By Charles Matthews

Monday, February 6, 2012

3. Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare, pp. 47-77

Act II 

Scene I

Cloten has been playing bowls and gambling -- and losing. As usual, the First Lord eggs him on as the Second Lord mutters deprecatory asides. One of Cloten's complaints is that is that some "whoreson jackanapes" had the effrontery to complain about his swearing, but since he was not of Cloten's rank he couldn't challenge him to a duel: "I had rather not be so noble as I am: they dare not fight with me, because of the queen my mother."

The First Lord changes the subject, asking if he has heard of the arrival of Iachimo, "a stranger that's come to court to-night." He is "an Italian ... and 'tis thought one of Leonatus' friends." So Cloten swaggers off to "see this Italian," proposing to gamble with him and win back what he lost at bowls. The Second Lord stays behind to marvel "That such a crafty devil as is his mother / Should yield the world this ass!"

Scene II

Imogen enters "in her bed," which probably means that there is an inner stage with a curtain that can be drawn across it to reveal or conceal a bed (or a throne, or some other cumbersome bit of scenery).  She has been reading and is ready to go to sleep, and asks her lady-in-waiting, whom she calls Helen, what time it is. "Almost midnight," Helen replies, so Imogen tells her to wake her at four.

When she is asleep, Iachimo emerges from the trunk she has agreed to stash in her bedroom. He begins to extol her beauty, but forces himself to remember his "design. / To note the chamber: I will write all down." He proceeds to catalog the furnishings of the room, but more particularly to look for some detail that will prove to Posthumus that he has slept with Imogen. He finds what he wants: the bracelet Posthumus gave her, and slips it from her wrist. He also observes "On her left breast / A mole cinque-spotted: like the crimson drops / I' th' bottom of a cowslip." And he notes that she is reading "The tale of Tereus, here the leaf's turn'd down / Where Philomel gave up." The tale from Ovid's Metamorphoses is one of rape, which Iachimo is figuratively committing.Then the clock strikes three and he realizes it's time to get back in the trunk.

Scene III

Cloten has lost at gambling again, though presumably not to Iachimo, who as we have seen has been otherwise occupied. So he comes to woo Imogen, having been "advised to give her music a mornings, they say it will penetrate." And as if we don't know already what he means by "penetrate," he tells the musicians, "Come on, tune: if you can penetrate her with your fingering, so: we'll try with tongue too."

The musicians sing "Hark, hark, the lark at heaven's gate sings," after which Cloten dismisses them. The Second Lord observes that the king is approaching, which pleases Cloten: "I am glad I was up so late, for that's the reason I was up so early." He greets Cymbeline and the Queen, and the king approvingly notes his attempt to woo Imogen.

A messenger arrives to say that ambassadors from Rome have arrived, including Caius Lucius. Cymbeline notes that "he comes on angry purpose" -- we learn that the Romans are there to collect tribute money that the Britons have been withholding. Cymbeline tells Cloten to finish up his wooing and join them at court: "we shall have need / T' employ you towards this Roman."

Left alone again, Cloten plans to worm his way into the favors of Imogen's attendants, but the lady who answers to his knock on the door is wary of him. Imogen appears anyway, but makes it clear that she isn't going to respond to this fool's blandishments:
                                           learn now, for all, 
That I, which know my heart, do here pronounce, 
By th' very truth of it, I care not for you, 
And am so near the lack of charity 
(To accuse myself) I hate you: which I had rather 
You felt than make't my boast.
Cloten reminds her that she should be obedient to her father's wishes, and proceeds with a putdown of Posthumus, "that base wretch, / One bred of alms, and foster'd with cold dishes, / With scraps o' th' court." She retorts that even if he were "the son of Jupiter," Cloten would be "too base / To be his [Posthumus's] groom." Posthumus's "meanest garment, / That ever hath but clipp'd his body, is dearer" to her than Cloten.

She calls for Pisanio, and as Cloten repeatedly sputters, "His garment!" she sends Pisanio to look for the bracelet that she has discovered is missing. And she presciently observes, "I hope it be not gone to tell my lord / That I kiss aught but he." She leaves Cloten still exclaiming "'His mean'st garment!'" and vowing to be revenged.

Scene IV

Back in Rome, Posthumus and Philario are discussing the journey of Caius Lucius to demand the tribute, with Philario expressing his confidence that Cymbeline will yield. Posthumus is not so sure: He thinks there will be war, and that the Britons are not afraid of the Romans. "Our countrymen / Are men more order'd than when Julius Caesar / Smil'd at their lack of skill, but found their courage / Worthy his frowning at."

Iachimo returns, but he has no news of Caius Lucius's mission. Instead, he delivers the news that he has won Posthumus's ring. Posthumus, of course, thinks he's kidding: "The stone's too hard to come by." But Iachimo replies, "Not a whit, / Your lady being so easy." Posthumus warns him not to joke about it, but Iachimo insists that he's serious. He describes the bedchamber with its tapestry of "Proud Cleopatra, when she met her Roman" -- the point being that Iachimo was Imogen's Roman -- and the sculpture on the fireplace of "Chaste Dian, bathing," an ironic jab at Imogen's purported lack of chastity.

Posthumus says that anyone could have described the room to him, but then Iachimo produces the bracelet. Posthumus is thunderstruck, but decides that "May be she pluck'd it off / To send it me." Iachimo asks if she mentions doing so in the letters he has brought Posthumus from Britain. "O, no, no, no, 'tis true," admits Posthumus, and he gives Iachimo the ring.

Philario intervenes to urge Posthumus not to be so hasty: Maybe one of Imogen's maids stole it and gave it to Iachimo. But when Iachimo swears, "By Jupiter, I had it from her arm," Posthumus is convinced: Such an oath on the most high god makes him believe that Iachimo is telling the truth, as in fact he is. He doesn't swear that she gave it to him, just that he "had it from her arm." When Philario again counsels Posthumus to "be patient," Iachimo delivers the coup de grâce: Imogen has a mole under her breast.

That's enough for Posthumus. He is so convinced of Imogen's guilt that he tells Iachimo "I will kill thee if thou dost deny / Thou'st made me cuckold." He exits in a fury, only to return after Philario and Iachimo have left and to launch into a maddened soliloquy about the faithlessness of not only Imogen but of all women. There is a note of sexual frustration in all of this, as Posthumus recalls the times when Imogen refused to have sex with him:
Me of my lawful pleasure she restrain'd, 
And pray'd me oft forbearance: did it with 
A pudency so rosy, the sweet view on't 
Might well have warm'd old Saturn; that I thought her 
As chaste as unsunn'd snow. 
But now here she is having sex with "This yellow Iachimo," which awakens in Posthumus prurient imaginings: "Perchance he spoke not, but / Like a full-acorn'd boar, a German one, / Cried 'O!' and mounted." And he storms off in a rage of misogyny.
Act II of this 1982 BBC-TV production begins at about 36:53.

Richard Johnson as Cymbeline; Helen Mirren as Imogen; Michael Pennington as Posthumus; Claire Bloom as the Queen; Paul Jesson as Cloten; Robert Lindsay as Iachimo; John Kane as Pisanio; Hugh Thomas as Cornelius; Geoffrey Lumsden as Philario; Patsy Smart as Helen; Alan Hendrick as the Frenchman; Michael Gough as Belarius; Geoffrey Burridge as Guiderius; David Creedon as Arviragus; Marius Goring as Sicilius Leonatus: Michael Hordern as Jupiter

No comments:

Post a Comment