Study Guide

Cymbeline, King of Britain Women and Femininity

By William Shakespeare

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Women and Femininity

Women: can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.

That's the philosophy of a lot of the guys in Cymbeline (we're looking at you, Posthumus and Iachimo). But underneath the jokes and bets about women, there are some things that aren't so funny. Yes, times were different in Shakespeare's day, and we do get to see some traditional traditional 17th-century ideas about men and women. For example, it was typical for a father to arrange his daughter's marriage, so when Cymbeline insists on choosing Imogen's hubby for her, that would have been pretty normal.

But other events in the play make us take a good, hard look at women and their function in society. There's a lot of talk about manipulation, control, and even rape here—even the Queen joins in for some of it. A lot of the plot hinges on Imogen's sexual purity, but nobody cares much about Posthumus's, except Imogen herself.

So what gives? What's a woman's role in this society? How does Imogen fit in (or not fit in)? How does Shakespeare try to play with these ideas—and possibly subvert them?

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. How do men interact with each other in the play? How do they discuss women?
  2. How are relationships between men and women portrayed? Are there any healthy marriages?
  3. What kinds of authority and power are women given? How does Imogen's agency compare to the Queen's?
  4. Pisanio claims that women are fickle, fearful, pretty, and weak-hearted. Is this true of all women in the play?

Chew on This

All women are portrayed as deceitful and untrustworthy in Cymbeline.

In the play, a man's happiness is dependent on how much control he has over his wife and daughter.

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