Act V, Scene iii

Synopsis of Act V, Scene iii

The scene takes place in the ‘remov'd' (i.e. distant from the court) house of Paulina in which she has, apparently, had created a statue of Hermione. Paulina draws a curtain, revealing the statue. Leontes finds it admirable, but looking older than his wife was; Paulina says it has been made to look as Hermione would if she were alive now.

Perdita kneels down before the statue, as if to ask its blessing. Hermoine as the statueLeontes feels it is almost alive. Paulina says she can make the statue move, and calls for music to awaken it. Hermione – for it is actually she, who has been hidden away by Paulina for sixteen years – steps down off the platform on which she is standing. She embraces her husband, and Leontes realises that she is really alive, and warm. Hermione then speaks to her newly-discovered daughter.

Paulina says she has fulfilled what she wished to do, and will now live quietly alone, but Leontes, who knows that Camillo has always admired her, suggests a marriage between them. He also introduces Florizel to Hermione as her future son-in-law. They all leave, to share accounts of what has happened to them in the past sixteen years.

Commentary on Act V, Scene iii

As she liv'd peerless Hermione was unequalled in her qualities when alive; this is echoed in Perdita's description as being goddess-like.

She was as tender / As infancy and grace The innocence associated with children is also associated with Hermione. See: Spiritual re-creation; Children.

Warm life / As now it coldly stands A stone statue would inevitably be cold; but warmth has been associated, particularly in the sheep-shearing scene (Act IV scene iv) with the renewal of spring and summer. As Hermione apparently comes to life, she brings re-creation and renewal. See: The seasons.

I am ashamed These three words – especially coming from a powerful king - have tremendous significance: by admitting his guilt and shame before the figure of Hermione, Leontes publicly acknowledges his sin and his mistreatment of her, showing that he is therefore ready for forgiveness and redemption.

My lord, your sorrow was too sore laid on Like the other lords in Act V scene i, Camillo says that Leontes has ‘done enough'. But Leontes is fully aware of the extent of his guilt.

As we are mock'd with art Art and nature seem one; Leontes cannot tell the difference between them. See: Ideas of nature.

It is requir'd / You do awake your faith Those gathered in Paulina's gallery feel that some witchcraft may be taking place. Paulina reassures them that there is nothing evil associated with what she is doing – but they do have to believe in the power of the divine and in miracles if they are to receive the grace they seek.

Music, awake her There was no music in the play before Act IV. It is associated throughout the play with new life and jollity - and harmony in both senses of the word. It is entirely appropriate therefore that music should ‘awaken' Hermione.

More on Shakespeare's use of music: Shakespeare uses music for similar purposes in other plays. For example, the exhausted King Lear, reunited with Cordelia, is roused from slumber by music, suggesting love and harmony with his beloved daughter.

Bequeath to death your numbness; for from him / Dear life redeems you For Shakespeare's audience, redemption from death would have had a very specific meaning: Christians believed (and believe) that by his death on the cross, followed by his resurrection from the dead, Christ redeemed sinners from death and offered eternal life. Hermione's ‘resurrection' is therefore reminiscent of that of Christ.

O she's warm! This emotive cry by Leontes both reinforces the fact that this is the real Hermione, and no statue, and also associates Hermione with all the warmth / sun / renewal imagery of Act IV.

She hangs about his neck Yet Shakespeare gives her no words to say to Leontes; she speaks only to Perdita.The prodigal returns

Our Perdita is found As elsewhere in the play, the idea of the lost one being found, representing the grace of God to sinners, is repeated. See the biblical parables of the finding of the lost sheep, finding the lost coin and the lost (or prodigal) son in Luke 15:3-32.

You gods, look down … and ... pour your graces Hermione acknowledges that they have been watched over by divine providence and accorded the gift of grace. See: Spiritual re-creation; The higher powers.

Come, Camillo, / And take her by the hand This sudden match-making by Leontes, joining Camillo and Paulina, may seem unrealistic; but thematically it is appropriate. Both are loyal servants, truth-tellers who have not been afraid to tell Leontes what he ought to hear, and together they have been instrumental in the restoration of Hermione and Perdita to Leontes.

Heavens directing As Hermione has just done, Leontes acknowledges that divine providence has been responsible for the miraculous events – in this case, the coming-together of Florizel and Perdita.

This wide gap of time Time is implicitly acknowledged as one of the significant aspects of restoration and healing. See: Time.

Investigating Act V, Scene iii
  • Consider the ‘resurrection' of Hermione:
    • Why, in your opinion, does Shakespeare decide to have Hermione hidden away for sixteen years?
    • How effective is Hermione's re-appearance at the end of the play?
    • Why might Shakespeare decide not to give Hermione any words to speak to Leontes?
  • The restoration of an heir to Leontes, as promised by the Oracle, is effected without the re-appearance of Hermione so why might Shakespeare decide to include Act V, scene 3?
    • What would the play gain or lose without this scene?
  • The first half of the play is like a tragedy, and the second half like a comedy. In your opinion, which aspect dominates – what is the mood of the play overall?
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