Cymbeline condensed

We’re told Cymbeline was king of Britain at the time of Christ and Augustus Caesar.  This story is as much a legend as it is a play. The play’s heroine is Imogen and she is the king’s daughter by a former queen.  To the current queen’s extreme dismay, Imogen has recently married Posthumus, a fine young man reared as a member of the king’s court.  But the queen has a son, Cloten, by a former husband, and she’s ambitious for him. Posthumus’ father was a British military hero when Julius Caesar invaded Britain some thirty-five years earlier.  Cymbeline had two sons who were “stolen” when they were three and two years old and “to this hour no guess in knowledge which way they went.”  These boys have become the very best of men, as we’ll later see.  The queen and her son Cloten are really dastardly.  Imogen is the sister of the two “lost” boys and she is the greatest, as Shakespeare’s heroines often are.  The emotion of the story develops from the stark contrast in personalities, a method often used by Shakespeare to get our attention.

Act 1. The king, influenced as he is by the queen, has banished Posthumus to Rome and has Imogen loosely held under house arrest.  In Rome, Posthumus meets Iachimo, a Lothario, who immediately challenges Posthumus’ claim of Imogen’s unshakeable fidelity; who makes an outlandish bet that Posthumus innocently and defensively accepts.  Posthumus bets his diamond wedding ring against Iachimo’s gold.  Iachimo promptly leaves for London and through an introductory letter provided to him by Posthumus meets with Imogen. Iachimo promptly tells her that her husband is spending time with “various vulgar women” and that he will dedicate himself to her “sweet pleasure.”  She rebukes him angrily, but he’s quick and explains that he was just testing her.  She accepts his response. She agrees to hold his trunk full of valuables in her bedroom that night, perhaps still a little unsettled.

Act 2.  At some point he gets into the trunk that gets into her bedroom.  Right after midnight, when she’s sound asleep, he gets out of the trunk and sees plenty and remembers all that he’s seen.  He also slips the bracelet off her wrist, the bracelet being a wedding symbol given to her by her husband. Back in Rome, we learn that Augustus Caesar wants Britain to make good on its prior commitment to supply Rome with the payments it owes.  Cymbeline, lobbied by the queen, has decided not to make the payments.  Posthumus figures “This will prove a war.”  Iachimo returns to Rome and lets Posthumus know that “the ring is won, your lady being so easy.”  Posthumus demands that Iachimo provide him with evidence.  Iachimo shows him the bracelet and tells him “of marks of secret on her person.”  Posthumus concedes the bet and gives him the ring. 

Act 3. Posthumus writes a letter to his aide, Pisanio, instructing him to murder Imogen.  He also writes to Imogen to ask her to meet him in Milford Haven, Wales.  She’s all excited.  On their trip to Milford Haven, Pisanio tells her all.  She wants him to kill her.  He suggests, as an alternative, that she masquerade as a boy, Fidele.  He has the clothes for her.  She likes the idea.  The Roman troops land at Milford Haven.  Pisanio returns to London.  She (now Fidele) gets lost on her way to Milford Haven.  She, hungry and exhausted, finds an unoccupied cave.  Fresh food happens to be available. She helps herself.  The men who occupy the cave return, a father and his two purported-to-be sons.  All three of them treat her beautifully, she saying “these are kind creatures.”  We learn that Iachimo leads some of the Roman troops that represent Italian gentry.

Act 4. Cloten shows up near the cave, having learned that Posthumus soon plans to arrive in Milford.  He’s dressed in Posthumus’ garments, Imogen earlier having told him that Posthumus’ “most worthless garment” is dearer to her than he is.  His plans are to kill Posthumus, violate Imogen, and to then “drag” her back to London.  Guiderius, the older of the two boys, returns, talks with Cloten and finds that he dislikes him.  He tells his dad and brother to “let me alone with him.”  He kills Cloten, cutting off his head with Cloten’s sword.  The father, Belarius, less bold and adventuresome than the boys, is frightened for their lives, knowing that Cloten is a prince, he having seen him before.  The men go hunting.  Imogen becomes very sick.  She sees the headless body and is distraught, thinking the body is Posthumus.  She is infuriated with Pisanio, thinking he has double-crossed her.  The Roman troops, led by Lucius, find Imogen-Fidele asleep.  They treat him (her) nicely.  Lucius is so impressed with the way “Fidele” handles himself that he asks him to be his aide.  Fidele accepts the offer.  Hearing sounds made by the Roman soldiers, Belarius tells the boys they all need to move “higher to the mountains.”  The younger boy, Arviragus, responds “what pleasure, sir, find we in life, to lock it from action and adventure.”  Belarius accepts the plea, saying “have with you, boys.” 

Act 5.  Posthumus, very disappointed with himself, comes to Britain with the Roman forces, but switches clothes to those of a British peasant, hoping to die in the war on behalf of Britain.  As the battle begins, the Romans rout the Britons. Cymbeline is captured. But Belarius and his sons plus a masquerading-as-a-peasant Posthumus turn the battle around, routing the Romans, freeing Cymbeline and capturing Lucius, Iachimo and others, as well as Lucius’ aide, Fidele. Now that he has not died in the battle, Posthumus switches back to a Roman uniform.  He too is captured.  Jupiter visits Posthumus in his sleep, leaving a parchment “which foretells the ending of his miseries.”  Cymbeline knights Belarius and his sons.  We learn the double-dealing queen has died.  Lucius persuades Cymbeline to let his aide, Fidele, go free since “he a Briton born and having no Briton harmed.”  Imogen (still as Fidele) sees Iachimo and his ring.  She stares him down.  All falls into place.  Everyone learns who each other is.  The king is overwhelmed learning that Belarius’ sons are his sons, both fabulous young men, the best of princes, found after these twenty years.  Posthumus and Imogen are reunited.  He forgives Iachimo.  Cymbeline says “pardon’s the word to all.”  The Soothsayer reads Jupiter’s parchment which in part reads “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.”