The Winter's Tale

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Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Friendship and Love Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Order Theme Icon
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Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Theme Icon

Once Leontes is convinced that his wife has cheated on him, he makes up his mind and remains stubborn. No one can persuade him otherwise, and no proof or evidence can change his firm (but false) belief in Hermione’s infidelity. As Hermione is put on trial, and Leontes sends men to get an oracle from Delphos (which he ultimately ignores), a central concern of the early part of the play is what might count as definitive proof or evidence in Hermione’s trial. What evidence is strong enough to prove the truth, to alter Leontes’ belief? And how can anyone persuade Leontes to change his mind?

These kinds of questions pervade the play, with its many scenes of persuasion—for example, Autolcyus tricking and persuading the shepherd and his son to do as he wishes, or Cleomenes and Dion’s unsuccessful attempt to persuade Leontes to remarry, or Leontes’ persuading Paulina to marry Camillo. Through Leontes’ misguided belief in Hermione’s guilt, the play shows how strong such false beliefs can be, even in the face of reasoned persuasion and strong evidence. Leontes discounts Hermione’s own word (as well as Paulina’s) and the oracle from Delphos that declares Hermione innocent. Only after his wife and son die does he realize the error of his ways.

Later in the play, though, strong evidence is enough to alter people’s beliefs and reveal the truth, when the shepherd shows Polixenes and Leontes the bundle in which he found Perdita. This object reveals Perdita’s true identity, allows her to reunite with her father, and also allows Perdita and Florizell to marry. The plot of The Winter’s Tale is driven by repeated mistaken beliefs and acts of persuasion both successful and unsuccessful. But as the play concludes, the truth is inevitably revealed. People may adhere strongly to false beliefs and even disregard definitive evidence, the play suggests, but in the end the truth always comes out.

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Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief appears in each scene of The Winter's Tale. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Quotes in The Winter's Tale

Below you will find the important quotes in The Winter's Tale related to the theme of Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief.
Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

Press me not, beseech you, so.
There is no tongue that moves, none, none i' the world,
So soon as yours could win me: so it should now,
Were there necessity in your request, although
'Twere needful I denied it.

Related Characters: Polixenes (speaker), Leontes
Page Number: 1.2.26-30
Explanation and Analysis:

Polixenes begins this scene by saying that he must return to Bohemia, since he has been in Sicilia for nine months. He thanks Leontes, who is like a brother, for his hospitality, but says he must part. Leontes asks his friend to stay longer, but Polixenes refuses.

Here Polixenes tells Leontes to drop it, saying that no one could possibly convince him more easily than Leontes, but in this situation, Polixenes must decline by necessity. The Bohemian king is extremely firm in his denial, and his insistence that no one ("no tongue that moves") could persuade him will act as fuel for Leontes' suspicions when Polixenes ultimately becomes convinced to stay. Note the repetition of the word none to enhance the surprising effect of Hermione's successful persuasion moments later.


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Too hot, too hot!
To mingle friendship far is mingling bloods.
I have tremor cordis on me: my heart dances;
But not for joy; not joy. This entertainment
May a free face put on, derive a liberty
From heartiness, from bounty, fertile bosom,
And well become the agent; 't may, I grant;
But to be paddling palms and pinching fingers,
As now they are, and making practised smiles
As in a looking-glass, and then to sigh, as 'twere
The mort o' the deer; O, that is entertainment
My bosom likes not, nor my brows! Mamillius,
Art thou my boy?

Related Characters: Leontes (speaker), Polixenes, Hermione
Page Number: 1.2.139-151
Explanation and Analysis:

When Polixenes and Hermione return from their side conversation, Leontes asks if his friend has yet been convinced; upon learning that Hermione has been successful, Leontes tells her that the only time she spoke to better purpose was the day she pledged her love for him. Leontes doesn't appear to be upset that his wife was able to persuade Polixenes when he was not, even though Polixenes assured Leontes (as in the quote above) that no other tongue could possibly convince him more easily.

When Hermione gives Polixenes her hand, however, Leontes suddenly snaps. He is immediately possessed by jealousy, based only on the evidence of brief hand holding. In an aside, he exclaims, "Too hot, too hot!" The gesture is excessive, and to him seems absolute proof of his wife's guilt. He believes the two seem too familiar, and describes in detail the way they are holding hands, "paddling palms and pinching fingers," all the while making "practised smiles" like they might make in a mirror to appear genuine. Such "entertainment" does not sit well with Leontes, who has worked himself into such a jealous frenzy that at the end of these lines he questions if his son Mamillius is even his own.

Ha' not you seen, Camillo, —
But that's past doubt, you have, or your eye-glass
Is thicker than a cuckold's horn, —or heard, —
—For to a vision so apparent rumour
Cannot be mute, —or thought, —for cogitation
Resides not in that man that does not think, —
My wife is slippery?

Related Characters: Leontes (speaker), Polixenes, Hermione, Camillo
Page Number: 1.2.329-335
Explanation and Analysis:

Leontes has sent Polixenes and Hermione off on a walk; he is now utterly convinced of his wife's infidelity, and believes that everyone in court has known all along. Leontes asks Camillio why he thinks Hermione was able to convince Polixenes to stay, trying to draw the truth out of him. When the confused Camillo does not play along, Leontes speaks the excerpted lines, wondering if Camillo really has not seen what is so plain to him.

He asks, "have you not seen, Camillo"—but stops himself since it is so obvious that he must have seen, unless his "eye-glass / Is thicker than a cuckold's horn." (A cuckold is a term for someone whose spouse cheats on them, often described as wearing figurative horns.) If he hasn't seen, Leontes says, he must have at least heard about the infidelity, since rumors must spread from "a vision so apparent." Leontes goes as far as to say that simply thinking about it will yield the truth, and only a man who does not think would disagree with his conclusions. The single vision, grounded in sight, of the pair holding hands has thus spread to the ear and to thought and become evidence that amounts to absolute proof that Hermione is "slippery."

Is whispering nothing?
Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses?
Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career
Of laughing with a sigh? —a note infallible
Of breaking honesty —horsing foot on foot?
Skulking in corners? wishing clocks more swift?
Hours, minutes? noon, midnight? and all eyes
Blind with the pin and web but theirs, theirs only
That would unseen be wicked? is this nothing?
Why, then the world and all that's in't is nothing;
The covering sky is nothing; Bohemia nothing;
My wife is nothing; nor nothing have these nothings,
If this be nothing.

Related Characters: Leontes (speaker), Polixenes, Hermione
Page Number: 1.2.346-359
Explanation and Analysis:

To Leontes' assertion that Hermione is slippery, Camillo responds that Hermione is innocent, and that Leontes has never said anything less appropriate than such a false accusation. But Leontes is absolutely convinced, obsessed, and infuriated. Already certain, he looks back on examples of the close friendship between Hermione and Polixenes and retroactively attributes sexual undertones and signs of infidelity to them.

He begins "Is whispering nothing?" suggesting that the two have been known to whisper. He continues listing their supposed behaviors, questioning if any of them could really be nothing. Being close physically? Meeting noses? Kissing? Laughing together? The list goes on to include a romantic desire for time to speed up (note that the obsessed Leontes breaks time down into its deviations and specific hours), and the desire for all eyes to be blind but those of the supposed lovers, so they can act freely while remaining unseen. He asks is all of this nothing?

If so, Leontes concludes that the world and all that it contains is nothing, that the sky is nothing, Bohemia is noting, Hermione is nothing, nothing is nothing if these signs are not proof of what he knows to be true. Leontes has be come so thoroughly convinced that he feels like the fabric of the world and his very reality would cease to exist with the loss of this core belief.

Swear his thought over
By each particular star in heaven and
By all their influences, you may as well
Forbid the sea for to obey the moon
As or by oath remove or counsel shake
The fabric of his folly, whose foundation
Is piled upon his faith and will continue
The standing of his body.

Related Characters: Camillo (speaker), Leontes
Page Number: 1.2.511-518
Explanation and Analysis:

Towards the end of this long scene, Camillo is explaining to Polixenes that he has been ordered to murder him because of Leontes' rigid belief that Hermione has been unfaithful. Here, Camillo tells Polixenes just how convinced Lenotes has become. Leontes swears the truth of the infidelity "by each particular star in heaven and / By all their influences." We see that Camillo has caught the gravity of Leontes' powerful "Is this nothing?" speech, since he compares changing Leontes' mind to forbidding the sea to obey the moon. As we saw above, Camillo also notes that this "folly" has become the foundation of Leontes' faith and his very being. In other words, it is hopeless for Polixenes to try and assert his innocence, and so the best option is simply to flee.

Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

If she dares trust me with her little babe,
I'll show't the king and undertake to be
Her advocate to the loud'st. We do not know
How he may soften at the sight o' the child:
The silence often of pure innocence
Persuades when speaking fails.

Related Characters: Paulina (speaker), Leontes, Hermione, Perdita
Page Number: 2.2.46-51
Explanation and Analysis:

Paulina, the wife of the nobleman Antigonus, tries to visit Hermione in jail, but she is prevented by the guard. One of Hermione's attendants informs Paulina that Hermione has given birth to a daughter, and Paulina laments the terrible situation and the madness of Leontes that has resulted in Hermione's imprisonment. Here, she thinks of a plan to bring Leontes to his senses and help Hermione.

Paulina says that if Hermione will trust her with the newborn, she will take the baby to the King and advocate for Hermione's innocence. She believes that it is possible Leontes will "soften at the sight o' the child." Paulina says that "the silence often of pure innocence / Persuades when speaking fails." We can note two intertwined aspects of this plan to convince Leontes to release Hermione. First, note that this attempt means to use silence as opposed to language. All discussion of convincing Polixenes to stay in the first place was in terms of language and the tongue, but it has become clear that no amount of verbal reasoning or appeal can change Leontes' mind about his wife's infidelity. Second, Paulina plans to appeal with youth and innocence. Recalling Polixenes' lines about the innocent young kings, we know that youths are idealized as perfectly innocent, almost holy figures. Paulina hopes this innocence will translate from daughter to mother, aligning with the line that (according to Emilia) Hermione spoke to her baby in prison: "My poor prisoner, / I am innocent as you."

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

This sessions, to our great grief we pronounce,
Even pushes 'gainst our heart: the party tried
The daughter of a king, our wife, and one
Of us too much beloved. Let us be clear'd
Of being tyrannous, since we so openly
Proceed in justice, which shall have due course,
Even to the guilt or the purgation.

Related Characters: Leontes (speaker), Hermione, Perdita
Page Number: 3.2.1-7
Explanation and Analysis:

In a court of justice, Leontes begins this scene and the trial with another formal speech given in the royal "we" tense. He claims that it is with grief that he must preside over these proceedings, since the one being tried is "the daughter of a king, our wife, and one / Of us too much beloved." One meaning of this last statement is that it is difficult to have this trial since Leontes loves Hermione so much, but another reading is that he loved her too much, meaning that since she was unfaithful, she was deserving of less love.

Leontes then tries to absolve himself of any tyrannous behavior, claiming to openly proceed in justice, which he says must be followed no matter if Hermione is innocent or guilty. We know, however, that Leontes will not be swayed no matter what. The jealous thought has become his core belief, the ground on which his reality stands, and despite his attempts to verbally or rationally appear just, he is still acting tyrannous.

Since what I am to say must be but that
Which contradicts my accusation and
The testimony on my part no other
But what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot me
To say 'not guilty:' mine integrity
Being counted falsehood, shall, as I express it
Be so received. But thus: if powers divine
Behold our human actions, as they do,
I doubt not then but innocence shall make
False accusation blush and tyranny
Tremble at patience.

Related Characters: Hermione (speaker)
Page Number: 3.2.23-33
Explanation and Analysis:

In this long speech, Hermione proclaims her innocence, though she knows that her testimony will not be able to convince Leontes of the truth. Her testimony and language alone must change Leontes' mind, and she knows that her integrity is counted as falsehood. In other words, she knows that her testimony will not be believed, because her very integrity is under attack in the accusation. However, she remains proud, honorable, and hopeful, and she strives to tell the truth. Hermione appeals to divine powers, saying that if they happen to be observing (as she knows they do), then she knows that her innocence will end this false accusation and make "tyranny / Tremble at patience." This powerful, emotional language introduces an impressive performance in which she will compare the level of her current sadness to her consistent level of faithfulness.

For Polixenes,
With whom I am accused, I do confess
I loved him as in honour he required,
With such a kind of love as might become
A lady like me, with a love even such,
So and no other, as yourself commanded:
Which not to have done I think had been in me
Both disobedience and ingratitude
To you and toward your friend, whose love had spoke,
Even since it could speak, from an infant, freely
That it was yours. Now, for conspiracy,
I know not how it tastes; though it be dish'd
For me to try how: all I know of it
Is that Camillo was an honest man;
And why he left your court, the gods themselves,
Wotting no more than I, are ignorant.

Related Characters: Hermione (speaker), Leontes, Polixenes, Camillo
Page Number: 3.2.65-81
Explanation and Analysis:

Hermione has made her first speech of the trail, but Leontes still does not believe her. Here, Hermione gives another speech in which she attempts to differentiate romantic and platonic love. She says that she loved Polixenes "as in honour he required, / With such a kind of love as might become / a lady like" her. In other words, she loved Polixenes as a friend, as a king deserves to be loved, and furthermore as Leontes, a dear friend to Polixenes, commanded her to.

Hermione goes on to say that if she hadn't loved Polixenes in this way, it would have been actual disobedience and ingratitude, opposing the nonsensical, jealously-based infidelity she is accused of. Hermione has no idea why Camillo left court or what is going on; she maintains that she truly is innocent.

Her claim here that her friendship was non-romantic and ordered by her husband is both clever and unique. By framing the love as a duty to her husband, she masterfully reverses the accusation and seems to act as a faithful wife should. If Leontes were not so possessed by jealousy, it is possible that her argument would have worked. But its uniqueness is also a reason it might seem unbelievable. Her notion of a non-romantic friendship between man and woman would have been uncommon, perhaps even revolutionary during the Renaissance.

There is no truth at all i' the oracle:
The sessions shall proceed: this is mere falsehood.

Related Characters: Leontes (speaker)
Page Number: 3.2.151-152
Explanation and Analysis:

When Leontes refuses to be convinced, Hermione appeals to the Oracle of Apollo, which proclaims that she is chaste, Polixenes is innocent, Camillo is a true subject, and Leontes is a jealous tyrant. The Oracle also threatens that Leontes will go without an heir if the situation is not rectified ("if that which is lost is not found").

But Leontes immediately rejects the oracle, saying that there is no truth in it whatsoever, and that the prophesy is pure falsehood. Again, we see how conventional methods available to his subjects—reason, religion, appeals to his good nature with innocent children—fail to break the spell of jealousy and alert Leontes to the truth of Hermione's faithfulness. He trusts his own belief in this matter over the very words of the gods.

However, immediately following these lines, a servant informs Leontes of Mamillius' tragic death, the once promising youth having weakened and grown ill in the turmoil of his mother's accusation and trial. Hermione faints at the news, and Leontes immediately repents and cries out to Apollo that he will try to atone for his actions.

Act 5, Scene 1 Quotes

Your mother was most true to wedlock, prince;
For she did print your royal father off,
Conceiving you: were I but twenty-one,
Your father's image is so hit in you,
His very air, that I should call you brother,
As I did him, and speak of something wildly
By us perform'd before. Most dearly welcome!
And your fair princess, —goddess! —O, alas!
I lost a couple, that 'twixt heaven and earth
Might thus have stood begetting wonder as
You, gracious couple, do: and then I lost—
All mine own folly —the society,
Amity too, of your brave father, whom,
Though bearing misery, I desire my life
Once more to look on him.

Related Characters: Leontes (speaker), Polixenes, Florizell, Perdita
Page Number: 5.1.157-171
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene returns to Sicilia, and shows Leontes repenting still for his errors that led to Hermione's death. He contemplates remarrying, but says that he will never do it. A servant announces that Florizell has come with his princess unannounced; Paulina remarks that it is shame that Mamillius is not alive, since he would have been the same age as Florizell now. The lines here are Leontes' greeting to the young Bohemian prince.

He begins by saying that Florizell's mother was surely true to wedlock, immediately referencing his own error and accusation of Hermione (either by accident or design). He affirms Florizell's parentage by saying that the young prince is a "print" of his father, and that if he (Leontes) were young, he would call the prince "brother" and think he was Polixenes himself.

Leontes then greets the princess and calls her a goddess. Unknowing of either her true or false lineage, Leontes is pleased with the pair. He then returns to repenting his own folly and all that he has lost, and tells Florizell that he hopes to make amends with Polixenes someday. Here we see that time has made Leontes more wise, reserved, calm, and repentant.