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Catalog of the Shakespeare Art Collection  --  Watercolors of Shakespearean Characters 
~ Bastards, Frauds & Tellers of the Truth  ~

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by Hannah Tompkins

Paulina Watercolor by Hannah Tompkins


Although Paulina and her husband, the lord Antigonus,. are both in service to the court, she is more than just a waiting-lady. She is a true friend and confidant to the queen. In personal character she is akin to Emilia (in Othello), and it may be no accident that in this play another loyal gentle-woman is also called Emilia.

The play opens with an ominous drum-roll. All the fury of insane jealousy and its fatal consequences are unmanacled in the first Act. The pregnant queen, falsely accused by her husband of adultery, is imprisoned where Paulina comes to her. Paulina, as a truth-teller, takes it on herself to combat the lie. She musters all her authority and powers of persuasion to the gaoler:
Paulina: "Pray you, then, conduct me to the queen."
Gaoler : "I may not madam: To the contrary I have express commandment."
Paulina: "Here's ado, to lock up honesty and honor
From the access of gentle visitors."
She is advised by Emilia that the queen has been delivered of a baby girl and Paulina decides to take it to the king, hoping it will soften his heart. She is cautioned by the lords and servants that the king is not in a receptive mood, having spent a sleepless night.
Paulina: "I do come with words as medicinal as true,
Honest as either, to purge him from that humor
That presses him from sleep."
The king, infuriated at her audacity, blames her husband, Antigonus:
King: "What, canst not rule her?"
Paulina: "From all dishonesty he can: in this
Unless he take the course that you have done,
Commit me for committing honour, trust it,
He shall not rule me."
She pleads the case for the queen and presents the baby but the king calls her "A most intelligencing bawd." and blows a fuse.

Paulina proudly answers:
"Not so: I am as ignorant in that as you
In so entitling me, and no less honest
Than you are mad; which is enough, I'll warrant
As this world goes, to pass for honest."
"Traitors" screams the king, but Paulina hold her ground. She answers him word for word exposing him for what he is. Livid in his rage , he bellows "I'll ha' thee burnt."
"I care not: it is an heretic that makes the fire,
Not she which burns in't.
is the defiant reply she hurls at him, reminiscent of Emilia to Othello, "Do thy worst, I care not for thy sword."
He orders her out of his sight and condemns the baby to be abandoned on a foreign shore, a sentence sure as death. This assignment falls to Antigonus, who loses his life in the process.

Paulina meanwhile has given out that the queen has died and for the next fifteen years keeps her in seclusion. (Could this be an example of justifiable lies?) However, this ruse allows enough time for the king's remorse to mature and for the baby (who has been rescued by a shepherd) to grow into a beautiful princess.

In the end there is a happy reconciliation between mates, friends and lovers. Paulina's loss in the course of these events is perhaps the greatest: she lost her husband. Yet she never deviated from her proscribed orbit. Hers was an honesty seasoned with compassion. Truth-tellers, somehow make up their own zodiac.

And so ends our star-gazing of Truth-Tellers, but this is not necessarily the complete list of constellations in the Shakespearean cosmos. To go through them all here would take a Russian winter.

I leave you to your own explorations and the pleasures of personal discoveries.


Copyright © 1982 Hannah Tompkins. All rights reserved.


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