Summary and Analysis
Paulina and her attendants appear at the prison to request a visit with Hermione. The gaoler replies that he has orders not to allow visitors. Paulina then requests a chance to speak to one of the queen's ladies, Emilia if possible. The gaoler agrees to bring Emilia to Paulina if she dismisses her attendants, and if he himself can attend the conference. Paulina cooperates, but she expresses in asides the building fury that she feels about her good queen's imprisonment.
Emilia reports that Hermione is doing as well as one "so great and so forlorn" might expect in her situation. Blaming the fears and sadnesses that weigh upon the queen, Emilia reports the premature delivery of a daughter.
In spite of the "dangerous unsafe lunes i' the king," Paulina decides to show Leontes his infant daughter, and she pledges a blistering advocacy for the queen. If Hermione will trust her with the infant, Paulina feels that the sight of the innocent baby will persuade Leontes to change his attitude toward the queen.
Emilia praises Paulina as the most suitable woman to undertake the brave errand. In fact, she says, Hermione had thought of the same plan but had rejected it because she feared that anyone whom she might ask to do so would turn her down.
When Emilia exits to ask for the baby, the gaoler tells Paulina that he cannot allow the baby to leave the prison unless he sees a warrant. Paulina convinces him that the baby entered the prison as an innocent in her mother's womb and therefore needs no warrant in order to leave. This argument easily sways the simple gaoler, but Paulina further soothes his fears by pledging to stand between him and any danger from Leontes.
Compared to Hermione's gentle, obedient reaction to Leontes' tyranny, Paulina's rage is graphically gathering as she prepares to confront her king. Obviously she has no intention of using the diplomatic ploys of Camillo or the other advisers; she will voice only her own absolute outrage at the mistreatment of the innocent. Well aware of the "lunes" (lunatic fits) that now control Leontes, Paulina determines that a direct attack of Truth will shake him loose from his insanity. And clearly, Leontes' actions can be called insane for they have destroyed a peaceful court life and a happy family life. The scene is focused on Hermione's hard and unjust imprisonment and Paulina's resulting rebellion: "Here's ado,/ To lock up honesty and honor from/ The access of gentle visitors." Paulina must claw her way into a position to argue the queen's case. She is not only a singular volunteer, but she is the most qualified person to do so, according to Emilia: "There is no lady living/ So meet for this great errand."
Paulina believes that she knows what Leontes really wants, and what truly motivates him. She believes that he wants to love his wife and child, but needs a new cause to do so. She is correct, but only after many tragedies and many years will this be proven. At present, Paulina chooses her own dangerous, unswerving course.