The Winter's Tale Act 2, Scene 2 Summary & Analysis
New! Understand every line of The Winter's Tale.Read our modern English translation of this scene.
Paulina, a noblewoman and the wife of Antigonus, tries to visit Hermione in jail, but the jailer guarding the prison will not let her in to see the queen. One of Hermione’s attendants, Emilia, comes to speak with Paulina and informs her that Hermione has given birth to a daughter. According to Emilia, Hermione takes comfort in her new child and tells the baby, “My poor prisoner, / I am innocent as you.”
Paulina tries to visit and help Hermione out of loyalty to her queen and duty toward her friend. The newborn child, as young as a child can be, represents the pinnacle of innocence, giving Hermione’s assertion serious force.
Paulina laments Leontes’ madness in throwing his pregnant wife in jail. She asks Emilia if she could bring the infant to Leontes, in the hopes that the sight of his new daughter might “soften” him, as “the silence often of pure innocence / Persuades when speaking fails.” Paulina assures Emilia that she will do her best to persuade Leontes to free Hermione, and Emilia goes to tell this plan to the queen.
Paulina hopes that Leontes will be persuaded by the sight of his own child, evidence of Hermione's fidelity and a reminder of what he should love and treasure, since he cannot be persuaded by words. The unjustly imprisoned Hermione cannot even come to speak with Paulina, who has to communicate with her via Emilia.
The jailer tells Paulina that he is not sure if he can allow the newborn child to leave the prison. Paulina tells him that the child was “prisoner to the womb” of its mother but is now free and innocent of any crime. The jailer is persuaded and agrees to let the child go with Paulina.
The jailer faces a dilemma involving his loyalty to the king’s orders and the absolute innocence of the newborn child. Paulina successfully persuades the jailer by emphasizing the child’s youthful innocence.