Cymbeline abbreviated

The play is set around the time of Christ and of Augustus Caesar, Rome’s first emperor.  Actually, the play is more of a fable than a play, created out of bits and pieces from history and other stories.  That’s what we’re told.  Cymbeline is Britain’s king.  His daughter, Imogen, has quietly married Posthumus and her father says he isn’t at all happy about it, strongly influenced as he is by the Queen. The King has Posthumus exiled to Rome and his daughter detained, under a form of house arrest.  Imogen is the King’s daughter by his former queen.  The King’s strong-willed queen has a son by a former husband.  The young man’s name is Cloten.  She had desperately wanted Imogen to marry him.  But the beautiful sweetheart of a princess, Imogen, wants nothing to do with Cloten, a lightweight. 

Julius Caesar had invaded Britain in about 35 BC and we’re told he had been impressed by the courage and determination of the British soldiers, though he thought they lacked skills.  Posthumus’ father was a hero in those battles, earning the honorary surname of Leonatus, an honorary title handed down to his son.  Posthumus is now in Rome and his host is Philario.  Posthumus had told Imogen that Philario was “a friend of my father’s, to me known by letter.” 

Augustus Caesar was a big deal.  He was Julius Caesar’s nephew, known in 32 BC as Octavius.  Octavius Caesar, Mark Antony and Lepidus ruled Rome in 30 BC as the triumvirate, succeeding Julius Caesar who had been stabbed to death in 32 BC on the steps of the Roman Senate by Brutus and others Conspirators.  With the death of Mark Antony and Lepidus (shared in detail in Antony and Cleopatra), Octavius consolidated his power, becoming in due course Augustus Caesar and the Roman Empire’s first emperor.  

We’re provided with some background as the play opens, one gentleman giving another a history of Posthumus. (History, Act 1, Scene 1) As we say, newly married Posthumus and Imogen have been separated; he being sent to Rome, she to detention.  She gives him a ring; he gives her a bracelet.  In Rome, Iachimo, a friend to Philario and a first-rate Lothario, immediately and audaciously challenges and baits Posthumus over the fidelity of Imogen, having never met her.  He makes a persuasive case that she may not be as faithful as Posthumus thinks she is, confident as he is as a womanizer.  He puts his money where his mouth is, so to speak.  For whatever reasons, Posthumus lets Iachimo entrap him; Philario, the senior member of the three, doing his best to intervene, saying “Gentlemen, enough of this.”  But neither of the young men back off.  Iachimo bets Posthumus ten-thousand gold ducats to Posthumus’ diamond ring that his wife is not the honorable woman he thinks she is, and that he will prove it.  Iachimo says “your hand; a covenant.”  Posthumus accepts the bet.   

The King’s physician provides the Queen with a box of medications that the Queen believes to be “most poisonous compounds,” but the distrusting physician says “she is fooled with a most false effect, and I the truer be to be false with her.”  The Queen asks Pisanio to help her by shifting his allegiance to her son, but loyal-to-Posthumus Pisanio will have none of it. (Request, Act 1, Scene 5)

Iachimo arrives in London with a letter from Posthumus introducing him as “one of the noblest note.”  Imogen welcomes him.  Imogen asks him to tell her of her husband.  He proceeds to tell her that her husband is spending time with prostitutes and that she should “be revenged,” since she “doth lie betwixt cold sheets whiles he is vaulting various vulgar women.”  He says he will dedicate himself to “your sweet pleasure,” asking her to “let me my service tender on your lips.”  She lashes out at him. (Anger, Act 1, Scene 6)  Iachimo recovers quickly, saying “give me your pardon. My respect for his being made me test you thus.”  The guy’s smooth. (Persuasion, Act 1, Scene 6) She buys into his explanation, saying “You make amends.  All’s well, sir.” He claims to have a trunk full of valuables that must be kept safe overnight. She agrees to keep the trunk in her bedroom overnight. 

Cloten learns that an Italian has arrived in the king’s court.  A Lord aside lets us in on his opinion of the Queen’s son.  (Insight, Act 2, Scene 1)  The trunk is brought into the princess’ bedroom. She falls fast asleep. Iachimo emerges from the trunk, taking careful note of the smallest details.  He slips the bracelet off the sleeping Imogen’s wrist. (Accumulation, Act 2, Scene 2)

We learn ambassadors from Rome have now arrived in London, one being Caius Lucius. Cloten again tries to get the princess to pay attention to him, she telling him bruskly that Posthumus’ “most worthless garment” is dearer to her than he is, infuriating him. 

Back in Rome, Philario lets Posthumus know that Lucius’ assignment from Augustus Caesar is to let Cymbeline know that Rome expects Britain to pay the arrearages it owes Rome.  Posthumus is suspect that the payments will ever be made, saying “this will prove a war.”  A confident Iachimo soon enters and promptly tells Posthumus that “your lady is one of the fairest I have looked upon,” and announces that “the ring is won.”  Posthumus responds “the stone’s too hard to come by.”  Iachimo replies “not a whit, your lady being so easy.”  Iachimo proceeds to precisely describe very personal and intimate details of Imogen and her bedroom. He shows him the bracelet. As Philario and Posthumus scramble to find flaws in Iachimo’s presentation, Iachimo plays his trump card, telling the men “under her breast lies a mole.”  Posthumus concedes defeat as he gives Iachimo the ring.  Posthumus lets us know that he thinks women in general are false. (Despondent, Act 2, Scene 5)

We learn that Rome does expect Britain to grant Rome “yearly three thousand pounds, which by thee lately is left untendered.”  The Queen gives the King a pep talk. (Defiant, Act 3, Scene 1) Cymbeline lets Lucius know that Rome shouldn’t expect the payments.  Lucius promptly responds “I pronounce Augustus Caesar thine enemy.”  They both expect a war.

Posthumus has written a letter to Pisanio instructing him to murder Imogen. Imogen receives a letter from Posthumus letting her know that he will soon be in Milford Haven, Wales and that she should meet him there.  She is beside herself with excitement. (Excitement, Act 3, Scene 2)  She and Pisanio leave for Milford Haven.

We then learn that Cymbeline’s sons, missing since they were “three and two years old,” are living in a cave in Wales with their abductor, Belarius.  They think of him as their father. They were abducted by Belarius twenty years ago. (History, Act 3, Scene 3)  We learn that the young men, Guiderius and Arviragus, “conduct themselves as princes.”  (Introspection, Act 3, Scene 3) We learn that Belarius’ wife was Euriphile, that she is deceased and that the boys “every day do honor her grave.”  The boys believe that she “wast their nurse.” 

On their trip to Milford Haven, Pisanio tells Imogen the situation as it is.  She draws Pisanio’s sword, asking him to kill her.  He refuses, of course.  She’s distraught. He presents an option.  He suggests she masquerade as “a mischievous boy, quick-answered, and as quarrelous as the weasel.”  She immediately buys into the ruse. He tells her he has all the clothes she’ll need in his cloak bag.  He gives her a box, saying “I had it from the Queen.”  The contents, he says, should help her if she gets sick. 

Lucius leaves Cymbeline, the two of them being very gracious to each other, and heads for Milford Haven. Cymbeline prepares for war.  He and the Queen discover that Imogen is missing.  The Queen guesses “she’s flown to her desired Posthumus.”  Pisanio has now returned.  Cloten notes that “I will conclude to hate her.”  He recalls reading in Posthumus’ letter that he hopes “to meet thee at Milford Haven!”  He has Pisanio provide him with Posthumus’ garments, his “suit.”  With plans to take along the garments, he plans to hurry to Milford Haven, commanding Pisanio, meanwhile, to be “a voluntary mute to my design.” 

Very much alone, Imogen now masquerades as a boy and calls herself Fidele. She gets lost on her way to Milford Haven and stumbles, practically starved and exhausted, into Belarius’ cave. (Insight, Act 3, Scene 6)  The three men soon arrive and treat her beautifully.  Later, Belarius says to Fidele “when we have supped, we’ll mannerly demand thee of thy story so far as thou wilt speak it.”  She responds “Thanks, sir.”  Rome prepares for war. They plan to “incite the gentry to this business,” gentry being mid-level citizens. The Italian gentry unit is to be led by Iachimo.

Following Pisanio’s map, Cloten finds himself near “the place where they should meet.”  He is dressed in Posthumus’ garments and has plans to kill Posthumus and rape Imogen.  He is near Belarius’ cave.  Imogen, still masquerading as Fidele, is sick.  The boys treat her with reverence, she saying “these are kind creatures.”  Being sick to her stomach, she takes the drugs Pisanio had given her, and goes back into the cave. Cloten arrives. Belarius sees him and says “I partly know him. ‘Tis Cloten, the son o’ th’ Queen.”  Belarius fears that Cloten will recognize him. Guiderius says “Pray you away.  Let me alone with him.”  Belarius and Arviragus exit. Guiderius and Cloten fight and exit.  Belarius and Arviragus soon re-enter.  Guiderius soon returns carrying Cloten’s head.  Often frightened Belarius exclaims “we are all undone.”  The boys are bolder.  The boys are fabulous.  By now, they have told us how much they “love” Fidele. Belarius lets us know how “princely” they are. (Tribute, Act 4, Scene 2)  Arviragus exits from the cave carrying Imogen as Fidele in his arms, believing she’s dead, she having taken the drugs. Belarius retrieves Cloten’s headless body, dressed as Posthumus, and places it next to Imogen as Fidele.  The men exit.  She wakens, sees the headless body dressed in “garments of Posthumus,” and believes Pisanio has killed him (believing him to be Posthumus), and that Pisanio has double-crossed her and “conspired with that unlawful Cloten.”  She’s very angry with Pisanio.

Lucius and Roman soldiers enter. We learn that “the legions garrisoned in Gallia are now here at Milford Haven.”  We also learn that “gentlemen of Italy come under the conduct of brave Iachimo.”  The Romans see Imogen as Fidele.  She’s lying there, using the headless body as a “bloody pillow.” They ask Imogen as Fidele “Who is ‘t? What art thou?”  She fibs when it comes to the name of “Who it is,” but lets the men know that she is Fidele.  Impressed with the way Fidele handles himself, Lucius says “wilt take thy chance with me?”  She responds “I’ll follow, sir.”  Roman soldiers carry away Cloten’s body.

Cymbeline believes Pisanio knows the whereabouts of his daughter and threatens to torture him if he doesn’t tell him where she is.  A Lord gets Pisanio off the hook, saying “the day that she was missing he was here.” Pisanio then lets us know that he hasn’t heard from Posthumus or Imogen and has no idea of the whereabouts of Cloten.  He lets us know, however, that “Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered.” 

Having heard the sound of Roman soldiers, Belarius is frightened and wants the three of them to move “higher to the mountains, there secure us.”  The boys will have none of it, Arviragus saying “what pleasure, sir, find we in life, to lock it from action and adventure.”  They decide to accept the risks and join the Brits, Belarius saying “Have with you, boys!  If in your country wars you chance to die, that is my bed, too, lads, and there I’ll lie.” 

Posthumus has a heart-to-heart talk with himself, certain that Pisanio has killed Imogen, certain that he would have followed his instructions. He has now joined the Roman cause as a soldier and joined their cause in Britain, hoping to die in battle. (Introspection, Act 5, Scene 1) Believing he has hurt Britain enough, he decides to “suit myself as does a Briton peasant and fight against the part I come with.”  The Romans seize the early advantage in the battle.  The British troops shamelessly break ranks and retreat. Cymbeline is captured. But Belarius and his “sons” soon enter as “fresh reinforcements,” singlehandedly, so to speak, routing the Romans and rescuing Cymbeline. (Heroic, Act 5, Scene 3) Posthumus was the fourth member of the “fresh reinforcements.” Lucius and other Romans are captured.  Having wanted to die in the cause, Posthumus is upset that he did not “find death,” wanting to “end it by some means for Imogen.”  He realigns himself with the Romans, is captured and imprisoned. (Determination, Act 5, Scene 3) As Posthumus sleeps, Jupiter descends and leaves a “tablet on his breast, which foretells of the ending of his miseries.” 

Having been rescued by Belarius and his sons, Cymbeline calls the three of them to his side to honor them.  But he bemoans the fourth soldier, the “poor soldier who so richly fought, whose rags shamed gilded arms, cannot be found.”  Cymbeline knights the men.  Cornelius enters to report that “the Queen is dead” and that she acknowledged at the time of her death that she never loved the King.  The King takes it in stride. Lucius, Iachimo and other Roman prisoners are brought onto the stage along with Posthumus and Imogen as Fidele, all guarded.  Lucius realizes his time is short, having lost the battle, and asks Cymbeline “to let my boy, a Briton born, be ransomed; that he hath no Briton harmed and to save him.”  He’s speaking of Fidele. Imogen at that point stares down Iachimo. In private, she tells the king of her past encounter with Iachimo. Guiderius and Arviragus note to themselves that they think they see Fidele. The emotion gets strong here. A more certain Pisanio says “It is my mistress.”  Imogen speaks of Iachimo’s ring.  Iachimo graciously tells Cymbeline the true story of how he secured the ring. (Disclosure No. 1, Act 5, Scene 5) The problem with the drugs in the box gets resolved.  Cymbeline comes to realize that Fidele is his daughter.  Imogen embraces a startled Posthumus who tells us “hang there like fruit, my soul, till the tree die.”  The subject turns to the missing Cloten.  Guiderius tells the King that “I slew him there” and that “he was most uncivil, nothing prince-like.” For killing a prince, Guiderius is bound by the guards.  Coming to Guiderius’ defense, Belarius tells the King that Guiderius is his older son, telling him the boys “are blood of your begetting.”  In a poignant presentation, Belarius lets us know how his rearing of the King’s sons came to be. (Disclosure No. 2, Act 5, Scene 5) Cymbeline, Belarius, the sons, Imogen and Posthumus work out their relationships.  Iachimo gives the ring and bracelet to Posthumus who tells him “I spare you; the malice towards you to forgive you.”  Cymbeline responds “pardon’s the word to all.”  The Soothsayer reads Jupiter’s parchment, reporting that “from a stately cedar, the lopped branches, being dead many years, shall after revive, be jointed to the old stock, and freshly grow, and shall Britain be fortunate and flourish in peace and plenty.”

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