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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
ACT V, SCENE 1
The scene is set once again in the palace of Sicilia. The audience witness Leontes who has repented for sixteen long years. He is accompanied by Cleomenes, Dion and Paulina. Cleomenes pleads with Leontes that he has repented enough and his long penance has redeemed him. He should forgive himself even as the gods forgive and forget human sins. Leontes says that he cannot forget his sins so easily since they have left his kingdom without an heir. Cleomenes and Dion feel that the king should marry again and provide an heir to the kingdom. But Paulina does not conform to this view. She says that there is none worthy enough to be compared to Hermione. Also, she points out that the oracle prophesied that the king will be without an heir unless the lost child be found. She asks Cleomenes and Dion not to counsel contrary to the will of God. The throne will find a suitable heir. She gives the example of Alexander the Great who left his throne to the worthiest.
Leontes feels more inclined to accept Paulina's advice. He has paid enough for not heeding to her counsel before. If only he had listened to her in the past, he wouldn't have lost his queen. He does not want another wife as he can't have one like Hermione. Paulina tells him that he must not marry anyone until she permits him. That would be when she finds someone exactly like Hermione. Leontes agrees to her condition that she would choose the queen.
A servant comes to announce that Prince Florizel has arrived with his princess and desires to see the king. Leontes is surprised by the unceremonious manner of the prince's visit. The servant says that he has come with a few male attendants only but he describes the princess as "the most peerless piece of earth". Leontes asks Cleomenes to bring the prince to him with due respect. Paulina comments that if Mamillius had been alive he would have paired with Florizel as they were born about the same time. Leontes requests her not to torture him with such reminders.
Cleomenes and others bring Florizel and Perdita to Leontes. He is struck by Florizel's resemblance to his father Polixenes. It is almost like seeing a young Polixenes. Leontes also graciously welcomes the fair Princess Perdita. Once again he remembers the loss of his son and daughter. They would have looked like Florizel and Perdita had they been alive. He had lost them due to his own insanity. Leontes repents for the deep loss of dear ones that he has suffered. He laments that his irrationality had also led to the loss of a precious friendship with Polixenes. He expresses his earnest desire to see his childhood friend presently.
Florizel says that his father sends his love and greetings but infirmity prevents him from coming in person. He introduces Perdita as a Libyan princess. He is just returning from Libya after having won her and he has dismissed the best part of his retinue from Sicilia to Bohemia. Leontes says that the Prince and the Princess are as welcome as spring is to the Earth: he prays that the gods may purify the air of Sicilia of all infection during the stay of this gracious couple.
Just then a lord comes in to inform Leontes that Polixenes is in the Sicilian city and wants his son to be arrested. The prince, contrary to his father's wishes, has run away with a shepherd's daughter. The lord also notifies him that Camillo is with Polixenes and they are interrogating Perdita's father and brother, who are in a pitiable state of fear. Leontes now questions Florizel afresh about Perdita and learns the truth. Florizel's answers indicate him to be a fearless and steadfast man. True, they are being pursued but he asserts that nothing can alter their love. He requests Leontes to be the advocate of their case. He is sure that his father loves Leontes so much that if he speaks in favor of the prince's love that Polixenes will easily concede. Leontes promises to plead his case. Paulina comments about the manner in which Leontes gazes on Perdita, and Leontes admits that he thought of Hermione as he had been looking at Perdita. Leontes asks Florizel to follow him and see how effective his pleading with Polixenes is.
The opening lines of the scene highlight Leontes' remorse and penitence. With it comes the focus on forgiveness and reconciliation - the essential features of a dramatic romance.
The question of remarriage emerges as a solution to the need for an heir to the kingdom. Paulina's remarks about Hermione are a significant preparation for the revival of Hermione. She tells the King that he ought not to marry unless he comes across another "as like Hermione as in her picture". The suggestion that Hermione may be alive is thus planted into the subconscious mind of the audience. The oracle is referred to once again: Leontes will not have an heir until the lost child is found. This is also significant preparation as the restoration of Perdita is close at hand.
Paulina continues to be the King's conscience. She tells Leontes, "she you killed / would be unparalleled". She also reminds him of his lost children. The notion that she is his conscience is brought out splendidly in Leontes' words to Paulina: "It is as bitter / upon thy tongue as in my thought." The scene is also full of dramatic irony. Seeing the prince and princess, Leontes is reminded of his own children, whereas Perdita is his own child. The audience knows what he does not himself know. He asks Florizel how Polixenes could have exposed the princess to the dreadful journey. This is ironic again as it had been none other than Leontes who had subjected the infant Perdita to a dreadful journey.
Perdita's royalty is once again suggested before it is officially revealed. The servant announcing the arrival of the couple uses glowing terms, 'the fairest', 'the most peerless piece of earth', 'the rarest' and so on for Perdita. This not only prepares for her restoration and the reconciliation that goes with it, but is a very natural acceptance of her as a princess.
This scene is full of dramatic action. The conversation about an heir is followed by the arrival of Florizel and Perdita. Before Florizel has finished with his story to Leontes the arrival of Polixenes is announced with information about the interrogation of the shepherds. All the key characters are brought to Sicilia and the stage is set for the restoration of Perdita to her parents as well as the reconciliation between Leontes and Polixenes.