Study Guide

Cymbeline, King of Britain Compassion and Forgiveness

By William Shakespeare

Compassion and Forgiveness

QUEEN
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.

PISANIO
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.

LUCIUS
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.

POSTHUMUS 
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).

BELARIUS
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.

CYMBELINE
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?

CYMBELINE
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.

POSTHUMUS 
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.

CYMBELINE
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.

CYMBELINE
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.