Posted in Christmas, Tales

Toinett and the Elves


Author: Susan Coolidge

The winter’s sun was nearing the horizon’s edge. Each moment the tree shadows grew longer in the forest; each moment the crimson light on the upper boughs became more red and bright. It was Christmas Eve, or would be in half an hour, when the sun should be fairly set; but it did not feel like Christmas, for the afternoon was mild and sweet, and the wind in the leafless boughs sang, as it moved about, as though to imitate the vanished birds. Soft trills and whistles, odd little shakes and twitters – it was astonishing what pretty noises the wind made, for it was in good humor, as winds should be on the Blessed Night; all its storm-tones and bass-notes were for the moment laid aside, and gently as though hushing a baby to sleep, it cooed and rustled and brushed to and fro in the leafless woods. Toinette stood, pitcher in hand, beside the well. “Wishing Well,” the people called it, for they believed that if any one standing there bowed to the East, repeated a certain rhyme and wished a wish, the wish would certainly come true. Unluckily, nobody knew exactly what the rhyme should be. Toinette did not; she was wishing that she did, as she stood with her eyes fixed on the bubbling water. How nice it would be! she thought. What beautiful things should be hers, if it were only to wish and to have. She would be beautiful, rich, good – oh, so good. The children should love her dearly, and never be disagreeable. Mother should not work so hard – they should all go back to France – which mother said was si belle. Oh, dear, how nice it would be. Meantime, the sun sank lower, and mother at home was waiting for the water, but Toinette forgot that. Suddenly she started. A low sound of crying met her ear, and something like a tiny moan. It seemed close by but she saw nothing. Hastily she filled her pitcher and turned to go. But again the sound came, an unmistakable sob, right under her feet. Toinette stopped short.
“What is the matter?” she called out bravely. “Is anybody there? and if there is, why don’t I see you?”
A third sob – and all at once, down on the ground beside her, a tiny figure became visible, so small that Toinette had to kneel and stoop her head to see it plainly. The figure was that of an odd little man. He wore a garb of green bright and glancing as the scales of a beetle. In his mite of a hand was a cap, out of which stuck a long pointed feather. Two specks of tears stood on his cheeks and he fixed on Toinette a glance so sharp and so sad that it made her feel sorry and frightened and confused all at once.
“Why how funny this is!” she said, speaking to herself out loud.
“Not at all,” replied the little man, in a voice as dry and crisp as the chirr of a grasshopper. “Anything but funny. I wish you wouldn’t use such words. It hurts my feelings, Toinette.”
“Do you know my name, then?” cried Toinette, astonished. “That’s strange. But what is the matter? Why are you crying so, little man?”
“I’m not a little man. I’m an elf,” responded the dry voice; “and I think you’d cry if you had an engagement out to tea, and found yourself spiked on a great bayonet, so that you couldn’t move an inch. Look!” He turned a little as he spoke and Toinette saw a long rose-thorn sticking through the back of the green robe. The little man could by no means reach the thorn, and it held him fast prisoner to the place.
“Is that all? I’ll take it out for you,” she said.
“Be careful – oh, be careful,” entreated the little man. “This is my new dress, you know – my Christmas suit, and it’s got to last a year. If there is a hole in it, Peascod will tickle me and Bean Blossom tease, till I shall wish myself dead.” He stamped with vexation at the thought.
“Now, you mustn’t do that,” said Toinette, in a motherly tone, “else you’ll tear it yourself, you know.” She broke off the thorn as she spoke, and gently drew it out. The elf anxiously examined the stuff. A tiny puncture only was visible and his face brightened.
“You’re a good child,” he said. “I’ll do as much for you some day, perhaps.”
“I would have come before if I had seen you,” remarked Toinette, timidly. “But I didn’t see you a bit.”
“No, because I had my cap on,” cried the elf. He placed it on his head as he spoke, and hey, presto! nobody was there, only a voice which laughed and said: “Well – don’t stare so. Lay your finger on me now.”
“Oh,” said Toinette, with a gasp. “How wonderful. What fun it must be to do that. The children wouldn’t see me. I should steal in and surprise them; they would go on talking, and never guess that I was there. I should so like it. Do elves ever lend their caps to anybody? I wish you’d lend me yours. It must be so nice to be invisible.”
“Ho,” cried the elf, appearing suddenly again. “Lend my cap, indeed! Why it wouldn’t stay on the very tip of your ear, it’s so small. As for nice, that depends. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t. No, the only way for mortal people to be invisible is to gather the fern-seed and put it in their shoes.”
“Gather it? Where? I never saw any seed to the ferns,” said Toinette, staring about her.
“Of course not – we elves take care of that,” replied the little man. “Nobody finds the fern-seed but ourselves. I’ll tell you what, though. You were such a nice child to take out the thorn so cleverly, that I’ll give you a little of the seed. Then you can try the fun of being invisible, to your heart’s content.”
“Will you really? How delightful. May I have it now?”
“Bless me. Do you think I carry my pockets stuffed with it?” said the elf. “Not at all. Go home, say not a word to any one, but leave your bedroom window open to night, and you’ll see what you’ll see.”
He laid his finger on his nose as he spoke, gave a jump like a grasshopper, clapping on his cap as he went, and vanished. Toinette lingered a moment, in hopes that he might come back, then took her pitcher and hurried home. The woods were very dusky by this time; but full of her strange adventures, she did not remember to feel afraid.
“How long you have been,” said her mother. “It’s late for a little maid like you to be up. You must make better speed another time, my child.”
Toinette pouted as she was apt to do when reproved. The children clamoured to know what had kept her, and she spoke pettishly and crossly; so that they too became cross, and presently went away into the outer kitchen to play by themselves. The children were apt to creep away when Toinette came. It made her angry and unhappy at times that they should do so, but she did not realize that it was in great part her own fault, and so did not set herself to mend it.
“Tell me a ‘tory,” said baby Jeanneton, creeping to her knee a little later. But Toinette’s head was full of the elf; she had no time to spare for Jeanneton.
“Oh, not to-night,” she replied. “Ask mother to tell you one.”
“Mother’s busy,” said Jeanneton wistfully.
Toinette took no notice and the little one crept away disconsolately.
Bedtime at last. Toinette set the casement open, and lay a long time waiting and watching; then she fell asleep. She waked with a sneeze and jump and sat up in bed. Behold, on the coverlet stood her elfin friend, with a long train of other elves beside him, all clad in the beetle-wing green, and wearing little pointed caps. More were coming in at the window; outside a few were drifting about in the moon rays, which lit their sparkling robes till they glittered like so many fireflies. The odd thing was, that though the caps were on, Toinette could see the elves distinctly and this surprised her so much, that again she thought out loud and said, “How funny.”
“You mean about the caps,” replied her special elf, who seemed to have the power of reading thought.
“Yes, you can see us to-night, caps and all. Spells lose their value on Christmas Eve, always. Peascod, where is the box? Do you still wish to try the experiment of being invisible, Toinette?”
“Oh, yes – indeed I do.”
“Very well; so let it be.”
As he spoke he beckoned, and two elves puffing and panting like little men with a heavy load, dragged forward a droll little box about the size of a pumpkin-seed.
One of them lifted the cover.
“Pay the porter, please, ma’am,” he said giving Toinette’s ear a mischievous tweak with his sharp fingers.
“Hands off, you bad Peascod!” cried Toinette’s elf. “This is my girl. She shan’t be pinched!” He dealt Peascod a blow with his tiny hand as he spoke and looked so brave and warlike that he seemed at least an inch taller than he had before. Toinette admired him very much; and Peascod slunk away with an abashed giggle muttering that Thistle needn’t be so ready with his fist.
Thistle – for thus, it seemed, Toinette’s friend was named – dipped his fingers in the box, which was full of fine brown seeds, and shook a handful into each of Toinette’s shoes, as they stood, toes together by the bedside.
“Now you have your wish,” he said, and can go about and do what you like, no one seeing. The charm will end at sunset. Make the most of it while you can; but if you want to end it sooner, shake the seeds from the shoes and then you are just as usual.”
“Oh, I shan’t want to,” protested Toinette; “I’m sure I shan’t.”
“Good-bye,” said Thistle, with a mocking little laugh.
“Good-bye, and thank you ever so much,” replied Toinette.
“Good-bye, good-bye,” replied the other elves, in shrill chorus. They clustered together, as if in consultation; then straight out of the window they flew like a swarm of gauzy-winged bees, and melted into the moonlight. Toinette jumped up and ran to watch them but the little men were gone – not a trace of them was to be seen; so she shut the window, went back to bed and presently in the midst of her amazed and excited thoughts fell asleep.
She waked in the morning, with a queer, doubtful feeling. Had she dreamed, or had it really happened? She put on her best petticoat and laced her blue bodice; for she thought the mother would perhaps take them across the wood to the little chapel for the Christmas service. Her long hair smoothed and tied, her shoes trimly fastened, downstairs she ran. The mother was stirring porridge over the fire. Toinette went close to her, but she did not move or turn her head.
“How late the children are,” she said at last, lifting the boiling pot on the hob. Then she went to the stair-foot and called, “Marc, Jeanneton, Pierre, Marie. Breakfast is ready, my children. Toinette – but where, then, is Toinette? She is used to be down long before this.”
“Toinette isn’t upstairs,” said Marie from above.
“Her door is wide open, and she isn’t there.”
“That is strange,” said the mother. “I have been here an hour, and she has not passed this way since.” She went to the outer door and called, “Toinette! Toinette!” passing close to Toinette as she did so. And looking straight at her with unseeing eyes. Toinette, half frightened, half pleased, giggled low to herself. She really was invisible, then. How strange it seemed and what fun it was going to be.
The children sat down to breakfast, little Jeanneton, as the youngest, saying grace. The mother distributed the porridge and gave each a spoon but she looked anxious.
“Where can Toinette have gone?” she said to herself. Toinette was conscious-pricked. She was half inclined to dispel the charm on the spot. But just then she caught a whisper from Pierre to Marc which so surprised her as to put the idea out of her head.
“Perhaps a wolf has eaten her up – a great big wolf like the ‘Capuchon Rouge,’ you know.” This was what Pierre said; and Marc answered unfeelingly:
“If he has, I shall ask mother to let me have her room for my own.”
Poor Toinette, her cheeks burned and her eyes filled with tears at this. Didn’t the boys love her a bit then? Next she grew angry, and longed to box Marc’s ears, only she recollected in time that she was invisible. What a bad boy he was, she thought.
The smoking porridge reminded her that she was hungry; so brushing away the tears she slipped a spoon off the table and whenever she found the chance, dipped it into the bowl for a mouthful. The porridge disappeared rapidly.
“I want some more,” said Jeanneton.
“Bless me, how fast you have eaten,” said the mother, turning to the bowl.
This made Toinette laugh, which shook her spoon, and a drop of the hot mixture fell right on the tip of Marie’s nose as she sat with upturned face waiting her turn for a second helping. Marie gave a little scream.
“What is it?” said the mother.
“Hot water! Right in my face!” sputtered Marie.
“Water!” cried Marc. “It’s porridge.”
“You spattered with your spoon. Eat more carefully, my child,” said the mother, and Toinette laughed again as she heard her. After all, there was some fun in being invisible.
The morning went by. Constantly the mother went to the door, and, shading her eyes with her hand, looked out, in hopes of seeing a little figure come down the wood-path, for she thought perhaps the child went to the spring after water, and fell asleep there. The children played happily, meanwhile. They were used to doing without Toinette and did not seem to miss her, except that now and then baby Jeanneton said: “Poor Toinette gone – not here – all gone.”
“Well, what if she has?” said Marc at last looking up from the wooden cup he was carving for Marie’s doll. “We can play all the better.”
Marc was a bold, outspoken boy, who always told his whole mind about things.
“If she were here,” he went on,” she’d only scold and interfere. Toinette almost always scolds. I like to have her go away. It makes it pleasanter.”
“It is rather pleasanter,” admitted Marie, “only I’d like her to be having a nice time somewhere else.”
“Bother about Toinette,” cried Pierre.
“Let’s play ‘My godmother has cabbage to sell.'”
I don’t think Toinette had ever felt so unhappy in her life, as when she stood by unseen, and heard the children say these words. She had never meant to be unkind to them, but she was quick-tempered, dreamy, wrapped up in herself. She did not like being interrupted by them, it put her out, and she spoke sharply and was cross. She had taken it for granted that the others must love her, by a sort of right, and the knowledge that they did not grieved over very much. Creeping away, she hid herself in the woods. It was a sparkling day, but the sun did not look so bright as usual. Cuddled down under a rosebush, Toinette sat sobbing as if her heart would break at the recollection of the speeches she had overheard.
By and by a little voice within her woke up and began to make itself audible. All of us know this little voice. We call it conscience.
“Jeanneton missed me,” she thought. “And, oh, dear! I pushed her away only last night and wouldn’t tell her a story. And Marie hoped I was having a pleasant time somewhere. I wish I hadn’t slapped Marie last Friday. And I wish I hadn’t thrown Marc’s ball into the fire that day I was angry with him. How unkind he was to say that – but I wasn’t always kind to him. And once I said that I wished a bear would eat Pierre up. That was because he broke my cup. Oh, dear, oh, dear. What a bad girl I’ve been to them all.”
“But you could be better and kinder if you tried, couldn’t you?” said the inward voice. “I think you could.”
And Toinette clasped her hands tight and said out loud: “I could. Yes – and I will.”
The first thing to be done was to get rid of the fern-seed which she now regarded as a hateful thing. She untied her shoes and shook it out in the grass. It dropped and seemed to melt into the air, for it instantly vanished. A mischievous laugh sounded close behind, and a beetle-green coat-tail was visible whisking under a tuft of rushes. But Toinette had had enough of the elves, and, tying her shoes, took the road toward home, running with all her might.
“Where have you been all day, Toinette?” cried the children, as, breathless and panting, she flew in at the gate. But Toinette could not speak. She made slowly for her mother, who stood in the doorway, flung herself into her arms and burst into a passion of tears.
“Ma cherie, what is it, whence hast thou come?” asked the good mother alarmed. She lifted Toinette into her arms as she spoke, and hastened indoors. The other children followed, whispering and peeping, but the mother sent them away, and sitting down by the fire with Toinette in her lap, she rocked and hushed and comforted, as though Toinette had been again a little baby. Gradually the sobs ceased. For a while Toinette lay quiet, with her head on her mother’s breast. Then she wiped her wet eyes, put her arms around her mother’s neck, and told her all from the very beginning, keeping not a single thing back. The dame listened with alarm.
“Saints protect us,” she muttered. Then feeling Toinette’s hands and head, “Thou hast a fever,” she said. “I will make thee a tisane, my darling, and thou must at once go to bed.” Toinette vainly protested; to bed she went and perhaps it was the wisest thing, for the warm drink threw her into a long sound sleep and when she woke she was herself again, bright and well, hungry for dinner, and ready to do her usual tasks.
Herself – but not quite the same Toinette that she had been before. Nobody changes from bad to better in a minute. It takes time for that, time and effort, and a long struggle with evil habits and tempers. But there is sometimes a certain minute or day in which people begin to change, and thus it was with Toinette. The fairy lesson was not lost upon her. She began to fight with herself, to watch her faults and try to conquer them. It was hard work; often she felt discouraged, but she kept on. Week after week and month after month she grew less selfish, kinder, more obliging than she used to be. When she failed and her old fractious temper got the better of her, she was sorry and begged every one’s pardon so humbly that they could not but forgive. The mother began to think that the elves really had bewitched her child. As for the children they learned to love Toinette as never before, and came to her with all their pains and pleasures, as children should to a kind older sister. Each fresh proof of this, every kiss from Jeanneton, every confidence from Marc, was a comfort to Toinette, for she never forgot Christmas Day, and felt that no trouble was too much to wipe out that unhappy recollection. “I think they like me better than they did then,” she would say; but then the thought came, “Perhaps if I were invisible again, if they did not know I was there, I might hear something to make me feel as badly as I did that morning.” These sad thoughts were part of the bitter fruit of the fairy fern-seed.
So with doubts and fears the year went by, and again it was Christmas Eve. Toinette had been asleep some hours when she was roused by a sharp tapping at the window pane. Startled, and only half awake, she sat up in bed and saw by the moonlight a tiny figure outside which she recognized. It was Thistle drumming with his knuckles on the glass.
“Let me in,” cried the dry little voice. So Toinette opened the casement, and Thistle flew in and perched as before on the coverlet.
“Merry Christmas, my girl.” he said, “and a Happy New Year when it comes. I’ve brought you a present;” and, dipping into a pouch tied round his waist, he pulled out a handful of something brown. Toinette knew what it was in a moment.
“Oh, no,” she cried shrinking back. “Don’t give me any fern-seeds. They frighten me. I don’t like them.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Thistle, his voice sounding kind this time, and earnest. “It wasn’t pleasant being invisible last year, but perhaps this year it will be. Take my advice, and try it. You’ll not be sorry.”
“Sha’n’t I?” said Toinette, brightening. “Very well, then, I will.” She leaned out of bed, and watched Thistle strew the fine dustlike grains in each shoe.
“I’ll drop in to-morrow night, and just see how you like it,” he said. Then, with a nod, he was gone.
The old fear came back when she woke in the morning, and she tied on her shoes with a tremble at her heart. Downstairs she stole. The first thing she saw was a wooden ship standing on her plate. Marc had made the ship, but Toinette had no idea it was for her.
The little ones sat round the table with their eyes on the door, watching till Toinette should come in and be surprised.
“I wish she’d hurry,” said Pierre, drumming on his bowl with a spoon.
“We all want Toinette, don’t we?” said the mother, smiling as she poured the hot porridge.
“It will be fun to see her stare,” declared Marc.
“Toinette is jolly when she stares. Her eyes look big and her cheeks grow pink. Andre Brugen thinks his sister Aline is prettiest, but I don’t. Our Toinette is ever so pretty.”
“She is ever so nice, too,” said Pierre. “She’s as good to play with as – as – a boy,” finished triumphantly.
“Oh, I wish my Toinette would come,” said Jeanneton.
Toinette waited no longer, but sped upstairs with glad tears in her eyes. Two minutes, and down she came again visible this time. Her heart was light as a feather.
“Merry Christmas!” clamoured the children. The ship was presented, Toinette was duly surprised, and so the happy day began.
That night Toinette left the window open, and lay down in her clothes; for she felt, as Thistle had been so kind, she ought to receive him politely. He came at midnight, and with him all the other little men in green.
“Well, how was it?” asked Thistle.
“Oh, I liked it this time,” declared Toinette, with shining eyes, “and I thank you so much.”
“I’m glad you did,” said the elf. “And I’m glad you are thankful, for we want you to do something for us.”
“What can it be?” inquired Toinette, wondering.
“You must know,” went on Thistle, “that there is no dainty in the world which we elves enjoy like a bowl of fern-seed broth. But it has to be cooked over a real fire, and we dare not go near fire, you know, lest our wings scorch. So we seldom get any fern-seed broth. Now, Toinette, will you make us some?”
“Indeed, I will!” cried Toinette, “only you must tell me how.”
“It is very simple,” said Peascod; “only seed and honey dew, stirred from left to right with a sprig of fennel. Here’s the seed and the fennel, and here’s the dew. Be sure and stir from the left; if you don’t, it curdles, and the flavour will be spoiled.”
Down into the kitchen they went, and Toinette, moving very softly, quickened the fire, set on the smallest bowl she could find, and spread the doll’s table with the wooden saucers which Marc had made for Jeanneton to play with. Then she mixed and stirred as the elves bade, and when the soup was done, served it to them smoking hot. How they feasted! No bumblebee, dipping into a flower-cup, ever sipped and twinkled more rapturously than they.
When the last drop was eaten, they made ready to go. Each in turn kissed Toinette’s hand, and said a word of farewell. Thistle brushed his feathered cap over the doorpost as he passed.
“Be lucky, house,” he said, “for you have received and entertained the luck-bringers. And be lucky, Toinette. Good temper is good luck, and sweet words and kind looks and peace in the heart are the fairest of fortunes. See that you never lose them again, my girl.” With this, he, too, kissed Toinette’s hand, waved his feathered cap, and – whit! they all were gone, while Toinette, covering the fire with ashes and putting aside the little cups, stole up to her bed a happy child.

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Posted in Tales

The Winter tale


Author: William Shakespeare

When the curtain rises for the first act on an antechamber in Leontes’ palace, in Sicilia, we overhear his councillor Camillo talking with a follower of the King of Bohemia. They are discussing the meeting between their masters, who, after having been brought up together, and separated for years, have been enjoying a renewal of their former friendship. They also mention the little prince of Sicilia, Mamillius, who promises to become a fine man, although at present merely an engaging child.
The second scene is played in a state apartment of the same palace, where Leontes enters with his family, guests, and train, and where Polixenes, King of Bohemia, courteously states it is time to bid his host farewell, and return to his own kingdom. Although Leontes warmly urges his friend to prolong his sojourn, his entreaties prove vain, until he turns to his wife, Hermione, suggesting she try her skill. With grace and eloquence, Hermione, at his request, uses such persuasive arguments that Polixenes finally yields, and enters into sprightly conversation with her, describing his happy youth with her husband, and his grief at their long separation.
Meantime, Leontes, perceiving his wife’s persuasions have proved more efficacious than his own, exclaims she never spoke to better purpose save when he wooed her, and she consented to become his wife! This praise so elates Hermione that she prizes herself happy in having spoken twice to such good purpose that she earned a royal spouse, and a worthy friend. Her innocent joy, however, kindles the jealousy of Leontes, who suddenly fancies she is speaking too warmly of their guest. With keen suspicion he begins watching wife and guest, pretending meanwhile to play with his boy, and soon concludes they have some secret understanding. This discovery causes him such jealous pangs, that, seizing Mamillius, he questions whether he is his offspring. Although the child’s marked resemblance to himself clearly proves his legitimacy, Leontes nevertheless deems his wife faithless, and frowns so portentously that he rouses the wonder of his guest, who asks Hermione what can cause her husband’s irritation?
Urged to speak by wife and friend, Leontes pretends to have been dreaming over the past, when he, too, was a mere lad. Then he asks whether Polixenes loves Florizel as dearly as he does Mamillius, whereupon the King of Bohemia enthusiastically declares his boy makes ‘a July day short as December,’ for him. A moment later, Leontes bids Hermione, if she loves him, show their guest all courtesy, and considers her unsuspecting obedience such hypocrisy that he mutters she is wooing his guest beneath his very eyes. He, therefore, grimly watches them out of sight, speaks roughly to his boy, and murmurs that wives have often proved faithless, and that he is suffering the usual lot of mankind.
Such is Leontes’ state of raging jealousy that it disquiets the child ; and when the lad has gone, the king turns to Camillo, his counsellor, and remarks their guest is going to stay. Because Camillo replies he does so only on account of Hermione’s entreaties the jealous husband fancies he is already a laughing-stock for the Sicilians. Drawing Camillo apart, therefore, he accuses him of being a coward or faithless, which latter suspicion the counsellor can truthfully deny. Still, knowing his master’s nature, he temperately bids Leontes point out in what way he has transgressed, promising to atone for his shortcomings as soon as possible. But, when Leontes expresses suspicions of the honour of guest and wife, Camillo waxes indignant that so noble a lady should be traduced. This causes Leontes to demand angrily whether ‘whispering is nothing?’ But when he describes the actions of his wife and guest from his jaundiced point of view, Camillo rejoins he is suffering from a diseased imagination, and urges him to cure it betimes, lest the complaint become dangerous.
In his wrath at being misunderstood, Leontes taxes Camillo with lying, adding that he himself has been blind for months, during which his guest and wife have systematically deceived him. Suddenly, he orders Camillo to poison his guest, and thus avenge his honour; so, seeing him determined to dispose of Polixenes, and dreading lest he entrust the task to some one else, Camillo pretends to consent, after providing, as he fancies, for the queen’s restoration to favour. Warmly thanking Camillo, and assuring him that by this deed he will win half his master’s heart, Leontes adds the grim threat that, in case he does not obey, he will lose his life!
No sooner has Leontes left the room than Camillo muses upon Hermione’s sad plight, and his own quandary, being compelled to turn poisoner or forfeit life. Even if others, similarly placed, have stricken down anointed kings, he feels he cannot soil his hands with such a crime, so decides to leave home. Just then Polixenes joins him, remarking that he seems to have fallen suddenly out of favour at the Sicilian court. He relates how Leontes has just passed him, with such looks of scorn that he was barely recognisable. Then, perceiving Camillo is aware of the reason for this strange conduct, Polixenes urges him to reveal all he knows. After some demur, Camillo advises the King of Bohemia to leave Sicilia secretly, because his host intends to slay him for making love to his wife. On hearing this absurd charge, Polixenes indignantly refutes it, and conscious of irreproachable conduct, declares this is ‘the greatest infection that e’er was heard or read!’
When Camillo explains that his master has sworn his guest shall die, and has forced upon him a cruel alternative, Polixenes accepts his suggestion that they slip away together at nightfall, and, embarking on his waiting ship, escape from a land where it is no longer safe for them to sojourn. After promising Camillo a warm welcome in Bohemia, Polixencs expresses compassion for the queen, whom, however, he dares not try to defend, lest he increase Leontes’ jealous suspicions.
When the curtain rises on the second act, we see a room in Leontes’ palace, where Hermione and her attendants are playing with Mamillius, who, like all the poet’s children, is a frightfully precocious lad. The ladies talk to him and before him as if he were grown up, teasing him in particular in regard to the coming brother or sister, who will soon supplant him in his mother’s affections. Preferring Hermione to all the rest, the boy finally sits down beside her, and, after stating that ‘a sad tale’s best for winter,’ volunteers to tell one of his own. He has scarcely begun whispering it, when Leontes angrily enters with Antigonus, — his chief adviser, — and several retainers. He has just heard of the flight of Polixenes, who was seen vanishing behind the pines in Camillo’s company, and traced to the vessel now disappearing from sight, and taking them beyond his reach. This report duly confirms Leontes in the belief that Camillo has betrayed him, and was party to his wife’s wrong-doing.Snatching his boy from Hermione’s arms, he hisses it is fortunate she never nursed him, and when she wonderingly inquires whether he can be joking, orders the child removed from her custody. Then, after decreeing she shall never see Mamillius again, he sends her off to prison, accusing her of infidelity! Amazed by such a charge, Hermione proudly rejoins that had a villain said so, he would be base indeed, ere she humbly assures her angry spouse he is mistaken. But Leontes, too jealous to hear reason, goes on reviling her, although she realizes he will be sorely grieved when he comes to the ‘clearer knowledge,’ that he has disgraced her without cause. Unwilling to listen to her, Leontes banishes her to prison, where she entreats some of her women may accompany her, as she will soon need their care. Having obtained this favour, Hermione goes off to her cell without further protest than that she hopes, for the first time in her life, to see her husband sorry!
Horrified by the scene they have just witnessed, the lords, headed by Antigonus, now implore their monarch not to act rashly, reminding him that he attacks his own reputation as well as that of his wife and heir. When one of them offers to lay down his life in proof of Hermione’s innocence, Antigonus adds he will never trust his own consort again, if the queen has failed in her duty. These protests only exasperate Leontes, who insists upon carrying out his revenge in his own fashion, reiterating that the flight of Polixenes and Camillo proves their guilt. When the courtiers feebly suggest he should seek advice on so weighty a question, Leontes says he has sent messengers to Apollo’s temple at Delphi, and that their return with a sealed oracle will settle the matter. Hearing this, the lords are reassured, for they feel certain the gods will protect Hermione’s innocence. We are next transferred to the prison, where Paulina, wife of Antigonus, has come to visit Hermione. When she asks for the jailor, he promptly appears, but only with difficulty yields to her entreaties sufficiently to allow her to see one of the queen’s attendants. The jailor, in introducing Emilia, announces he will have to be present at their conference, as the king has given orders that the prisoners be constantly watched. In this momentous interview Emilia reveals how her poor mistress, shaken by past emotions, has prematurely given birth to a little daughter, and relates how she welcomed her new treasure with the pathetic cry, ‘my poor prisoner, I am as innocent as you. The visitor, fully convinced of this fact, now sends word to Hermione, that if she will only entrust the babe to her, she will carry it to the king, in hopes that its innocence will plead for its wronged mother. This suggestion is seized with delight by Emilia, because her mistress has expressed a great desire that some friend should take this very step. With the assurance that she will use all her eloquence to plead Hermione’s cause, Paulina sends Emilia back to the queen, and bargains with the jailor to let the babe leave the prison. The curtain next rises in a room in the palace, where Leontes is brooding over his wife’s supposed adultery and his own terrible wrongs. Suddenly, he sends a servant to inquire for his son, Mamillius being dangerously ill through fretting over his mother’s disgrace. In fact, the child has been sinking so fast that his father is very anxious; but even while waiting for tidings, he reverts to the bitter thought that Camillo and Polixenes are laughing at him, and grimly adds they should not do so, could he only reach them! It is while he is rejoicing that his wife, at leasts is still in his power, that a clamour arises in the antechamber, where Antigonus and other lords try to prevent Paulina from entering. Browbeating them all, Paulina forces her way into Leontes’ presence, closely followed by her protesting husband. Seeing her appear thus, Leontes discharges his wrath upon Antigonus, reminding him that he ordered Paulina should not be admitted under any pretext. When Antigonus tries to excuse himself under plea he could not prevent it, Leontes indignantly demands whether he is not able to rule his wife. But, without giving her husband a chance to reply, Paulina declares he cannot prevent her doing what honour requires, adding that she has come in the name of the good queen. Because Leontes starts angrily at this adjective, the tactless Paulina insists that, were she only a man, she would fight in Hermione’s behalf; then, depositing the helpless babe at Leontes’ feet, she reports that the good queen sends his little daughter for his blessing. Starting back from the bundle as if it contained some loathsome object, Leontes furiously orders it removed, thereby rousing Paulina’s indignation to such a pitch, that she gives him a vehement piece of her mind. In his paroxysm of rage, Leontes roars that the child is to be removed, while Paulina just as emphatically forbids any one touching it, attacking Leontes and all who try to silence her. But, although she persistently points out the child’s resemblance to its father, and although Antigonus intercedes, Leontes refuses to acknowledge his offspring. His match in obstinacy, Paulina reiterates it is his, and leaves the apartment without it. When she has gone, Leontes vents some of his anger upon Antigonus by ordering him to have the child burned alive under penalty of death. Hoping to free himself from blame, Antigonus calls the other lords to witness how he tried to prevent his wife from approaching the king, and all present exculpate him and intercede for the babe. Because Antigonus volunteers to pawn what little blood he has left to save the child, Leontes promises its life shall be safe provided Antigonus obeys his orders. Thus wringing a solemn oath from too trustful a servant, the cruel Leontes next bids Antigonus carry the babe off to some remote spot, and there abandon it, ‘without more mercy, to its own protection and favour of the climate.’ Bound by oath to fulfil these commands, Antigonus tenderly picks up the babe, and departs, fervently hoping wolves and bears, — who have occasionally shown tenderness for helpless human beings, — will prove more compassionate to it than its father. While he goes out, Leontes, still a prey to jealous delusions, grimly mutters he ‘will not rear another’s issue.’
A few moments after Antigonus’ departure, a servant announces the return of the messengers from Delphi, bringing Apollo’s sealed oracle. Their return, in twenty-three days time, seems nothing short of miraculous to Leontes, who summons all present to witness the trial of his disloyal wife, for he declares he will be just, although his heart will be a burden to him as long as she lives.
The third act opens just as the two Sicilian lords, sent in quest of the oracle, land in their native isle, and comment upon its delightful climate. Their minds are still full of their eventful journey, which, they hope, may prove so successful, that the sealed oracle they bring will free the queen from all suspicion. The curtain next rises on the court of justice, where Leontes proclaims that, although it grieves him, he has been obliged to summon his wife to account for her conduct. Then, the prisoner appears, still weak and pale, supported by Paulina and other attendants, and an officer reads aloud an indictment accusing Hermione of conspiring with Camillo to slay her husband in order to marry Polixenes. Sadly rejoining it is useless to plead not guilty, since every word she utters is accounted a falsehood, Hermione bids them consider her past life, urging that if she ever said or did anything to give rise to suspicion, she wishes to know it, as she has always been faithful to the husband who accuses her so wantonly. When Leontes contemptuously retorts that criminals of her kind never lack the effrontery to excuse themselves, she rejoins that has never been one of her characteristics, adding that she loved Polixenes only as her duty required, and that her persuasions to him were made at her husband’s request. As for Camillo, she warmly defends him as an honest man, and states she cannot conceive why he secretly left court. When Leontes angrily insists that she knew of Camillo’s departure, Hermione fails to understand him, and when he repeats that she is ‘ past all shame,’ she pathetically states she is unhappy enough, having been robbed of her place as wife, deprived of the sight of her son and of her new-born treasure, to call forth no further cruelty on his part. Then, in her desperation, she appeals to Apollo, and, while the messengers are sent for, exclaims that her father, the Emperor of Russia, would pity her were he to see her. At this juncture, the messengers appear, and solemnly testify that they have been to Delphi, and that the oracle they bring was handed to them, sealed, by Apollo’s priest. In the presence of the assembly, an officer breaks the seal, and reads aloud a statement declaring Hermione chaste, Polixenes blameless, Camillo loyal, Leontes a jealous tyrant, the innocent babe his offspring, and decreeing he shall * live without an heir, if that which is lost be not found.’ In their relief at Hermione’s acquittal, the lords give spontaneous thanks to Apollo, but Leontes, still too angry to credit the oracle, hotly declares it is a falsehood. He is just ordering the trial to proceed as if no oracle had been given, when a servant rushes in, reporting that Mamillius has died, news which causes the father to realize that Apollo is angry, and the poor mother to swoon from grief. Vowing this last blow has killed her mistress, Paulina gladly obeys Leontes when he bids her bear the queen away and try and revive her. Brought by calamity to his senses, Leontes now humbly begs Apollo’s pardon for failing to respect his oracle, promises to be reconciled to Polixenes, to recall Camillo, — whose reputation he clears by revealing how basely he tried to induce him to poison his guest, — and to ‘new woo’ his queen. Scarcely has Leontes finished this recantation, when Paulina staggers in full of woe, to announce that Leontes’ cruel behaviour has slain his wife! In reviling him, she pitilessly sets forth how many lives have been blasted by his jealousy, for she rightly ascribes to him not only the death of his son and that of his wife, but the exposure of his daughter. Unable to believe Hermione dead, Leontes forces Paulina to repeat her tidings and describe the tests which proved life extinct. Then, conscious of deserving the severe punishments Paulina ruthlessly calls down upon him, Leontes displays such grief that even this accuser pities him and begs his forgiveness, declaring she reviled him so hotly only because of her love for his wife and children. In his grief, Leontes begs to be taken where the corpses lie, vowing one grave shall hold them both, and that he will water it with his tears, for he is now a thoroughly repentant, broken-hearted man. The curtain next rises on the desert coast of Bohemia, where Antigonus has just arrived with the unhappy babe he must abandon in obedience to the king’s orders. Besides, in a vision which visited him on shipboard, Hermione herself bade him call the babe Perdita, and expose her in Bohemia. Convinced by this apparition that Hermione is dead, and that Perdita is Polixenes’ daughter — since she has been sent to his realm, — Antigonus lays down the babe, and has barely bidden it a touching farewell, when a huge bear comes toward him. Antigonus and this bear have scarcely rushed out of sight, when a shepherd appears, grumbling that youths should be suppressed between the ages of ten and twenty-three, as during that time they are prone only to mischief. While talking thus, he stumbles across the abandoned babe, whom he deems the illegitimate offspring of some youthful couple.
While he is investigating his find, his son, — who is dubbed a clown in the play, — rejoins him, crying he has just beheld two awful sights, a bear devouring a stranger, who only had time to cry his name was Antigonus, and a ship sinking in a tempest before his very eyes! Then his father calls his attention to the babe, who is robed in rich garments, and has jewels and gold enough beside her to make them rich as long as they live. The father finally concludes to take the foundling home, while the son goes off to ascertain whether the bear has finished dining on Antigonus, and whether he has left any remains to be buried.
The fourth act opens with the apparition of Father Time, who proclaims that sixteen years have elapsed since the previous events, and that another turn of his glass will reveal how Leontes has repented of his jealousy, and how his daughter has grown up in Bohemia, where she is now beloved by Prince Florizel, although he deems her naught but a shepherd lass. The curtain rises on Polixenes’ palace, just as he IS conversing with Camillo, who is anxious to return to Sicilia, now that he no longer need fear Leontes’ wrath. During his sojourn, in Bohemia, CamiUo has been Polixenes’ chief adviser, so he consents to postpone his return home, on hearing the King of Bohemia still needs his aid. It transpires that Polixenes is troubled by a report that his son is in love with a shepherdess, and that, disguised, he wishes to attend the sheep-shearing festival with CamiUo, and thus discover whether the prince is seriously entangled. We next see a road near the shepherd’s cottage, along which strolls Autolycus, the peddler, singing a merry song. When it is finished, he murmurs that, having been born under the planet Mercury, he is justified in stealing all he can. Autolycus is the archtype of a merry rogue, and no sooner sees the clown, than he deems him a likely subject for his mischievous arts. Meanwhile, the clown is laboriously trying to calculate how much his fleeces will bring, and to remember all the articles his adopted sister bade him purchase for the sheep-shearing festival, where all their neighbours are to be entertained. As the clown draws near, Autolycus grovels on the ground; loudly calling for aid. When the innocent rustic compassionately approaches, he is implored to remove the sufferer’s clothes, but avers that, dirty and ragged as they seem, they are better than none. The rogue, however, rejoins that he has been robbed and beaten, his good apparel taken from him, and nothing but rags left to cover him. Not only does the gullible down believe every word Autolycus says, but gently helps him to rise, little suspecting that while he does so his pocket is cleverly picked. After comforting Autolycus, — who tells a most extraordinary tale, — the clown goes off to do his errands, while the rascal congratulates himself upon having robbed him, and having learned about the sheep-shearing feast, where he will be able to practise some of his arts. He, therefore, leaves the scene, singing how ‘a merry heart goes all the day, your sad tires in a mile-a.’ We are now transferred to the shepherd’s holding, where Prince Florizel, in guise of a rural swain, is wooing Perdita, who playfully tries to turn aside his compliments. When she states, however, that she trembles lest his father should discover them by accident, and resent all this secrecy, Florizel avers that the gods, themselves, assumed disguises, and quotes instances where deities transformed themselves into beasts. Besides, he is so earnest in his wooing that he tells Perdita, if he cannot be hers, he will never marry at all, and implores her not to look sad when so many guests are coming, but to wear as cheerful a countenance as if this was to be their wedding day. A host of shepherds and shepherdesses now come trooping in, the disguised Polixenes and Camillo among them. Ushering in his guests fussily, the old shepherd chides his adopted daughter for not being everywhere at once, like his wife on similar occasions, and bids her welcome the strangers. With modest grace, Perdita offers the strangers flowers, and Polixenes, seizing this opportunity, begins to converse with her, pointing out that different kinds of flowers do not blend together successfully. Although only half understanding his veiled allusions, the maiden lovingly discourses about her garden, disclosing, while doing so, the delicacy and purity of her mind. Her talk not only enraptures Florizel, who hovers close beside her, but wrings from Polixenes the admission that she is ‘the prettiest low-born lass that ever ran on the green sward,” and that all she says and does, smacks ‘of something greater than herself, too noble for this place.’ This opinion is shared by Camillo, who happily dubs Perdita a ‘queen of curds and cream,’ ere the music strikes up and the young people present engage in a dance. Meanwhile, their elders step aside to watch this performance, the old shepherd garrulously informing Polixenes that the swain with whom his daughter is dancing is deeply in love with her, and slyly adding that he does not think there is ‘half a kiss to choose who loves the other best.’ He also hints that the man who marries Perdita will be far better off than he expects, little dreaming that the youth he points out is Prince Florizel, and that his interlocutor is the king.
At this point, a servant enters, enthusiastically describing a peddler who has just arrived with choice wares. When this vendor is ushered in, he chants the list of the goods he has for sale with all the gusto of the bom bagman. Shepherds and shepherdesses crowd around him, chattering among themselves, calling out for various articles of apparel, and especially for ballads, for which they seem to have a particular fancy. Then, discovering one for three voices, set to a tune they know, they gaily sing it, ere the peddler renews the enumeration of his wares. It is in the midst of this lively hubbub that the servant proclaims the arrival of a party of Satyrs, who enter dancing gaily, and indulge in mad jumps which excite great admiration among the spectators. Taking advantage of the general confusion, Folixenes now addresses his son, — who does not recognise him, — and remarks that when he was young, he lavished tokens upon his lady-love, whereas the young man has bought naught for Perdita. The prince proudly rejoins that his beloved ‘prizes not such trifles as these,’ but looks to him for gifts ‘lock’d up in his heart.’ Then, seizing Perdita’s hand, he calls the stranger guest to witness that he loves this fair damsel, who satisfies his every fancy. Polixenes admits that this declaration of love sounds genuine, and, hearing Perdita timidly confess she fully returns it, the old shepherd suggests that the young couple be betrothed, promising to bestow upon his daughter a portion equal to the swain’s.
The contract is about to be sealed when Polixenes interferes, reminding them it will not be legal imless the young man’s father consent. Still protected by his disguise, he asks whether Florizel’s father is incapable or childish, only to hear the prince boast his sire enjoys better health and strength than most men of his age. When Polixenes suggests, that in that case, this father might feel offended should his son mate without consulting him, a discussion arises whether the match should be postponed. When the prince, however, insists upon an immediate betrothal, Polixenes suddenly reveals himself, declaring he will never allow this marriage, and angrily threatening to have Perdita’s beauty marred, so she may no longer bewitch his offspring. It is breathing such terrifying threats that he leaves the scene.
The king having gone, Perdita wails that, although strongly tempted to remind Polixenes that ‘the self-same sun that shines upon his court hides not his visage from their cottage but looks on all alive,’ she will now return to her ‘ewes and weep.’ Meantime, the shepherd, upon whom it has dawned, at last, that the prince has been wooing his daughter, steals out to meditate over the disgrace which threatens him, while Florizel assures Camillo he is not at all afraid of his father. Deeming it wiser, Florizel, Perdita, and both shepherds avoid the king’s sight until ‘the fury of his highness settle,’ Camillo suggests that they flee to Sicilia. By this time he feels satisfied that Perdita must be some fair princess, and declares that, when her birth becomes known, no further objection will exist to their union. For that reason he urges flight, offering all necessary aid, and pledging himself to use his influence to bring Polixenes to a better frame of mind. Overjoyed with the prospect of escaping from his father’s wrath, and especially of securing Perdita against the terrible fate threatening her, Florizel consents to depart, although he wonders how he will be received in Sicilia, when he appears there without such a train as befits his rank. While Camillo and the prince indulge in an aside, the peddler appears, gleefully soliloquising upon the fashion in which he has picked pockets and fleeced the rustics, the sheep-shearing having proved a profitable field of action for him. As he concludes, Camillo states he will pave the way by letter for Florizel’s arrival in Sicilia, and that King Leontes will doubtless plead his cause with Polixenes. Then, becoming aware of Autolycus’ presence, Camillo suggests that he and the prince change garments, which they immediately do, and that Perdita, in disguise, hurry down to the seashore to embark. Although be fancies Polixenes will pursue the fugitives, Camillo intends to accompany him, as this will give him the desired opportunity to bestow good advice upon him and revisit his native land, for whose sight he has a woman’s longing. The rogue, after listening attentively to all that is said in his presence, and watching Florizel, Perdita, and Camillo depart, shrewdly concludes the prince is meditating some iniquity, which he will further by keeping it secret. Then, the shepherd and his son re-enter, the youth urging his father to tell the king that Perdita is only a foundling and thus divert royal wrath from their heads. Overhearing them state they are bound for the palace to exhibit the garments found with Perdita, the rogue, who has uttered sundry asides, suddenly volunteers to accompany the rustic pair thither. They gladly accept this offer, as his clothes proclaim him a man of wealth and influence, a delusion he diligently fosters. But, after wringing from the simpletons the admission that there is a secret connected with Perdita which they alone can reveal, the rogue so intimidates them with descriptions of the tortures awaiting them, that they consent to follow his advice. He, therefore, proposes to smuggle them secretly on board of the prince’s ship, and there, — for a consideration, — to arrange that their confession be graciously heard. This bargain concluded, Autolycus sends the shepherd and his son on ahead, and follows them, exclaiming Fortune will not allow him to be honest.
The fifth act opens in Leontes’ palace, where one of his lords tells him that, after long years of penance, he should do as the heavens have done,’ and forgive himself. Leontes’ sadness, however, is too deep-seated for such consolations, so he assures this courtier that, remembering Hermione’s perfections, and his wrongs toward her, no joy remains for him in this world. This sad admission is overheard by Paulina, who rejoins that even if Leontes were to take the perfections of all the women in the world and mass them together, he could never create so perfect a wife as the one be killed, a statement which renews his remorse. When a courtier suggests that, as the king has no heir, he should cease mourning, and marry some new companion with whom he might spend happy days, Paulina, displeased by his advice, again urges no woman would equal Hermione, and that such a move would be vain, since the oracle asserted Leontes would have no heir until the lost child were found. Because the king has not forgotten his wife, and wishes he had followed honest Paulina’s advice sooner, he now swears he will never marry, until he can find a woman so like Hermione that he cannot detect any difference between them. They are still conversing, when the announcement is made that Prince Florizel, son of Polixenes, has landed in Sicilia with his princess, and begs to be received. This unexpected arrival amazes Leontes, who is further surprised to learn the prince is accompanied only by his wife, a princess whom the messenger enthusiastically describes as ‘the most peerless piece of earth that e’er sun shone bright on,’ thereby rousing Paulina’s ever ready jealousy on Hermione’s behalf. The moment seeming inauspicious for dwelling upon the perfections of his dead wife, Leontes proposes to forget his own griefs by welcoming the newcomers. He, therefore, bids some of his courtiers go and get them, and when Paulina murmurs that Prince Florizel and Mamillius were just of the same age, sorrowfully exclaims, ‘thou know’st he dies to me again when talk’d of.’ A moment later Florizel and Perdita are ushered in and warmly greeted by Leontes, who concludes the prince’s mother was a faithful wife, as his strong resemblance to his father leaves no doubt in regard to his parentage. Then, bidding his guests welcome, Leontes warns them they have come to a sorrowful court, for he has lost two children, who, had they lived, would have been just their age. When he proceeds to inquire for Polixenes, Florizel states how his father sent him first to Africa to secure his princess, then hither to Sicilia to visit bis friend, his suite meanwhile returning to Bohemia. Leontes has just invited the young couple to linger with him as long as they please, when a lord hurries in, bringing greetings from Polixenes, and summoning Leontes to ‘attach his son, who has his dignity and duty both cast off,’ by fleeing from Bohemia with a shepherd’s daughter. On hearing these words, Leontes eagerly inquires where the King of Bohemia may be, and is amazed to learn he has just landed in Sicilia, but is detained by a sudden encounter with Perdita’s father and brother. Concluding Camillo has betrayed him. Prince Florizel reviles him, while Perdita, who has been silent hitherto, wails that spies have been set upon them to prevent the celebration of their marriage. These words revealing that they are not yet united, Leontes inquires whether Perdita is really the daughter of a king. As Florizel only rejoins she will be when she is his wife, Leontes informs the youth he has been undutiful, and regrets his choice is not ‘so rich in worth as in beauty.’ At these words Florizel implores the humbled Perdita to remember that, although Fortune pursues them, their love is unalterable, and, turning to Leontes, begs him to plead in their favour, for his father will grant any favour his friend asks. Fascinated by Perdita, Leontes exclaims he would fain ask for her himself, when Paulina hastens to remind him that the queen at Perdita’s age was even more lovely. Insisting that Perdita strangely reminds him of his dead wife, Leontes volunteers to go and meet Polixenes, for he now feels equally friendly toward him and toward his son.
It is in front of Leontes’ palace that a dialogue next takes place between Autolycus and a gentleman, the peddler eagerly asking whether his interlocutor was present when the shepherd related his story, and exhibited what he had found in the bundle with the abandoned babe. The courtier whom he questions admits that the king and Camillo were amazed, and when another of his companions appears, eagerly inquires of him whether any further discoveries have been made. The newcomer joyfully proclaims that the oracle is fulfilled, for Leontes’ daughter is found, — news which Paulina’s steward soon confirms, stating that Hermione’s mantle and jewels were easily recognised, as well as the letter signed by Antigonus. When asked whether he witnessed the meeting between the two kings, the courtier regrets having missed it, as the good steward informs him it was a grand sight, the encounter between the father and daughter having been touching in the extreme. After describing the thanks lavished on the shepherd, — who saved the babe from death, — he repeats the clown’s account of Antigonus’ death and of the wreck of his vessel, which explains why Paulina never received any tidings of the husband she mourned so faithfully. Still, it is said, the reunion was not unmarred by sorrow, for when Perdita learned how her beautiful mother died, she wept freely, and expressed a keen desire to know what she looked like when alive. Then only Paulina revealed she had a statue of Hermione, painted by Julio Romano, of such life-like fidelity that it might be mistaken for the living queen. As both father and daughter seemed anxious to view it, Paulina invited them and all the court to visit it in her country house on the morrow. While the rest now leave, the peddler lingers upon the scene, congratulating himself upon having brought the old shepherd and his son to Sicilia, but regretting that seasickness prevented an earlier revelation of their secret, as he would then have reaped the benefit of Florizel’s gratitude. While he is soliloquising, he is joined by the shepherd and his son, the latter glorying in the title of gentleman, which has just been bestowed upon him, and in regard to which he accepts the peddler’s mock homage. The last scene is played in the chapel of a deserted house, which Paulina has secretly visited twice a day for years. The royal party are ushered in, while the king is thanking his hostess for all she has done for him and his, and expressing eagerness to behold her wonderful statue. After assuring him that this work of art is so lifelike it has to be kept apart, Paulina draws aside a curtain, and reveals the living Hermione, standing on a pedestal, as if she were a statue. Such is the effect produced, that silence reigns, and it is only when invited to express his opinion that Leontes, full of remorse, implores the image to speak, were it even to chide him. Then he pronounces it a perfect likeness of his queen, although somewhat older than when he last saw her. Hearing this, Paulina avers the sculptor wisely represented Hermione as she would have been had she lived among them until now. While lost in contemplation of this wonderful likeness, Leontes murmurs Hermione looked thus when he wooed her, and that he is more remorseful than ever for his vile suspicions. Meanwhile, Perdita, also overcome by the sight, craves permission to kiss the statue’s hand, but Paulina objects that the colors are not yet dry, and that hence it cannot be touched. While Camillo and Polixenes are offering consolations to the grieving Leontes, Paulina tries to draw the curtain, saying that the statue has so impressed them that presently they will imagine it is moving. But Leontes beseeches her to let him gaze upon his wife’s image a while longer, exclaiming that the blood seems to circulate in its veins, and that its lips and eyes are alive. When Paulina again tries to hide her masterpiece, he restrains her, declaring he must embrace his wife, although Paulina forbids. Then, seeing she cannot entice him away, the hostess suddenly exclaims if he is sufficiently prepared for a great surprise, she will, by lawful magic arts, induce the statue to descend from its pedestal and take him by the hand.
Eager for such a revelation of magic power, Leontes urges her to make use of it; so, after soft music has been played, Paulina bids the statue step down among them. At her command Hermione advances toward them, silently offering her hand to Leontes, who no sooner touches it than he discovers it is warm! A moment later, his beloved wife is clasped in his arms, and Paulina assures the wondering Polixenes and Camillo that Hermione is indeed alive, although she has been deemed dead so many years.
The recognition between husband and wife over, Paulina urges Perdita to claim her mother’s blessing, which blessing Hermione joyfully bestows, stating she has lived in hopes of seeing this beloved child, as Paulina has sustained her courage by constantly repeating Apollo’s oracle.
The faithful Paulina now urges her guests to leave her and enjoy their happiness, for she alone still has cause to grieve, having just learned how her husband was devoured by the bear. Unwilling that any one should sorrow while he is joyful, Leontes bestows Paulina upon the faithful Camillo, knowing two such worthy people will be happy together. Then, turning toward friend and wife, who dare not look at each other, he humbly begs their pardon for having suspected them of wrong-doing, welcomes his new son-in-law, and departs with all present, remarking that they will question each other at leisure, and thus make up the gap of time ‘since first we were dissever’d.’ With these words the curtain falls.

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