Study Guide

Cymbeline, King of Britain What's Up With the Ending?

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What's Up With the Ending?

This one is a head-scratcher. In the final scene, Cymbeline and his lost children all reunite, Imogen and Posthumus make up, Cymbeline forgives Belarius for stealing his sons, and Posthumus tells Iachimo that the pretend cheating on his wife is just water under the bridge. Basically, everyone is overjoyed; it's the kind of happily-ever-after we only find in fairy tales.

It's no wonder critics sometimes call this play and Shakespeare's other romances fairy tales.

But we can't help but wonder if—just as in a fairy tale—it's all a little make-believe. Sure, miraculous reunions involving kidnapped kids and their parents or dead wives and their husbands can happen in Disney movies or kids' books, but can they happen in real life? Are we meant to take the ending at face value, or are we supposed to dig a little deeper?

We'll break it to you: this is something Shakespeare leaves up to you. He puts the wheels in motion for both interpretations to be plausible. Maybe it's just a fairy tale; maybe it's not.

So you have to ask yourself: are you the head-over-heels romantic who believes the guy will always get the girl at the end of the movie, no matter what the obstacle? Then the ending might seem really happy to. Imogen and her family will live happily ever after together in the palace, right?

Or are you the type of cynical pragmatist who thinks that in real life, no guy stands out in the rain waiting for a girl after she's trashed his heart? Then maybe Cymbeline's ending is just as problematic as the rest of the play. You decide.

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