Reference > William Shakespeare > The Oxford Shakespeare > The Winter’s Tale
William Shakespeare (1564–1616).  The Oxford Shakespeare.  1914.
The Winter’s Tale
Act III. Scene II.
Sicilia.  A Court of Justice.
LEONTES, Lords, and Officers.
  Leon.  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        5
Of us too much belov’d. Let us be clear’d
Of being tyrannous, since we so openly
Proceed in justice, which shall have due course,
Even to the guilt or the purgation.
Produce the prisoner.        10
  Offi.  It is his highness’ pleasure that the queen
Appear in person here in court. Silence!
Enter HERMIONE guarded; PAULINA and Ladies attending.
  Leon.  Read the indictment.
  Offi.  Hermione, 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 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.        15
  Her.  Since what I am to say must be but that
Which contradicts my accusation, and
The testimony on my part no other
But what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot me
To say ‘Not guilty:’ mine integrity        20
Being counted falsehood, shall, as I express it,
Be so receiv’d. 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        25
Tremble at patience. You, my lord, best know,—
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 devis’d        30
And play’d to take spectators. 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        35
Who please to come and hear. For life, I prize it
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        40
Came to your court, how I was in your grace,
How merited to be so; since he came,
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        45
That way inclining, harden’d be the hearts
Of all that hear me, and my near’st of kin
Cry fie upon my grave!
  Leon.        I ne’er heard yet
That any of these bolder vices wanted        50
Less impudence to gainsay what they did
Than to perform it first.
  Her.        That’s true enough;
Though ’tis a saying, sir, not due to me.
  Leon.  You will not own it.        55
  Her.        More than mistress of
Which comes to me in name of fault, I must not
At all acknowledge. For Polixenes,—
With whom I am accus’d,—I do confess
I lov’d him as in honour he requir’d,        60
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
Both disobedience and ingratitude        65
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 dish’d
For me to try how: all I know of it        70
Is that Camillo was an honest man;
And why he left your court, the gods themselves,
Wotting no more than I, are ignorant.
  Leon.  You knew of his departure, as you know
What you have underta’en to do in ’s absence.        75
  Her.  Sir,
You speak a language that I understand not:
My life stands in the level of your dreams,
Which I’ll lay down.
  Leon.        Your actions are my dreams:        80
You had a bastard by Polixenes,
And I but dream’d 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,        85
No father owning it,—which is, indeed,
More criminal in thee than it,—so thou
Shalt feel our justice, in whose easiest passage
Look for no less than death.
  Her.        Sir, spare your threats:        90
The bug which you would fright me with I seek.
To me can life be no commodity:
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,        95
And first-fruits of my body, from his presence
I am barr’d, like one infectious. My third comfort,
Starr’d most unluckily, is from my breast,
The innocent milk in its most innocent mouth,
Hal’d out to murder: myself on every post        100
Proclaim’d a strumpet: with immodest hatred
The child-bed privilege denied, which ’longs
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,        105
Tell me what blessings I have here alive,
That I should fear to die? Therefore proceed.
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        110
Upon surmises, all proofs sleeping else
But what your jealousies awake, I tell you
’Tis rigour and not law. Your honours all,
I do refer me to the oracle:
Apollo be my judge!        115
  First Lord.        This your request
Is altogether just: therefore, bring forth,
And in Apollo’s name, his oracle.  [Exeunt certain Officers.
  Her.  The Emperor of Russia was my father:
O! that he were alive, and here beholding        120
His daughter’s trial; that he did but see
The flatness of my misery; yet with eyes
Of pity, not revenge!
Re-enter Officers, with CLEOMENES and DION.
  Offi.  You here shall swear upon this sword of justice,        125
That you, Cleomenes and Dion, have
Been both at Delphos, and from thence have brought
This seal’d-up oracle, by the hand deliver’d
Of great Apollo’s priest, and that since then
You have not dar’d to break the holy seal,        130
Nor read the secrets in ’t.
  Cleo. & Dion.        All this we swear.
  Leon.  Break up the seals, and read.
  Offi.  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!
  Lords.  Now blessed be the great Apollo!        135
  Her.        Praised!
  Leon.  Hast thou read truth?
  Offi.        Ay, my lord; even so
As it is here set down.
  Leon.  There is no truth at all i’ the oracle:        140
The sessions shall proceed: this is mere falsehood.
Enter a Servant.
  Ser.  My lord the king, the king!
  Leon.        What is the business?
  Ser.  O sir! I shall be hated to report it:        145
The prince your son, with mere conceit and fear
Of the queen’s speed, is gone.
  Leon.        How! gone!
  Ser.                Is dead.
  Leon.  Apollo’s angry; and the heavens themselves        150
Do strike at my injustice.  [HERMIONE swoons.
        How now, there!
  Paul.  This news is mortal to the queen:—look down,
And see what death is doing.
  Leon.        Take her hence:        155
Her heart is but o’ercharg’d; she will recover:
I have too much believ’d mine own suspicion:
Beseech you, tenderly apply to her
Some remedies for life.—  [Exeunt PAULINA, and Ladies, with HERMIONE.
        Apollo, pardon        160
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        165
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        170
Reward did threaten and encourage him,
Not doing it, and being done: he, most humane
And fill’d with honour, to my kingly guest
Unclasp’d my practice, quit his fortunes here,
Which you knew great, and to the certain hazard        175
Of all incertainties himself commended,
No richer than his honour: how he glisters
Thorough my rust! and how his piety
Does my deeds make the blacker!
Re-enter PAULINA.
  Paul.        Woe the while!
O, cut my lace, lest my heart, cracking it,
Break too!
  First Lord.  What fit is this, good lady?
  Paul.  What studied torments, tyrant, hast for me?        185
What wheels? racks? fires? What flaying? or what 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,        190
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;        195
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        200
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,—        205
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,        210
The sweetest, dearest creature’s dead, and vengeance for ’t
Not dropp’d down yet.
  First Lord.        The higher powers forbid!
  Paul.  I say she’s dead; I’ll swear ’t: if word nor oath
Prevail not, go and see: if you can bring        215
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        220
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.        225
  Leon.        Go on, go on;
Thou canst not speak too much: I have deserv’d
All tongues to talk their bitterest.
  First Lord.        Say no more:
Howe’er the business goes, you have made fault        230
I’ the boldness of your speech.
  Paul.        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
The rashness of a woman: he is touch’d        235
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
Of what you should forget. Now, good my liege,        240
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,
Who is lost too: take your patience to you,        245
And I’ll say nothing.
  Leon.        Thou didst speak but well,
When most the truth, which I receive much better
Than to be pitied of thee. Prithee, bring me
To the dead bodies of my queen and son:        250
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
Shall be my recreation: so long as nature        255
Will bear up with this exercise, so long
I daily vow to use it. Come and lead me
Unto these sorrows.  [Exeunt.

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