Charles Lamb.

Tales of Shakespeare online

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These fair night-wandering ladies, now no longer rivals, became once
more true friends; all the unkind words which had passed were forgiven,
and they calmly consulted together what was best to be done in their
present situation. It was soon agreed that, as Demetrius had given up
his pretensions to Hermia, he should endeavour to prevail upon her
father to revoke the cruel sentence of death which had been passed
against her. Demetrius was preparing to return to Athens for this
friendly purpose, when they were surprised with the sight of Egeus,
Hermia's father, who came to the wood in pursuit of his runaway

When Egeus understood that Demetrius would not now marry his daughter,
he no longer opposed her marriage with Lysander, but gave his consent
that they should be wedded on the fourth day from that time, being the
same day on which Hermia had been condemned to lose her life; and on
that same day Helena joyfully agreed to marry her beloved and now
faithful Demetrius.

The fairy king and queen, who were invisible spectators of this
reconciliation, and now saw the happy ending of the lovers' history,
brought about through the good offices of Oberon, received so much
pleasure, that these kind spirits resolved to celebrate the approaching
nuptials with sports and revels throughout their fairy kingdom.

And now, if any are offended with this story of fairies and their
pranks, as judging it incredible and strange, they have only to think
that they have been asleep and dreaming, and that all these adventures
were visions which they saw in their sleep: and I hope none of my
readers will be so unreasonable as to be offended with a pretty
harmless Midsummer Night's Dream.


Leontes, king of Sicily, and his queen, the beautiful and virtuous
Hermione, once lived in the greatest harmony together. So happy was
Leontes in the love of this excellent lady, that he had no wish
ungratified, except that he sometimes desired to see again, and to
present to his queen, his old companion and school-fellow, Polixenes,
king of Bohemia. Leontes and Polixenes were brought up together from
their infancy, but being, by the death of their fathers, called to
reign over their respective kingdoms, they had not met for many years,
though they frequently interchanged gifts, letters, and loving

At length, after repeated invitations, Polixenes came from Bohemia to
the Sicilian court, to make his friend Leontes a visit.

At first this visit gave nothing but pleasure to Leontes. He
recommended the friend of his youth to the queen's particular
attention, and seemed in the presence of his dear friend and old
companion to have his felicity quite completed. They talked over old
times; their schooldays and their youthful pranks were remembered, and
recounted to Hermione, who always took a cheerful part in these

When, after a long stay, Polixenes was preparing to depart, Hermione,
at the desire of her husband, joined her entreaties to his that
Polixenes would prolong his visit.

And now began this good queen's sorrow; for Polixenes refusing to stay
at the request of Leontes, was won over by Hermione's gentle and
persuasive words to put off his departure for some weeks longer. Upon
this, although Leontes had so long known the integrity and honourable
principles of his friend Polixenes, as well as the excellent
disposition of his virtuous queen, he was seized with an ungovernable
jealousy. Every attention Hermione showed to Polixenes, though by her
husband's particular desire, and merely to please him, increased the
unfortunate king's jealousy; and from being a loving and a true friend,
and the best and fondest of husbands, Leontes became suddenly a savage
and inhuman monster. Sending for Camillo, one of the lords of his
court, and telling him of the suspicion he entertained, he commanded
him to poison Polixenes.

Camillo was a good man; and he, well knowing that the jealousy of
Leontes had not the slightest foundation in truth, instead of poisoning
Polixenes, acquainted him with the king his master's orders, and agreed
to escape with him out of the Sicilian dominions; and Polixenes, with
the assistance of Camillo, arrived safe in his own kingdom of Bohemia,
where Camillo lived from that time in the king's court, and became the
chief friend and favourite of Polixenes.

The flight of Polixenes enraged the jealous Leontes still more; he went
to the queen's apartment, where the good lady was sitting with her
little son Mamillius, who was just beginning to tell one of his best
stories to amuse his mother, when the king entered, and taking the
child away, sent Hermione to prison.

Mamillius, though but a very young child, loved his mother tenderly;
and when he saw her so dishonoured, and found she was taken from him to
be put into a prison, he took it deeply to heart, and drooped and pined
away by slow degrees, losing his appetite and his sleep, till it was
thought his grief would kill him.

The king, when he had sent his queen to prison, commanded Cleomenes and
Dion, two Sicilian lords, to go to Delphos, there to inquire of the
oracle at the temple of Apollo, if his queen had been unfaithful to
him. When Hermione had been a short time in prison, she was brought to
bed of a daughter; and the poor lady received much comfort from the
sight of her pretty baby, and she said to it: 'My poor little prisoner,
I am as innocent as you are.'

Hermione had a kind friend in the noble-spirited Paulina, who was the
wife of Antigonus, a Sicilian lord; and when the lady Paulina heard her
royal mistress was brought to bed, she went to the prison where
Hermione was confined; and she said to Emilia, a lady who attended upon
Hermione: 'I pray you, Emilia, tell the good queen, if her majesty dare
trust me with her little babe, I will carry it to the king, its father;
we do not know how he may soften at the sight of his innocent child.'
'Most worthy madam,' replied Emilia, 'I will acquaint the queen with
your noble offer; she was wishing to-day that she had any friend who
would venture to present the child to the king.' 'And tell her,' said
Paulina, 'that I will speak boldly to Leontes in her defence.' 'May you
be for ever blessed,' said Emilia, 'for your kindness to our gracious
queen!' Emilia then went to Hermione, who joyfully gave up her baby to
the care of Paulina, for she had feared that no one would dare venture
to present the child to its father.

Paulina took the new-born infant, and forcing herself into the king's
presence, notwithstanding her husband, fearing the king's anger,
endeavoured to prevent her, she laid the babe at its father's feet, and
Paulina made a noble speech to the king in defence of Hermione, and she
reproached him severely for his inhumanity, and implored him to have
mercy on his innocent wife and child. But Paulina's spirited
remonstrances only aggravated Leontes' displeasure, and he ordered her
husband Antigonus to take her from his presence.

When Paulina went away, she left the little baby at its father's feet,
thinking when he was alone with it, he would look upon it, and have
pity on its helpless innocence.

The good Paulina was mistaken: for no sooner was she gone than the
merciless father ordered Antigonus, Paulina's husband, to take the
child, and carry it out to sea, and leave it upon some desert shore to

Antigonus, unlike the good Camillo, too well obeyed the orders of
Leontes; for he immediately carried the child on ship-board, and put
out to sea, intending to leave it on the first desert coast he could

So firmly was the king persuaded of the guilt of Hermione, that he
would not wait for the return of Cleomenes and Dion, whom he had sent
to consult the oracle of Apollo at Delphos; but before the queen was
recovered from her lying-in, and from her grief for the loss of her
precious baby, he had her brought to a public trial before all the
lords and nobles of his court. And when all the great lords, the
judges, and all the nobility of the land were assembled together to try
Hermione, and that unhappy queen was standing as a prisoner before her
subjects to receive their judgement Cleomenes and Dion entered the
assembly, and presented to the king the answer of the oracle, sealed
up; and Leontes commanded the seal to be broken, and the words of the
oracle to be read aloud, and these were the words: 'Hermione is
innocent, Polixenes blameless, - Camillo a true subject, Leontes a
jealous tyrant, and the king shall live without an heir if that which
is lost be not found.' The king would give no credit to the words of
the oracle: he said it was a falsehood invented by the queen's friends,
and he desired the judge to proceed in the trial of the queen; but
while Leontes was speaking, a man entered and told him that the prince
Mamillius, hearing his mother was to be tried for her life, struck with
grief and shame, had suddenly died.

Hermione, upon hearing of the death of this dear affectionate child,
who had lost his life in sorrowing for her misfortune, fainted; and
Leontes, pierced to the heart by the news, began to feel pity for his
unhappy queen, and he ordered Paulina, and the ladies who were her
attendants, to take her away, and use means for her recovery. Paulina
soon returned, and told the king that Hermione was dead.

When Leontes heard that the queen was dead, he repented of his cruelty
to her; and now that he thought his ill-usage had broken Hermione's
heart, he believed her innocent; and now he thought the words of the
oracle were true, as he knew 'if that which was lost was not found,'
which he concluded was his young daughter, he should be without an
heir, the young prince Mamillius being dead; and he would give his
kingdom now to recover his lost daughter: and Leontes gave himself up
to remorse, and passed many years in mournful thoughts and repentant

The ship in which Antigonus carried the infant princess out to sea was
driven by a storm upon the coast of Bohemia, the very kingdom of the
good king Polixenes. Here Antigonus landed, and here he left the little

Antigonus never returned to Sicily to tell Leontes where he had left
his daughter, for as he was going back to the ship, a bear came out of
the woods, and tore him to pieces; a just punishment on him for obeying
the wicked order of Leontes.

The child was dressed in rich clothes and jewels; for Hermione had made
it very fine when she sent it to Leontes, and Antigonus had pinned a
paper to its mantle, and the name of Perdita written thereon, and words
obscurely intimating its high birth and untoward fate.

This poor deserted baby was found by a shepherd. He was a humane man,
and so he carried the little Perdita home to his wife, who nursed it
tenderly; but poverty tempted the shepherd to conceal the rich prize he
had found: therefore he left that part of the country, that no one
might know where he got his riches, and with part of Perdita's jewels
he bought herds of sheep, and became a wealthy shepherd. He brought up
Perdita as his own child, and she knew not she was any other than a
shepherd's daughter.

The little Perdita grew up a lovely maiden; and though she had no
better education than that of a shepherd's daughter, yet so did the
natural graces she inherited from her royal mother shine forth in her
untutored mind, that no one from her behaviour would have known she had
not been brought up in her father's court.

Polixenes, the king of Bohemia, had an only son, whose name was
Florizel. As this young prince was hunting near the shepherd's
dwelling, he saw the old man's supposed daughter; and the beauty,
modesty, and queen-like deportment of Perdita caused him instantly to
fall in love with her. He soon, under the name of Doricles, and in the
disguise of a private gentleman, became a constant visitor at the old
shepherd's house. Florizel's frequent absences from court alarmed
Polixenes; and setting people to watch his son, he discovered his love
for the shepherd's fair daughter.

Polixenes then called for Camillo, the faithful Camillo, who had
preserved his life from the fury of Leontes, and desired that he would
accompany him to the house of the shepherd, the supposed father of

Polixenes and Camillo, both in disguise, arrived at the old shepherd's
dwelling while they were celebrating the feast of sheep-shearing; and
though they were strangers, yet at the sheep-shearing every guest being
made welcome, they were invited to walk in, and join in the general

Nothing but mirth and jollity was going forward. Tables were spread,
and great preparations were making for the rustic feast. Some lads and
lasses were dancing on the green before the house, while others of the
young men were buying ribands, gloves, and such toys, of a pedlar at
the door.

While this busy scene was going forward, Florizel and Perdita sat
quietly in a retired corner, seemingly more pleased with the
conversation of each other, than desirous of engaging in the sports and
silly amusements of those around them.

The king was so disguised that it was impossible his son could know
him: he therefore advanced near enough to hear the conversation. The
simple yet elegant manner in which Perdita conversed with his son did
not a little surprise Polixenes: he said to Camillo: 'This is the
prettiest low-born lass I ever saw; nothing she does or says but looks
like something greater than herself, too noble for this place.'

Pamillo replied: 'Indeed she is the very queen of curds and cream.'

'Pray, my good friend,' said the king to the old shepherd, 'what fair
swain is that talking with your daughter?' 'They call him Doricles,'
replied the shepherd. 'He says he loves my daughter; and, to speak
truth, there is not a kiss to choose which loves the other best. If
young Doricles can get her, she shall bring him that he little dreams
of'; meaning the remainder of Perdita's jewels; which, after he had
bought herds of sheep with part of them, he had carefully hoarded up
for her marriage portion.

Polixenes then addressed his son. 'How now, young man!' said he: 'your
heart seems full of something that takes off your mind from feasting.
When I was young, I used to load my love with presents; but you have
let the pedlar go, and have bought your lass no toy.'

The young prince, who little thought he was talking to the king his
father, replied: 'Old sir, she prizes not such trifles; the gifts which
Perdita expects from me are locked up in my heart.' Then turning to
Perdita, he said to her: 'O hear me, Perdita, before this ancient
gentleman, who it seems was once himself a lover; he shall hear what I
profess.' Florizel then called upon the old stranger to be a witness to
a solemn promise of marriage which he made to Perdita, saying to
Polixenes: 'I pray you, mark our contract.'

'Mark your divorce, young sir,' said the king, discovering himself.
Polixenes then reproached his son for daring to contract himself to
this low-born maiden, calling Perdita 'shepherd's brat, sheep-hook,'
and other disrespectful names; and threatening, if ever she suffered
his son to see her again, he would put her, and the old shepherd her
father, to a cruel death.

The king then left them in great wrath, and ordered Camillo to follow
him with prince Florizel.

When the king had departed, Perdita, whose royal nature was roused by
Polixenes' reproaches, said: 'Though we are all undone, I was not much
afraid; and once or twice I was about to speak, and tell him plainly
that the selfsame sun which shines upon his palace, hides not his face
from our cottage, but looks on both alike.' Then sorrowfully she said:
'But now I am awakened from this dream, I will queen it no further.
Leave me, sir; I will go milk my ewes and weep.'

The kind-hearted Camillo was charmed with the spirit and propriety of
Perdita's behaviour; and perceiving that the young prince was too
deeply in love to give up his mistress at the command of his royal
father, he thought of a way to befriend the lovers, and at the same
time to execute a favourite scheme he had in his mind.

Camillo had long known that Leontes, the king of Sicily, was become a
true penitent; and though Camillo was now the favoured friend of king
Polixenes, he could not help wishing once more to see his late royal
master and his native home. He therefore proposed to Florizel and
Perdita that they should accompany him to the Sicilian court, where he
would engage Leontes should protect them, till, through his mediation,
they could obtain pardon from Polixenes, and his consent to their

To this proposal they joyfully agreed; and Camillo, who conducted
everything relative to their flight, allowed the old shepherd to go
along with them.

The shepherd took with him the remainder of Perdita's jewels, her baby
clothes, and the paper which he had found pinned to her mantle.

After a prosperous voyage, Florizel and Perdita, Camillo and the old
shepherd, arrived in safety at the court of Leontes. Leontes, who still
mourned his dead Hermione and his lost child, received Camillo with
great kindness, and gave a cordial welcome to prince Florizel. But
Perdita, whom Florizel introduced as his princess, seemed to engross
all Leontes' attention: perceiving a resemblance between her and his
dead queen Hermione, his grief broke out afresh, and he said, such a
lovely creature might his own daughter have been, if he had not so
cruelly destroyed her. 'And then, too,' said he to Florizel, 'I lost
the society and friendship of your grave father, whom I now desire more
than my life once again to look upon.'

When the old shepherd heard how much notice the king had taken of
Perdita, and that he had lost a daughter, who was exposed in infancy,
he fell to comparing the time when he found the little Perdita, with
the manner of its exposure, the jewels and other tokens of its high
birth; from all which it was impossible for him not to conclude that
Perdita and the king's lost daughter were the same.

Florizel and Perdita, Camillo and the faithful Paulina, were present
when the old shepherd related to the king the manner in which he had
found the child, and also the circumstance of Antigonus' death, he
having seen the bear seize upon him. He showed the rich mantle in which
Paulina remembered Hermione had wrapped the child; and he produced a
jewel which she remembered Hermione had tied about Perdita's neck, and
he gave up the paper which Paulina knew to be the writing of her
husband; it could not be doubted that Perdita was Leontes' own
daughter: but oh! the noble struggles of Paulina, between sorrow for
her husband's death, and joy that the oracle was fulfilled, in the
king's heir, his long-lost daughter being found. When Leontes heard
that Perdita was his daughter, the great sorrow that he felt that
Hermione was not living to behold her child, made him that he could say
nothing for a long time, but 'O thy mother, thy mother!'

Paulina interrupted this joyful yet distressful scene, with saying to
Leontes, that she had a statue newly finished by that rare Italian
master, Julio Romano, which was such a perfect resemblance of the
queen, that would his majesty be pleased to go to her house and look
upon it, he would be almost ready to think it was Hermione herself.
Thither then they all went; the king anxious to see the semblance of
his Hermione, and Perdita longing to behold what the mother she never
saw did look like.

When Paulina drew back the curtain which concealed this famous statue,
so perfectly did it resemble Hermione, that all the king's sorrow was
renewed at the sight: for a long time he had no power to speak or move.

'I like your silence, my liege,' said Paulina, 'it the more shows your
wonder. Is not this statue very like your queen?'

At length the king said: 'O, thus she stood, even with such majesty,
when I first wooed her. But yet, Paulina, Hermione was not so aged as
this statue looks.' Paulina replied: 'So much the more the carver's
excellence, who has made the statue as Hermione would have looked had
she been living now. But let me draw the curtain, sire, lest presently
you think it moves.'

The king then said: 'Do not draw the curtain; would I were dead! See,
Camillo, would you not think it breathed? Her eye seems to have motion
in it.' 'I must draw the curtain, my liege,' said Paulina. 'You are so
transported, you will persuade yourself the statue lives.' 'O, sweet
Paulina,' said Leontes, 'make me think so twenty years together! Still
methinks there is an air comes from her. What fine chisel could ever
yet cut breath? Let no man mock me, for I will kiss her.' 'Good my
lord, forbear!' said Paulina. 'The ruddiness upon her lip is wet; you
will stain your own with oily painting. Shall I draw the curtain?' 'No,
not these twenty years,' said Leontes.

Perdita, who all this time had been kneeling, and beholding in silent
admiration the statue of her matchless mother, said now: 'And so long
could I stay here, looking upon my dear mother.'

'Either forbear this transport,' said Paulina to Leontes, 'and let me
draw the curtain; or prepare yourself for more amazement. I can make
the statue move indeed; ay, and descend from off the pedestal, and take
you by the hand. But then you will think, which I protest I am not,
that I am assisted by some wicked powers.'

'What you can make her do,' said the astonished king, 'I am content to
hear; for it is as easy to make her speak as move.'

Paulina then ordered some slow and solemn music, which she had prepared
for the purpose, to strike up; and, to the amazement of all the
beholders, the statue came down from off the pedestal, and threw its
arms around Leontes' neck. The statue then began to speak, praying for
blessings on her husband, and on her child, the newly-found Perdita.

No wonder that the statue hung upon Leontes' neck, and blessed her
husband and her child. No wonder; for the statue was indeed Hermione
herself, the real, the living queen.

Paulina had falsely reported to the king the death of Hermione,
thinking that the only means to preserve her royal mistress's life; and
with the good Paulina, Hermione had lived ever since, never choosing
Leontes should know she was living, till she heard Perdita was found;
for though she had long forgiven the injuries which Leontes had done to
herself, she could not pardon his cruelty to his infant daughter.

His dead queen thus restored to life, his lost daughter found, the
long-sorrowing Leontes could scarcely support the excess of his own

Nothing but congratulations and affectionate speeches were heard on all
sides. Now the delighted parents thanked prince Florizel for loving
their lowly-seeming daughter; and now they blessed the good old
shepherd for preserving their child. Greatly did Camillo and Paulina
rejoice that they had lived to see so good an end of all their faithful

And as if nothing should be wanting to complete this strange and
unlooked-for joy, king Polixenes himself now entered the palace.

When Polixenes first missed his son and Camillo, knowing that Camillo
had long wished to return to Sicily, he conjectured he should find the
fugitives here; and, following them with all speed, he happened to just
arrive at this, the happiest moment of Leontes' life.

Polixenes took a part in the general joy; he forgave his friend Leontes
the unjust jealousy he had conceived against him, and they once more
loved each other with all the warmth of their first boyish friendship.
And there was no fear that Polixenes would now oppose his son's
marriage with Perdita. She was no 'sheep-hook' now, but the heiress of
the crown of Sicily.

Thus have we seen the patient virtues of the long-suffering Hermione
rewarded. That excellent lady lived many years with her Leontes and her
Perdita, the happiest of mothers and of queens.


There lived in the palace at Messina two ladies, whose names were Hero
and Beatrice. Hero was the daughter, and Beatrice the niece, of
Leonato, the governor of Messina.

Beatrice was of a lively temper, and loved to divert her cousin Hero,
who was of a more serious disposition, with her sprightly sallies.
Whatever was going forward was sure to make matter of mirth for the
light-hearted Beatrice.

At the time the history of these ladies commences some young men of
high rank in the army, as they were passing through Messina on their
return from a war that was just ended, in which they had distinguished
themselves by their great bravery, came to visit Leonato. Among these

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Online LibraryCharles LambTales of Shakespeare → online text (page 3 of 23)