To your so infinite loss, so in our trifles
I still win of you. For my sake wear this.
It is a manacle of love. I'll place it
Upon this fairest prisoner. (1.1.141-144)
When Posthumus and Imogen exchange love tokens, he's got a lot to say about love. Check out the way he describes the bracelet as a "manacle" or handcuff: it's almost like he's trying to trap Imogen with it and prevent her from ever escaping him and his love. Maybe he's already feeling insecure.
It is your fault that I have loved Posthumus:
You bred him as my playfellow, and he is
A man worth any woman, overbuys me
Almost the sum he pays. (1.1.175-178)
Imogen says it's her dad's fault that she loves Posthumus. Sure, we can see that, especially considering that Cymbeline helped Posthumus out by giving him a good life and plenty of access to his daughter. Imogen might be on the money, or she could just be blowing off steam. Either way, why does growing up with Posthumus make Imogen love him? What does this tell us about love?
Hark, hark, the lark at heaven's gate sings,
And Phoebus 'gins arise,
His steeds to water at those springs
On chaliced flowers that lies;
And winking Mary-buds begin
To ope their golden eyes.
With every thing that pretty is,
My lady sweet, arise,
Arise, arise. (2.3.20-28)
Who doesn't love to be serenaded? Imogen, evidently. Say what you want about Cloten, but he really tries to be a cool guy with the princess. The thing is, he just doesn't get it: he can show his love—if it's really love—all he wants, but Imogen isn't going to love him. Burn.
Still, I swear I love you.
If you but said so, 'twere as deep with me.
If you swear still, your recompense is still
That I regard it not. (2.3.104-107)
Oh, snap! Imogen lays it out directly for Cloten. Listen up, she says: I don't love you, man, even if you say you love me. It's pretty funny stuff, but it gets us thinking: how does Cloten's love compare to Posthumus's love for Imogen?
I'll love him as my brother.—
And such a welcome as I'd give to him
After long absence, such is yours. Most welcome. (3.6.83-85)
Foreshadowing alert: Imogen really is this guy's sister. Right away, Imogen shares a special bond with Arviragus. What does this say about family bonds in this play? Are they instinctive?
I love thee—I have spoke it—
How much the quantity, the weight as much
As I do love my father. (4.2.19-21)
Guiderius agrees with his brother that Fidele is more like family than Belarius, their supposed father, is. Hmm… since his father isn't really related and Fidele is, we think Shakespeare might be pointing out how blood relations always share a strong bond with one another. How does family love compare with romantic love in this respect?
I know not why
I love this youth, and I have heard you say
Love's reason's without reason. The bier at door,
And a demand who is 't shall die, I'd say
'My father, not this youth.' (4.2.24-28)
This sounds like a life lesson to us: Arviragus tells us that love is unreasonable and strong. It sure looks that way from here, too. Family love is super solid, but what about romantic love? Is it as powerful in this play? Is it also unreasonable? Is it unreasonable in a different way?
You snatch some hence for little faults; that's love,
To have them fall no more; you some permit
To second ills with ills, each elder worse,
And make them dread it, to the doers' thrift. (5.1.12-15)
Alone on stage, contemplating life, Posthumus delivers a little zinger about love. Looks like he's learned from his horrible experience with Iachimo and wishes he could go back and save Imogen. If only there was a way he could. Why is he so willing to kill of somebody he apparently loves, or at least used to love? It seems pretty easy to switch from mad love to mad hate.
What wouldst thou, boy?
I love thee more and more. Think more and more
What's best to ask. (5.5.126-128)
In the final scene, Cymbeline seems more like a loving father than the cruel guy he's been most of the play. He clearly cares for Fidele (a.k.a. Imogen), and it's cool that we're in the know about who Fidele really is. Why did Cymbeline's "love" for the Queen obscure his love for his daughter and for others close to him? Do you think he really loved the Queen, or was it something else?
First, she confessed she never loved you, only
Affected greatness got by you, not you;
Married your royalty, was wife to your place,
Abhorred your person. (5.5.45-48)
Cornelius is like: "Your wife was totally a gold-digger." The Queen herself has admitted to going after Cymbeline only for his money and his power. Ouch. We like the way Cymbeline and the Queen's marriage contrasts with Imogen and Posthumus's, which isn't about wealth or power at all (in fact, Imogen and Posthumus seem to be okay with doing without wealth and power at all, as long as they can be together). Too bad Cymbeline couldn't see that earlier, but hindsight is 20/20, we suppose.
Dissembling courtesy! How fine this tyrant
Can tickle where she wounds! (1.1.98-99)
Don't say you weren't warned: Imogen tells us upfront that the Queen is up to no good. It's a shame her dad can't see his wife's deception. Everyone else seems to detect it within seconds of meeting her. Imogen knows her stepmother is wicked, even if she pretends not to be. Why can't Cymbeline himself see this? Is he blinded by love (or lust)?
I do not like her. She doth think she has
Strange lingering poisons. I do know her spirit,
And will not trust one of her malice with
A drug of such damned nature.
She is fooled
With a most false effect, and I the truer
So to be false with her. (1.5.40-43; 49-51)
The Queen is so confident about her smarts and her ability to lie and manipulate that she fails to consider the possibility that the doctor might outsmart her and foil her evil plans. Hey, Cornelius went to med school: he knows the Queen is lying about why she needs a potion. But he also knows he can't trust anyone with that information. He'll just have to lie low and watch out.
Be not angry,
Most mighty princess, that I have adventured
To try your taking a false report, which hath
Honored with confirmation your great judgment
In the election of a sir so rare,
Which you know cannot err. The love I bear him
Made me to fan you thus, but the gods made you,
Unlike all others, chaffless. (1.7.198-205)
Irony alert: Iachimo weasels his way into Imogen's trust by lying to her and then lying some more. Even as he blabbers on about trust, we know he's lying. This two-faced villain won't lose a bet, even if it means lying his face off. He even seems to enjoy lying, maybe because he thinks it shows how much smarter he is than everyone else. Do you think he actually is that much smarter than everyone else?
She stripped it from her arm. I see her yet.
Her pretty action did outsell her gift
And yet enriched it too. She gave it me
and said she prized it once. (2.4.128-131)
Posthumus falls for Iachimo's trick hook, line, and sinker. Once the bracelet is shown, all bets are off. Posthumus knows how important that bracelet is, so he believes Iachimo. We'd also like to point out how malicious Iachimo is when delivering the (fake) news: he adds a stinger by saying Imogen prized it—or Posthumus—once but doesn't anymore. What's the point of this? Does he just want to be "better" than Posthumus? Why bother with all of this stuff?
...be it lying, note it,
The woman's; flattering, hers; deceiving, hers;
Lust and rank thoughts, hers, hers; revenges, hers;
Ambitions, covetings, change of prides, disdain,
Nice longing, slanders, mutability,
All faults that have a name, nay, that hell knows,
Why, hers, in part, or all, but rather, all. (2.5.23-29)
It's all women's fault, Posthumus claims. He's livid at his wife for betraying him, but he takes it to the next level when he rants and rages at all womankind. The ladies are deceitful, fickle, lustful, and disdainful. Every lie comes from woman. Umm... apparently, Posthumus has never met Iachimo. Oh, wait, he has. Dramatic irony, anyone?
Men's vows are women's traitors! All good seeming,
By thy revolt, O husband, shall be thought
Put on for villainy, not born where 't grows,
But worn a bait for ladies. (3.4.56-59)
Imogen loves Posthumus, but when she reads his letter accusing her of all kinds of nasty things, she delivers a rant herself. Men seem good but really just lay out bait to trap women. She's sort of right, but she's sort of wrong: we've seen how that nasty Queen laid her own trap for Cymbeline. If people could just cool down a little, they might see that men and women can be equally nice and equally nasty to each other.
All curses madded Hecuba gave the Greeks,
And mine to boot, be darted on thee! Thou,
Conspired with that irregulous devil Cloten,
Hast here cut off my lord. To write and read
Be henceforth treacherous. Damned Pisanio
Hath with his forgèd letters—damned Pisanio— (4.2.385-391)
As if being wrongfully accursed of adultery weren't enough, now Imogen is poisoned. But we're more interested in whom she blames: she thinks Pisanio has been in on it with Cloten the whole time. He's a filthy, no good liar, right? Not right. The irony is that Pisanio is one of the only characters who is honest with her the entire time. She's acting a lot like Posthumus, who suspects Imogen instead of Iachimo when things seem to go wrong.
Wherein I am false I am honest; not true, to be true.
These present wars shall find I love my country,
Even to the note o' th' King, or I'll fall in them.
All other doubts, by time let them be cleared.
Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered. (4.3.50-54)
Poor Pisanio: he's accused of all kinds of deception, and yet he's the most trustworthy of the lot. He says he trusts that he will clear his name. No one likes to be called a liar, but Pisanio takes it in his stride; he knows the truth will set him free.
Your daughter, whom she bore in hand to love
With such integrity, she did confess
Was as a scorpion to her sight, whose life,
But that her flight prevented it, she had
Ta'en off by poison. (5.5.52-56)
Don't kill the messenger: that's what Cornelius is thinking when he delivers a laundry list of wicked deeds from the Queen to Cymbeline. Here, he uncovers all the Queen's lies. We knew she was mean, but killing the king and princess so that your son can reign? That's a whole new level of deception.
That I returned with similar proof enough
To make the noble Leonatus mad,
By wounding his belief in her renown
With tokens thus and thus; averting notes
Of chamber-hanging, pictures, this her bracelet,—
O, cunning how I got it!—nay, some marks
Of secret on her person, that he could not
But think her bond of chastity quite cracked, (5.5.236-243)
Finally the truth comes out. Iachimo gives all the deets about his totally fictional tryst with Imogen. In a play with so many lies, the final scene is pretty much entirely devoted to setting the record straight. Iachimo, we've got to say, has a lot to answer for, since he and the Queen have been the worst offenders.
O, blessèd, that I might not! I chose an eagle
And did avoid a puttock.
Thou took'st a beggar, wouldst have made my throne
A seat for baseness. (1.1.167-170)
Cymbeline hates the idea of Posthumus—a beggar, in his mind—marrying a princess. He doesn't care about love or happiness; all he wants is social hierarchy to be normal in his kingdom. That's one tall order, considering that his daughter has already married Posthumus.
When thou shalt bring me word she loves my son,
I'll tell thee on the instant thou art then
As great as is thy master; greater, for
His fortunes all lie speechless, and his name
Is at last gasp. (1.5.58-62)
It seems high social class can be handed out like candy on Halloween... according to the Queen, that is. She says she can make Cornelius high and mighty if he delivers a potion to her. It's funny that the Queen has this kind of thing her in power: she's also trying to kill people off in order to get her son on the throne. Is that kind of thing legit?
Every jack-slave hath his bellyful of
fighting, and I must go up and down like a cock
that nobody can match. (2.1.21-23)
Cloten thinks he's awesome just because he's a prince, but everyone else knows he's a tool. In fact, the lords even make fun of what he says here. A cock is a slang term for a fool, which means that Cloten's calling himself a fool without even realizing it. It's another example of lack of self-awareness that will eventually prove Cloten's undoing.
His mean'st garment
That ever hath but clipped his body is dearer
In my respect than all the hairs above thee,
Were they all made such men. (2.3.152-155)
Ouch. Imogen thinks that even Posthumus's old clothes are better than Cloten. For someone who buys into the whole class structure (and Cloten totally does), that's a big deal, especially considering that Imogen has drawn attention to clothing, one major symbol of social status. Imogen is saying that Cloten isn't even as good as a lower-class person's old clothes; she's saying the other guy's status is actually better.
I'll be revenged! 'His mean'st garment'? Well. (2.3.180)
Cloten just can't get over this one: he's been insulted before, but not like this. How dare Imogen call him worthless? He's so offended he repeats this line from Imogen three times before saying this. Is this the first time anyone told it to him straight? Probably.
must play the workman. I dare speak it to myself,
for it is not vainglory for a man and his glass to
confer in his own chamber. I mean, the lines of my
body are as well drawn as his, no less young, more
strong; not beneath him in fortunes, beyond him
in the advantage of the time, above him in birth,
alike conversant in general services, and more remarkable
in single oppositions. Yet this imperceiverant
thing loves him in my despite. (4.1.6-15)
Dressed as Posthumus, Cloten compares himself to his dreaded rival. He makes it easy for us to see that class doesn't really matter, though we should point out he's actually saying the opposite—that he's way better than his love rival. But, in doing so, we hear how similar the two men are in stature, strength, and skill. It's just their outward trappings—clothes as well as social status—that seem to differentiate them. (What's actually different about them is what's on the inside: Posthumus is a good guy, while Cloten is just a nasty piece of work.)
I am sorry for 't, not seeming
So worthy as thy birth. (4.2.123-124)
Without even realizing it, Guiderius hits a nerve with Cloten: he's said that Cloten is unworthy of being called a prince. In typical fashion, Cloten can't let this go—in fact, it's what gets him killed. If only he hadn't cared so much about his social status.
Though mean and mighty,
Rotting together, have one dust, yet reverence,
That angel of the world, doth make distinction
Of place 'tween high and low. Our foe was princely,
And though you took his life, as being our foe,
Yet bury him as a prince. (4.2.313-318)
Belarius offers us the typical view in Shakespeare's day: social class matters, big time. He thinks that even though Cloten was their enemy, he still deserves to have a burial according to his class: he was a prince, so he should be buried like one. Do you think Belarius's views have anything to do with the fact that he used to be a high-class man himself?
Thersites' body is as good as Ajax'
When neither are alive. (4.2.321-322)
Everyone is equal—when dead. Guiderius doesn't care that Cloten was a prince or anyone special. It doesn't matter, he says: we all go back into the ground, one way or another. His comparison between a lowlife soldier (Thersites) and a hero (Ajax) in the Trojan war shows that death doesn't distinguish between beggar and king.
Stand by my side, you whom the gods have made
Preservers of my throne. Woe is my heart
That the poor soldier that so richly fought,
Whose rags shamed gilded arms, whose naked breast
Stepped before larges of proof, cannot be found (5.5.1-5)
We've come full circle by the end of the play: Cymbeline is now thankful to a peasant (Posthumus) for saving the throne. Isn't it funny how the fate of the kingdom was in the hands of a bunch of poor guys? Of course, we know Guiderius and Arviragus are actually princes (as is Posthumus, if you think about it), but Cymbeline doesn't know that. In the end, inner worth seems to triumph over social class.
You gentle gods, give me but this I have,
And sear up my embracements from a next
With bonds of death. (1.1.135-137)
From the beginning, the lovers are aware of death. Posthumus promises he won't give away the ring until he's dead. In a way, that's true: he gives the ring up once he believes his marriage is dead.
There cannot be a pinch in death
More sharp than this is. (1.1.155-156)
At seeing Posthumus leave, Imogen is immediately struck with a pain greater than death—or so she thinks. It won't be too long before she knows the torment (pinch) of death herself. It's curious how she's fixated on death right away, even before her troubles really begin, as if being in love gives her a special, more immediate connection with death.
Those she has
Will stupefy and dull the sense awhile,
Which first perchance, she'll prove on cats and dogs,
Then afterward up higher. But there is
No danger in what show of death it makes,
More than the locking-up the spirits a time,
To be more fresh, reviving. (1.5.43-49)
Cornelius tells us all about the potion he's made for the Queen. We can't help but wonder why we're given this description: could it be a foreshadowing of what will happen later in the play?
BELARIUS, as Morgan
Great griefs, I see, med'cine the less, for Cloten
Is quite forgot. (4.2.310-311)
It's funny how nothing seems quite so bad in comparison to death. Belarius isn't over the surprise and emotion of Cloten's death and then—boom: Fidele's death puts it into perspective.
GUIDERIUS, as Polydor
Fear no more the heat o' th' sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages.
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust. (4.2.331-336)
Guiderius mourns Fidele with a song that describes how death is comforting. There's no more fear, no more winter, and no more cruelty. This is one way of looking at death that may be comforting for those left behind: at least the person who has passed will no longer have to suffer. This is one of the play's most famous passages. How do you think it relates to the rest of the play? Most of the characters don't actually die, so why does the play focus on death so much?
BELARIUS, as Morgan
Here's a few flowers, but 'bout midnight more,
The herbs that have on them cold dew o' th' night
Are strewings fitt'st for graves. Upon their faces.—
You were as flowers, now withered. Even so
These herblets shall, which we upon you strew.—
Come on, away; apart upon our knees.
The ground that gave them first has them again.
Their pleasures here are past; so is their pain. (4.2.356-363)
At Imogen's grave, Belarius provides flowers and comforting words about Fidele's death. It's a somber moment for the men. Check out how he describes death as final and certain: at least there's no more pain? How does this passage relate to the rest of the play? Why is mortality so important, even when most of the characters don't actually die? Maybe the idea is to remind us what a limited amount of time we have—we'd better make the most of what we have before the final curtain call. Could there be other interpretations?
The queen, sir, very oft importuned me
To temper poisons for her, still pretending
The satisfaction of her knowledge only
In killing creatures vile, as cats and dogs,
Of no esteem. I, dreading that her purpose
Was of more danger, did compound for her
A certain stuff which, being ta'en, would cease
The present power of life, but in short time
All offices of nature should again
Do their due functions. (5.5.296-305)
Cornelius is no fool. He knows if he tells everyone that he made a secret death potion, he'd end up dead, too—and there'd be no potion to revive him. He finally lays out the specs about his magic potion here, showing us that even a doctor can be obsessed with death. In this case, he prevented it—just not in the way we would have expected.
By th' sure physician, Death, who is the key
To unbar these locks. My conscience, thou art fettered
More than my shanks and wrists. You good gods,
The penitent instrument to pick that bolt,
Then, free forever. (5.4.8-13)
Morbid much? Posthumus is down in the dumps while in jail. He doesn't want to keep living in a world that doesn't have any Imogen in it. Aww, it's kinda sweet…. in a weird he-was-the-one-who-ordered-her-death-and-now-he's-all-morbid kind of way.
I am merrier to die than thou art to live.
Indeed, sir, he that sleeps feels not the
toothache. But a man that were to sleep your
sleep, and a hangman to help him to bed, I think
he would change places with his officer; (5.7.175-179)
Posthumus may talk and talk of death, but he doesn't ever do anything about it: he's all doom and gloom. But no matter how glass-half-empty he gets, he can still provide witty comebacks to the jailers. Here, he readily admits he's ready to die. He has nothing left to live for, and wants to reunite with his love in death.
Hang there like a fruit, my soul,
Till the tree die. (5.5.313-314)
Now that Posthumus totally doesn't want to die anymore, he wants Iachimo to die. After all, Iachimo lied and stole his way into winning that bet—plus,he made Posthumus believe the worst about his own wife. So is that deserving of death?
I will be known your advocate. Marry, yet
The fire of rage is in him, and 'twere good
You leaned unto his sentence with what patience
Your wisdom may inform you. (1.1.87-90)
How sweet… not. Right off the bat, we see compassion being doled out to Imogen (who totally deserves it). But before you go praising the Queen for setting a good example, you should know this is the fakest empathy we've ever seen. The play shows us just because someone acts kind to you doesn't mean they're on your side.
Be assured, madam,
With his next vantage. (1.3.30-31)
Pisanio is the first (and only) person to genuinely comfort Imogen throughout the play. Here, he tells her that Posthumus will come to her as soon as possible. He quickly shows that compassion can come from any social classes and any person—even when Imogen least expects it.
This one thing only
I will entreat: my boy, a Briton born,
Let him be ransomed. Never master had
A page so kind, so duteous, diligent,
So tender over his occasions, true,
So feat, so nurselike. (5.5.96-101)
It seems like this guy's got some major nerve asking for a favor after he invaded Britain. Nevertheless, Lucius asks for and is granted forgiveness for his page Fidele. Maybe he gets it because he's asking for compassion for someone else; Lucius clearly feels for Fidele, and wants others to feel the same way.
Ay me, most credulous fool,
Egregious murderer, thief, anything
That's due to all the villains past, in being,
To come. O, give me cord, or knife, or poison,
Some upright justicer. (5.5.247-251)
When Posthumus finds out about Iachimo's trickery, he reacts the way a lot of guys would: with a few punches and some choice words. (We're pretty sure he wouldn't kiss his mom with that mouth.) His initial reaction shows us what revenge looks like—but this point in the play, violence and revenge seem to be on the way out (they've mostly been associated with the Queen and Cloten, who are now dead).
This man is better than the man he slew,
As well descended as thyself, and hath
More of thee merited than a band of Clotens
Had ever scar for. (5.5.365-368)
As Guiderius is about to be taken away for killing Cloten, Belarius speaks out on his behalf. He tells everyone that Guiderius should be pardoned for his actions because he's a prince himself. It looks like a commoner for a prince is okay, but a prince for a prince isn't gonna work out.
Thou weep'st, and speak'st.
The service that you three have done is more
Unlike than this thou tell'st. I lost my children.
If these be they, I know not how to wish
A pair of worthier sons. (5.5.427-431)
When Cymbeline finds out that Belarius took his sons and raised them in Wales for twenty years, we kind of suspect him to come down on the guy in a fury. But instead, Cymbeline focuses on the fact that Belarius brought his sons back. There's nothing he can do about the initial kidnapping, but now that things have been restored, Cymbeline seems to think that that's enough. What would punishing Belarius accomplish at this point?
Let's quit this ground,
And smoke the temple with our sacrifices.
Thou art my brother, so we'll hold thee ever. (5.5.483-485)
Here, the king asks for people to leave this place. He means it literally (they should leave the battlefield), but we're pretty sure he's also talking figuratively: he wants everyone to leave the mindset of anger, revenge, lies, and deceit—and move on to peace and forgiveness. That's kind of the message of this play in a nutshell.
Kneel not to me.
The power that I have on you is, to spare you;
The malice toward you to forgive you. Live
And deal with others better. (5.5.4509-512)
After Posthumus's initial reaction (punch first, ask questions later), we're astounded at his response to Iachimo's apology. Instead of calling for punishment or revenge, Posthumus forgives him. His only request is that Iachimo never do this stuff again.
We'll learn our freeness of a son-in-law:
Pardon's the word to all. (5.5.514-515)
Cymbeline has come a long way from pointing out Posthumus's shortcomings and banishing him. In the end, he tells everyone they should learn from his son-in-law: let's all forgive and forget.
My peace we will begin. And, Caius Lucius,
Although the victor, we submit to Caesar
And to the Roman empire, promising
To pay our wonted tribute, from the which
We were dissuaded by our wicked queen,
Whom heavens in justice both on her and hers
Have laid most heavy hand. (5.5.559-565)
Let's not forget about the war that just happened. Cymbeline says that even though Lucius broke into his kingdom and all, he'll forgive him. He'll send him home without any punishment, and he'll even pay him the tribute he wanted. Cymbeline isn't just forgiving; he's also making up for his own transgressions.
He had two sons—if this be worth your hearing,
Mark it—the eldest of them at three years old,
I' th' swathing clothes the other, from their nursery
Were stol'n, and to this hour no guess in knowledge
Which way they went. (1.1.65-69)
The two gents kick things off for us by describing the king's suffering over the past twenty years. Maybe Shakespeare's trying to rack up some sympathy points before we meet the guy himself and we see him doing some seriously stupid crap.
Weeps she still, say'st thou? Dost thou think in time
She will not quench and let instructions enter
Where folly now possesses? (1.5.55-57)
Imogen is crying, and no one can stop her. We can't blame her: her husband has just been banished. Here, the Queen makes it clear that Imogen isn't letting go of her hubby so easily: she's prepared to suffer through it, and that's not good news for the Queen, who wants Imogen to marry her nasty son Cloten.
A father cruel and a stepdame false,
A foolish suitor to a wedded lady
That hath her husband banished. O, that husband,
My supreme crown of grief and those repeated
Vexations of it! Had I been thief-stol'n,
As my two brothers, happy; but most miserable
Is the desire that's glorious. Blessed be those,
How mean soe'er, that have their honest wills,
Which seasons comfort. Who may this be? Fie! (1.6.1-9)
We feel bad for Imogen: she doesn't have anyone in her corner. But why does she suffer so much? Is she the only truly good character in the play? Or does she cause some pain of her own?
Alas, poor princess,
Thou divine Imogen, what thou endur'st,
Betwixt a father by thy stepdame governed,
A mother hourly coining plots, a wooer
More hateful than the foul expulsion is
Of thy dear husband, than that horrid act
Of the divorce he'd make! (2.1.56-62)
Give it up for the minor characters: the two lords have a lot of say about how ridiculous Cloten is. They help us understand these characters, and they make us have more sympathy for Imogen. It seems that everyone can see how bad she has it except for Cymbeline himself. Why are the lords able to see through things, while characters directly involved with the plot have a hard time understanding what's actually going on?
It is a basilisk unto mine eye,
Kills me to look on 't. Let there be no honor
Where there is beauty, truth where semblance, love
Where there's another man. (2.4.136-139)
Okay, okay. For the sake of fairness, we also have to think about Posthumus's side of things. Sure, he creates a lot of heartache for our main gal, but he also thinks she's been unfaithful. Does that excuse him when he orders her killed? Uhh, we don't think so. But it does mean he's hurting about the whole Iachimo trick, and hurting hard.
The fear's as bad as falling; the toil o' the war,
A pain that only seems to seek out danger
I' the name of fame and honor, which dies i' th' search (3.3.54-56)
Telling his sons about the dangers of the city, Belarius sheds some light on why he left in the first place. It turns out he was wronged, too, and that the city is full of falseness and dishonesty. Why are things like this in the city but not in the country? What makes city people—or the people at Cymbeline's court—so dishonest?
Why, I must die,
And if I do not by thy hand, thou art
No servant of thy master's. Against self-slaughter
There is a prohibition so divine
That cravens my weak hand. Come, here's my heart—
Something's afore 't. Soft, soft! We'll no defense—
Obedient as the scabbard. (3.4.81-87)
Things go from bad to worse for Imogen when Pisanio shows her the letter from Posthumus instructing him to kill her. Hasn't she suffered enough? But it turns out that this is the push she needs to do something about all the lies and deceit that are going around town about her.
Where is our daughter? She hath not appeared
Before the Roman, nor to us hath tendered
The duty of the day. She looks us like
A thing more made of malice than of duty.
We have noted it.—Call her before us, for
We have been too slight in sufferance. (3.5.37-42)
When his daughter leaves for Milford, Cymbeline loses control; he can't believe she would stray at a time like this, and he's going to make her pay. Why is Cymbeline so hard on Imogen here? Sure, he's being duped by the Queen, and he doesn't know everything, but still. We guess he's suffering in a lot of ways, too. It must be hard to try to please your subjects, your wife, and your daughter, too, especially when all their interests conflict. What's a king to do?
A Roman with a Roman's heart can suffer.
Augustus lives to think on 't: and so much
For my peculiar care. (5.5.94-96)
Not many people accept their suffering like Lucius does. He knows he's in for a rough time after invading and losing, but he doesn't care. Bring on the pain—he'll take it like a Roman: stoically, without complaining.
With horror, madly dying, like her life,
Which, being cruel to the world, concluded
Most cruel to herself. What she confessed
I will report, so please you. These her women
Can trip me if I err, who with wet cheeks
Were present when she finished. (5.5.38-43)
When Cornelius announces the Queen's death, he doesn't hold back. He knows she was wicked, and he spells it out for everyone. We're also interested in the way he attributes a lot of the suffering that's gone down in this play to the dead Queen. She could dish it out, but she just couldn't take it.
If she went before
others I have seen, as that diamond of yours outlusters
many I have beheld, I could not but
believe she excelled many. But I have not seen the
most precious diamond that is, nor you the lady. (1.4.77-81)
Iachimo's been around the block. He thinks all women are just like jewels—shiny objects that men think are amazing… until they meet a prettier one. It's clear that he has a lot to learn about Imogen—but is he partly right about Posthumus?
All of her that is out of door most rich!
If she be furnish'd with a mind so rare,
She is alone th' Arabian bird, and I
Have lost the wager. (1.6.18-21)
We know Imogen must be a looker, because when cynical Iachimo actually sees her, he's impressed. We're talking very impressed. We learn that Imogen is pretty here, but we also see that deep down, Iachimo realizes that women can be smart and pretty—even if he won't admit it to his buddies.
'Can my sides hold, to think that man, who knows
By history, report, or his own proof
What woman is, yea, what she cannot choose
But must be, will's free hours languish for
Assurèd bondage?' (1.6.80-84)
Iachimo tells Imogen that lots of women can't be trusted, so he's just testing her. Well, that's ironic, not to mention totally hypocritical, since he is the onecan't be trusted, and she doesn't even need testing. Why doesn't Posthumus realize how good his wife is? Why test her like this?
Is there no way for men to be, but women
Must be half-workers? We are all bastards, (2.5.1-2)
Once he thinks Imogen has cheated on him, Posthumus says he can't trust any woman, since in his mind, all women are liars. He's a little dramatic, yes, but he's also right on the money in terms of 17th-century thinking. A lot of men then really did believe all women were untrustworthy and would give in to their every desire. Have things changed since then?
The vows of women
Of no more bondage be to where they are made,
Than they are to their virtues, which is nothing. (2.4.139-141)
Yikes. All women are traitors and go back on their word? It sure seems that way to Posthumus. What's funny is that he's just done that very thing: he promised Imogen he wouldn't let go of his ring until he was dead, and—voilà—he bet it right away to Iachimo. One thing that many of the men in this play lack is self-awareness; they pretty easily spot problems in others, but they have a hard time seeing the bad or imperfect things about themselves.
As chaste as unsunned snow. O, all the devils! (2.5.12-14)
This dude is outraged at the fact that his bride is not as honest as he thought. There might be a little more to it than that, though: we can't help but wonder whether he's mad at the fact that his wife cheated on him, or that he lost the bet. Which one is he more upset about when he rants about Iachimo besting him? Why is there a bet in the first place? To test his wife's loyalty, or to be the big man around town?
Could I find out
The woman's part in me—for there's no motion
That tends to vice in man but I affirm
It is the woman's part
They are not constant but are changing still
One vice but of a minute old for one
Not half so old as that. I'll write against them,
Detest them, curse them. Yet 'tis greater skill
In a true hate to pray they have their will;
The very devils cannot plague them better. (2.5.20-23; 31-36)
Women are always changing, but Posthumus wants them to stay the same. That, however, hints at how insecure he is about women. He only feels like he's in control if his wife remains exactly the same forever. One thing he learns in this play is that remaining exactly the same forever is impossible—more than that, it's not even desirable. By the end of the play, Posthumus seems more okay with the idea of change; he's been forced to rethink his views (and his insecurities) by the events in the play.
You must forget to be a woman; change
Command into obedience, fear and niceness—
The handmaids of all women, or, more truly,
Woman it pretty self—into a waggish courage,
Ready in gibes, quick-answered, saucy, and
As quarrelous as the weasel. Nay, you must
Forget that rarest treasure of your cheek,
Exposing it—but O, the harder heart! (3.4.179-186)
Here's a how-to manual on becoming a man. Aside from the comedy of it all, we think this is an important quote because of what it tells us about men and women: women are always changeable, fearful, pretty, and weak hearted. We don't agree with these characteristics, but we do think they sum up what many of these men think about women.
I see a man's life is a tedious one.
I have tired myself, and for two nights together
Have made the ground my bed. I should be sick
But that my resolution helps me. (3.6.1-4)
As Imogen wanders around in Wales, she thinks about gender since she's just "become" a man. Is she just tired from her own experiences, or does she think all men's lives are as bad as hers is right then? There's not much else in the play to support a full-scale investigation into what makes a man a man, but we get a small glimpse here. It turns out that being a man and being a women may be equally difficult, if in different ways.
My lord, I fear,
Has forgot Britain. (1.6.133-134)
It's not just that Posthumus has forgotten Imogen—it's that he's forgotten his homeland as well. Imogen tells Iachimo she's worried that Posthumus will never come back, even if he has the chance. She's the princess, so she has to stay in Britain. Will national boundaries spell the end of their marriage?
That this will prove a war; and you shall hear
The legions now in Gallia sooner landed
In our not-fearing Britain than have tidings
Of any penny tribute paid. (2.4.20-23)
Philario gets an earful from Posthumus, who wants to talk about whether or not Britain should pay Rome. It takes some guys to praise your country and your people when you're in the enemy's camp.
Britain's a world
By itself, and we will nothing pay
For wearing our own noses. (3.1.14-16)
Cloten's trying to sound all tough, but it comes out sounding pretty stupid. It sound so stupid, in fact, that it's almost as if Shakespeare is making fun of this kind of blind patriotism. Aside from the Queen, Cloten's the only one this gung-ho about the war, after all—and that's not a glowing recommendation for blind patriotism.
Hath Britain all the sun that shines? Day, night,
Are they not but in Britain? I' th' world's volume
Our Britain seems as of it, but not in 't,
In a great pool a swan's nest. Prithee think
There's livers out of Britain. (3.4.158-162)
Here, Imogen literally doesn't know where to go other than Britain, which is the only place she's ever lived. But she's also being metaphorical here: for the first time, she has to leave the comfort of her familiar life. It's a mental journey as much as a physical one. Both Imogen and Posthumus have to travel far from "home" in order to grow and become worthy of each other.
These present wars shall find I love my country,
Even to the note o' th' King, or I'll fall in them. (4.3.51-52)
Pisanio can see that one of the strange things about war is that it really ups people's patriotism. Even though he was suspected of offing Cloten (that would be treason), he knows he loves his country, and that's enough for him to have faith that it will all work out.
ARVIRAGUS, as Cadwal
I am ashamed
To look upon the holy sun, to have
The benefit of his blest beams, remaining
So long a poor unknown. (4.4.48-51)
Arviragus wants to fight for his country even though he barely knows what this country is (he really just knows the cave he grew up in and the forests where he's gone hunting). It doesn't really matter to them who wins or loses the war, in the sense that his life will be pretty much the same either way. So why do you think he's really into the idea of fighting for Britain?
If in your country wars you chance to die,
That is my bed too, lads, and there I'll lie. (4.4.61-62)
When Belarius decides to go with the boys to fight for Britain, we feel a pang of guilt for writing him off as just a kidnaper. It looks like he's got morals and gusto, too—and he uses it to stand by his (kidnapped) sons and his (off-limits) country.
I am brought hither
Among th' Italian gentry, and to fight
Against my lady's kingdom. 'Tis enough
That, Britain, I have kill'd thy mistress. Peace,
I'll give no wound to thee. (5.1.17-21)
When war is about to break out, Posthumus delivers a speech about whom he will fight for. He's too patriotic to fight against his country, even though he was wronged in it. We see that he cares a lot about Britain, and will risk his life trying to save it. What is less clear is whether he wants to fight for Britain just because he loves Britain, or whether he wants to fight for Britain because he's in love with a woman who (it would seem) will eventually be the queen of the country.
'Our Britain's harts die flying, not our men.
To darkness fleet souls that fly backwards. Stand,
Or we are Romans and will give you that
Like beasts which you shun beastly, and may save...' (5.3.27-30)
After Britain has won the war, Posthumus gets talking to some cowardly lords about the battle. Notice how he characterizes each side: it's not quite as simple as "Britain is good" and "Rome is bad." Was either side actually good or bad in this war?
To the majestic cedar joined, whose issue
Promises Britain peace and plenty. (5.5.556-557)
For years to come, Britain will prosper. That's a cool way of ending the play, at least as far as the king is concerned, so why does he agree to pay the fee to Rome, then? Cymbeline just won the war, and he knows his country will flourish. What's the deal with agreeing to the tribute? Is it to ensure peace for the future?