The Winter's Tale - William Shakespeare - ebook

The Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s very late plays, is filled with improbabilities. Before the conclusion, one character comments that what we are about to see, “Were it but told you, should be hooted at / Like an old tale.”It includes murderous passions, man-eating bears, princes and princesses in disguise, death by drowning and by grief, oracles, betrayal, and unexpected joy. Yet the play, which draws much of its power from Greek myth, is grounded in the everyday.A “winter’s tale” is one told or read on a long winter’s night. Paradoxically, this winter’s tale is ideally seen rather than read—though the imagination can transform words into vivid action. Its shift from tragedy to comedy, disguises, and startling exits and transformations seem addressed to theater audiences.

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The Winter's Tale

ByWilliam Shakespeare


Edition 2017 by David De Angelis – all rights reserved








SCENE I. Antechamber in LEONTES' palace.

Enter CAMILLO and ARCHIDAMUS  ARCHIDAMUS  If you shall chance, Camillo, to visit Bohemia, on the like occasion whereon my services are now on foot, you shall see, as I have said, great difference betwixt our Bohemia and your Sicilia.

CAMILLO  I think, this coming summer, the King of Sicilia means to pay Bohemia the visitation which he justly owes him.

ARCHIDAMUS  Wherein our entertainment shall shame us we will be justified in our loves; for indeed--

CAMILLO  Beseech you,--

ARCHIDAMUS  Verily, I speak it in the freedom of my knowledge: we cannot with such magnificence--in so rare--I know not what to say. We will give you sleepy drinks, that your senses, unintelligent of our insufficience, may, though they cannot praise us, as little accuse us.

CAMILLO  You pay a great deal too dear for what's given freely.

ARCHIDAMUS  Believe me, I speak as my understanding instructs me and as mine honesty puts it to utterance.

CAMILLO  Sicilia cannot show himself over-kind to Bohemia. They were trained together in their childhoods; and there rooted betwixt them then such an affection, which cannot choose but branch now. Since their more mature dignities and royal necessities made separation of their society, their encounters, though not personal, have been royally attorneyed with interchange of gifts, letters, loving embassies; that they have seemed to be together, though absent, shook hands, as over a vast, and embraced, as it were, from the ends of opposed winds. The heavens continue their loves!

ARCHIDAMUS  I think there is not in the world either malice or matter to alter it. You have an unspeakable comfort of your young prince Mamillius: it is a gentleman of the greatest promise that ever came into my note.

CAMILLO  I very well agree with you in the hopes of him: it is a gallant child; one that indeed physics the subject, makes old hearts fresh: they that went on crutches ere he was born desire yet their life to see him a man.

ARCHIDAMUS  Would they else be content to die?

CAMILLO  Yes; if there were no other excuse why they should desire to live.

ARCHIDAMUS  If the king had no son, they would desire to live on crutches till he had one.


SCENE II. A room of state in the same.

Enter LEONTES, HERMIONE, MAMILLIUS, POLIXENES, CAMILLO, and Attendants  POLIXENES  Nine changes of the watery star hath been The shepherd's note since we have left our throne Without a burthen: time as long again Would be find up, my brother, with our thanks; And yet we should, for perpetuity, Go hence in debt: and therefore, like a cipher, Yet standing in rich place, I multiply With one 'We thank you' many thousands moe That go before it.

LEONTES  Stay your thanks a while; And pay them when you part.

POLIXENES  Sir, that's to-morrow. I am question'd by my fears, of what may chance Or breed upon our absence; that may blow No sneaping winds at home, to make us say 'This is put forth too truly:' besides, I have stay'd To tire your royalty.

LEONTES  We are tougher, brother, Than you can put us to't.

POLIXENES  No longer stay.

LEONTES  One seven-night longer.

POLIXENES  Very sooth, to-morrow.

LEONTES  We'll part the time between's then; and in that I'll no gainsaying.

POLIXENES  Press me not, beseech you, so. There is no tongue that moves, none, none i' the world, So soon as yours could win me: so it should now, Were there necessity in your request, although 'Twere needful I denied it. My affairs Do even drag me homeward: which to hinder Were in your love a whip to me; my stay To you a charge and trouble: to save both, Farewell, our brother.

LEONTES  Tongue-tied, our queen? speak you.

HERMIONE  I had thought, sir, to have held my peace until You have drawn oaths from him not to stay. You, sir, Charge him too coldly. Tell him, you are sure All in Bohemia's well; this satisfaction The by-gone day proclaim'd: say this to him, He's beat from his best ward.

LEONTES  Well said, Hermione.

HERMIONE  To tell, he longs to see his son, were strong: But let him say so then, and let him go; But let him swear so, and he shall not stay, We'll thwack him hence with distaffs. Yet of your royal presence I'll adventure The borrow of a week. When at Bohemia You take my lord, I'll give him my commission To let him there a month behind the gest Prefix'd for's parting: yet, good deed, Leontes, I love thee not a jar o' the clock behind What lady-she her lord. You'll stay?

POLIXENES  No, madam.

HERMIONE  Nay, but you will?

POLIXENES  I may not, verily.

HERMIONE  Verily! You put me off with limber vows; but I, Though you would seek to unsphere the stars with oaths, Should yet say 'Sir, no going.' Verily, You shall not go: a lady's 'Verily' 's As potent as a lord's. Will you go yet? Force me to keep you as a prisoner, Not like a guest; so you shall pay your fees When you depart, and save your thanks. How say you? My prisoner? or my guest? by your dread 'Verily,' One of them you shall be.

POLIXENES  Your guest, then, madam: To be your prisoner should import offending; Which is for me less easy to commit Than you to punish.

HERMIONE  Not your gaoler, then, But your kind hostess. Come, I'll question you Of my lord's tricks and yours when you were boys: You were pretty lordings then?

POLIXENES  We were, fair queen, Two lads that thought there was no more behind But such a day to-morrow as to-day, And to be boy eternal.

HERMIONE  Was not my lord The verier wag o' the two?

POLIXENES  We were as twinn'd lambs that did frisk i' the sun, And bleat the one at the other: what we changed Was innocence for innocence; we knew not The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dream'd That any did. Had we pursued that life, And our weak spirits ne'er been higher rear'd With stronger blood, we should have answer'd heaven Boldly 'not guilty;' the imposition clear'd Hereditary ours.

HERMIONE  By this we gather You have tripp'd since.

POLIXENES  O my most sacred lady! Temptations have since then been born to's; for In those unfledged days was my wife a girl; Your precious self had then not cross'd the eyes Of my young play-fellow.

HERMIONE  Grace to boot! Of this make no conclusion, lest you say Your queen and I are devils: yet go on; The offences we have made you do we'll answer, If you first sinn'd with us and that with us You did continue fault and that you slipp'd not With any but with us.

LEONTES  Is he won yet?

HERMIONE  He'll stay my lord.

LEONTES  At my request he would not. Hermione, my dearest, thou never spokest To better purpose.


LEONTES  Never, but once.

HERMIONE  What! have I twice said well? when was't before? I prithee tell me; cram's with praise, and make's As fat as tame things: one good deed dying tongueless Slaughters a thousand waiting upon that. Our praises are our wages: you may ride's With one soft kiss a thousand furlongs ere With spur we beat an acre. But to the goal: My last good deed was to entreat his stay: What was my first? it has an elder sister, Or I mistake you: O, would her name were Grace! But once before I spoke to the purpose: when? Nay, let me have't; I long.

LEONTES  Why, that was when Three crabbed months had sour'd themselves to death, Ere I could make thee open thy white hand And clap thyself my love: then didst thou utter 'I am yours for ever.'

HERMIONE  'Tis grace indeed. Why, lo you now, I have spoke to the purpose twice: The one for ever earn'd a royal husband; The other for some while a friend.

LEONTES  [Aside] Too hot, too hot! To mingle friendship far is mingling bloods. I have tremor cordis on me: my heart dances; But not for joy; not joy. This entertainment May a free face put on, derive a liberty From heartiness, from bounty, fertile bosom, And well become the agent; 't may, I grant; But to be paddling palms and pinching fingers, As now they are, and making practised smiles, As in a looking-glass, and then to sigh, as 'twere The mort o' the deer; O, that is entertainment My bosom likes not, nor my brows! Mamillius, Art thou my boy?

MAMILLIUS  Ay, my good lord.

LEONTES  I' fecks! Why, that's my bawcock. What, hast smutch'd thy nose? They say it is a copy out of mine. Come, captain, We must be neat; not neat, but cleanly, captain: And yet the steer, the heifer and the calf Are all call'd neat.--Still virginalling Upon his palm!--How now, you wanton calf! Art thou my calf?

MAMILLIUS  Yes, if you will, my lord.

LEONTES  Thou want'st a rough pash and the shoots that I have, To be full like me: yet they say we are Almost as like as eggs; women say so, That will say anything but were they false As o'er-dyed blacks, as wind, as waters, false As dice are to be wish'd by one that fixes No bourn 'twixt his and mine, yet were it true To say this boy were like me. Come, sir page, Look on me with your welkin eye: sweet villain! Most dear'st! my collop! Can thy dam?--may't be?-- Affection! thy intention stabs the centre: Thou dost make possible things not so held, Communicatest with dreams;--how can this be?-- With what's unreal thou coactive art, And fellow'st nothing: then 'tis very credent Thou mayst co-join with something; and thou dost, And that beyond commission, and I find it, And that to the infection of my brains And hardening of my brows.

POLIXENES  What means Sicilia?

HERMIONE  He something seems unsettled.

POLIXENES  How, my lord! What cheer? how is't with you, best brother?

HERMIONE  You look as if you held a brow of much distraction Are you moved, my lord?

LEONTES  No, in good earnest. How sometimes nature will betray its folly, Its tenderness, and make itself a pastime To harder bosoms! Looking on the lines Of my boy's face, methoughts I did recoil Twenty-three years, and saw myself unbreech'd, In my green velvet coat, my dagger muzzled, Lest it should bite its master, and so prove, As ornaments oft do, too dangerous: How like, methought, I then was to this kernel, This squash, this gentleman. Mine honest friend, Will you take eggs for money?

MAMILLIUS  No, my lord, I'll fight.

LEONTES  You will! why, happy man be's dole! My brother, Are you so fond of your young prince as we Do seem to be of ours?

POLIXENES  If at home, sir, He's all my exercise, my mirth, my matter, Now my sworn friend and then mine enemy, My parasite, my soldier, statesman, all: He makes a July's day short as December, And with his varying childness cures in me Thoughts that would thick my blood.

LEONTES  So stands this squire Officed with me: we two will walk, my lord, And leave you to your graver steps. Hermione, How thou lovest us, show in our brother's welcome; Let what is dear in Sicily be cheap: Next to thyself and my young rover, he's Apparent to my heart.

HERMIONE  If you would seek us, We are yours i' the garden: shall's attend you there?

LEONTES  To your own bents dispose you: you'll be found, Be you beneath the sky.


I am angling now, Though you perceive me not how I give line. Go to, go to! How she holds up the neb, the bill to him! And arms her with the boldness of a wife To her allowing husband!

Exeunt POLIXENES, HERMIONE, and Attendants

Gone already! Inch-thick, knee-deep, o'er head and ears a fork'd one! Go, play, boy, play: thy mother plays, and I Play too, but so disgraced a part, whose issue Will hiss me to my grave: contempt and clamour Will be my knell. Go, play, boy, play. There have been, Or I am much deceived, cuckolds ere now; And many a man there is, even at this present, Now while I speak this, holds his wife by the arm, That little thinks she has been sluiced in's absence And his pond fish'd by his next neighbour, by Sir Smile, his neighbour: nay, there's comfort in't Whiles other men have gates and those gates open'd, As mine, against their will. Should all despair That have revolted wives, the tenth of mankind Would hang themselves. Physic for't there is none; It is a bawdy planet, that will strike Where 'tis predominant; and 'tis powerful, think it, From east, west, north and south: be it concluded, No barricado for a belly; know't; It will let in and out the enemy With bag and baggage: many thousand on's Have the disease, and feel't not. How now, boy!

MAMILLIUS  I am like you, they say.

LEONTES  Why that's some comfort. What, Camillo there?

CAMILLO  Ay, my good lord.

LEONTES  Go play, Mamillius; thou'rt an honest man.


Camillo, this great sir will yet stay longer.

CAMILLO  You had much ado to make his anchor hold: When you cast out, it still came home.

LEONTES  Didst note it?

CAMILLO  He would not stay at your petitions: made His business more material.

LEONTES  Didst perceive it?


They're here with me already, whispering, rounding 'Sicilia is a so-forth:' 'tis far gone, When I shall gust it last. How came't, Camillo, That he did stay?

CAMILLO  At the good queen's entreaty.

LEONTES  At the queen's be't: 'good' should be pertinent But, so it is, it is not. Was this taken By any understanding pate but thine? For thy conceit is soaking, will draw in More than the common blocks: not noted, is't, But of the finer natures? by some severals Of head-piece extraordinary? lower messes Perchance are to this business purblind? say.

CAMILLO  Business, my lord! I think most understand Bohemia stays here longer.


CAMILLO  Stays here longer.

LEONTES  Ay, but why?

CAMILLO  To satisfy your highness and the entreaties Of our most gracious mistress.

LEONTES  Satisfy! The entreaties of your mistress! satisfy! Let that suffice. I have trusted thee, Camillo, With all the nearest things to my heart, as well My chamber-councils, wherein, priest-like, thou Hast cleansed my bosom, I from thee departed Thy penitent reform'd: but we have been Deceived in thy integrity, deceived In that which seems so.

CAMILLO  Be it forbid, my lord!

LEONTES  To bide upon't, thou art not honest, or, If thou inclinest that way, thou art a coward, Which hoxes honesty behind, restraining From course required; or else thou must be counted A servant grafted in my serious trust And therein negligent; or else a fool That seest a game play'd home, the rich stake drawn, And takest it all for jest.

CAMILLO  My gracious lord, I may be negligent, foolish and fearful; In every one of these no man is free, But that his negligence, his folly, fear, Among the infinite doings of the world, Sometime puts forth. In your affairs, my lord, If ever I were wilful-negligent, It was my folly; if industriously I play'd the fool, it was my negligence, Not weighing well the end; if ever fearful To do a thing, where I the issue doubted, Where of the execution did cry out Against the non-performance, 'twas a fear Which oft infects the wisest: these, my lord, Are such allow'd infirmities that honesty