Act III, Scene i

Synopsis of Act III, Scene i

(The action of this scene overlaps with the last part of Act II scene iiI.)

Cleomenes and Dion – the ambassadors whom Leontes sent to consult the Oracle at Delphos – are on their way back to the king's court. They comment to each other on the beauty, solemnity and wonder of the ceremony they have witnessed, and express the hope that the message of the Oracle (which is sealed, so that its contents are secret) will prove Hermione's innocence.

Commentary on Act III, Scene i

The climate's delicate, the air most sweet This description of the beauty of Delphos and the sacred atmosphere of its temple provides a clear example of juxtaposition, making a marked contrast with the violent and unjust language and behaviour of Leontes in the previous scene.

How ceremonious, solemn and unearthly … Kin to Jove's thunder … That I was nothing The power of the gods over human affairs and behaviour is stressed here – it is a lesson that Leontes is to learn before the end of this Act.

Great Apollo / Turn all to th' best! The power of Providence to bring good out of human evil is an important theme of the play, closely linked to the idea of redemption.

So forcing faults upon Hermione, I little like We see that, along with the rest of the court, Cleomenes is sure of Hermione's innocence. Shakespeare here stresses the injustice and irrationality of Leontes' behaviour: he is alone in suspecting his virtuous queen.

Something rare / Even then will rush to knowledge Dion means some wonderful information from the Oracle; however, the most significant ‘something rare' which emerges from this situation is Perdita, who is a ‘gracious issue' in both senses of both words.

Gracious be the issue Another reference to the significance of grace as an idea in the play. (See: Spiritual re-creation.)

Investigating Act III, Scene i
  • How frequently have the gods (or goddesses, or heaven) been mentioned so far in the play?
    • Keep a log of references (looking back over the two previous Acts and continuing until the end of the play, including synonymous ideas – e.g. ‘powers divine in Act III, sc ii)
  • What is the possible effect of all the references to divine powers on the audience?
    • How might they affect the audience's potential view of the universe within which the world of the play operates?
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