David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s THE WINTER’S TALE: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 3 – Act 4, Scenes 1-2

 — 3.3 —

Antigonus, who was carrying Queen Hermione’s infant daughter, and a mariner talked on the seacoast of Bohemia.

Bohemia is a landlocked country that has no seacoast. Strange things happen in Bohemia.

Antigonus asked, “You are certain then that our ship has reached a deserted part of Bohemia?”

“Yes, my lord,” the mariner replied, “and I fear that we have landed at a bad time. The skies look grim and threaten immediate storms. By my conscience, I think that the Heavens are angry at us and frown at us because of this action you are about to do.”

“May the sacred wills of the gods be done!” Antigonus said. “Go, get on board. Look after your ship. It will not be long before I return to it.”

“Make your best speed, and do not go too far into the land. The weather is likely to be loud and foul; besides, this place is famous for the animals of prey that live here.”

“Go now,” Antigonus said. “I will follow you quickly.”

The mariner replied, “I will be glad at heart when this business is over and done with.”

He exited.

Antigonus said, “Come, poor babe. I have heard, but not believed, that the spirits of the dead may walk again. If such things are true, your mother appeared to me last night, for never was a dream so much like being awake. To me came a creature, sometimes her head leaning to one side and sometimes to the other. I never saw a vessel so filled with such sorrow and so beautiful. She was wearing pure white robes and looking like the true embodiment of saintliness. She approached the ship cabin where I lay; she bowed before me three times, and while she gasped for breath to begin some speech, her eyes became two spouts of tears. When her passionate outburst of sorrow was spent, she immediately said, ‘Good Antigonus, since fate, against your better disposition, has made you the person to throw out my poor babe, according to your oath, let me tell you that Bohemia has very remote places. Take my daughter there, and then weep and leave it crying. And, because the babe is thought to be lost forever, call it Perdita, which means the lost female. Because of this ignoble business put on you by my husband, King Leontes, you shall never see your wife, Paulina, again.’ And then, with shrieks, she melted into air.

“Although I was very frightened, I did eventually collect myself and thought this was real and not only sleep. Dreams are trifles. However, for this once, yes, superstitiously, I will be ruled by this vision. I believe that Queen Hermione has died.”

He thought, If what I saw is real, and I really did see the ghost of Queen Hermione, it must be the case that she is in Purgatory and so is repenting her sins. One of those sins must be adultery. Previously, I was sure that she was innocent of adultery, but now I believe that I was wrong.

Antigonus was incorrect when he thought Queen Hermione had committed adultery; because of that, he felt that the god Apollo wanted the infant girl to be exposed to the elements. The gods often punish such mistakes.

He said, “I believe that Apollo wishes, since this baby is indeed the issue of King Polixenes, that it should here be laid, either to live or to die, upon the earth of its rightful father. You blossom, you infant girl, I hope that all may go well for you!

“Now I put you down here, and also I put down a document that states some of your history, and finally I put down a box containing gold and jewels. I hope that they, if fortune will allow it, will pay for your upbringing, pretty child, and I hope that something will remain that you will get when you come of age.

“The storm begins; poor wretch, because of your mother’s sin you are exposed to what may follow your being thrown out! Weep I cannot, but my heart bleeds; and I am most accursed because I must do this because of the oath that I swore. Farewell! The day frowns more and more. You are likely to have too rough a lullaby. I never saw the sky to be so dim by day.”

He heard the sounds of roaring and said, “A savage clamor! I hope that I can get aboard the ship!”

He saw a bear coming toward him and said, “This is the chase. I am being hunted. I am gone forever.”

He ran away, pursued by the bear. Readers who someday see the bear on stage may think it is an actor in a bear costume.

An elderly shepherd arrived and said, “I wish there were no age between sixteen and twenty-three, or that youth would sleep during those years; for there is nothing between age sixteen and age twenty-three except getting wenches pregnant, upsetting old people, stealing, and fighting — here’s an example! Would anyone but these boiled brains — hotheads — of nineteen to twenty-two years old hunt in this kind of weather? They have scared away two of my best sheep, which I fear the wolf will find sooner than I, their owner, will. If I find them anywhere, it will be by the seaside, grazing on ivy. God, send me good luck, if it be Thy will.”

He saw the baby Perdita and said, “What have we here! May God have mercy on us. It is a baby, a very pretty baby! Is it a boy or a girl, I wonder? It is a pretty one — a very pretty one. Surely, it is the result of some escapade. Although I am not bookish, yet I can read that a waiting-gentlewoman is involved in this escapade. Some man has gone up the back stairs, or hidden in a trunk, or hidden behind a door. The man and woman who created this baby were warmer than the poor thing is here. I’ll take it and raise it up out of pity for it, but I’ll tarry until my son comes; he hallooed just a moment ago.”

The old shepherd called, “Halloo!”

The old shepherd’s son, who was nicknamed “Clown,” called back, “Halloo!” He then walked to the old shepherd.

“What, are you so near? If you want to see a thing to talk about when you are dead and rotten, come here,” the shepherd said.

Seeing that his son looked excited, he asked him, “What is wrong with you, man?”

Clown replied, “I have seen two such sights, by sea and by land! But I am not able to say it is a sea because it is now the sky. In this storm, the sky and the sea are so close that you cannot thrust the point of a pin between them.”

“Tell me more,” the shepherd said.

“I wish that you could see how the sea chafes, how it rages, how it swallows up the shore! But that’s not the point. Oh, I heard the most piteous cries of the poor souls! Sometimes I could see them, and sometimes I could not see them. At one time the ship rose high and drilled the Moon with her mainmast, and then the ship sank low and was swallowed by foam and froth. The ship was stuck into the sea the way that you would stick a cork into a barrel.

“And then as for the man serving on land — I saw how the bear tore out his shoulder-bone; he cried to me for help and said his name was Antigonus and he was a nobleman. He was food served to the bear on land.

“But I also saw the end of the ship at sea. I saw the sea swallow it like a man would swallow a raisin that was floating in brandy that had been set on fire. But before the ship sank, the poor souls roared, and the sea mocked them; and I saw how the poor gentleman roared and the bear mocked him — both were roaring louder than the sea or weather.”

“In the name of mercy, when did this happen, boy?”

“Just now. I have not even blinked since I saw these sights: the men are not yet cold under water, and the bear has not half dined on the gentleman. The bear is still eating him at this moment.”

The shepherd said, “I wish that I had been near so I could have helped the old man!”

Clown, who did not believe that his father could have helped the old man, said, “I wish that you had been by the ship’s side so you could have helped her. There your charity would have lacked footing.”

Of course, no footing can be found at the top of the deep sea; in addition, a charity can lack proper footing — a foundation.

The shepherd said, “These are heavy matters, heavy matters! But look here, boy. Bless yourself now. You met with things dying, while I met with something newborn. Here’s a sight for you. Look here, this is a rich shawl in which a squire’s child would be carried to church so it can be baptized! Look here; here is a box. Pick it up, boy. Pick it up, and open it. So, let’s see what it is. I remember that I was once told that the fairies would make me rich. I think that this child is a human child that the fairies stole. What’s inside the box, boy?”

Clown replied, “Old man, you are made. You are prosperous. As long as the sins of your youth are forgiven, you will live a good life. Gold is inside the box! Lots of gold!”

“This is fairy gold, boy,” the shepherd said. “I am sure of it. Pick it up, and carry it, and let’s go home by the quickest way. We are lucky, boy; and to always continue to be so requires nothing but secrecy. It is bad luck to tell people about the gifts of the fairies. Let my sheep go. Come, good boy, let’s get home quickly.”

“You go home quickly with these things you found,” Clown said. “I’ll go see if the bear has gone away from the gentleman and how much he has eaten. Bears are never ill tempered except when they are hungry. If there is any of the gentleman left, I’ll bury it.”

“That’s a good deed,” the shepherd said. “If you can learn anything about the gentleman from what is left of him, come to me and take me to see him.”

“Indeed, I will,” Clown replied, “and you shall help me to put him in the ground.”

“It is a lucky day for us, boy, and we’ll do good deeds on it.”

 — 4.1 —

The personification of Time, an old man who was winged and carried an hourglass, said, “I, one who pleases some, tests all, brings both joy and terror to both the good and the bad, and both makes and reveals errors, now take upon myself, in the name of Time, to use my wings and fly past time.

“Do not call me a criminal or my swift passage a crime now that I am sliding over sixteen years and leaving the events of that wide gap of time undescribed, since it is in my power to overthrow law. In one and the same hour (that I myself made) I can establish and obliterate traditions. Believe that I am the same now that I have always been; I was the same before the establishment of laws and customs as I am now with the current traditions that are now in vogue.

“I witnessed the times that started civilization and the times that started the most recent traditions now reigning, and I will see the glistening of this present time grow old, as my tale will now reveal to you.

“With your permission, I turn my hourglass and start a new hour. The events that you have been reading about are now sixteen years in the past. Other events have happened that you are unaware of, as you would be if you had been asleep.

“Let us leave behind King Leontes, who has been so sorrowful over the bad consequences of his foolish jealousy that he shuts himself up.

“Now imagine, gentle readers, that I am now in fair Bohemia. Remember well that I mentioned that King Polixenes has a son, and I now reveal to you his name: Florizel.

“Speeding on, let me tell you about Perdita, whose grace has grown as much as the admiration she receives has grown.

“What happens to her I prefer not to prophesy here; instead, let Time’s news be known when it is brought forth, as it will be. A shepherd’s daughter, and what happens to her, whom and which you now will read about, is the theme of Time.

“Whether or not you have spent your time worse than you are now doing, believe that Time himself says that he wishes earnestly you never will.”

 — 4.2 —

In the palace of King Polixenes in Bohemia, the King and Camillo were speaking.

“Please, good Camillo, ask me no more about this. It makes me ill to deny you anything, but if I were to grant you your request, it would be the death of me.”

“It has been fifteen years since I last saw my country,” Camillo said. “Although I have for the greater part of my life breathed air abroad, I desire to lay my bones there. I want Sicily to be the land I am buried in. Besides, the penitent King Leontes, my master, has sent for me. I may help alleviate his distressing sorrows, or so I flatter myself to think so, which is another spur to make me seek my departure from Bohemia.”

“If you respect me, Camillo, do not wipe out the rest of your services to me by leaving me now. Your own goodness and competence have made me need you; it would have been better for me to have not had you serve me than to now be without you. You, having started some projects that no one else can sufficiently manage without your help, must either stay to execute them yourself or take away with you the very services you have done. If I have not enough rewarded you, as too much I cannot, I will take care to be more thankful to you, and my profit will be more service from you.

“Please speak no more about that fatal country, Sicily; the mere act of saying its name punishes me with the memory of that penitent, as you call him, and reconciled King Leontes, my brother, whose loss of his most precious Queen Hermione and children are even now to be freshly lamented.”

He hesitated a moment and said, “Tell me, when did you last see Prince Florizel, my son? Kings are no less unhappy when their children do not act graciously than they are in losing their children when they have proven to have virtues.”

Camillo replied, “Sir, it has been three days since I saw the Prince. What his business is that makes him happier than being here, I do not know, but I noted that he has been absent. He recently has spent much time away from court and spends less time doing his usual activities than he did formerly.”

“I have noticed that, too, Camillo,” Polixenes said, “and I have been and am worried about my son. I am worried enough that I have eyes under my service that are spying on him. From my spies I have received a report that he is seldom away from the house of a very humble shepherd, a man, they say, who from very poor circumstances, and beyond the knowledge and imagination of his neighbors, has acquired inestimable riches.”

“I have heard of such a man, who has a daughter who is said to be very remarkable,” Camillo said. “The reports of her are so widely spread that one would not think that she came from such a cottage.”

“That’s likewise part of what I learned from the reports I received,” King Polixenes replied. “She is said to be remarkable, but I fear that she is the baited fishhook that plucks our son thither.”

Concern about his son made him use the royal plural.

He continued, “You shall accompany us to the cottage, where we will, not appearing as what we are but instead wearing a disguise, have some conversation with the shepherd so we can ask him questions. Because of the shepherd’s rusticity, I think it will not be difficult to get the reason for my son’s going there.

“Please, be my partner now in this matter, and lay aside your thoughts of Sicily. Stay and help me; do not go to Sicily.”

“I willingly obey your command.”

“You are the best, Camillo! We must disguise ourselves.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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