"Not swear it, now that I am a gentleman? Let boors and franklins say it, I'll swear it - How if it be false, son? If it be ne'er so false, a true gentleman may swear it in the behalf of his friend..."(5.2.159-161)

The situation is a wry and comical reflection upon the question of (verbal) authority: if only gentlemen can swear it is because they have the authority to do so, but the plot has made a topsy-turvy of the idea that nobility is the result of an obvious and "natural" superiority. Nevertheless, despite its humour, this is minor diversion set off by the final scene of the play - a highly dramatic and artificial reinstatement of nature.

Act 5.3

The three gentlemen's account of the discovery of Perdita was almost completely unconcerned with stage presence, and can be read without losing much of its effect. The final scene, however, has to be seen on the stage. The company have seen the other statues in Paulina's poor house, and she thanks them for the honour of their visit. Above all, however, they have come to see the statue of Hermione. Paulina prepares them,

"to see the life as lively mock'd as ever
Still sleep mock'd death" (5.3.19-20)

She draws the curtain, they are silent. Leontes admires the lifelike posture, calls upon the stone to rebuke him, as Hermione should, but reflects that it is even more like Hermione not to. Perhaps drawing closer, he remarks on the wrinkles of the statue. Pauline explains this as the sculptor's attention to detail, even carving the effects of sixteen years. Leontes still looks on and is ashamed at his own fault, his refusal to listen to Hermione that made him "more stone than it".

"O royal piece!
There's magic in thy majesty, which has
My evils conjur'd to remembrance, and
From thy admiring daughter took the spirits,
Standing like stone with thee." (5.3.38-42)

But Perdita moves to kiss the statue's hand, and has to be prevented by Paulina because ostensibly, the paint is wet. Meanwhile Leontes has clearly become himself immobilised by sorrow, because Camillo and Polixenes try to coax him out of it, Polixenes rather inappropriately calling himself "him that was the cause of this". Paulina moves to cover something that gives him so much pain, but Leontes stops her, and then seems to perceive a breath, perhaps a slight movement of the eye. Paulina threatens to draw the curtain again, to curtail this madness, but when Leontes will not let her, she hints she can do even more. Leontes' restraint is fraying, he wants to kiss the statue - "wet paint" says Paulina, and threatens once more to close the curtain, but her audience is hooked. Her next step is to exact a promise that she will not be accused of any wickedness, or magic; in return she will make the statue move and take Leontes by the hand. Leontes replies:

"What you can make her do,
I am content to look on: what to speak,
I am content to hear; for 'tis as easy
To make her speak as move" (5.3.91-93)

This echoes the rhythm and sense of Florizel's "What you do / Still betters what is done" (4.4.135ff), and it too is envelopped in ceremony, as Paulina prepares them: "It is requir'd / You do awake your faith" (5.3.95). They stand still. Music strikes up and Hermione begins to move. Perhaps Leontes starts, for Paulina tells him not to move away - "for then / You kill her double" - and to give her his hand, this time, in a repetition and reversal of their betrothal (see 1.2.101-4).

"Oh, she's warm!
If this be magic, let it be an art
As lawful as eating" (5.3.109-111)

Hermione embraces Leontes - at no point does she talk to him, and all that is left is wonder, except to suggest that Paulina marry Camillo, for she feels left out of the general happiness, her husband being dead. The false "magic" is complete, and Hermione's deception successful just as Shakespeare's has been. The play ends with Paulina leading them all away, to tell their story together at more leisure.

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