Cymbeline: by Shakespeare - Summary

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      Cymbeline, a play by William Shakespeare, published in the First Folio of 1623. There are various sources, of which Holinshed’s Chronicles is primary only in the sense that it deals with the reign of the early Christian king, Cymbeline.

      The emotional center of the play is the relationship of Iomgen, Cymbeline’s daughter, and Posthumus Leonatus, whom the King has raised. Angered by their marriage, Cymbeline banishes Posthumus almost as the play opens. The intrigues and complications that delay their reunion make the matter of the play, which can be seen as a prolonged testing of their love. The many strands are kept separate until the extraordinary (and in some eyes clumsy) final act.

      The story of lachimo is one strand. Taking refuge in Rome, the banished Posthumus funds solace in the company of the cynical lachimo, but wagers Imogen’s virtue against lachimo’s boast that he will seduce her. Imogen does, indeed, resist all lachimso’s wiles, and he is forced to cheat by hiding in a trunk to gain access to her bedroom. There he observes the mole on the breast of the sleeping Imogen, takes note of the room’s furnishings and steals a bracelet. Confronted with this evidence of Imogen’s infidelity, Posthumus swears vengeance and sails for England intent on killing her.

      lachimo is not the only schemer against the marriage. Cymbeline’s second wife, a wicked queen of fairy tale proportions, wants Posthumus dead so that her oafish son Cloten can marry Imogen. The desperate linogen learns of her husband’s anger from his servant Pisanio while they are traveling to Milford Haven for what she had supposed to be a love tryst. She disguises herself as a boy (significantly named Fidele). Cloten pursues her, determined to kill Posthumus and rape Imogen; but ‘Fidele’, lost in Wales, has fallen among friends. Neither she nor they know that the two sons of the exiled general Belarius are, in fact, Cymbeline’s own lost sons that discovery must await the final act but the love between them protect Imogen from Cloten, who is killed and beheaded by one of the boys.

      It can be appreciated that the final act has to work hard to achieve all the necessary reconciliations, as well as to achieve a political peace between Rome and Britain. It is not only credibility which the plot strains, but also comprehension. Cymbeline is a difficult play to categorize. The editors of the First Folio grouped it among the tragedies, but it outcome is comedic mud even its deeper tones are dependent more on peril than on actual pain. It stands with the group of last plays, Pericles, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, all written to satisfy the new fashion, encouraged by the staging facilities of the indoor theatre at the Blackfriars, for spectacle and romance.

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