The Winter’s Tale
The Winter’s Tale
by William Shakespeare
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The Winter’s Tale Act 2, Scene 1 Summary

  • Meanwhile, Hermione hangs out with her Ladies in waiting and her young son, Mammilius.
  • Hermione asks her Ladies to entertain her precocious boy (he’s really cute but also a little out of control, so mommy needs a break).
  • Mammilius says he doesn’t want to play with the First Lady because she’s always kissing him and treating him like a baby. She, in turn, warns him that he’ll be jealous when the baby is born and none of the ladies want to play with him anymore.
  • Mammilius replies that he loves the Second Lady better.
  • After the Ladies banter and play with Mammilius for a bit, Hermione asks her son to tell a nice story. Mammilius obliges and says he knows “sad” story about goblins that’s just perfect for “winter” time. (Yep, that’s a reference to the play’s title all right. Check out “What’s Up With the Title?” if you want to know more, but come right back because we’re not done.)
  • Mammilius whispers the story into his mother’s ear.
  • Meanwhile, Leontes walks on stage with Antigonus and some other Sicilian Lords. Leontes is all riled up because Polixenes has escaped Sicily with Camillo in tow. Leontes is convinced that Polixenes and Camillo are plotting against his life and have been in cahoots for quite some time.
  • Leontes turns to Hermione and says he’s glad Hermione never breast fed their son (apparently, Mammilius had a wet-nurse) because Mammilius is already way too much like his mother.
  • (History Snack: In Shakespeare’s time, women who breastfed infants were thought to have transmitted their personal traits and characteristics to children through breast milk. Apparently, Mammilius, had a wet-nurse, which was pretty common among royalty and nobility in Shakespeare’s day.)
  • Hermione says something like “You’ve got to be joking” and Leontes orders Mammilius to be taken away from his mother and accuses the pregnant Hermione of carrying Polixenes’ baby.
  • Hermione denies Leontes's charges of adultery, says only a “villain” would accuse her of such a thing, and tells her husband that he’s making a huge mistake.
  • Leontes repeats his accusation of adultery and says Hermione is a traitor, along with Polixenes and Camillo.
  • Hermione says Leontes will be sorry when he realizes his mistake and says he owes her an apology.
  • Leontes orders Hermione away to prison. Then Hermione blames her husband’s behavior on the alignment of the planets.
  • Hermione declares her heart is heavy with grief and begs to be allowed to have her Ladies with her while she’s in jail.
  • After Hermione is carted off to the slammer, Antigonus and a Lord try to convince Leontes that he’s making a big mistake.
  • Antigonus says he’s so sure Hermione is innocent that he’d cut out his own daughters’ wombs if it turned out that Hermione was having an affair. Antigonus, who is kind of off on a weird tangent, says he’d castrate himself if it turned out that one of his own daughters turned out to be sexually promiscuous. (Yikes! Antigonus is suggesting that, if Hermione is a floozy, then all women, including his own daughters, are promiscuous too. Check out “Gender” if you want to know more.)
  • Leontes tells his men to pipe down – if they’re too stupid to realize that Hermione is an adulteress, he no longer needs their services.
  • Leontes informs his men that he has sent some guys to Apollo’s temple on the island of “Delphos,” to consult the Oracle to confirm Hermione’s guilt. In the meantime, Hermione is going to rot in jail so she can’t flee Sicily like Camillo and Polixenes.
  • FYI: In the play, the sacred island of “Delphos” (a.k.a. Delos) is linked with Delphi, a real Greek town where people often travelled to consult with Apollo’s Oracle. An oracle, by the way, is a wise person who can predict and interpret the future. In Greek mythology, Apollo appointed an Oracle to speak on his behalf since he was always being pestered by folks who wanted him to tell them what the future had in store for them.

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Previous Page: Act 1, Scene 2

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