Cleomines and Dion, two lords of Sicilia, who having made their pilgrimage to the oracle at Delphos, are returning to Sicilia. The oracle at Delphos have impressed them both. Moreover, they both express the hope that the message that they are delivering will undo Leontes’ proclamations and vindicate Hermione’s innocence.
Hermione is summoned as her public trial begins. An officer reads the indictment which charges Hermione of adultery and of conspiracy to kill and dethrone the King. Hermione defends herself, asking Leontes if he would deny that she had always been chaste, faithful, and honorable. When Leontes harps on the indictment, Hermione avows that her relationship with Polixenes is entirely honorable, that the charge of conspiracy is as good as a fantasy, and that as far she knows, Camillo is an honorable man whose disappearance she couldn’t possibly address as she knows nothing about it, contrary to the indictment which would accuse her of conspiring with Polixenes and Camillo. Unconvinced, Leontes promises Hermione that her punishment will be nothing less than death. Hermoine is undaunted, however, asking how she could ever find life preferable to death when all that she values about life--being in Leontes’ good graces, sharing her life with their son, and nursing and raising their new daughter--have been denied her and/or stripped away. Hermione adds that she won’t bother wasting her breath appealing for her life, and that she would gladly sumit her fate to the oracles of Delphos.
And so Cleomines and Dion are summoned. They are asked if they have fulfilled their duty, i.e. if the letter that they bring from Apollo’s priest remains sealed and its contents remain secret and unknown. They reply ’yes’ and forthwith the letter is unsealed and read. It reads that Hermione, Polixenes, and Camillo are innocent of the charges, that the King is nothing less than delusional, and that if the baby the King has gotten rid of is not found that the kingdom will be bereft of an heir. Everyone takes the oracle as a blessing, i.e. everyone except the king who discredit’s the truth of the oracle. By and by, a servant arrives to deliver terrible news: Mamillius has died, so grieved was he of his mother’s situation. At this, Hermione loses consciousness, prompting Paulina (Lord Antigonus’ wife) and others to remove the Queen to a place of comfort where she might convalesce. Realizing the gross error of his ways, Leontes vows to reconcile with Polixene and Hermione, and he laments that he could have doubted Camillo’s loyalty and faith.
Alas, the King’s determination to make things right again turns out to be a case of “too little, too late” as Paulina appears on the scene to chide, scorn, and disparage the King: The Queen is dead. Apparently, Hermione did not have the strength, what with the stress of her recent child-birth, to withstand the grief and shock caused by Mamillius’ death. Lord #1 censures Paulina for thus abusing the King, but Leontes forgives Paulina, arguing that he deserved every one of her harsh words. Presently, he orders a burial for his Queen and his son (they will be buried in tandem), and he vows to pay them his daily respects.
A Mariner tells Antigonus to hurry taking care of his business on shore as bad weather is approaching. The Mariner is certain that the bad weather has something to do with Antigonus’ commission with regards the baby and is only too glad to put it behind them as quickly as possible.
Though he doesn’t believe in dreams and ghosts, Antigonus decides to make an exception this one time. The previous night Hermione had appeared in Antigonus’ dream, telling him to abandon the baby in the wilds of Bohemia, and that for doing this that he will never see his wife Paulina again. And so he lays the baby down in the wilds of Bohemia, leaving with it a scroll and a bundle. He goes only to run as he is chased by a bear.
An old shepherd wonders how his son could have gone out hunting when the weather is so bad when he comes across an abandoned baby. Pitying the baby, he takes it up when his son, the Clown, appears. Seeing how his son is looking distressed, the Shepherd asks if anything is the matter. The Clown describes a disaster out at sea that he had witnessed, of a ship being overwhelmed by the storm and the waves, and of how the crew had died shrieking for their lives. Not only this, but he had also witnessed a gentleman being mauled by a bear, a gentleman who is certainly dead and partly eaten by now. The Shepherd is horrified but he shows his son the baby, evidence that amidst the most horrible events miracles and good tidings do occur. They both agree the baby is a boon. The son tells his father that he is going to see if he can find the gentleman’s corpse and if found to have it buried. The father agrees that that is the right thing to do.