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Cymbeline (A Romantic Tragicomedy)

Cymbeline, the King of Britain, is a widower with three children. His two boys (Guiderius and Arviragus) were kidnapped 20 years ago at age three, leaving his daughter, Imogen, as the only heir to the throne. Cymbeline marries, gaining a stepson, Cloten (rhymes with rotten) through his wife, the Queen, begotten from a previous marriage. Cymbeline wishes Imogen to marry her stepbrother, Cloten. Imogen disobeys and marries her childhood friend Posthumus Leonatus. Cymbeline, outraged, banishes Posthumus from Britain and imprisons Imogen (to the castle only, however).

Posthumus goes to Rome and meets his wartime friend, Philario. In Rome, Iachimo (a Frenchman) bets Posthumus that he (Iachimo) can woo Posthumus' wife Imogen, thereby breaking her chastity. Posthumus takes Iachimo up on the bet, and Iachimo heads to Britain. Iachimo cannot woo Imogen, however, so he sneaks into her bedroom, steals her bracelet, and returns to Rome to successfully convince Posthumus that he has succeeded, though he hadn't actually succeeded. Posthumus, in anger, orders his servant, Pisanio, to kill Imogen. Pisanio cannot, though he makes it look like Imogen is dead by taking her to Milford Haven and disguising her as a male named Fidele. In Milford Haven, Imogen (as Fidele) meets her brothers living with Belarius, a lord banished years ago by Cymbeline. Imogen, of course, does not know this, though. It turns out that Belarius had kidnapped the boys in anger towards Cymbeline for banishing him.

Unbeknownst to Imogen, Cloten had followed her to Milford Haven, wearing Posthumus' clothes, in hopes of tricking Imogen, since Cloten wishes to marry her. Cloten meets Guiderius and Cloten treats him rudely; a fight ensues and Guiderius cuts off Cloten's head. To cover up the death, he puts the head in the river and lets it float to the sea. Imogen falls sick and takes medicine given to her by Pisanio as a present. {The Queen had given the medicine (she thought poison) to Pisanio, thinking he would give it to Imogen or Posthumus as a gift. The Queen wanted one of them dead so that either her son would be the only heir, or Imogen would have no husband and would be forced to marry Cloten. The medicine was given to the Queen by the doctor Cornelius, though she had requested he give her poison.} The medicine puts Imogen into a deep sleep, and Belarius et al., thinking she is dead, lay her to rest (above ground) beside Cloten's body. When Imogen awakes, she thinks (by the clothing) that she is beside her dead husband.

Meanwhile, Caius Lucius had visited Cymbeline demanding tribute to Rome and Augustus Caesar. Cymbeline refuses and Lucius declares war on Britain. From all this stress, and because her son is missing (actually dead), the Queen gets sick and dies. On her death bed she admits many evils, including hating Cymbeline. Caius Lucius comes across Imogen right after she awakens, and Imogen joins his army in despair. In the only battle of the war, Cymbeline is captured by the Romans, then rescued by Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus, plus a little help from Posthumus. The Britons then capture Posthumus, thinking he is Roman, and take him to Cymbeline, but only after Posthumus is visited by his late father, mother, brothers and Jupiter in a vision. In the last scene of the play, Imogen returns to her father, Iachimo confesses of his evils and the stealing of Imogen's bracelet, Cornelius explains the Queen's medicine/"poison", Cloten's death is explained, Belarius admits to kidnapping the princes, Cymbeline allows Imogen and Posthumus to stay married, a soothsayer explains a book left in Posthumus' lap by the god Jupiter, and peace is made with the Romans. Cymbeline does not punish Iachimo or Belarius.

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Recent Forum Posts on Cymbeline

Why do you like Cymbeline?

Hi all, Besides Imogen, is there any other reason why Cymbeline moves you? I am trying to motivate myself to be passionate about this play because if I am not, I just have a hell of a time trying to figure it out. So I really need to find something that's super intriguing. The strong character of Imogen is appealing, but she's too rich (the daughter of a king) and so I can't really associate myself with her. Yes, she has a tough problem to deal with--her lover is banished--but still I can't find a drop of compassion in me for her plight. That she loves Posthumous and that he loves her so well is something that attracts me, but still both are way too rich for me to identify with. Anyway, it would help me if you let me know what moves you about this play. Thanks!

at Lincoln Center

If you're in NYC over the holidays and can get tickets, see this one. After intermission (sneak in if you can) it is unusually good with lots of lighting effects, etc.

completely lost

I have to do a report on this play and although the plot seems intresting the stage changes to much there is to many scenes and to much going on at one time are you sure this play is Shakespeare's work.

a few mistakes

There are a few inaccuracies in your summary of Cymbeline. Iachimo is Italian, not French. The King's sons were not both 3 years old when kidnapped; one was 3 and one was a younger infant. Plus, Posthumous is more than a "childhood friend" of Imogen . . . they were raised together, and he has an impecable, though perhaps somewhat undeserved, reputation. Read the text!
My professor is focusing our discussions on Imogen as a heroine who influences the action of the play, the theme of loss, and the theme of forgiveness. I think it's a great play.

ouch! clarity, please!

I've been in Cymbeline and have studied it extensively and can can sympathize with those who might find the play rather complex and confusing. This summary does not help simplify matters, though. This happens to be one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, and in terms of attribution, if you do a comparison of styles, you'll find that most of the devices used in this play, as well as the language itself, fit very nicely in with the rest of his works. What is a bit frustrating to most readers/viewers is catagorizing the play. Many place it in the Romance or the Comedy catagory, but if I had to catagorize it, I'd put it in it's own catagory: Realistic Fantasy. The different settings - rustic Wales, imperial Rome, and feudal England - as well as the different character types do not allow it to be catagorized with the other High Comedies or the Late Romances, but that by no means makes it inferior. The main character, Imogen, is much more reminiscent of Roslind from 'As You Like It' or Viola from 'Twelfth Night' than Miranda from 'Tempest.' With staging, I've found the best way is to keep things simplistic. Using three cubes allows you to arrange them to be a table and two chairs in Italy, a throne for Cymbeline, rocks outside of Belarius' cave, or what you will. The more complicated the performance is, the more confused the audience is. This play can be fantastic, if only you take the time to understand it. Thanks, Jupiter!

No Subject

it sounds ridiculously complex (but then so does most shakespeare) but every time i've seen it it's been really really beautiful. and fear no more the heat of the sun is a gorgeous poem upon imogen/fedele's "death".

No Subject

I know some of shakespeare's work is a littlle convoluted, but this? I don't know about the attribuions, but I don't think this is shakespearean. He knew the stage, and this would be almost impossible A - to follow, and B- to present convincingly.

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