Tired of humoring Mamillius (Hermione is pregnant), Hermione urges her ladies-in-waiting to keep him preoccupied--to no avail. Mamillius doesn’t like to be condescended to, which his how he perceives that Hermione’s ladies-in-waiting treat him. By and by, Hermione asks Mamillius to tell her a story to beguile the time. Mamillius obliges her and as he is doing so Leontes, attended by Antigonus and other Lords, approaches. Lord #1 informs Leontes of Polixenes’ and Camillo’s strange and sudden departure, which he had personally witnessed, confirming Leontes’ suspicion that there have been things going on behind his back the purpose of which could be nothing other than an attempt to steal his crown. Convinced that Hermione is one of the conspirators, Leontes puts her under arrest, accusing her of having gotten pregnant with Polixenes’ child. Though she categorically denies the accusation, Leontes refuses to budge from his position. It is no matter. Hermione stoically goes to prison, confident that the truth will set things straight and her innocence vindicated.
Both Antigonus and Lord #1 plead with the Kiing to reconsider. They both opine that the Queen is the similar of virtue, that the King has been abused by a villain, and that if the Queen is indeed guilty as charged then all women could not be trusted. Leontes maintains his position, however, informing them that he has sought counsel from the gods in Apollo’s temple and that that should ease their minds as to Leontes' accusations. Antigonus and Lord #1 are somewhat appeased by the measure.
Paulina, wife of Lord Antigonus, requests to speak with Hermione--to no avail. The jailer informs Paulina that the King has expressly forbid the Queen from receiving any visitors. She asks then that the jailer allow her to speak with one of the ladies-in-waiting, assuming that that is not against the King’s command. The jailer says ‘no’ (that that doesn’t go against the King’s command) and goes to fetch Emilia. Anon, Paulina speaks to Emilia and learns that the Queen has given birth to a healthy girl. Seeing how this may work to their advantage, Paulina asks Emilia to deliver the following message to the Queen: Paulina herself will go to the King to petition on Hermione’s behalf. She will be angry and cross with him (as the situation warrants it), and she will, if the Queen consents to it, show the King the baby and thereby soften the King’s hard-line stance. It isn’t long when Emilia goes and returns with the Queen’s new-born baby. The jailer hesitates to permit Paulina from removing the baby from prison, but Paulina’s assurance that the act is lawful and that she will vouch for the jailer’s welfare, should it come to that, convinces the jailer that the act is admissible.
Leontes has been unable to get any sleep of late and believes that he’ll be able to when Hermione’s guilt is established and her life expunged as a result. Presently, Leontes is lamenting the fact that his son, on account of his mother’s incarceration, has been sick as well when Paulina barges in despite Antigonus and Lord #1 who do their best to bar her from disturbing Leontes. A servant warns her that the King hasn’t slept of late which prompts Paulina to blame the servant for the King’s insomnia, arguing that his failure to bring the King to his senses is the cause.
Needless to say, Leontes is outraged by Paulina’s brashness and demands her immediate removal--to no avail. Defying everyone, Paulina states her case--that the Queen has been wrongfully accused and imprisoned--and shows the King the new-born baby. Despite the King’s threat to have her burned as a heretic, Paulina avows that the baby is Leonates’s and not Polixenes’, and that he would do well to take good care of the baby lest Leonates’ cruelty undermine his good name and reputation abroad. When Paulina departs, leaving the baby with the King, Leonates orders the baby to be burned immediately and blames Antigonus for backing and supporting his wife’s brash exploit. Antigonus swears that he had done no such thing which is vouched for by the all the other Lords. Indeed Lord #1 goes a step further and begs the King to commute his horrible death sentence with regards the baby. Thus petitioned by all his men, Leontes relents, granting temporary reprieve to the baby. But then he commissions Antigonus to carry out his following orders to the letter lest Leontes change his mind and have the baby killed as well as Antigonus and his wife: Antigonus is to take the baby to a remote land and leave it somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, and let chance have its way with the baby’s life. Antigonus swears to do as he has been bidden.
By and by, a servant appears to report of Cleomines’ and Dion’s arrival from Apollo’s Temple. Everyone welcomes their return as the Delphic oracles should shed some light as to the verity of the King’s accusations.