Act 5 Scene 3
Act 5 Scene 3
Leontes and all the court are in Paulina's house for the unveiling of the statue. Paulina draws back a curtain to reveal, as the stage direction states, "Hermoine standing like a statue." Leontes says the statue looks just like Hermoine, except that she looks older. Paulina says that is a tribute to the skill of the sculptor, who made the statue resemble what Hermoine would look like after the passage of sixteen years. Leontes feels ashamed, because the sight of the statue reminds him once more of the evil he did Hermoine. Perdita wants to kneel and kiss the hand of the statue, but Paulina stops her, saying the color is not yet dry. Paulina then goes to pull the curtain back to cover the statue, but Leontes stops her. He is astonished at how life-like the statue seems, as is Polixenes. Paulina again says she will draw the curtain before Leontes convinces himself that the statue is in fact alive. But once again Leontes stops her. He wants to kiss the statue, but Paulina tells him the paint is still wet on the lips. Then she says that if they can stand more amazement, she will make the statue move, descend and take Leontes by the hand. Paulina commands music to strike up and then tells the statue to descend. Hermoine comes down, and embraces the astonished Leontes. Perdita kneels at Hermoine's feet for a blessing, and Hermoine speaks for the first time. She wants to know from Perdita the story of how she survived. Paulina told her of the oracle, and the hope that Perdita might be alive gave her the strength to live. The last word is given to Leontes. He orders Paulina to marry Camillo, and then tells Paulina to lead them out, after which they can all discuss at leisure all the events of the preceding sixteen years.
Paulina's command to the statue to move, and Hermoine's descent and embrace of Leontes, form one of the great moments in Shakespeare. In the theater this scene can be extremely moving. Even though Shakespeare has dropped hint after hint that the statue is in fact alive, the moment Hermoine moves still comes as a surprise and a revelation. It also carries the whole meaning of the play, that life triumphs over death, that what nature appears to take away it always restores. As Paulina puts it: "Bequeath to death your numbness; for from him / Dear life redeems you" (lines 102-03).
As it does here, music often accompanies great moments of revelation and reconciliation in Shakespeare. For example, music plays as Cordelia and Lear are reconciled in King Lear and as Thaisa awakes from a trance in Pericles.
All ends happily, although whether the formidable Paulina or the redoubtable Camillo are particularly pleased to be ordered to marry is another matter entirely!