Polixenes, who has been at Leontes’s court for nine whole months, thanks his old pal for the hospitality but says it’s time for him to be getting back home – the kingdom of Bohemia’s not going to rule itself.
Leontes tries, unsuccessfully, to convince his friend to stay, but Polixenes insists there are no words that could ever convince him to remain at Leontes's court. Because Polixenes has so much work to do at home, being forced to stay in Sicily would be like “punishment.”
Leontes asks his lovely wife Hermione, the very pregnant Queen of Sicily, to convince Polixenes to stay a little while longer.
Hermione playfully says that, if Polixenes doesn’t stay in Sicily as their guest, they’re just going to have to give him a spanking or hold him “prisoner.”
After a brief but charming exchange of “I have to go home” and “No, you really don’t have to go home,” Hermione convinces Polixenes to stay on as a guest in Sicily.
Hermione then asks Polixenes to tell her about her husband’s childhood. Was he a naughty boy? she wants to know.
Polixenes says that he and Leontes had an ideal childhood together – they were so sweet and innocent, like two little “lambs” that “frisk[ed]” in the sun together – that is, until they grew up and starting having sex with women. (Get your high highlighters out, kids, because that’s important. Check out “Symbols” if you want to know why.) Hermione laughs at this and continues to banter with her guest.
Leontes, who has been out of earshot, steps in and asks if Hermione has convinced his friend to stay. When he hears that his charming wife has been successful, he’s pretty pleased.
Polixenes takes Hermione’s’ hand and the pair move out of Leontes's earshot again as Hermione continues to charm and entertain her husband’s friend.
Suddenly, Leontes (who has been watching his wife and friend engage in harmless banter) turns CRAZY jealous at the sight of Leontes and Hermione chatting it up and touching hands. Of course, Hermione is merely entertaining her husband’s childhood friend and Polixenes is being nice to his friend’s wife, but Leontes interprets their behavior as that of two secret lovers. (Bet you didn’t see that coming.)
Then Leontes turns to his young son and says “Mammilius, Art thou my boy?” (Translation: “Am I your biological father?”)
Leontes horses around with his son and calls him cute pet names like “captain” while he keeps one eye on Hermione and Polixenes. Mammilius has no idea what his dad is talking about when Leontes wonders aloud, again, if Mammilius, who looks exactly like his dad, is really his son.
Hermione and Polixenes look up and notice Leontes is suddenly in a very nasty mood but Leontes plays it off by saying that looking on his young son’s face took him back in time to his own childhood, where everything was peachy.
Leontes teases his son and encourages his wife to keep entertaining their guest, who Leontes now hates.
Camillo enters and comments on how great it is that Hermione was able to convince Polixenes to stay in Sicily, which the insanely jealous Leontes interprets as evidence that everyone in the entire court knows that his wife has been screwing around with his friend.
Leontes starts talking about how Polixenes and Queen Hermione are having a torrid affair. Camillo says he doesn’t believe it and remarks that Leontes is out of control.
When Leontes, who has gone all Othello on us, insists Hermione has been unfaithful, Camillo realizes he won’t be able to change the king’s mind. Camillo pretends to believe Leontes and agrees to poison Polixenes. But first Leontes promises he won’t hurt Hermione.
Then Polixenes walks in the room and is completely baffled when Leontes sneers at him before storming off.
Polixenes is all “What’s his problem?” and Camillo is all “I’m not allowed to tell you.”
After a lot of pussy-footing around, including an ambiguous rant about how jealousy is like a nasty disease that infects everyone around it, Camillo finally tells Polixenes that Leontes thinks he’s been sleeping with his pregnant wife.
Camillo also confesses that he’s supposed to kill Polixenes and urges him to scram before Leontes does something even crazier.
Polixenes is shocked and says that betraying his best friend would be like Judas’s betrayal of Jesus.
Brain Snack: Judas is a biblical figure who was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. Basically, he’s the guy who sold out Jesus to the Roman authorities for a bag of money, which you can read all about by going to Matthew 26:14 in the 1560/1599 Geneva Bible (the edition of the bible that Shakespeare probably read from and referred to throughout his literary career).
Polixenes convinces Camillo to help him escape back to Bohemia.
Camillo and Polixenes decide not to tell Hermione that Leontes is in a jealous rage (we have no idea why) and they run off to Leontes's ship, which is conveniently docked nearby.