A Shakespeare Read-Along Adventure post: CYMBELINE

cymbeline-1(Chicago Shakespeare Theater)

A few years ago (ten, it was ten years ago, I’m so old) I had an on-going, super informal Hamlet discussion going on in my LiveJournal. Actually, calling it a “discussion” might be dignifying it too much. Mostly it was me reading the play and posting scene-by-scene, line-by-line commentary. Sometimes it was super profound commentary that would make my former professors proud. Sometimes it was me making fun of Horatio for thinking he would know how to talk to ghosts just because he went to college for three semesters. And the comments, of course, were open for everyone else to post their own insight and mockery.

So after a recent discussion on Facebook, I decided to host a similar discussion for Cymbeline here at Language and Light. Never read Cymbeline? Never fear! The text of the play will be posted in its entirety, scene by scene by scene, so you can read along with me, as long as you don’t mind me snickering in your ear as we go along. All my commentary is marked in bold, even, so you can skip right past it if you like your initial read-through to be untainted by other people’s opinions.

Each post will be dedicated to a single scene, unless a scene is really short, and then I might cram two scenes in.

Why Cymbeline?

I love the “romances”—Pericles, Winter’s Tale, Cymbeline, The Tempest, and a few others like Measure for Measure that just defy neat categorization. There are lots of reasons for this, but the principle one is that I feel like the romances get overlooked next to their noisier, bloodier sisters like Macbeth, and the second Henriad, and yes, Hamlet.

I should probably point out that I’m not a scholar by profession, I never went to grad school, I never wrote a dissertation. I’m just a nerd who reads a lot of books and spends too much time on the internet. Don’t be surprised if I started reacting in memes once the play gets properly underway.

CYMBELINE: A cursory background

For those of you coming to the play for the first time, here’s some context. Cymbeline is one of the “romances” or “tragicomedies” written late in Shakespeare’s career—1609-1610, in this case. Some people characterize the romances as “tragedies, but with happy endings”. (If, by happy endings, you mean that the stage isn’t littered with bodies at the end of the play, I’m willing to go with that generalization.) Personally I think the reason that Shakespeare’s last handful of plays are the weird little stories they are is because, as he neared the end of his career, he threw out his personal dramatic rule book and wrote what he damn well pleased. But I’ll save my thoughts on that for later.

Background on Cymbeline specifically: like so many of his history-light plays, Shakespeare drew on Holinshed for this one, though since the play is set in pre-Christian, pre-Roman Britain, it’s probably also worth mentioning that he got some background from Livy, Plutarch, and Ovid, like any good grammar-school boy of his era. We know this in part because Shakespeare was kind of obsessed with the Rape of Lucrece, subject of one of his earliest poetic works, and the dramatic conflict in Cymbeline owes a lot to that story. (Livy and Ovid would have been his sources for that story.) But as is typically the case with anything written by Shakespeare (who, like me, was no scholar), Cymbeline takes place in its own setting, freed from any aspirations towards historical accuracy. Shakespeare chucks history aside whenever he feels like it, basically; best to just get used to that.

That said: there was a Cymbeline who ruled in Britain in the decades before the Roman invasion. He was called Cunobelinus, until an historian in 1136 dubbed him Kymbelinus, which probably means I’ve been mispronouncing Cymbeline with a soft C all this time. I honestly wrote up a good two paragraphs worth of background comparing what we know about the historical Cunobelinus versus the legendary version of the story that made it into Holinshed, but the fact is, Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and Holinshed’s Cunobelinus have basically nothing in common, so I decided too much detail would just be confusing. There are only two things about the legendary/historical king that are relevant to Shakespeare’s play: Cymbeline/Kymbelinus/Cunbobelinus was the king who either intentionally or inadvertently invited the Romans under Claudius to invade Britain and make it into the Roman vassal state, Brittania. (In some versions, this was the doing of one of his sons, who had been a hostage/fosterling in Rome under Caligula; in the Holinshed version, Cunobelinus was the hostage/fosterling who swore fealty to Rome.) The other relevant point is that Holinshed’s Cunobelinus wasn’t king of Britain, but rather the nephew of a king called Cassibellaunus. This uncle-king figure gets a name check in scene one.

That’s it. That’s all the similarities there are between Shakespeare and his quasi-historical sources. If this surprises you, congratulations: welcome to Shakespeare studies.

Honestly, the historical accuracy of Shakespeare’s portrayal of Cymbeline is doubly irrelevant, not just because Shakespeare manifestly doesn’t care about history, except to cherry pick it for dramatic prompts, but because, like so many of his plays, the title isn’t super relevant to the theme of the play. It makes about as much sense to name Cymbeline after Cymbeline/Kymbelinus as it would if they’d named The Winter’s Tale after Leontes. We’re not reading this play for him, we’re reading it for Imogen. But we can’t start talking about the arbitrary weirdness of the titles of Shakespeare’s plays now, or we’ll be here forever.

Okay! I think that’s enough to be going on with. Text and analysis of the play appears after the jump cut. Make this worth my while, guys. There’s a comment section. Use it.

CYMBELINE

ACT I

SCENE I. Britain. The garden of Cymbeline’s palace.

(Brittany: Brief summary for first time readers: In these early scenes, everyone is in a dither over the fact that Imogen, the King’s only living child and heir, has, Desdemona-like, up and secretly married a dude she wasn’t supposed to marry: one Posthumous Leonatus. Her father, Cymbeline, had intended her to marry Cloten, his step-son by his new Queen (she doesn’t get a name, other than “Queen”.) Basically, Posthumous is great, Cloten’s an idiot, and nobody in Cymbeline’s court is the least bit surprised that Imogen preferred Posthumous. But the Queen is pissed off, because she wanted her son to marry Imogen so he could rule in her name. Cymbeline is pissed off because…well, he’s a King, and he doesn’t like it when people don’t ask his permission before they do stuff. Also, he’s angry because the Queen is upset, and she has a lot of influence over him.)

Enter two Gentlemen

First Gentleman

You do not meet a man but frowns: our bloods

No more obey the heavens than our courtiers

Still seem as does the king.

(Brittany: Kings are really powerful. Sometimes modern readers need serious reminding of this fact in order to deeply enter the headspace that Shakespeare’s characters inhabit. There’s no such thing as free speech in a royal court. The kind of King who keeps flatterers at bay and encourages his closest advisors to speak unvarnished truth to him are rarer than hen’s teeth. More usually, the courtiers are scrambling to keep track of the King’s moods—to read his body language, if not his mind. If the King is frowning, all his courtiers better be frowning too, even if they don’t know what exactly they’re frowning about. Also, notice the simile that First Gentleman employs: “our bloods no more obey the heavens…” Shakespeare is establishing his pre-Christian setting,  where people take it for granted that astrology dictates men’s fates. First Gentleman sees no difference between the supreme power wielded by astral bodies (and some unnamed pagan gods too, probably) and the supreme authority wielded by the King. This makes it all the significant that Imogen and Posthumous have defied Cymbeline in order to marry—you can be sure that the only reason Imogen got away with it, i.e. didn’t pay for her defiance with her life, is because she’s Cymbeline’s sole heir, and thus the most valuable thing he owns.)

Second Gentleman

But what’s the matter?

First Gentleman

His daughter, and the heir of’s kingdom, whom

He purposed to his wife’s sole son–a widow

That late he married–hath referr’d herself

Unto a poor but worthy gentleman: she’s wedded;

Her husband banish’d; she imprison’d: all

Is outward sorrow; though I think the king

Be touch’d at very heart.

(Brittany: Notice that the Queen’s marriage was “late”, that is, recent. Yet she’s already convinced Cymbeline to marry her son—who isn’t royal, and doesn’t bring any assets to the crown that his mother didn’t already bring with her on her own marriage—to Cymbeline’s own daughter and heir. This is one ambitious Queen, and she doesn’t waste any time putting her schemes into action. This implies that she’s probably quite dangerous—assuming she lives up to other Shakespearean tropes. It also implies that she’s too old to hope for a son of her own by Cymbeline who would pre-empt Imogen in the succession—which probably makes her even more dangerous.

Also: “the king/ Be touch’d at very heart.” First Gentleman thinks it’s more than pride, that Cymbeline’s feelings are hurt. Does this imply that he was close to Imogen, that he thought he had her trust? If so, she’s probably in for an ordeal. Kings tend to be nastier when people they love “betray” them, e.g. Lear and Cordelia.)

Second Gentleman

None but the king?

First Gentleman

He that hath lost her too; so is the queen,

That most desired the match; but not a courtier,

Although they wear their faces to the bent

Of the king’s look’s, hath a heart that is not

Glad at the thing they scowl at.

(Brittany: So nobody except the Queen, and those under her influence—Cymbeline and her son Cloten—thinks that Imogen’s marriage to Posthumous was a bad idea. Shakespeare’s already setting Cymbeline up as a king out of touch with the minds and hearts of his own people, unduly influenced by a few schemers who stick close to his side and insulate him from honest feedback. Just in case you’re new to Shakespeare, or indeed history, this never bodes well for kings. Makes me think of Macbeth, obviously, and also suggests comparisons with Leontes (Winter’s Tale) who also secludes himself from wise counsel, although he’s prey to his own paranoia rather than dishonest or ambitious advisors. The Duke in Measure for Measure and Prospero in Tempest also keep themselves secluded from their counselors. Nota bene: if you’re gonna be a king, don’t do that. But also don’t be Richard II and blow in the wind like a weathervane depending on which counselor is flattering you the most from one moment to the next.

You know which king gets it right, actually, kind of, leaving aside the history-heavy plays like Henry V? Claudius (Hamlet.) Admittedly, Claudius does stupid things because of Gertrude, but she doesn’t try to give him political advice, and he pays attention to what’s going on around him and what people are saying about him. And he manages that without coming under the undue influence of any one advisor.)

Second Gentleman

And why so?

First Gentleman

He that hath miss’d the princess is a thing

Too bad for bad report: and he that hath her–

I mean, that married her, alack, good man!

And therefore banish’d–is a creature such

As, to seek through the regions of the earth

For one his like, there would be something failing

In him that should compare. I do not think

So fair an outward and such stuff within

Endows a man but he.

Second Gentleman

You speak him far.

First Gentleman

I do extend him, sir, within himself,

Crush him together rather than unfold

His measure duly.

(Brittany: Note the play on far/fair. First Gentlemen does more than speak Posthumous fair, i.e., praise him—in four paragraphs, he’s crammed in so much praise of Posthumous that the reader gets dizzy, trying to reconcile all his many virtues in a single man. The reasons for this are both structural and dramatic. Structurally, Shakespeare often likes to pack as much of the play’s matter into the opening scene as he possibly can. The audience is gonna know a LOT about Posthumous by the time these guys wind up their conversation. You know how, in the Harry Potter books, Hermione’s the only one who’s read Hogwarts, A History? And how useful that is, whenever Harry’s investigation into the mystery-du-jour begins to lag, because he can just sit down with Hermione, have a nice, dialogue-heavy scene, and suddenly the reader knows more than they’ve manage to learn over the previous fifty pages? Dialogue is really useful for exposition, and Shakespeare is a fantastically economical writer. Always pay attention to the random, nameless narrators.)

Second Gentleman

What’s his name and birth?

First Gentleman

I cannot delve him to the root: his father

Was call’d Sicilius, who did join his honour

Against the Romans with Cassibelan,

(Brittany: Cassibelan! Aka Cassibellaunus, who, according to Holinshed, was Cymbeline’s uncle who ruled Britain while Cymbeline was a hostage/fosterling in Rome. Shakespeare, it seems, it just using Cassibelan as a convenient name for Cymbeline’s father or predecessor, since there’s no suggestion that anyone, be it Cymbeline or his son, actually got fostered in Rome.)

But had his titles by Tenantius whom

He served with glory and admired success,

So gain’d the sur-addition Leonatus;

(Brittany: Obviously the whole point of building Posthumous up like this is to explain why Imogen wanted to marry him despite his low birth—but like, it’s not enough for Posthumous to be a paragon of every virtue, and for his father to be a valiant war-hero. Shakespeare had to go a step farther and literally name him “lion-born”. I’m sure it’s a total coincidence that the lion is the heraldic beast of England.)

And had, besides this gentleman in question,

Two other sons, who in the wars o’ the time

Died with their swords in hand; for which

their father,

Then old and fond of issue, took such sorrow

That he quit being, and his gentle lady,

Big of this gentleman our theme, deceased

As he was born.

(Brittany: “This gentleman our theme.” The next time you’re gossiping about someone, refer to them as “this gentleman/lady our theme” and watch your gossip become 100x classier.

The king he takes the babe

To his protection, calls him Posthumus Leonatus,

Breeds him and makes him of his bed-chamber,

Puts to him all the learnings that his time

Could make him the receiver of; which he took,

As we do air, fast as ’twas minister’d,

And in’s spring became a harvest, lived in court–

Which rare it is to do–most praised, most loved,

A sample to the youngest, to the more mature

A glass that feated them, and to the graver

A child that guided dotards;

(Brittany: Do you get it yet? However low born Posthumous might be, he was fostered by the King himself, even though they make a point of saying that the King wasn’t in the habit of raising up courtiers, let alone fosterlings. “Makes him of his bed-chamber”—Gentlemen of the Bedchamber, though this title didn’t exist in pagan Britain, were the King’s closest companions. Posthumous basically had the education of a royal prince—something that Cloten, the King’s step-son, almost certainly can’t compete with. And Posthumous took all the privileges of his semi-royal upbringing and made the most of them—he was an example to everyone who was younger, he made all of his teachers proud that he had been their pupil, and to everyone with eyes to see, he was wiser even than his teachers—“a child that guided dotards”.

So what’s the point? Why is First Gentleman building Posthumous up into such a paragon?)

To his mistress,

For whom he now is banish’d, her own price

Proclaims how she esteem’d him and his virtue;

By her election may be truly read

What kind of man he is.

(Brittany: That’s why. It’s not about Posthumous; it’s about Imogen. A king’s daughter who flouts her father’s orders and marries a man of her own choosing is taking a huge risk with her reputation. Because everyone’s going to be asking themselves, why? Why spurn the Queen’s son, the King’s own step-son, for a man of low birth? Did Imogen sleep with him? Did she have to rush into a marriage with a lowborn courtier because she found herself pregnant? Or worse, is she so wanton that she threw herself away on the first man who excited her passion? By establishing the legend of St. Posthumous, First Gentleman is laying the groundwork for the end of his speech here, when he says “her own price/ Proclaims how she esteem’d him”. She’s the heir to her father’s throne, the most valuable woman in the kingdom. Forget emotions; politically, she has no right to throw herself away on an unworthy match, no matter how much she loves the guy. But First Gentleman, whoever he is, seems to know Imogen as well as he knows Posthumous, maybe even better, and his assertion—“by her election may be truly read/ What kind of man he is”—told Shakespeare’s audience that Imogen was no flighty, stupid, immoral girl. She knows exactly what she’s worth—she knows that the fate of her father’s kingdom rests in the hands of the man she decides to marry—and by marrying Posthumous, she declared that he was worthy to be king.)

Second Gentleman

I honour him

(Brittany: If I were staging this, First Gentleman would be out of breath by the end of his speech and Second Gentleman would just stand there, blinking at his effusiveness, and his “I honour him” would fall after a beat or two and probably fetch a giggle. Because dude, after ALL THAT, what else can you possibly say?)

Even out of your report. But, pray you, tell me,

Is she sole child to the king?

First Gentleman

His only child.

He had two sons: if this be worth your hearing,

Mark it: the eldest of them at three years old,

I’ the swathing-clothes the other, from their nursery

Were stol’n, and to this hour no guess in knowledge

Which way they went.

(Brittany: ALERT, ALERT, DRAMATIC FORESHADOWING. Because, keep in mind, if Imogen did have brothers, she wouldn’t be her father’s heir, so her marriage to lowborn St. Posthumous wouldn’t be nearly such a big deal.)

Second Gentleman

How long is this ago?

First Gentleman

Some twenty years.

Second Gentleman

That a king’s children should be so convey’d,

So slackly guarded, and the search so slow,

That could not trace them!

(Brittany: Yes, Second Gentleman, that is weird. I wonder how that came to pass?)

First Gentleman

Howsoe’er ’tis strange,

Or that the negligence may well be laugh’d at,

Yet is it true, sir.

Second Gentleman

I do well believe you.

First Gentleman

We must forbear: here comes the gentleman,

The queen, and princess.

Exeunt

Enter the QUEEN, POSTHUMUS LEONATUS, and IMOGEN

(Brittany: Oh shit, here comes the Queen and the two naughty lovebirds. I wonder what Her Grace will have to say about all this?)

QUEEN

No, be assured you shall not find me, daughter,

After the slander of most stepmothers,

Evil-eyed unto you: you’re my prisoner, but

Your gaoler shall deliver you the keys

That lock up your restraint.

(Brittany: Couple of things: The “No” at the start of the sentence means that we’re coming in on the middle of this conversation. The Queen was saying something to Imogen before Gentlemen First and Second heard them coming and skedaddled. What were they talking about? Apparently, Cymbeline put the Queen in charge of Imogen after he found out about her marriage. Yet look how nice the Queen is being, how very, very nice; she’s not going to be mean to Imogen, no sir. (Also, notice that even in Shakespeare’s time, before Perrault and Grimm and their fairy tales, the trope of the evil step-mother was so well established that Shakespeare could play off it without too much explanation.)

For you, Posthumus,

So soon as I can win the offended king,

I will be known your advocate: marry, yet

The fire of rage is in him, and ’twere good

You lean’d unto his sentence with what patience

Your wisdom may inform you.

(Brittany: The Queen is just so nice. See, she’s totally on their side. What? You thought she’d be offended because Imogen’s marriage means that her son can’t become king? Naaaaaah. She’s way too chill for that. True, she’s advising Posthumous to get the fuck out of Dodge, but that’s because the King is being unreasonable. Don’t worry though guys, she’ll totally bring Cymbeline around.)

POSTHUMUS LEONATUS

Please your highness,

I will from hence to-day.

QUEEN

You know the peril.

I’ll fetch a turn about the garden, pitying

The pangs of barr’d affections, though the king

Hath charged you should not speak together.

Exit

(Brittany: See? She’s even letting the lovebirds have a few minutes for a private farewell. Who could say fairer than that?)

IMOGEN

O

Dissembling courtesy! How fine this tyrant

Can tickle where she wounds!

(Brittany: Whoah, it looks like Imogen isn’t buying all that sugary sweetness.)

My dearest husband,

I something fear my father’s wrath; but nothing–

Always reserved my holy duty–what

His rage can do on me: you must be gone;

And I shall here abide the hourly shot

Of angry eyes, not comforted to live,

But that there is this jewel in the world

That I may see again.

(Brittany: Translation: Dad can’t kill me, I’m his only heir. You, though—you’re pretty much destined for a vat of boiling oil, so you’d better go.)

POSTHUMUS LEONATUS

My queen! my mistress!

(Brittany: Isn’t it interesting that he calls Imogen his “Queen”? Considering that she’s a princess, at most, until her father dies? I bet the woman whose only name in this play is “Queen” doesn’t like that very much.)

O lady, weep no more, lest I give cause

To be suspected of more tenderness

Than doth become a man.

(Brittany: “Stop crying! Otherwise, I’ll cry, and everyone knows that real men don’t love anything enough that losing it would make them cry!” It must be so exhausting to have human feelings but also be fully invested in the patriarchy.)

I will remain

The loyal’st husband that did e’er plight troth:

My residence in Rome at one Philario’s,

Who to my father was a friend, to me

Known but by letter: thither write, my queen,

And with mine eyes I’ll drink the words you send,

Though ink be made of gall.

Re-enter QUEEN

(Brittany: Hmm, did the Queen overhear Posthumous a) calling Imogen “Queen”, b) extracting a promise that she’ll write to him? Also, notice that Posthumous is going to Italy. Shakespeare, obviously, is veering quite far from Holinshed’s Cymbeline, which is basically all about people going to Rome and changing their loyalties. But still: Posthumous is going to Rome. I wonder what that bodes for our lovers?)

QUEEN

Be brief, I pray you:

If the king come, I shall incur I know not

How much of his displeasure.

Aside

Yet I’ll move him

To walk this way: I never do him wrong,

But he does buy my injuries, to be friends;

Pays dear for my offences.

Exit

(Brittany: So basically, the Queen has Cymbeline wrapped around her little finger. Which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, if the King were a poor ruler and the Queen had better ideas about how to manage his kingdom—god knows, it’s an established trope that ambitious, powerful women inevitably turn out to be evil. But it’s worth noting that this Queen is looking out for her son, first and foremost—which is generally recognized as a sign of virtue in women, even in this day and age. So like most of Shakespeare’s villains, she fits neatly into a trope, and complicates it at the same time.

All the same, you have to love it when characters take it upon themselves to inform the audience, in an aside, that yes, they’re actually evil. Saves us so much time.)

POSTHUMUS LEONATUS

Should we be taking leave

As long a term as yet we have to live,

The loathness to depart would grow. Adieu!

(Brittany: “If I stay, I’m gonna cry. If that happens, I might as well geld myself. Adieu.”)

IMOGEN

Nay, stay a little:

Were you but riding forth to air yourself,

Such parting were too petty.

(Brittany: Sometimes I just have to pause and admire the language. “Were you but riding forth to air yourself/ such parting were too petty”. In other words, it’s hard enough for two people desperately in love to say goodbye even for the course of an afternoon’s ride, much less when they don’t know when they’re going to see each other again.  So gracefully put.)

Look here, love;

This diamond was my mother’s: take it, heart;

But keep it till you woo another wife,

When Imogen is dead.

(Brittany: And now we see the stakes they’re playing for; Imogen thinks it highly likely that Posthumous won’t be allowed to return to her until after she’s dead. Have they had the opportunity to consummate this marriage yet? I feel like Cymbeline wouldn’t be as angry about it if they hadn’t, because he would be able to set the marriage aside in that case. But this is pre-Christian Britain that nonetheless has to capture the sympathies of an Jacobean Christian audience, so who knows what the King can get away with?)

POSTHUMUS LEONATUS

How, how! another?

You gentle gods, give me but this I have,

And sear up my embracements from a next

With bonds of death!

Putting on the ring

Remain, remain thou here

While sense can keep it on. And, sweetest, fairest,

As I my poor self did exchange for you,

To your so infinite loss, so in our trifles

I still win of you: for my sake wear this;

It is a manacle of love; I’ll place it

Upon this fairest prisoner.

Putting a bracelet upon her arm

(Brittany: I’m just imagining that Imogen gave Posthumous this giant rock, and all Posthumous has to give her in exchange is one of those braided string friendship bracelets you get in a plastic egg for a quarter at the mall.)

IMOGEN

O the gods!

When shall we see again?

Enter CYMBELINE and Lords

(Brittany: Oh shiiiit….)

POSTHUMUS LEONATUS

Alack, the king!

CYMBELINE

Thou basest thing, avoid! hence, from my sight!

If after this command thou fraught the court

With thy unworthiness, thou diest: away!

Thou’rt poison to my blood.

POSTHUMUS LEONATUS

The gods protect you!

And bless the good remainders of the court! I am gone.

Exit

(Brittany: “And bless the good remainders of the court.” Now what does that mean? Is there something deeper behind Posthumous’s falling out with Cymbeline? “Good remainders” suggests that the court is filled with bad influences, and only a few worthy souls remaining among them. “The gods protect you”—so Posthumous is loyal to Cymbeline. Does he fear for the King’s safety, now that he will no longer be present to marshal those “good remainders” against the evil influences? Maybe they argue about that even before Posthumous married Imogen. Maybe that had something to do with why he married Imogen.)

IMOGEN

There cannot be a pinch in death

More sharp than this is.

CYMBELINE

O disloyal thing,

That shouldst repair my youth, thou heap’st

A year’s age on me.

(Brittany: Another Shakespearean trope: a father feels betrayed by the daughter who was supposed to redeem him in his old age. I’m trying to think, but off the top of my head I can’t think of a scene in Shakespeare where a king turns on his son with the same degree of ferocity that Cymbeline turns on Imogen, or Lear on Cordelia, or Leontes on Hero—“grieved I I had but one! Why had I one! Why wert thou ever lovely in mine eyes!” Biographical criticism of Shakespeare is tricky, but the the time he was writing this play, his younger daughter, Judith, had made a scandalous marriage (sans marriage license, even, which led to them being excommunicated) with a man who was openly unfaithful to her. Shakespeare’s last handful of plays harp strongly on themes of father-daughter relationships, often with long periods of estrangement followed by bittersweet reconciliations.)

IMOGEN

I beseech you, sir,

Harm not yourself with your vexation

I am senseless of your wrath; a touch more rare

Subdues all pangs, all fears.

CYMBELINE

Past grace? obedience?

IMOGEN

Past hope, and in despair; that way, past grace.

CYMBELINE

That mightst have had the sole son of my queen!

IMOGEN

O blest, that I might not! I chose an eagle,

And did avoid a puttock.

(Brittany: Just for reference, a puttock, apart from sounding like buttock, is a name for a buzzard. Also, notice how nobody actually says Cloten’s name in these scenes? I’m just making a guess, but maybe in the pronunciation of the day “Cloten” sounded a lot like “clod”, so the first speaking of his name in scene two fetched a big laugh.

CYMBELINE

Thou took’st a beggar; wouldst have made my throne

A seat for baseness.

IMOGEN

No; I rather added

A lustre to it.

CYMBELINE

O thou vile one!

IMOGEN

Sir,

It is your fault that I have loved Posthumus:

You bred him as my playfellow, and he is

A man worth any woman, overbuys me

Almost the sum he pays.

(Brittany: That’s both sad and sweet. She’s known Posthumous all her life—as much as he had such of the education and grooming of a prince, or at least the highest courtier, she had the education of a princess. There’s years of trust, affection, and equality between Imogen and Posthumous—even if Cloten weren’t a clod, she has every reason in the world to marry Posthumous.

CYMBELINE

What, art thou mad?

IMOGEN

Almost, sir: heaven restore me! Would I were

A neat-herd’s daughter, and my Leonatus

Our neighbour shepherd’s son!

CYMBELINE

Thou foolish thing!

Re-enter QUEEN

(Brittany: Okay so maybe Imogen’s political instincts are sound and she did marry a man who would safeguard her father’s kingdom better than Cloten would have. But she’s also a young teenager in love, fantasizing as only royalty ever fantasized about the peaceful, pastoral life of a farmer. Cymbeline’s “thou foolish thing!” is totally justified there. You would last maybe 1 hour as a shepherd’s wife, Imogen, let’s be real.

They were again together: you have done

Not after our command. Away with her,

And pen her up.

QUEEN

Beseech your patience. Peace,

Dear lady daughter, peace! Sweet sovereign,

Leave us to ourselves; and make yourself some comfort

Out of your best advice.

CYMBELINE

Nay, let her languish

A drop of blood a day; and, being aged,

Die of this folly!

Exeunt CYMBELINE and Lords

(Brittany: Interesting. Why did the Queen give Imogen and Posthumous time together alone, in defiance of Cymbeline’s orders?)

QUEEN

Fie! you must give way.

Enter PISANIO

Here is your servant. How now, sir! What news?

PISANIO

My lord your son drew on my master.

(Brittany: OH. That’s why. She was probably giving Cloten a chance to catch up to an intercept Posthumous, in the hopes that Cloten would kill him before her left, leaving Imogen free to remarry.)

QUEEN

Ha!

No harm, I trust, is done?

PISANIO

There might have been,

But that my master rather play’d than fought

And had no help of anger: they were parted

By gentlemen at hand.

QUEEN

I am very glad on’t.

(Brittany: A few possibilities here: either the Queen thinks so highly of her son that she doesn’t realize he’s no match for Posthumous in a duel, or the gentlemen who parted them were originally supposed to help ambush Posthumous, only the Queen’s faith in them was misplaced. OR, I was wrong about the Queen playing for time for Cloten to catch up with them, and she’s genuinely relieved that no one was hurt because she’s fully away that Posthumous could make a pincushion of her son if he wasn’t too honorable to seriously fight an unworthy opponent (and too smart to injure the King’s step-son.)

IMOGEN

Your son’s my father’s friend; he takes his part.

To draw upon an exile! O brave sir!

I would they were in Afric both together;

Myself by with a needle, that I might prick

The goer-back. Why came you from your master?

(Brittany: I confess the reference to “Afric” is beyond me. Anyone know what the reference might be? I’m working with an un-annotated copy of the play.)

PISANIO

On his command: he would not suffer me

To bring him to the haven; left these notes

Of what commands I should be subject to,

When ‘t pleased you to employ me.

(Brittany: So Pisanio is Posthumous’s loyal servant; my guess is, he’s going to have some vital role to play later, maybe when it comes to clearing up some long-distance misunderstanding between the lovers?)

QUEEN

This hath been

Your faithful servant: I dare lay mine honour

He will remain so.

PISANIO

I humbly thank your highness.

QUEEN

Pray, walk awhile.

IMOGEN

About some half-hour hence,

I pray you, speak with me: you shall at least

Go see my lord aboard: for this time leave me.

(Brittany: Imogen needs Pisanio to go and watch Posthumous board his ship. This might be a proxy farewell, since she can’t be there herself, or it might be that she’s afraid Cloten or someone else will try to kill him again before he makes his safe getaway. LIFE AND DEATH STAKES HERE AT THE END OF SCENE ONE, PEOPLE.)

Afterward:

So what do we think? For me, I’m bowled over by similarities to scenes in other plays—the tormented, hasty parting between forbidden lovers, the rage of a king against his daughter’s disloyalty, the political angle on a seemingly weak king with poor advisors, the self-willed Queen with her own agenda, the daughter whose chief characteristic at the moment is her fidelity to her lover. This is my first reading of the play and I’m only a few scenes ahead of where we are now, but I’m hooked! Shakespeare’s good with hooks.

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