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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
ACT V, SCENE 2
The scene is set outside the palace of Leontes. Autolycus is conversing with a gentleman who claims to have been present when the 'fardel' had been opened, the contents of which had revealed the mystery of Perdita's birth. The gentleman reports that the shepherd had explained how he came by the child. It is then revealed how Leontes and Camillo had stared at each other in amazement at the preservation of Perdita. A second gentleman now joins them, who improves on the report saying that the oracle has been fulfilled and "the king's daughter is found." A third gentleman comes by, who is actually Lady Paulina's steward. He seems to know the story entirely. He explains how Queen Hermione's mantle, her jewel and Antigonus' letters, plus Perdita's resemblance to her mother, her noble carriage - all reveal with certainty that Perdita is the King's daughter. He further describes the meeting of Leontes and Polixenes and how it had been a strange mixture of joy and sorrow. Leontes leaped out of himself in exultation on seeing his daughter. Suddenly the joy had turned into sorrow and he had cried for the loss of Hermione. Expressing his grief to Perdita, he had exclaimed, "O, thy mother, thy mother." He had begged forgiveness of Polixenes, then embraced his son-in-law, thanked the old shepherd and so on. It is very difficult to report this very emotional scene, admits the gentleman.
He further answers the questions put forward by the first and second gentlemen in connection with the fate of Antigonus and the inmates of the ship. Antigonus was killed by a bear, according to the shepherd's report. Paulina has identified the handkerchief and the rings of Antigonus. In Paulina's mind too there had been a tussle between joy and sorrow. She grieves for the loss of her husband and at the same time is extremely joyous at the fulfillment of the oracle and the restoration of Perdita. He also reports how the princess had listened to the story of her mother's death. She had been so much moved by the account that whoever had been present could not but grieve over it.
Yet another piece of information given by Paulina's steward is that Paulina has had a life-like statue of Hermione carved by the Italian artist Julio Romano. All the royal personages had presently gathered at the site to admire the statue which is to be such an exquisite piece of art that one could almost speak to it and await a reply. The second gentleman declares that he suspected that Paulina had a great project at hand, for she would visit that secluded house twice or thrice a day, ever since the death of Hermione. All the gentlemen leave for Paulina's house to see the statue.
Left alone, Autolycus feels that he has played an important part in the revelation of the princess' identity and his role has not been acknowledged. It had been none other than himself who brought the shepherd and the clown on board the ship that had been sailing to Sicilia. He was the one who told the prince that they have a mysterious bundle. But the prince had been so engrossed in his beloved (who had become seasick) that he did not bother to investigate and the mystery remained unresolved.
The clown and shepherd enter, looking very different in gentlemen's clothes. They are so pleased with their new status that they can only talk about how they have become 'gentlemen'. The shepherd has been called 'brother' by the Kings and the prince himself is now the clown's brother. Autolycus, in recognition of their newfound nobility, humbles himself and requests them to pardon his faults and speak well of him to the prince. The clown promises to do his best. Even though he knows Autolycus is an immoral fellow, the clown swears that Autolycus is noble; he believes that it is a prerogative of a gentleman to swear even if he swears falsehood! Autolycus promises to make the effort to lead a good life and all leave to see the Queen's statue which is in Paulina's custody.
This very significant scene unravels the secret of Perdita's parentage to the rest of the characters. However, Shakespeare has chosen to have the whole incident take place off-stage and give the audience only the report of it, through the conversation among the three gentlemen. Autolycus listens, and the audience listens with him. They are not, however, given the privilege to witness the intensely emotional reunion. This is perhaps because Shakespeare's trump card is not Perdita's restoration but the resurrection of Hermione (in the final scene).
Again such splendid action, fit for verse, is presented in prose. However, the wonder of recognition and restoration is beautifully brought out by highlighting the inadequacy of language. The first gentleman remarks, There was speech in their dumbness, language in their very gesture." The second gentleman comments, "Such a deal of wonder is broken out within the hour, that ballad makers cannot be able to express it." The third gentleman declares, "I never heard of such another encounter, which lames report to follow it and undoes description to do it."
It is related that the King and Camillo looked "as they had heard of a world ransomed, or one destroyed." Indeed Leontes had destroyed his world initially, but paying through remorse and repentance, had also ransomed it. The amalgam of joy and sorrow is thus brought out through the report.
The last section of this scene presents the comedy of the rustics- turned-gentlemen. The clown challenges Autolycus to dare to proclaim that he is not a gentleman born; though it is only four hours since he has turned a gentleman! When the King had called the shepherd his brother and the prince had called him father, they had shed gentlemanly tears for the first time in their life! There is also a satire on the courtiers' oath, when the clown agrees to swear to the prince that Autolycus is a noble fellow.
The wonder at recognition is evident but it can be guessed that this is not the end. The dramatist throws broad hints that further wonder is in store at the chapel where Hermione's statue is to be unveiled. The royalty have assembled there already. The three gentlemen follow suit. The King's new kinsmen also prepare to go there. The curiosity of the audience is provoked in this manner. They too are taken there in the following final scene.