Act 2 Scene 1
Act 2 Scene 1
Hermoine and the ladies of the court indulge in some banter with Mamilius, and one of the ladies tells him that Hermoine is pregnant. Hermoine then asks her son to tell them a story, and young Mamilius embarks on a sad tale, which he says is best for winter.
Leontes enters with Antigonus and other lords. He has been informed of Camillo's defection, and this confirms in his mind that he was correct in his belief that Hermoine and Polixenes were having an affair. He now goes further, convincing himself that Camillo was in Polixenes' pay all along, and that there is a plot against his life and his crown.
He takes Mamilius away from Hermoine, saying that he must be kept from her. He then accuses Hermoine of being pregnant by Polixenes. Hermoine, keeping her dignity, denies the charge. Leontes repeats it, partially addressing the lords, adding that not only is Hermoine an adulteress, she is a traitor as well. He has her hauled off to prison. Hermoine does not protest and she does not weep; she merely says she must be patient. She also requests that her attendants go with her, since in her condition she has need of them.
After Hermoine exits, Antigonus and another lord remonstrate with Leontes. They know that Hermoine is innocent, but Leontes refuses to listen to them. Antigonus persists, saying that Leontes must have been deceived by someone of ill intent. Leontes replies that Antigonus simply does not understand what is going on. He declares he does not need advice and that Antigonus is either ignorant or a fool. But he does admit that he has sent two men, Cleomenes and Dion, to consult the oracle at Delphi about the matter. This will either confirm or refute his allegations. Leontes claims that he himself needs no more proof, but he is consulting the oracle so that others may be convinced too.
This is the first indication that Hermoine is pregnant. The earlier reference (Act 1, scene 2) by Polixenes to the "nine changes of the watery star" that have taken place since he left his country establish that, in theory at least, Polixenes could be the father of Hermoine's child.
In this scene, Leontes acts out the consequence of his jealousy, wronging Hermoine at every turn. She never loses her dignity, however, her stillness and calm strength serving as a marked contrast to his anger and agitation. The protests of the lord and Antigonus about Hermoine's virtue further convince the audience, if any further convincing is needed, that Leontes is committing a terrible mistake which may have unforeseen and equally terrible consequences. Leontes' behavior is outrageous; his mind is so clouded by jealousy that he can no longer think straight.