Shakespeare: A Guide to the Complete Works

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  • Topic: The Winter's Tale, Delphi, Pythia
  • Pages : 7 (2545 words )
  • Download(s) : 34
  • Published : August 5, 2009
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.......It is time for Polixenes, King of Bohemia, to end his visit with his boyhood friend Leontes, King of Sicily. While the two kings prepare to bid farewell in a state room of the Sicilian palace, a Bohemian lord named Archidamus and a Sicilian lord named Camillo are in an antechamber discussing the extraordinary friendship between the two rulers. Camillo, advisor to Leontes, observes that they were inseparable when growing up: “They were trained together in their childhoods; and there rooted betwixt them then such an affection, which cannot choose but branch now” (1. 1. 10). .......Archidamus says nothing will ever come between the two kings. (His observation is an ironic foreshadowing of a terrible jealousy that will soon divide them.) He also praises the Sicilian king’s little boy, Mamillius, as the finest of lads with the brightest of futures. (This, too, is an ominous observation.) .......In the state room, King Leontes presses King Polixenes to linger in Sicily one more week, but Polixenes begs off, worrying about “what may chance / Or breed” (1. 2. 15-16) in Bohemia in his absence. When Hermione, the beautiful wife of Leontes, joins her husband in importuning Polixenes to extend his visit, he agrees to remain a while longer. Pulling him aside, she asks what his childhood was like with her husband. Polixenes replies, We were, fair queen,

Two lads that thought there was no more behind
But such a day to-morrow as to-day,
And to be boy eternal. (1. 2. 78-81)
When Hermione asks about their childhood adventures, Polixenes says, We were as twinn’d lambs that did frisk i’ the sun,
And bleat the one at the other: what we chang’d
Was innocence for innocence; we knew not
The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dream’d
That any did . . . . (1. 2. 83-87)
After Leontes learns that Hermione has persuaded Polixenes to stay, Leontes immediately regrets extending Polixenes’s welcome, for the friendly conversation between his wife and Polixenes has envenomed him with jealousy. Apparently, Polixenes has an unduly suspicious eye. Perhaps Polixenes and his wife have become too close, Leontes thinks; perhaps they have been meeting in secret. He even begins to wonder whether his son, Mamillius, is the the product of a tryst in an earlier time between Hermione and Polixenes. .......Later, suspicion builds upon suspicion. In a conversation with Camillo, the king openly accuses his wife of infidelity. Camillo, shocked, says the king sins gravely in speaking against her. The king replies, Is whispering nothing?

Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses?
Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career
Of laughing with a sigh? (1. 2. 332-335)
.......Finally, he orders Camillo to bear a poisoned cup to Polixenes. Camillo tells the king he will perform the deadly mission, but then warns the Bohemian king that his life is in danger. During the night, Polixenes steals away. Camillo, estranged by Leontes’s behavior, accompanies Polixenes. Their sudden departure convinces Leontes his suspicions against Hermione are well founded. Angry and bitter, he publicly denounces his wife, who is soon to have another child, as an adulteress. After imprisoning her, he deprives her of the company of little Mamillius. Hermione pleads her innocence, to no avail. She is guilty; Leontes is certain of it. To confirm her guilt for others, he sends two lords, Cleontes and Dion, to the Oracle at Delphi, Greece, to request a judgment. .......After Hermione bears a daughter, her servant, Paulina, presents the infant to Leontes, hoping the sight of the little girl will quench his anger. However, wrathful as ever, Leontes disowns the child–believing it is not his own–and orders Paulina’s husband, Antigonus, to abandon it in a far-off place. Leontes then subjects Hermione to a public trial. With utmost dignity and grace, she proclaims her innocence, declaring she has always been faithful to Leontes. .......During the trial, Cleontes and...
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