By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

4. Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare, pp. 78-121

Act III 

Scene I

Accompanied by the Queen and Cloten, Cymbeline meets with Caius Lucius, the emissary from Augustus Caesar, about the demand for tribute. Lucius's message is that when Julius Caesar defeated Cymbeline's uncle, Cassibelan, Rome was promised an annual tribute of three thousand pounds, but that Cymbeline has neglected to pay it. The Queen and Cloten chime in to say that Cymbeline has been quite right in withholding the payment, with the Queen voicing some British pride in being an island nation and claiming that Julius Caesar never really conquered the isles.

Cloten keeps breaking in to babble jingoist boasts as well, though Cymbeline urges him to let his mother to the talking. Finally, Cymbeline says that since Mulmutius established the laws of Britain and made himself king, they recognize no authority that Rome has over the country. This leaves Lucius with no recourse but to pronounce a state of war between Rome and Britain. So be it, replies Cymbeline, and cordially invites Lucius to stay a day or two longer before going back to Rome with his reply.

Scene II

Pisanio enters reading a letter from Posthumus and exclaiming in astonishment at the charge that Imogen has been unfaithful, and even more at his master's command that Pisanio should murder her. When Imogen enters, he decides not to reveal what is in his letter -- "I am ignorant in what I am commanded" -- but to give her the letter that Posthumus has addressed to her.

She reads it, and is delighted to learn that he is in Wales (Cambria) at Milford-Haven. She begins to make plans to go there to see him, telling Pisanio to have her attendant woman pretend that she needs to go home to see her ailing father, and to get Imogen some inexpensive riding clothes.

Scene III

We go to Wales, and the cave where the banished lord Belarius lives with Cymbeline's two kidnapped sons, Guiderius and Arviragus, under other names: Belarius is Morgan, Guiderius is Polydore, and Arvirgus is Cadwal. Belarius is full of praise of the simple life, claiming that living in a cave makes one appreciate the skies above.
                                              The gates of monarchs 
Are arch'd so high that giants may jet through 
And keep their impious turbans on, without 
Good morrow to the sun. Hail, thou fair heaven!
Guiderius and Arviragus echo his salutation, "Hail, heaven!" though not, we suspect, with quite so much relish. When Belarius starts going on about how much nobler this pastoral life is than that of currying favor at court, Guiderius points out that since they've never been to court, they don't have much to compare with the life they've always known. Arviragus agrees:
                                             We have seen nothing: 
We are beastly: subtle as the fox for prey, 
Like warlike as the wolf for what we eat: 
Our valour is to chase what flies: our cage 
We make a quire, as doth the prison'd bird, 
And sing our bondage freely.
But Belarius says they're better off not having gone through what he did. His "body'd mark'd / With Roman swords," he says, and when he was a soldier he was a favorite of Cymbeline's. But then "two villains, whose false oaths prevail'd / Before my perfect honour, swore to Cymbeline / I was confederate with the Romans." And so he has lived in exile for twenty years.

Then he sends them off up into the hills to drive down the game, while he remains below in the valley to kill it. When they leave, he soliloquizes about how they don't know they are actually the sons of the king, whom he kidnapped when Guiderius was three and Arviragus was two, trying to deprive Cymbeline of an heir to the crown. They think that their nurse, Euriphile, who was his accomplice, was their mother, "And every day do honour to her grave," and that he is their father. He exits to pursue the game that the men have flushed.

Scene IV

Nearby, Pisanio and Imogen have arrived. She is hoping to see Posthumus soon, but Pisanio is forced to reveal the truth. He shows her the letter Posthumus sent to him, accusing her of having "played the strumpet in my bed," and commanding Pisanio to "let thine own hands take away her life." Thunderstruck, she nevertheless immediately suspects Iachimo of the slander. She denounces the falseness of men, though not quite as vehemently as Posthumus did that of women, and draws Pisanio's sword, ordering him to "take it, and hit / The innocent mansion of my love, my heart."

Pisanio refuses to do the deed, and she, echoing Hamlet, hesitates to commit suicide: "Against self-slaughter / There is a prohibition so divine / That cravens my weak hand." When Pisanio continues to refuse to kill her, she asks why he came all this way with her. He says it was "to win time / To lose so bad employment, in the which / I have consider'd of a course." He says he is sure that "some villain, / Ay, and singular in his art, hath done you both / This cursed injury." So he proposes to send Posthumus "Some bloody sign" that Imogen is dead.

He tells her that "th' ambassador, / Lucius the Roman, comes to Milford-Haven / To-morrow." He proposes that she disguise herself as a boy and find a way to join the service of Lucius, which will get her "near / The residence of Posthumus." Presumably she'll find a way once she gets to Rome to disabuse Posthumus of both her death and her infidelity. And finally, he gives her the box with the not-quite-fatal potion Cornelius had prepared for the Queen:
Here is a box, I had it from the queen, 
What's in't is precious: if you are sick at sea, 
Or stomach-qualm'd at land, a dram of this 
Will drive away distemper.

Scene V

Lucius is making his departure from court, apologizing "that I must report ye / My master's enemy," and requesting an escort to Milford-Haven. When he is gone, Cymbeline observes that Imogen hasn't made an appearance lately, and sends an attendant to summon her. The Queen notes that she has been withdrawn since Posthumus's banishment.

The attendant returns to report that Imogen's chambers are locked and no one answers when they knock on the door. Cloten also mentions that Pisanio hasn't been seen lately either. The Queen sends him off to look for Pisanio, then observes to herself that Pisanio has the drug she gave him, and hopes he has taken it. If Imogen is gone, all the better: "I have the placing of the British crown."

Cloten returns to say that it's evident Imogen is gone, and sends his mother to cheer up Cymbeline. When she's gone, he reflects on how he loves Imogen but hates her for "throwing favours on / The low Posthumus." Then Pisanio enters and Cloten challenges him: "Villain, / Where is thy lady?" Pisanio gives him the letter in which Posthumus claims he is in Milford-Haven. Cloten says he will reward Pisanio if he agrees to serve him. Pisanio says he will, so Cloten asks if he has any of the clothing Posthumus left behind. Pisanio agrees to fetch them, and while he's gone, Cloten vows, "With that suit upon my back, will I ravish her: first kill him, and in her eyes; there shall she see my valour, which will then be a torment to her contempt."

Pisanio returns with the clothes, and Cloten rushes off to put them on.

Scene VI

A weary Imogen, dressed as a boy, comes across Belarius's cave and, seeking food, enters it.

Scene VII

Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus return from the hunt with what they have killed, and discover Imogen in the cave. She explains that she was on her way to Milford-Haven to see "a kinsman who / Is bound for Italy," and that she was so hungry and tired she stopped to rest in the cave. Her name, she tells them, is Fidele. They welcome her, and in an aside she wishes "that they / Had been my father's sons," because then there would have been less pressure on her to marry someone who could inherit Cymbeline's throne, and thus less objection to her marrying Posthumus.

Scene VIII

Two Senators and a Tribune discuss the pending war between Rome and Britain.
Act III of this 1982 BBC-TV production begins at about 1:05:06.

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; Graham Cowden as Caius Lucius; Michael Gough as Belarius; Geoffrey Burridge as Guiderius; David Creedon as Arviragus; Marius Goring as Sicilius Leonatus: Michael Hordern as Jupiter

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