Previously… on The Winter’s Tale:
In the court of King Leontes of Sicilia, his friend King Polixenes of Bohemia readies to return to his own country after a nine-month stay in Sicilia. While Leontes is unsuccessful to convince his friend to say, Leontes’ pregnant wife Hermione is able to convince him. This spurs suspicions in Leontes’ mind, worrying him about being cuckolded by his friend. His lord Camillo admits that Polixenes has bowed to the “good queen’s entreaty” (I.ii.220). Leontes lays out his argument for his own cuckolding. The lord is incredulous, but in an attempt to calm down the king, Camillo tells the king that he will poison Polixenes that night. Leontes leaves, and Camillo bemoans his state. Polixenes joins Camillo on stage, and a tormented Camillo explains the situation to Polixenes, urging him to flee the country. Polixenes agrees.
The second act begins with Hermione, her ladies, and the boy Mamillius, about to tell them a story. As he begins his story, Leontes enters with Antigonus and other lords, learning that Polixenes has left the country, taking Camillo with him. Of course, this vindicates the king’s suspicions, especially since it was Camillo that tipped off Polixenes. Leontes tells Hermione that he knows she’s carrying Polixenes’ baby, that “‘tis Polixenes [who] / Has made [her] swell such” (II.i.61-2). She denies this, and Leontes rants on how he knows she’s “an adulteress” (II.i.78). They go back and forth, accusation and denial, with him ordering her “to prison!” (II.i.103). She continues to deny the accusation, but finally heads off to prison, with her ladies, as her pregnancy, her “plight requires it” (II.i.118). In her absence, the lords, led by Antigonus, attempt to calm, then reason with Leontes, even saying they’ll sterilize their daughters if this turns out to be true. Leontes has none of it, telling them that he’s dispatched two men to the oracle of Apollo’s temple in Delphos; Leontes believes the accusation, and the oracle is to prove it to other people. Outside the prison, Paulina, wife to Antigonus, learns that Hermione’s given birth prematurely to a “daughter, and a goodly babe” (II.ii.26). Paulina decides that Leontes must be called out on his dangerous accusations. Meanwhile, Leontes hasn’t been able to sleep since the accusation. It seems that Mamillius has taken ill as well. In walks Paulina with the baby. When she demands to see the king, her husband tries to stop her…to no avail. She calls herself Leontes’ subordinate, then calls Hermione, “Good queen” to the king’s disbelief. Leontes orders the men to force her away, but she stands her ground, laying the newborn baby at his feet. He calls her witch; she denies. He calls the men traitors for not forcing her out; Antigonus denies. He claims the child is Polixenes’; she shows him his likeness in the baby’s features. She leaves the baby with Leontes. Leontes berates Antigonus and demands of him what he would do to save the bastard’s life. “Anything possible” (II.iii.166) is his response. To save the child’s life from Leontes’ justice, the king allows Antigonus an option: take the child to “some remote and desert place quite out / Of our dominion” (II.iii.175-6), and abandon it, leaving its fate to Fate. Reluctantly, Antigonus agrees, and exits with the child. News arrives of the servants’ return from the oracle.
Act Three of The Winter’s Tale begins with Continue reading The Winter’s Tale – Act Three plot synopsis: death[s] just offstage…