The Winter’s Tale
How we cite our quotes:
My second joy
And first-fruits of my body, from his presence
I am barr'd, like one infectious. My third comfort
Starr'd most unluckily, is from my breast,
The innocent milk in its most innocent mouth,
Haled out to murder: myself on every post
Proclaimed a strumpet: with immodest hatred
The child-bed privilege denied, which 'longs
To women of all fashion; lastly, hurried
Here to this place, i' the open air, before
I have got strength of limit. Now, my liege,
Tell me what blessings I have here alive,
That I should fear to die? (3.2.5)
A defiant and eloquent Hermione explains why death wouldn’t be the worst punishment Leontes could hand out. Not only has Mammilius (the “firs-fruits of [her] body”) been stripped away from her, but her newborn infant has also been torn from her “breast” while breastfeeding. Not only that, but Hermione was denied the “child-bed privilege,” a period of time in which new mothers are supposed to be given total privacy and bed rest. (This was a huge deal in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England.) In other words, Hermione has experienced a living hell and there’s nothing Leontes could do to make her suffer more. Or so she thinks. Keep reading…
O sir, I shall be hated to report it!
The prince your son, with mere conceit and fear
Of the queen's speed, is gone.
Apollo's angry; and the heavens themselves
Do strike at my injustice.
How now there!
This news is mortal to the queen: look down
And see what death is doing. (3.2.1)
Remember when we said Hermione thought things couldn’t possibly get worse for her? Here, a servant enters the courtroom with news that Mammilius has died (ostensibly from grief over the way Leontes is treating his mother). Soon after, we’re told that Hermione has died of a broken heart (3.2.3) and Leontes spends the next sixteen years of his life repenting for the suffering he’s caused.
Let me be punish'd, that have minded you
Of what you should forget. Now, good my liege
Sir, royal sir, forgive a foolish woman:
The love I bore your queen--lo, fool again!--
I'll speak of her no more, nor of your children;
I'll not remember you of my own lord,
Who is lost too: take your patience to you,
And I'll say nothing. (3.2.5)
Even after Leontes repents for causing the death of his wife and son, it seems like Paulina goes out of her way to constantly remind Leontes of what he’s done. After a lord chastises her for reminding Leontes that Hermione is dead, Paulina says something like “Oh gosh! I’m so sorry. Please forgive me for being such a foolish and big-mouthed woman. I didn’t mean to remind you that you basically killed your wife and both your kids.” Is she serious? We don’t think so. Paulina’s mock apology seems like another excuse to torture Leontes by reminding him, again, that he’s caused the deaths of his family members and her own husband.