Cymbeline, King of Britain Summary
Read the full text of Cymbeline with a side-by-side translation HERE.
Imogen didn't want to wait around for her dad to marry her off to her new lame stepbrother Cloten; she got married to Posthumus instead. Who's up for a quickie wedding in Vegas? Wait, there is no Vegas. There is a lot of drama, though: when Imogen's dad, Cymbeline, finds out what she's done, he hits the roof. He can't believe his daughter has disobeyed him, so he sends her new hubby off into banishment, never to return again. Some wedding gift.
The lovers only have moments before they have to leave each other's sides, so they give each other a parting gift. She did put a ring on it, and he... well, he put a bracelet on it. Hey, that's how they rolled back then. Imogen and Posthumus promise to wear these tokens forever and ever—that way they're always together in spirit. Tear.
Trouble is, no one else really wants that. Cymbeline wants to lock Imogen up until she agrees to marry Cloten. Imogen's evil stepmother creates a poison and hands it over to Imogen's servant, Pisanio, for future use. Meanwhile, Cloten, ever the tool, tries to serenade Imogen and win her over. She tells him he's not even worth Posthumus's last-season clothes.
Enter Iachimo. As if Imogen didn't have enough problems, this Roman gent has made a bet with Posthumus that he can convince Imogen to cheat on her hubby. When it doesn't work, Iachimo resorts to drastic measures: he hides in a trunk in Imogen's bedroom. Then, once she is asleep, he takes a good look around and steals her precious bracelet from Posthumus.
Once he returns to Rome, Iachimo brags to Posthumus that he landed his girl. Posthumus is furious and hands over the ring, since that was the deal. Embarrassed and angry, Posthumus instructs Pisanio to kill Imogen. Gasp.
Pisanio can't go through with it and helps Imogen disguise herself as a boy named Fidele. She's supposed to hitch a ride to Rome, but she gets lost along the way and comes across three hunter-outlaws: Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus. (Don't look at us like that. We didn't name them.) They all love her instantly. Little does she know that Guiderius and Arviragus are actually her long-lost brothers who were kidnapped when they were young.
Yeah, you read that right.
Cloten comes looking for Imogen in Wales and stumbles upon the hunters. After making a fool of himself (as usual) by offending them and boasting about his superior strength, he gets in a fight with Guiderius. He loses his head in the fight. Literally.
Meanwhile, Imogen takes some medicine Pisanio gave her to feel better. It's actually a poison from the Queen, but Pisanio doesn't know that. It makes her appear dead for a couple hours, after which she'll be able to wake up from a deep sleep. But it's long enough: when Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus come back to the cave to find Fidele dead, they mourn and bury her—above ground, luckily.
Back at the palace, a war is brewing. The Queen is controlling the country and has gotten everybody in some hot water. She's also taken sick because her son is missing. Rome has decided to invade Britain, and it doesn't look good, since Rome is all set to win.
Things almost get nasty, but just in the nick of time, Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus emerge from the woods and into a peasant (actually Posthumus in disguise). They save the day... and the king's life. With the war over, and Britain safe, Posthumus changes into Roman uniform and is taken off to prison.
Meanwhile, Imogen wakes up next to Cloten's headless body. Since Cloten was wearing Posthumus's clothes at the time, she thinks her hubby is dead meat. She runs away and mourns.
Posthumus himself believes Imogen is dead (um… since he ordered that and all) and just wants to roll over and die. Luckily, his dead ancestors team together and show up at his cell. Or their ghosts do, at least. They summon Jupiter to help him, and miraculously, the big J deigns to do so.
In one colossal final scene, a bunch of crazy things happen. The Queen dies offstage and tells Cornelius of her plan to murder Cymbeline and give the crown to her son. Imogen (a.k.a. Fidele) notices her husband's ring on Iachimo's finger and confronts him about it. Iachimo feels pretty guilty and reveals everything—from how he hid in the trunk in Imogen's room to the lies he told Posthumus.
If Posthumus didn't want to die before, he certainly does now: he's beyond angry that he ordered Imogen's death without reason. Luckily, she's right there and reveals herself. Everyone is overjoyed.
As if one family reunion weren't enough, Belarius exposes the truth about Guiderius and Arviragus. Yes, he kidnapped them from their dad Cymbeline twenty years ago and raised them as his own. But hey, at least he returned them, right? Cymbeline is so ecstatic to see his sons again that he totally lets Belarius off the hook. Then he sends the Romans home with a slap on the wrist.
Act 1, Scene 1
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 1 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Two British guys enter and start dishing to each other about what's going on with their king. The big news is that his daughter Imogen has married Posthumus. Gasp.
- Nothing is really wrong with Posthumus, exactly. He's poor, but he's a good guy. He was orphaned as a kid, and King Cymbeline took him under his wing. He never imagined his daughter would marry the guy.
- The problem is that the king already picked Cloten to marry Imogen. It turns out Cymbeline got hitched not that long ago himself, and he wants his daughter to marry his wife's son from her first marriage.
- Brain Snack: In Shakespeare's England, parents really liked to pick out their kids' spouses. Sometimes, parents even filed lawsuits to try to force their kids into arranged marriages.
- These British guys fill us in on the family history so we're up to speed. Cymbeline's two sons were kidnapped twenty years ago, when they were little kids. No one knows what happened to them.
- It's pretty sad, the men think, that Cymbeline is fighting with the only child he has left. He's put her in prison for marrying Posthumus and banished Posthumus to boot.
Act 1, Scene 2
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 1 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The Queen, Imogen, and Posthumus show up, and things are tense. Posthumus knows his new dad-in-law has just banished him.
- The Queen promises Imogen and Posthumus that she'll talk to Cymbeline for them. She's not an evil stepmother, after all, right? She also lets the lovers have a little privacy so that they can say goodbye.
- Once the Queen is gone, Imogen calls her a faker. She's just pretending to be nice, Imogen says. There's lots of tears and sadness. Imogen and Posthumus don't want to leave each other, but they promise they'll write.
- The Queen reappears and tells the lovers to break it up: the King is coming. Then, in an aside, she tells the audience that she's really just pretending to be friends with her stepdaughter. Behind her back, she's fooling Cymbeline into taking her side over his daughter's.
- Posthumus and Imogen say one last goodbye, but not before giving each other some trinkets. He gets a ring, and she gets a bracelet to remind them of their love for one another even when they are apart. Aww. They promise to be faithful and never, ever, take their gifts off. Ever.
- Cymbeline enters and is pretty ticked off at his daughter. How could she do this to him? How dare she? There are lots of angry words between them, but Imogen defends herself against her dad's fuming words.
- Even though the Queen begs her hubby to reconsider, Cymbeline locks Imogen up and throws away the key.
- Just then, Pisanio, Posthumus's servant enters with news of his master. As Posthumus was leaving, Cloten saw him and threw a couple punches. Luckily, the men walked the other way before anyone was seriously hurt.
- Imogen wishes the men had fought till the death so that the whole thing could be over.
- Pisanio offers his services to Imogen since Posthumus is now exiled. She accepts his offer, as long as he can go see her hubby abroad.
Act 1, Scene 3
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 1 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Cloten is certain he would have defeated Posthumus in a fight. At least that's what he tells a couple of lords hangin' in the public square.
- Of course, of course, the lords tell him. You'd destroy him and turn him into a carcass.
- But then the lords tell us what they really think. One lord says Cloten's so much a fool you couldn't even measure his foolishness on the ground. Oh, snap.
- When Cloten says someone would have been hurt in the fight, the lord tells us it doesn't hurt when asses fall. Yep, he's calling Cloten an ass.
- Luckily, Cloten is none the wiser about all of these snarls and jokes behind his back. That only makes us think he's all the more foolish.
Act 1, Scene 4
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 1 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Imogen begs Pisanio for any morsel about her lovey-dovey, Posthumus. When she asks what he heard Posthumus talk about last, Pisanio says it was about her, of course.
- Pisanio remembers his master kissed his handkerchief and waved it goodbye. Then Imogen wishes she were that handkerchief, so she could be kissed by him. Wait, what? Where have we heard that before? Oh yeah: in Romeo and Juliet.
- There's lots of talk about how Imogen wishes she were actually with Posthumus. Then Pisanio says his master talked of how he hopes to commune with her in spirit. That's sort of like a Skype date for psychics.
- A lady enters, telling Imogen the Queen wants to see her.
Act 1, Scene 5
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 1 Scene 5 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Enter Iachimo, an Italian talking with a Frenchman, a Dutchman, and a Spaniard about everything that's going on with the British royal family. Looks like the news has made it to Rome (where this scene is set).
- Posthumus has also made it to Rome, where's he lying low in banishment.
- Posthumus introduces himself to the lads, and the conversation quickly turns to—what else?—women.
- Iachimo thinks any woman can be seduced. Just name the time and place, and he's there.
- But Posthumus disagrees. Not his new bride: she's too virtuous and honest to ever cheat on him.
- "Prove it," says Iachimo. He's convinced that there isn't a woman around who could refuse his charms. He'll head on over to England and seduce Imogen. Seriously, this dude is actually suggesting an international seduction plot.
- If Iachimo succeeds, he'll take Posthumus's fancy ring (the one from Imogen). He'll also acquire mad bragging rights.
- Posthumus is confident enough to take that bet. His terms: if Iachimo strikes out with Imogen, then he'll have to pay Posthumus 10,000 ducats.
- Challenge accepted.
- As the men leave to write down the terms of their wager with a lawyer, the Frenchmen and Philario talk about what just happened. They let us in on a secret about Iachimo: he's not one to let go of things. Uh-oh.
Act 1, Scene 6
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 1 Scene 6 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The Queen shoos her ladies away so she can talk one-on-one with Dr. Cornelius. She's asked him to make a secret potion that will kill anyone who drinks it. Dun-dun-dun. She just wants it for scientific purposes, of course.
- Cornelius is no fool. He doesn't trust the Queen to use the poison on animals like she claims. So, he's actually given her something that will make it look like someone is dead. Then, if the Queen gives it to someone, that person can be revived from a deep sleep.
- After Cornelius tells us this secret, he leaves.
- It turns out Cornelius's instincts were right, because just after he leaves, the Queen gives the potion to Pisanio. She tells him that it's an energy drink. After all, it's saved Cymbeline's life five times already.
- Why does the Queen want Pisanio dead? That's simple: he's always praising Posthumus to Imogen. He's all, "Posthumus can do this, and Posthumus can do that. Look how amazing Posthumus is."
- The Queen figures that if Pisanio's out of the picture, Imogen will forget all about Posthumus. Then Imogen might actually give the Queen's son Cloten a chance. Logic does not appear to be the Queen's strong point.
- As if giving Pisanio a poisonous drink weren't enough, the Queen also asks him to talk Cloten up to Imogen.
- After the Queen leaves, Pisanio's like, "As if." He'll never betray Posthumus and help the Queen.
Act 1, Scene 7
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 1 Scene 7 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Imogen sits alone in her room and feels sorry for herself. For those keeping track, she has a cruel dad, a fake stepmother, a foolish suitor, and a banished husband. Her life sucks.
- Pisanio enters with Iachimo—and, more importantly, with a letter from her beloved Posthumus.
- Imogen is excited to get the letter and welcomes Iachimo for bringing it.
- Iachimo is floored by Imogen's hotness. He didn't see that coming; in fact, he's worried that if this woman is as smart as she is pretty, he'll lose the bet.
- But Iachimo doesn't give up that easily. He compliments Imogen, but she doesn't seem to care, so he sends Pisanio away to tend to his own servant.
- Iachimo figures that if he's alone with Imogen, he can entice her.
- Imogen asks about Posthumus. She wants to know about his health and his demeanor, and she wants to know how he's holding up in exile.
- Iachimo's all like, "Oh, he's holding up all right. And then some." He says Posthumus isn't sad at all; in fact, he's having loads of fun... a little too much fun with the ladies, if you catch his drift.
- Imogen doesn't believe it at first, but then she feels sad and tells Iachimo to stop. She doesn't want to hear any more.
- This is exactly what Iachimo wants. He tells the princess she should get back at her husband for forgetting about her so quickly.
- Imogen doesn't follow. How's she going to get her revenge?
- Iachimo is more direct this time. He tells Imogen that he dedicates himself to her "sweet pleasure"—in other words, he'll sacrifice himself so that she can get back at Posthumus in the cruelest way. How noble of him.
- Imogen is horrified. She calls Iachimo out on his schemes to sleep with her. He's not honorable at all: he's no better than a "saucy stranger," she says, and she condemns him. Boo-ya.
- There's nothing left for Iachimo to do but agree with Imogen: he tells her she is the most virtuous woman he's ever met. Oh, and that whole ruse to get her into bed? That was a test, of course. He was trying to seduce her to see if she was honest. Right.
- Luckily, Iachimo says, Imogen passed the test.
- Imogen finally accepts the apology, after loads of excessive begging from Iachimo.
- Iachimo tells Imogen that he is in business with her husband and a bunch of other men. Together, he says, they've pooled their money to buy some lavish gifts for the emperor. There's just one problem: they need somewhere safe to store them.
- Imogen says she'll take care of them. Iachimo is relieved. The gifts are in a trunk, and he's worried that the jewels are so valuable that people will want to steal them.
- Imogen tells Iachimo not to worry: she won't let the trunk out of her sight. In fact, she'll store the trunk in her bedchamber so that no one else can touch it.
- Iachimo thinks this is an excellent idea.
- We're not exactly sure what the whole trunk business is about, since we know Posthumus and Iachimo haven't bought any grand gifts for the emperor. What we are sure of is that Iachimo is up to something.
Act 2, Scene 1
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 2 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Poor Cloten. He's in the palace bowling with two lords and complaining about his life. He has the worst luck of anyone alive, he says.
- The lords agree with everything Cloten says, but behind his back, they're making fun of him: what an idiot; he's got no wit; he's a fool, a "capon" (idiot), a sucker. We think you get the idea.
- The conversation turns to an Italian who has just come to town. (That would be Iachimo). Cloten lost to him at bowls, but he's sure he'll win tonight.
- As Cloten and the first lord leave, the second lord stays behind to share some thoughts with the audience. In case we didn't catch on, he says he thinks Cloten is just about the stupidest guy he's ever met.
- The second lord is shocked that the "crafty devil" Queen has a son who has such a small brain. Then he thinks of poor Imogen, who has to endure a dumb suitor and a father governed by a wicked stepmother.
Act 2, Scene 2
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 2 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Back in her room, Imogen goes to bed. She prays that the fairies and tempters of the night will not harm her, and then she goes to sleep.
- The trunk Imogen promised to guard is safely stowed away in her room.
- Just then, Iachimo emerges from the trunk. What? Is this for real?
- It totally is: Iachimo couldn't get Imogen to agree to cheat on Posthumus, so he'll just have to trick Posthumus into believing she did.
- Iachimo looks for proof that he was with Imogen. He takes in every detail about the room. But then he figures that he should come back with more convincing proof than just an inventory of her curtains and bed.
- Aha: the bracelet. Iachimo takes the bracelet off Imogen's wrist, and then he sees a mole "clinque-spotted" (translation: it's got five spots) on her breast.
- Iachimo's got the evidence he needs to convince Posthumus, so he runs off before he's discovered.
Act 2, Scene 3
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 2 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Cloten figures that the way to a lady's heart is through music. So he orders musicians to serenade Imogen as she wakes.
- When that doesn't work, Cloten dismisses the musicians. Cymbeline and the Queen see this and tell him to keep it up: they really want this marriage to happen—despite the fact that, you know, Imogen is already married.
- In the middle of the conversation, a messenger enters with news that a man from Rome asks to see the king.
- Cymbeline is worried because he knows the guy from Rome is angry, but he figures he should greet him.
- Cloten takes his mom and stepdad's advice to heart: he'll be persistent whether Imogen likes him or not.
- Cloten knocks on Imogen's door, and one of her ladies in waiting answers. Ever the klutz, Cloten tries to bribe the lady for the gossip on Imogen. He's kidding himself.
- None of this works, of course. Imogen comes out while Cloten's making a fool of himself trying to give the lady gold.
- Imogen is cold toward Cloten and calls him a fool. Cloten retorts by saying that she's disobeying her father by marrying someone other than him.
- Imogen tells Cloten he's too "base" (translation: unworthy) to be even Posthumus's servant. Then she tells him that even Posthumus's cheapest clothes ("meanest garment") are more valuable to her than Cloten.
- It's on.
- Cloten is furious and vows to take vengeance on Posthumus. He's so shocked that he keeps muttering stuff about Posthumus's "garment."
- But Imogen doesn't really care. During the insult slewing, Pisanio came in, and now Imogen orders him to find her precious bracelet.
- Imogen remembers that the bracelet was on her arm, and she kissed it. It's gone now, though, and she's really worried about it.
- They all exit: Pisanio and Imogen to find the bracelet, and Cloten to yell about how he's gonna get revenge on Imogen for dissing him.
Act 2, Scene 4
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 2 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Welcome back to Rome.
- Posthumus and Philario are discussing politics. Cymbeline was supposed to pay a tribute (as in money, not a nice speech) to the Romans. The two countries have worked out a system where Britain pays Rome so they don't go to war. Cymbeline hasn't paid up yet.
- But who can think about politics when there's news of Imogen? Iachimo is back from his little adventure, and he's about to catch these guys up.
- Posthumus is sure that Iachimo's swift return means he was unsuccessful with Imogen.
- Iachimo tells him his bride is the fairest of them all. Then he says: "The ring is won." Translation: he slept with Imogen and won the bet.
- But Posthumus has more faith in Imogen than that. He doesn't believe Iachimo for one minute.
- So Iachimo describes Imogen's bedchamber in detail. He doesn't leave anything out.
- Posthumus still refuses to believe Iachimo. That proves nothing, he says; Iachimo might have heard those particulars from him or from someone else. It doesn't mean Imogen cheated on him.
- Iachimo brings in the heavy artillery: he shows Posthumus the bracelet.
- Posthumus is ready to hand over the ring. He still can't believe his dear Imogen would do this to him, especially with nasty Iachimo, but he can't think of how else this dude could have nabbed the bracelet.
- Posthumus goes through all the scenarios but can't come up with one that makes sense. Imogen wears it everywhere—even her maids know she loves that bracelet. She wouldn't part with it.
- So Posthumus finally believes Iachimo.
- Philario says the bracelet isn't proof enough: it could have been stolen. (Ahem. It was.)
- Then Iachimo delivers the fatal blow: did he mention that Imogen has a mole on her breast? He kissed it when he was with her.
- Posthumus hands over the ring and curses all women everywhere. Every evil and cruel thing men do can be traced back to women, he says. How can women be so charming when they're always just deceiving men?
Act 3, Scene 1
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 3 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The Roman ambassador Caius Lucius has not come to Britain on a friendly visit: he wants to know why Cymbeline has not paid the tribute money to Rome yet.
- Lucius fills us in on the history of the tribute. Back when Julius Caesar conquered Britain, he set up a tribute in the sum of 3,000 pounds to be paid every year to Rome. In return, Rome would refrain from invading Britain.
- The Queen jumps in and says the fee will never be paid again. Hmm… that seems like a decision Cymbeline should make, doesn't it?
- Always looking for a chance to make a fool of himself, Cloten blunders through some reasons why Britain shouldn't pay.
- Cymbeline finally puts a stop to the madness, mainly because no one can really understand what Cloten is going on about. Cymbeline refuses to pay the money, and Lucius declares Britain an enemy. He's sorry to do it, but it has to be done.
- Cymbeline knows that this means war, and he hates the thought of it. He wants peace with Rome.
- Cloten, however, is boastful and taunts Lucius all the more.
Act 3, Scene 2
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 3 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Mail call: Pisanio reads a letter aloud to us from Posthumus. In it, his master accuses Imogen of adultery.
- Pisanio can't believe it, but he follows his master's orders. He's supposed to deliver a letter to Imogen with instructions for her to leave the palace. Then he's supposed to murder her.
- Yup. It just got real.
- Well, Imogen walks right in. She's excited at the news that a letter has come from her husband. She reads that she is supposed to meet him in Cambria at Milford-Haven (in Wales). She can't believe it; she can't want to see him again.
- Pisanio and Imogen decide that that Imogen will need to pretend she is sick. She'll retreat to her room so no one will notice she's gone.
Act 3, Scene 3
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 3 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- In the woods in Wales, Belarius tells Guiderius and Arviragus to worship the sun and the heavens.
- Wait, who are these dudes? Don't worry—you haven't missed anything. We're just meeting these guys now.
- Belarius tells the young lads to go up to the hill to hunt while he goes on the flat lands.
- Guiderius knows Belarius is older and wiser, but sometimes he wants to go somewhere other than the woods. He's bummed that he's ignorant about everywhere else.
- Arviragus agrees. He wonders what they will even talk about when they are as old as Belarius. They won't have any experiences to share.
- Belarius tells Guiderius and Arviragus the city is full of bad people. Then he recounts a time when he lived in the city and Cymbeline loved him. But then people proclaimed him to be a friend of the Romans, and he was banished.
- That sucks, Guiderius says, and then he and Arviragus run off to hunt.
- Once they are gone, Belarius lets us in on a little secret: Guiderius and Arviragus are actually Cymbeline's sons. No way. Not only does Cymbeline think they're dead, but the boys think they are actually the sons of Belarius.
- Belarius tells us that after Cymbeline unjustly banished him, he decided to get back at the king by kidnapping his boys. He goes by the name Morgan now, and he's raised Guiderius and Arviragus ever since he kidnapped them.
- And by the way, Belarius has renamed the heir (that would be Guiderius) Polydore and his younger brother (Arviragus) Cadwal. Just to repeat: the boys' real names are Guiderius and Arviragus, but Belarius—who goes by the name "Morgan"—calls them Polydore and Cadwal.
- Great names, huh?
Act 3, Scene 4
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 3 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Imogen and Pisanio have made it to Wales, but there's no sign of Posthumus.
- Imogen wonders why Pisano is sad and asks him to explain what's happening.
- Pisanio comes clean. He declares he's a wretched man for going along with Posthumus's plan, and he gives her the letter to see for herself what's up.
- Imogen reads her husband's letter: in it, her calls her a "strumpet" and calls for revenge. Pisanio says he doesn't even need to use his sword to kill her, because the letter has already. Yikes.
- We totally feel for Imogen, who starts going over why Posthumus might accuse her of such ugly deeds. She blabbers on and on and on about how she's remained chaste while he's been having the time of his life in Italy... according to Iachimo.
- Suddenly the other half of the letter dawns on Imogen. It instructs Pisanio to lead her to Milford-Haven and kill her there. And here they are in Milford-Haven, so...
- Imogen confronts Pisanio and tells him to get on with it.
- But Pisanio has something else in mind: he says he'd rather pull his own eyeballs out before killing Imogen. Since we don't see him doing that anytime soon, we better listen to his plan.
- Pisanio has figured out that "some villain" must have dragged Imogen's name through the mud. Why else would Posthumus suddenly accuse her of cheating on him?
- Pisanio figures that if Imogen could go to Posthumus and talk to him face-to-face, the two lovebirds could figure it out. Luckily, Lucius (the Roman ambassador) is passing through Milford-Haven on his way back to Rome tomorrow.
- If Imogen disguises herself as a boy, she might be able to serve Lucius and hitch a ride to Rome. Pisanio has even brought a set of doublet and hose—boy's clothes—for her to wear.
- As a parting gift, Pisanio gives Imogen a box with a special potion in it. The Queen gave it to him (back in Act 1, Scene 6) and promised that it would cure any sickness. If Imogen gets sick on the journey to Rome, that potion will cure her. Pisanio really believes this and wants to help Imogen.
Act 3, Scene 5
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 3 Scene 5 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Lucius meets with Cymbeline and company again, hoping they will reconsider the whole stick-it-to-Rome plan.
- Cymbeline doesn't reconsider. He boldly tells Lucius that they are going where Britain has never gone before: they are totally not going to pay the tribute.
- Lucius wishes this were not the case, but he leaves for Milford-Haven. The Queen likes that they've given Lucius reason to frown.
- Cymbeline decides he wants to see his daughter. She hasn't been around much, and she looks at him like he's "malice" lately.
- The Queen says Imogen's been that way since Posthumus's exile.
- When the attendant returns with news that Imogen's chamber doors were locked, Cymbeline grows suspicious. The Queen says she went to see her before and was told that Imogen was sick.
- Cymbeline rushes out to find Imogen.
- Cloten then chimes in with an observation that he hasn't seen Imogen or her servant Pisanio in two days. The Queen orders her son to follow the king.
- Alone on stage, the Queen dishes. She doesn't really care where Imogen and Pisanio are, but she realizes that if Imogen is gone, then she, the Queen,is totally in charge of the British crown.
- That's a total win for the Queen.
- Cloten returns with a bombshell: Imogen has taken off. This is good news, says the Queen to herself. Then she leaves.
- Pisanio enters the scene, and Cloten confronts him about Imogen's whereabouts. Pisanio decides to send Cloten on a fool's errand since his mistress has surely left Britain safely by now. He tells Cloten that Imogen has gone to Milford-Haven.
- This is the perfect opportunity for Cloten to get his revenge on Imogen for saying that he was worse than Posthumus's clothes. He sends Pisanio to fetch those very clothes. He's going to wear them, and while he's wearing them, he's going to "ravish" Imogen and kill Posthumus.
- He's taking this revenge thing very seriously.
Act 3, Scene 6
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 3 Scene 6 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Dressed as a boy, Imogen is alone in the woods, wandering around. She's really tired from roaming around for two days.
- Imogen remembers two beggars telling her where to go, but she still hasn't come across Lucius. She's lost, and she wonders if Pisanio was playing a trick on her when he said that Lucius would come by the next day.
- Imogen finds a cave and calls out to see if anyone is in it.
- No one answers, so Imogen goes on in and makes herself at home.
- We interrupt this program for a helpful reading tip: Worried that your copy of the play divides scenes differently from the way we do here? Don't trip: the division of acts and scenes varies depending on which edition of the play you're reading. Some editions of the play (like Penguin Shakespeare) cut off Act 3, Scene 6 at the end of Imogen's speech and give her meeting with Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus its own section (Act 3, Scene 7). Some other editions (like the Riverside Shakespeare or MIT online) put them all together into one scene.
- Now back to our program.
Act 3, Scene 7
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 3 Scene 7 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Belarius, Polydore (a.k.a. Guiderius), and Cadwal (a.k.a. Arviragus) return to their cave with a deer from their hunt.
- Suddenly Belarius stops and declares there's a heavenly boy in their cave. (That would be Imogen.)
- Belarius and the boys ask questions about where this mysterious guy is going and what his name is.
- Imogen picks the name "Fidele" and tells them she's trying to get to Milford-Haven—"trying" being the operative word.
- There's a strange connection between Imogen and the two boys (who are actually her brothers).
- Arviragus says he'll love Fidele as a brother, which is kind of funny since she's actually his sister. Imogen feels it, too, and tells us in an aside that if these guys were actually her brothers, she could have married Posthumus without so much drama. She wouldn't have been the heir to the throne then, and she wouldn't have been worth so much to her dad.
- The three men welcome Imogen in and tell her that she'll have to earn her keep by telling them a story.
Act 3, Scene 8
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 3 Scene 8 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- In a Roman square, senators and tribunes gather. They want to know who will fight to Rome against Britain.
- Since Lucius is the general, many men want to sign up right away. We're betting this means Lucius is a pretty honorable guy.
Act 4, Scene 1
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 4 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Cloten enters, alone, dressed in Posthumus's clothes, near Belarius's cave. He congratulates himself on his brilliant plan. There's a lot of "Wow, I'm amazing" happening here.
- Cloten's pretty sure that no matter what he does to Imogen, he won't get in trouble. His mom controls the king, after all.
- Cloten comes upon the meeting place and hopes Pisanio hasn't lied to him.
Act 4, Scene 2
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 4 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Inside Belarius's cave, the three hunters and Imogen talk. Belarius declares that Imogen doesn't look well.
- Guiderius and Arviragus also express their concern, but Imogen urges them to go out, anyway.
- The boys call Imogen "brother" and wish her well. Then, they wonder why they are more devoted to her than to their own father. After all, they've only known her a short time. Or have they?
- Belarius hears this and starts to worry. He knows he's not the boys' real father, and he thinks they might find that out soon.
- Imogen feels comforted. She remembers that she has the potion from Pisanio, and she takes it. She goes into the cave to sleep while the men go out to hunt.
- Just then, Cloten enters, muttering about how he's trying to find some "runagates" (fugitives). He means Imogen and Posthumus, of course, but Guiderius thinks the slur is about them.
- There's some trash talk between Cloten and the boys. Cloten thinks he can fight just about anybody, and Guiderius doesn't back down.
- The men fight, and it's not long before Guiderius emerges with Cloten's head. He showed that fool.
- Arviragus is impressed with his bro, but Belarius fears the worst. He recognizes the Queen's son and wonders if Cymbeline and the Queen know that Guiderius and Arviragus are still alive.
- Belarius and the boys decide they've had enough excitement for the day. Belarius says they'll return to the cave and bring Imogen some dinner.
- Belarius and the boys discover that Imogen is dead. (We know she has just taken the magic potion, but they don't know that.)
- Guiderius and Arviragus are deeply saddened. They decide to lay the body next to the grave of Euripile, their mom—or, you know, the lady they think is their mom.
- Guiderius and Arviragus place flowers around Imogen. They want to sing but can't bring themselves to do it, so they speak the words of a song for her. Belarius brings Cloten's body in and lays it next to Imogen.
- After the men leave, Imogen awakes and sees Cloten's dead body next to her. She recognizes Posthumus's clothes and mourns the death of her husband. Then she figures out she must have been given a potion by Pisanio instead of medicine.
- Oh, that tricky Pisanio, she thinks: he must have been in cahoots with Cloten all along. She falls on Cloten's body.
- Just then, a Captain, a Soothsayer, and Lucius enter. They think that Cloten and Imogen are dead, but then Imogen arises.
- Imogen—still disguised as a boy—offers her services to Lucius. The Roman ambassador accepts; he likes Imogen immediately.
- Lucius tells Imogen that he'd rather be like a mentor than a master to her.
Act 4, Scene 3
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 4 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Back at the palace, Cymbeline asks for a report on his wife. It seems that the Queen became sick after her son left. Cymbeline thinks it's just because Cloten is gone.
- Cymbeline threatens to torture Pisanio in order to get news on Cloten's disappearance. Luckily, a lord steps in and confirms that Pisanio was there with him the day Cloten went missing.
- Fair enough, says Cymbeline, but what should he do about the Roman invasion? With his stepson detained, he's not sure what he should do.
- The counselors tell Cymbeline that he's already ready for war, so he should just go through with it.
- Cymbeline agrees and departs.
- Alone on stage, Pisanio thinks aloud. He says it's weird that he hasn't heard anything from Imogen or from his master. He wrote to Posthumus saying that Imogen was dead, but he hasn't heard back.
Act 4, Scene 4
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 4 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus discuss the fight with the Romans. They disagree about what they should do about it.
- Always afraid he will be recognized by somebody from the court, Belarius wants to lie low.
- But Guiderius and Arviragus think that's cowardly; they want to help Cymbeline's forces fight.
- It's two against one. Since the boys insist on fighting, Belarius finally agrees. He figures he'll have changed in appearance enough, anyway.
- The three men set off to fight for Britain.
Act 5, Scene 1
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 5 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- At the Roman camp, Posthumus enters and talks to a bloody cloth. We're not kidding, folks: he got it from Pisanio as "proof" of Imogen's death.
- Posthumus feels really bad about Imogen's death. He wishes his servant wouldn't have obeyed him.
- Posthumus tells us that he's been roped into fighting against the British because he's a Roman resident.
- Well, forget that: Posthumus doesn't want to live with any regrets, so he swaps out his Roman uniform for a British one. That way, he won't have to fight against his homeland.
- Posthumus hopes he can be strong and valiant on the battlefield.
Act 5, Scene 2
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 5 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Lucius, Iachimo, and the Roman army enter on one side of the stage; the British army enters on the other. Posthumus follows.
- Iachimo loses his sword to Posthumus (in disguise) and feels guilty about pretending to hook up with Posthumus's girl.
- After Posthumus has left, Iachimo says he feels bad for slandering Imogen's good name. He figures that he is like all Romans—mere mortals—unlike British, who men are gods.
- The battle rages on, and Cymbeline is overtaken.
- It's Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus to the rescue. The three men rescue Cymbeline. Then Posthumus enters along with more British peeps.
- Lucius realizes he and the Romans are defeated.
Act 5, Scene 3
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 5 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Posthumus runs into a couple of British lords who had fled from the fight. He tells them what happened in the battle.
- The lords find it strange that an old man and two boys could save the day.
- Posthumus is in a really bad mood and makes fun of them by coming up with a little riddle about the battle. Real mature.
- Not really understanding what's happening, the lords just figure that Posthumus is really angry, though they can't understand why.
- Once the lords leave, Posthumus gets rid of his British clothes and puts his Roman uniform on again. Huh?
- Posthumus wants to punish himself for Imogen's death by dying himself.
- Two captains enter and declare how grateful everyone is for the four men who saved the day. Aside from the old man and two young boys, there was another man in "silly habit" (translation: weird clothes). That fourth man would be Posthumus.
- Now that the war's over, no one can find any of the men.
- The captains find Posthumus and see that he is a Roman. They decide to take him to the king for punishment.
Act 5, Scene 4
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 5 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- In the stocks, Posthumus talks of his fate. He just wants to die for what he's done; he doesn't mind being in prison.
- Posthumus decides to speak to Imogen alone by falling asleep. Um, okay.
- Then it gets weird. A bunch of ghosts visit Posthumus in prison. They're the ghosts of his dead father, mother, and brothers. They circle around him as he sleeps.
- Posthumus's dead family knows he has done a great service to his country, but they think it's unfair that he's had to go through so much: banishment, trickery, false imprisonment, you name it.
- Posthumus's family feels for him: he's valiant and brave, and he's been wronged again and again.
- So the ghosts ask Jupiter, king of the gods, to grieve with them and take pity on Posthumus. What else is there to do?
- Then Jupiter himself descends into the prison cell on the back of an eagle. He's got thunderbolts and lighting. No, really: he does.
- The ghosts fall to their knees and listen to Jupiter. He's annoyed by these spirits: surely this isn't worth his time, right?
- Jupiter tells the ghosts that he sympathizes with Posthumus and will help him.
- Posthumus wakes up and thinks about his dream. He reads an oracle on the ground: it talks about a lion's whelp and a stately cedar.
- Posthumus is really, really confused at this point. (And frankly, so are we.) He figures it's all just part of a weird dream.
- The guards enter and talk about how Posthumus will soon be executed. One of the guards says something like, "Chin up: at least you don't have to pay any more bar tabs." Gee, that's a relief.
- Posthumus doesn't care. He tells the guards he'd rather die than live.
- Just in the nick of time, a messenger enters. Cymbeline has requested to see Posthumus.
- Once everyone else is gone, the jailer tells us he's never known a prisoner to care less about staying alive.
Act 5, Scene 5
Read the full text of Cymbeline Act 5 Scene 5 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Cymbeline thanks Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus for fighting so bravely for him. He knights them.
- Cymbeline says it's a real shame that no one could find that other guy who helped fight.
- Cornelius comes in to report that the Queen has died. In her dying moments she confessed she never loved Cymbeline; she was just a gold-digger who wanted the crown.
- That's not all: the Queen also said that she hated Imogen and was ready to poison her.
- Cymbeline is rocked by this news... but it just gets worse.
- Cornelius tells Cymbeline that the Queen said she was going to poison the king little by little so that Cloten could take the crown.
- Cymbeline is floored: he was completely deceived. He chalks it up to the fact that the Queen was hot. Women can be so deceiving, he says.
- That business over with, Lucius, Iachimo, Posthumus, and Imogen are brought in. Lucius asks for leniency for everyone, but especially for his boy servant, Imogen. After all, she's British and so young.
- Cymbeline feels like he knows the "boy," but he can't place him. He grants "Fidele" freedom and gives him one wish. Imogen/Fidele asks to speak to the king in private.
- As they leave, Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus whisper to each other and agree that this was the kid who died in their cave. They agree to keep silent and see where this thing goes.
- Sure, that's a great plan.
- Pisanio also realizes that this "Fidele" is someone from his past. The only difference is that he knows "Fidele" is actually Imogen.
- Cymbeline returns with Imogen and instructs Iachimo to answer her questions honestly.
- Imogen asks Iachimo where he got the ring on his finger. Everyone is a little confused: why would this kid care about that?
- Iachimo is reluctant at first, but then he admits that it was Posthumus's and that he tricked him to get it. He recounts the whole scene in the trunk in Imogen's bedchamber.
- Posthumus is livid. He calls Iachimo a "villain," and he isn't joking. He begins to fight with Iachimo for everything that has happened.
- In the hustle and bustle of it all, Posthumus accidently hits Imogen, who had come between him and Iachimo. Uh-oh.
- Everyone is worried. Pisanio goes to help Imogen, but she smacks him out of the way. "He gave me poison!" she proclaims.
- Pisanio tells Imogen the truth: the Queen gave it to him.
- Cornelius steps up and admits he made the potion. He didn't fess up to it before, because he was afraid of being punished.
- Ah… that makes sense, Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus tell one another. Imogen sees her long-lost cave friends and hugs them.
- Cymbeline and Imogen share a tearful reunion. Cymbeline apologizes for the wicked stepmother he brought into his daughter's life.
- Then Imogen and the three hunters-turned-knights tell everyone what happened with Cloten. Uh-oh: that's a problem, because that means Guiderius killed a prince. What's the big whoop? Well, if you kill a prince, you've gotta die.
- "Wait," says Belarius. "Remember that lord a while back called Belarius?"
- "Yeah, he was a traitor," says Cymbeline. "Why?"
- "Well, I am Belarius," says Belarius. "Did I not mention that before? Whoops."
- There's lots of details to fill in, but after a short speech, everyone seems to understand. This guy is Belarius, and he kidnapped the princes and raised them for the past twenty years.
- Cymbeline is overcome with happiness: his long-lost sons have returned. He forgets about the whole kidnapping thing and welcomes them all—even Belarius—with open arms.
- Imogen celebrates. She thinks about how funny it is that they all called each other "brother" back in the cave, and it turns out they actually were siblings the whole time.
- Then there's another matter to clear up: the Roman soldiers. What's to be done with these jokers?
- Iachimo offers Posthumus his service. Instead of going all rage-aholic on Iachimo again, Posthumus tells the dude to treat other people better. What did you think this was, a tragedy? It's all forgive-and-forget in Shakespearean romance.
- Posthumus calls the Soothsayer forward because he wants his dream interpreted.
- The Soothsayer comes forward and spells it all out for everyone. The cedar is Cymbeline. He now reaches out, and his branches (his children) have been restored to him. Imogen and Posthumus are reunited. So that takes the family tree to a new level. So, basically, Britain will live and prosper. No, really, that's what the oracle means.
- Cymbeline couldn't be happier. Nothing can put a damper on his mood. He even decides to send the Romans home without punishment—and he promises to pay the tribute from now on.