Act 2 Scene 3
Act 2 Scene 3
In a soliloquy, Leontes plots vengeance against Hermoine, planning to have her put to death. It also transpires that Mamilius, on hearing of his mother's fate (his mother's dishonor, according to Leontes) has fallen ill. After telling a servant to see how the boy is, Leontes resumes his vengeful thoughts. He cannot move against Polixenes, since Polixenes is too powerful, so Hermoine must bear the full brunt of his vengeance for the time being.
Pauline enters with the baby, and Antigonus. She is determined to see the king, even though a lord tries to hold her back and her husband tells her to be quiet. Leontes is displeased to see her, and Antigonus says that he tried to stop her disturbing him. But he cannot control his own wife.
Paulina tells Leontes that she has come from Hermoine. Leontes orders her to be thrown out, but she insists on presenting him with the baby girl. Leontes, angered, launches into a tirade against traitors, and calls the baby a bastard. Paulina stands her ground, saying that there is only one traitor present, and that is the king. Leontes yells that the baby is Polixenes', and orders it to be burnt to death, along with its mother. But Paulina insists that the baby is his, and even looks like him. Leontes insults Paulina again and threatens to have her burnt in the fire as well. Paulina says she does not care, and counters by accusing him of creating a tyranny that will give him a bad name throughout the world. Finally, Paulina agrees to leave, but tells Leontes' henchmen to keep their hands off her.
Leontes then accuses Antigonus of putting Paulina up to this demonstration of defiance. He tells the hapless Antigonus that he must have the child burnt to death immediately and then report to him within one hour. If he does not do this, Leontes will have him executed. Antigonus insists that he did not tell Paulina to come to the king, and several lords back him up, but Leontes says they are all liars. A lord pleads with him to change his mind, and Leontes appears to soften his attitude, but in fact he is about to propose something equally cruel. He tells Antigonus to take the baby to a remote place, somewhere out of Silesia, and leave it there, abandoning it to its fate. If Antigonus does not do this, Leontes says, both he and his wife will be executed. Antigonus, in some anguish, agrees to do what he is asked.
A servant reports that Cleomenes and Dion have returned from Delphi. Leontes looks forward to the public declaration of what he believes to be the truth. He also asks for arrangements to be made for a public trial of Hermoine.
Paulina here shows herself to be a formidable lady. The relationship between her and her husband Antigonus is the opposite of that between the king and queen. Paulina is forthright and headstrong; she insists on having her say, and there is nothing Antigonus can do to stop her. Even given the seriousness of the situation, there are some amusing moments in this scene, as Antigonus shows how resigned he is to being unable to put his wife in her place.
This is the third scene in which Leontes acts almost like a madman. He does not stop to consider for a moment. All he can think about is betrayal, enemies, and the vengeance he will wreak. He is completely possessed by jealousy and the crimes he imagines have been committed against him. It would be hard to imagine behavior more cruel than that which Leontes displays in this scene. There is no dealing with a man in this state of mind, which makes Paulina's defiance all the more admirable.