When the curtain rises for the first act on an antechamber in Leontes' palace, in Sicilia, we overhear his councillor Camillo talking with a follower of the King of Bohemia. They are discussing the meeting between their masters, who, after having been brought up together, and separated for years, have been enjoying a renewal of their former friendship. They also mention the little prince of Sicilia, Mamillius, who promises to become a fine man, although at present merely an engaging child.
The second scene is played in a state apartment of the same palace, where Leontes enters with his family, guests, and train, and where Polixenes, King of Bohemia, courteously states it is time to bid his host farewell, and return to his own kingdom. Although Leontes warmly urges his friend to prolong his sojourn, his entreaties prove vain, until he turns to his wife, Hermione, suggesting she try her skill. With grace and eloquence, Hermione, at his request, uses such persuasive arguments that Polixenes finally yields, and enters into sprightly conversation with her, describing his happy youth with her husband, and his grief at their long separation.
Meantime, Leontes, perceiving his wife's persuasions have proved more efficacious than his own, exclaims she never spoke to better purpose save when he wooed her, and she consented to become his wife! This praise so elates Hermione that she prizes herself happy in having spoken twice to such good purpose that she earned a royal spouse, and a worthy friend. Her innocent joy, however, kindles the jealousy of Leontes, who suddenly fancies she is speaking too warmly of their guest. With keen suspicion he begins watching wife and guest, pretending meanwhile to play with his boy, and soon concludes they have some secret understanding. This discovery causes him such jealous pangs, that, seizing Mamillius, he questions whether he is his offspring. Although the child's marked resemblance to himself clearly proves his legitimacy,...