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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
ACT I, SCENE 1
This opening scene is set in a chamber in the palace of Leontes, King of Sicilia. Camillo, a lord in the Sicilian court, is conversing with Archidamus, a Bohemian lord. From their exchanges, the audience learns that the King of Bohemia (Polixenes) has been the guest of Leontes for the past few months.
It is further discovered that both kings have been friends from their childhood years and have continued to maintain their friendship with the interchange of gifts, letters and with visiting diplomats. Archidamus is effusive in his praise of the hospitality extended to the King of Bohemia and his retinue. He feels that when the King of Sicilia visits the following summer, the Bohemians will not be able to match the magnificent treatment presently being rendered to him. Perhaps they will resort to giving their Sicilian guests sleepy drinks so that their senses would be so numbed that even if they cannot praise, at least they would not accuse the Bohemians for the inadequacy of their hospitality.
Camillo feels that the praise has been needlessly exaggerated: this treatment from the king is only a natural outcome of a deep and lasting friendship. He prays that the heavens should continue to uphold their loving relationship. Archidamus endorses this and remarks that no malice in the world can break their friendship.
The conversation shifts to young Mamillius, Prince of Sicilia. They agree that he is a gallant and promising prince. Camillo observes that even the old and weak citizens of Sicilia wish to live long enough to see Mamillius grow into a man. However, Archidamus, the more pragmatic of the two, states that even if the King had no son, these old men would desire to live as long as possible.
This opening scene serves as an exposition of the play's setting and presents a main theme in the play: the renowned and long-lasting friendship between the King of Sicilia and the King of Bohemia. The dialogue reveals that the King of Bohemia has been a guest of the King of Sicilia, and the magnificent hospitality extended by the Sicilian King is attributed to their long and deep friendship. The conversation highlights how the friendship had started in the past and has flourished in the present and reveals that there is a discrepancy between the two kingdoms. In the conversation between the two lords, Sicilia is presented as offering many entertainments and amenities that Bohemia could not provide. They pray for its continuance.
There is dramatic irony here for the very following scene marks a disruption in their warm friendship. There is irony also in the reference to young Mamillius: it seems that Mamillius is seen as representative of the future. In him, many dreams are invested for the future of the kingdom, yet the subsequent scenes reveal the untimely death of this promising prince.