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.
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief ThemeTracker
Evidence, Truth, Persuasion, and Belief Quotes in The Winter's Tale
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There is no truth at all i' the oracle:
The sessions shall proceed: this is mere falsehood.
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.