Study Guide

Cymbeline, King of Britain Love

By William Shakespeare

Love

POSTHUMUS
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.

IMOGEN
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?

CLOTEN
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.

CLOTEN
Still, I swear I love you.
IMOGEN
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?

ARVIRAGUS
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?

GUIDERIUS
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?

ARVIRAGUS
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?

POSTHUMUS
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.

CYMBELINE
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?

CORNELIUS
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.