Act II, Scene ii

Synopsis of Act II, Scene ii

Paulina, the wife of Antigonus, arrives at the prison where Hermione is being kept. She demands to see the queen. This is refused, but she is allowed to speak to Emilia, one of Hermione's ladies-in-waiting, who tells Paulina that Hermione has given birth to a daughter. Paulina decides that, if he were to be shown the child, Leontes would relent; she determines to take the baby to him. Emilia says Hermione has been hoping for such an action. The gaoler is nervous about allowing this, but Paulina reassures him and says she will take the responsibility.

Commentary on Act II, Scene ii

Call to him … You know me, do you not? Paulina's short, sharp commands and business-like questions immediately establish her as a strong-minded woman who will stand no nonsense. As the scene progresses, we also see that she has a strong sense of justice and morality. (See Characterisation: Paulina.)

Is't lawful..? any of them? Emilia? Again, this run of sharp questions - which begins with an almost sarcastic suggestion that the whole situation is unlawful – reveals Paulina's brisk manner and strong-minded character.

How fares our gracious lady? As in Act I, the significant term ‘gracious' is applied to Hermione, implying in this play much more than a conventional term of respect. (See: Spiritual re-creation.)

BabyI am innocent as you The child is not merely ‘innocent of a crime', but is also free of all sin except original sin. This idea of the child as representative of a virtually sinless state is important in the play (and in other of Shakespeare's Romance Plays); the loss of the child underlines the sinner's fall from grace and loss of innocence, whilst restoration of the lost child comes with the sinner's redemption and renewal of grace. (See: Children; Sin and innocence.)

These dangerous, unsafe lunes ‘Lunes' relates to the moon, though to cause occasional lunacy, or madness. Paulina here, and in the next scene, sees Leontes' jealous passion as a form of madness.

More on the passions: Shakespeare suggests that when the passions overrule the reason, chaos ensues. The idea that each person is like a little kingdom with reason (the head) governing the potentially unruly mob (the passions) is an image he uses frequently in his drama. See: Reason and passion; The chain of being.

He must be told on't, and he shall Paulina's decisive character is much in evidence here.

More on telling the truth: Paulina is also a representative of an important figure in Shakespearean drama – the truth-telling servant, who realises that it is better service to speak honestly than to flatter. The most outstanding of these is probably the Duke of Kent in King Lear.

We do not know / How he may soften at the sight o'th' child Ironic; the sight of the baby rouses Leontes to greater cruelty.

The silence of pure innocence Again the innocence of children is stressed (and the audience may perhaps remember this line when seeing the silent ‘statue' of the innocent Hermione in Act V).

Most worthy madam, / Your honour and your goodness is so evident Paulina is not simply outspoken; she is, as Emilia declares, honest and virtuous. (See Characterisation: Paulina.)

Your free undertaking cannot miss / A thriving issue In the short term, this seems to be ironic, since her undertaking leads to disaster; but in the course of the play we see the importance of Time. In the long term, Paulina's actions lead to reconciliation.

By law and process of great nature The power of nature, natural growth and renewal, are important ideas in The Winter's Tale. (See: Nature; Birth and growth.)

Investigating Act II, Scene ii

  • This scene introduces the audience to Paulina, who is to play a key role in the play.
    • What characteristics of Paulina are evident in this scene?
    • Why might Shakespeare have waited until Act II to introduce her, when she could presumably have appeared with Hermione in Act I, scene 2?

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