The Winter's Tale By William Shakespeare Act III: Scene 2

This your request
Is altogether just: therefore, bring forth,
And in Apollo's name, his oracle:

[Exeunt certain Officers.]

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!

[Re-enter OFFICERS, with CLEOMENES and DION.]

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 deliver'd
Of great Apollo's priest; and that since then,
You have not dar'd to break the holy seal,
Nor read the secrets in't.

All this we swear.

Break up the seals and read.

[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.'

Now blessed be the great Apollo!


Hast thou read truth?

Ay, my lord; even so
As it is here set down.

There is no truth at all i' the oracle:
The sessions shall proceed: this is mere falsehood!

[Enter a Servant hastily.]

My lord the king, the king!

What is the business?

O sir, I shall be hated to report it:
The prince your son, with mere conceit and fear
Of the queen's speed, is gone.

How! gone?

Is dead.

Apollo's angry; and the heavens themselves
Do strike at my injustice.

[HERMIONE faints.]

How now there!

This news is mortal to the queen: — Look down
And see what death is doing.

Take her hence:
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
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
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
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
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.]

Woe the while!
O, cut my lace, lest my heart, cracking it,
Break too!

What fit is this, good lady?

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
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.
That thou betray'dst Polixenes, 'twas nothing;
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
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, —
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,
The sweetest, dearest creature's dead; and vengeance for't
Not dropp'd down yet.

The higher powers forbid!

I say she's dead: I'll swear't. If word nor oath
Prevail not, go and see: if you can bring
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
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.

Go on, go on:
Thou canst not speak too much; I have deserv'd
All tongues to talk their bitterest!

Say no more:
Howe'er the business goes, you have made fault
I' the boldness of your speech.

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
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
Let me be punish'd, 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;
I'll not remember you of my own lord,
Who is lost too: take your patience to you,
And I'll say nothing.

Thou didst speak but well,
When most the truth; which I receive much better
Than to be pitied of thee. Pr'ythee, bring me
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
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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After Camillo reveals Leontes' plan to kill Polixenes, Camillo is sentenced to die for treason.