Act 5 Scene 1
Act 5 Scene 1
Cleomenes, Dion, and Paulina are with Leontes in his palace. Cleomenes tells the king that he has been grieving and penitent long enough; now is the time to forget what he did and forgive himself. Leontes replies that he cannot forget how he wronged the virtuous Hermoine, nor the fact that he does not have an heir. The always blunt Paulina agrees with him that Hermoine was such an outstanding lady she can never be replaced. Leontes asks her not to remind him of such things, and Cleomenes tells Paulina she should have said something more kind. Paulina comments that Cleomenes is one of those who wants the king to marry again, and Cleomenes acknowledges that this is so. He argues that for the good of the kingdom, the king should marry again and produce an heir. Paulina reminds him of the oracle of Apollo, that Leontes shall not have an heir until his lost child be found. She says that this is impossible, and advises Leontes to stop worrying about producing another child; a suitable heir to the throne can simply be appointed. Leontes accepts Paulina's argument and agrees that he will not marry again. The spirit of Hermoine would reproach him if he did. He gives Paulina his word that he will not marry unless Paulina allows it. She says that will only be when his first queen breathes again.
A servant enters with news that Florizel and his bride desire to see the king. They have come with few attendants, and Leontes realizes that there is something unusual about this visit. The servant is full of praise for Perdita's beauty, and says she will be loved by women and men alike.
Paulina, tactless as usual, points out to Leontes that Florizel is the same age as Mamilius, Leontes' son, would have been had he lived. Leontes does not thank her for the reminder.
Florizel and Perdita enter. Leontes is struck by the way Florizel resembles his father, and he welcomes him warmly. He greets Perdita as a goddess, and then regrets his own loss of son and daughter, and of Polixenes' friendship. He expresses a desire to see Polixenes again. Florizel, doing what Camillo told him to do, says that he was sent by Polixenes, who wanted to visit Leontes himself, whom he loves deeply, but infirmity prevented him from doing so. Florizel then invents a story that Perdita is from Libya, the daughter of a noble lord. Leontes again expresses his welcome, and again regrets that he does not have a son or daughter.
A lord enters and brings greetings from Polixenes, who explains what has really happened: Florizel has fled Bohemia with a shepherd's daughter. Polixenes is even now in the city, on his way to the court, and has already encountered Perdita's father and brother, whom he has detained and is threatening with death. Camillo is with them also, and Florizel thinks that Camillo must have betrayed him. Leontes expresses regret that Florizel has fallen out with his father and that his chosen bride is not of high birth. Florizel begs the king to intervene on his behalf when Polixenes arrives. He believes Polixenes will grant whatever Leontes asks. Leontes is reminded of how much he loved Hermoine in his youth, and he agrees to do what he can to persuade Polixenes.
The constant references to the events of the past, and the bitter shadow they still cast on Leontes and the Sicilian court, are important. The audience must be made aware of Leontes' continuing deep grief and regret if the final, miraculous scene is to have its full dramatic force. Paulina's references to the dead Hermoine, her curious comment that the king may not marry again until his first queen breathes again, and her statement that Leontes will have no wife "Unless another, / As like Hermoine as is her picture," all subtly prepare the audience for what is to come, which nonetheless still comes as a surprise.
This scene makes full use of dramatic irony, in which the audience knows what the characters on stage do not. For example, the fact that Perdita is in fact Leontes' daughter (known to the audience but not to Leontes) gives extra poignancy to his regrets about not having an heir.