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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
ACT V, SCENE 3
This final scene is set in the part of Paulina's house called the chapel. The entire royal party, accompanied by Camillo, have come to see the statue of Hermione. Leontes praises Paulina for her service, which has brought him great comfort. He proclaims that he and his daughter have come to see the statue of the Queen. Though they have passed through the gallery they have not seen it. Paulina affirms that Hermione was a rare and peerless lady and therefore her statue is kept separately. She tells them to behold the lifelike statue and unveils it.
It is in fact Hermione herself, posing as a statue. Leontes speaks to the statue, bidding it to chide him. Then he wonders at the wrinkles on Hermione's face since she did not look so old in real life. Paulina attributes it to the skill of the sculptor, who has imagined what she would have looked like after the passage of sixteen years. Perdita expresses her desire to kiss the hand of her mother's statue, but Paulina warns that the color is not yet dry.
Leontes grieves once again, recalling the past. Polixenes and Camillo try to console him. Paulina says that if she had known that the sight of the statue would cause him such intense grief that she would not have shown him the statue. She offers to draw the curtain but Leontes begs her not to do so: he would like to gaze at the statue for twenty years. He feels the statue has life. He wonders at the skill of the artist who had carved so fine an image. It is madness to think it is alive - yet, he confesses, the madness gives him a pleasure that reason cannot. Leontes almost feels the eyes move and the statue breathing. He asks the others not to mock him, as he is going to kiss the statue. Paulina warns that the paint on the statue's lips is still wet. Hence, he should not stain himself and mar the statue by doing so. He must leave the chapel at once or else be prepared for further wonders. She can make the statue move if she will not be criticized for practicing black magic. Leontes pleads with her to make the statue move and speak.
Paulina calls for music to awaken the statue. When music is played, she asks Hermione to be stone no more but descend from the pedestal. Gently Hermione moves and descends from the pedestal. Paulina, assured that her spell has been a holy one, asks Leontes to give Hermione his hand. Leontes obeys, thrilled that she is warm with life. Hermione does not speak but embraces him. Camillo and Polixenes want to hear her speak. Paulina asks Perdita to kneel down and seek her mother's blessing. Perdita does so and Hermione blesses her lovingly. Addressing her daughter as 'mine own', she asks her where she had been preserved all these years and how she had found her father's court. She adds that Paulina had told her that the oracle had divined that Perdita may be alive. So she had saved herself for this happy moment.
Paulina comments that there is time enough for learning about the events of all these years. Now that they all have won each other, they should share this sense of elation and enjoyment. As for herself, she would like to withdraw like a turtle, to mourn the death of her husband Antigonus. Leontes comforts her by saying that she should take a husband of his choice, just as he agreed to take a wife of her choice. He would not have to go far to seek a husband for Paulina. He offers the honorable Camillo to Paulina. His worth and honesty have been attested by two kings and he is also assured of Camillo's mind in this matter. Leontes asks both Polixenes and Hermione to pardon him for suspecting their pure relationship. He introduces Florizel to Hermione as Polixenes' son and their son-in- law. He asks 'good Paulina' to lead everyone from there so that they may leisurely exchange the happenings of the past years.
The fact that this scene is set in the chapel of Paulina's house is very apt. It suggests something divine and holy is about to occur. Paulina reinforces this when she asks if anyone will protest if she sought the help of 'wicked powers' to bring Hermione back to life. Hermione is redeemed and restored to life and to Leontes. In fact it is more than a redemption: it has the holiness of a resurrection about it.
The question of art imitating nature is highlighted once again as the statue is presented. The description of warm lips, motion in the eyes, and breath slowly reveal that this piece of 'art is life itself.'
Music features in this scene, as it does in some of the most enchanting scenes in Shakespeare. It adds to the mystic quality of the scene, suggesting the harmony vital to reconciliation. The sight of Hermione descending from the pedestal, to the background of music, appears at once dramatic and magical. It suspends the reason that might otherwise question a statue coming to life.
The theme of reconciliation and forgiveness is rounded off in a charming manner. Seeing Leontes' sorrow, Polixenes utters soothing words, offering to relive him of as much sorrow as he can. Then, Hermione embraces him without a word. The language of forgiveness is evident in her gesture.
Paulina, being offered as wife to Camillo appears a bit contrived. But an irrefutable claim is that both have been loyal and honorable in their service. In fact their very disobedience has been a sign of their loyalty to Leontes' welfare. Though there has been no preparation for this match, the dramatist does not want Paulina to be left alone.
Although a joyful scene of reunion, there is also sadness of what has come to past, the many years of separation, and the madness of Leontes which engendered the cycle of destruction and rebirth. There has been suffering in the barren life of Leontes for sixteen long years but the winter has given way to spring. Hermione, Leontes and Polixenes have grown old but Florizel and Perdita, who are in the spring of their lives, have come to give them joy and vitality. The wisdom of old age and the innocence of youth are thus admirably fused in this final scene.