Study Guide

Cymbeline, King of Britain Act 5, Scene 4

By William Shakespeare

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.

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