE 1 (1.1)
Antechamber in the palace of Leontes.
Archidamus tells Camillo there is a great difference between our Bohemia and
your Sicilia. Each side promises abundant hospitality to the other.
We learn the two kings were trained together in their childhood and have deep
Young prince Mamillius of Sicilia has great promise.
My comment: I find this scene to be 43 lines of very unnecessary, boring prose.
I don't think Shakespeare wrote this. It's no way to grab attention at the beginning
of a play. Shakespeare habitually starts off with electrifying events.
Room of state in the palace of Leontes.
Enter Leontes, Hermione, Mamillius, Polixenes, Camillo and attendants.
Polixenes must return home tomorrow. Leontes and Hermione try to persuade
him to stay longer. Leontes fails, but eventually Hermione talks him into staying.
Leontes in an aside thinks Hermione and Polixenes are too friendly. He's
suspicious. He tells Hermione to show Polixenes welcome; they leave. Leontes
(to Mamillius) 'go, play, boy, play,' and the boy leaves. Leontes then soliloquizes
and mentions cuckolds; he's leading Hermione on. He gives a kind of deranged
speech, more a loose association of ideas than direct thought.
He questions Camillo as to the close relationship between Hermione and
Polixenes, then accuses Camillo of dishonesty.
Camillo says he may be negligent, foolish, and fearful, but never anything
be plainer with me; let me know my trespass....
Leontes: ha' not you seen my wife is slippery...
Camillo: you never spoke what did become you less...
Leontes: Is whispering nothing! Is leaning cheek to cheek? Is meeting noses?
(and so on).
Camillo calls it a 'diseas'd opinion.'
Leontes want him to poison 'Bohemia,' and finally Camillo says he'll do it.
Camillo soloquizes ...I must forsake the Court.
Polixenes enters. Camillo eventually tells him he's been appointed to murder him.
Polixenes By whom? Camillo: The king. Polixenes: For what?
Camillo: ...he swears...
...that you have touched his Queen
Polixenes: How should this grow?
Camillo: I know not.
Camillo promises to help him and his men escape from the city and that he will
I do believe thee....
My ships are ready...
They leave together.
This has the force, power and plot of Shakespeare, although it takes 450 lines to
complete it, which I've summarized in 31 lines. The scene seems to be composed
of Shakespeare's jottings or notes padded out by someone else.
A room in the palace of Leontes
Enter Hermione, Mamillius and ladies
Hermione: Take the boy to you, he so troubles me,
'Tis past enduring.
The boy has some bantering repartee with 2 ladies.
The ladies discuss Hermione's being big with child.
Hermione asks the boy to tell her a story. He says it will be of sprites and goblins.
She says do your best 'to fright me with your sprites.'
Leontes enters with Antigones and other lords.
Antigones saw Polixenes, his train and Camillo 'even to their ships.'
Leontes says how right then his suspicions were. He tells Hermione to give him
the boy. then says of the boy 'you (Hermione) Have too much blood in him.'
Bear the boy hence; he shall not come about her;
Away with him.
Leontes says Hermione is an adultress.
Hermione: If a villain should say so
He were as much more villain; you, my lord,
Do but mistake
Leontes says she knew Polixenes was escaping, which she denies: 'no, by my
Hermione: How will this grieve you,
When you shall come to clearer knowledge, that
You thus have publish'd me!
Leontes: Away with her! to prison!
Antigonus warns him to be careful of what he's doing; it may result in violence to
him, his queen, his son.
A lord says 'I dare my life lay down... but the queen is spotless.'
They try to talk him out of it, but he's adamant.
Leontes tells them he's sent to the oracle at sacred Delphos. 'Now from the
oracle They will bring all' 'Have I done well?' The lords agree.
They all leave.
Paulina wants to see the Queen. The gaoler says he cannot allow it. He goes to
fetch Emilia to speak with Paulina and warns he must be present when they talk.
Emilia comes, says the Queen holds together but her fright and grief have caused
a premature birth of a daughter.
Paulina says she'll tell the king. It may soften his attitude. Emilia says Paulina is
'so meet for this great errand.'
The gaoler doesn't know whether he should permit Paulina to take the babe to the
king. Paulina says
upon my honour I
Will stand betwixt you and danger.
A room in the palace of Leontes
Enter Leontes, Antigonus, lords, etc.
Leontes sayd Polixenes is beyond reach, but not the Queen.
The boy has lost his spirit, sleep, and appetite.
Paulina comes in with the babe. A lord says she mustn't enter. Leontes had a
sleepless night. She gets to Leontes who is infuriated with her. She tells him the
Queen is good, lays down the little princess. He calls her a bawd, calls
Traitors, will you not push her out. Give
Her the bastard...
Paulina tells him he's mad.
Leontes: This brat is none of mine
It is the issue of Polixenes ...
I'll ha' thee burnt,
Paulina: ...I care not;
It is an heretic that makes the fire,...
Leontes tells Antigonus
Thou, traitor, has set on thy wife to this...
Antigonus denies it and the lords back him up.
Leontes: you're liars all. (to Antigonus)
... what will you adventure
To save this brat's life?
Antigonus:... anything my lord
Leontes makes him 'swear by this sword,' and he does.
Antigonus is to carry 'this female bastard hence...
To some remote and desert place quite out
Of our dominions...
He is to leave it there, unprotected against the weather to take its chance of life
Antigonus: I swear to do this.
He leaves with the babe.
A servant enters, announces the posts have come from the Oracle.
Leontes ... 23 days
They have been absent: 't is good speed...
They are to prepare for a just and open trial of 'our most disloyal lady...'
My comment: A minor practical point, how is Antigonus to feed a new-born? This
scene has relatively short speeches but repetition in thought. I suspect it was
worked up by someone else from notes by Shakespeare.
A seaport in Sicilia
Enter Cleomenes and Dion
The ear-deafening voice of the oracle is mentioned
They hope the result will be successful for the Queen.
This pedestrian scene is unnecessary.
A Court of Justice
Enter Leontes, Lords and officers
This sessions, to our great grief we pronounce,
...the party tried,
The daughter of a king, our wife...
An officer says his highness' pleasure for the Queen to appear in person.
Hermione appears, guarded, Paulina and ladies attending.
Leontes instructs: read the indictment
Officer (reads): Hermione, Queen to the worthy Leontes... thou art here accused
and arraigned of high treason, in committing adultery with Polixenes ... and
conspiring with Camillo to take away the life of our sovereign Lord... didst counsel
and aid them, for their better safety, to fly away by night.'
Hermione responds in part by saying 'not guilty' will not help me 'mine integrity
being counted falsehood'
...For behold me,
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
Leontes comments bolder vices don't lack impudence to deny what they did
Hermione responds that's true enough, but doesn't apply to her. She says she
only loved Polixenes as her husband's best friend and to the extent 'yourself
commanded.' She doesn't know why Camillo left.
Leontes: you had a bastard by Polixenes.
Hermione: ...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
...from his presence I am barr'd... My third comfort
The innocent milk in it most innocent mouth,
Hal'd out to murther; myself on every post
Proclaim'd a strumpet,...Now, my liege,
Tell me what blessings I have here alive,
That I should fear to die? Therefore proceed
But yet hear this... If I shall be condemn'd
Upon surmises... But what your jealousies awake,
I tell you
'Tis rigour and not law...
I do refer me to the oracle,
Apollo be my judge!
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 and the king shall live
without an heir, if that which is lost be not found!
Leontes: There is no truth at all i'th' oracle
The sessions shall proceed; this is mere falsehood.
Servant enters: The prince your son is gone
Leontes: how! gone!
Leontes:Take her hence..She will recover
Paulina and the ladies leave, taking Hermione with them
Leontes: I have too much believ'd mine own suspicion
The king apologizes to Apollo, he'll reconcile with Polixenes, recall the good
Camillo. He admits he chose Camillo to poison Polixenes.
Paulina comes back, calls him a tyrant plotting to kill Polixenes, casting his baby
daughter to the crows,
'What studied torments , tyrant, hast for me?
What wheels? racks? fires? what flaying? boiling
In lead or oils? ...
The sweet'st dear'st creature's dead and vengeance for't
Not dropp'd down yet.
Leontes is remorseful, once a day he'll visit the chapel where his wife and son
Bohemia - a desert country near the sea.
Enter Antigonus with a child and a Mariner
The Mariner tells Antigonus they're in the desert of Bohemia. He says the sky
looks threatening. Antigonus says get back to the ship, I won't be long.
A long speech by Antigonus. He think's it may be the child of Polixenes and is
now in his country.
Exits, pursued by a bear.
Almost all these 58 lines could be excised. Antigonus describes a dream of
Hermione's appearing, telling him the babe is to be called Perdita, counted lost
for ever. He will never see his wife again. 'And with shrieks she melted into thin
air.' I don't think this is Shakespeare. It's more like an old Miracle play. But the
Enter a Shepherd. He finds the 'barne', 'a very pretty barne.' He calls for his son.
Enter Clown, who tells the shepherd he saw a ship on the storm-tossed sea; sea
and sky merging and poor souls roaring. On land a man crying his name was
Antigonus was being ripped apart by a bear.
They open the box with the babe and find gold.
The shepherd will go home with his find, the Clown to bury what's left of the
Enter Time, the Chorus.