Scene by Scene Synopsis
Scene: Britain and Rome
Act I, Scene 1: One Gentleman tells another that King Cymbeline’s daughter Imogen has married a poor but worthy nobleman, Posthumus Leonatus, whose father had died—before he was born—in the king's service. However, Posthumus has been banished from Britain because the king had wanted Imogen to marry Cloten, the boorish son of the Queen. He adds that Imogen is the king's only child, with the exception of two sons who were kidnapped 20 years earlier and never recovered. The Queen affects friendship for Imogen and the departing Posthumus, but Imogen mistrusts her. The Queen warns them that the king may find them, but in an aside she declares that she will send the king their way. As they bid each other farewell, Imogen gives Posthumus a diamond ring and he gives her a bracelet. The king appears and angrily drives Posthumus away. Posthumus' servant Pisanio reports to Imogen that his master has told him to remain at court and serve her. He adds that Posthumus and Cloten have fought but that Posthumus refrained from hurting his opponent.
Act I, Scene 2: Cloten boasts to a Lord of his swordplay against Posthumus while a Second Lord mocks him behind his back.
Act I, Scene 3: Pisanio tells the lovesick Imogen of Posthumus departure.
Act I, Scene 4: In Rome the exiled Posthumus meets Iachimo, they speak of a duel that Posthumus had once fought over his claim that Imogen was superior to all other women, both in beauty and virtue. lachimo declares that Imogen is not so virtuous. He offers to bet his estate against Posthumus' diamond ring that he can seduce her, and the enraged Posthumus accepts the wager.
Act I, Scene 5: In Britain; the Queen assures the physician Cornelius that the poison he has given her is intended only for experiments on small animals, to further her education in herbal lore. Pisanio arrives, and the Queen muses to herself that she will poison him since he serves Cloten's enemy. In a soliloquy, Cornelius reveals that since he mistrusts the Queen he has substituted a powerful sleeping potion for the poison; a victim will appear dead for a time but will suffer no harm. The Queen tries to recruit Pisanio to convince Imogen to marry Cloten, and as a reward she gives him the poison. She tells him it is a potent restorative.
Act I, Scene 6: lachimo arrives at court and meets Imogen. He tells her that Posthumus leads a riotous life in Rome, and that he speaks mockingly of his faithful lover at home. He encourages her to seek revenge by sleeping with him. When she angrily dismisses him, he declares that he did not mean it but had merely been testing her virtue to see if Posthumus' praise had been true. Imogen is mollified and agrees to assist lachimo. She says she will keep a chest containing valuables that are partly owned by Posthumus safe in the most secure possible location—her own bedchamber.
Act II, Scene 1: Cloten brags of his ill temper over gambling losses and is mocked behind his back by the Second Lord, who sympathizes with Imogen in a soliloquy.
Act II, Scene 2: In her bedchamber Imogen retires for the night lachimo emerges from the chest, which is being kept there as Imogen had agreed. He memorizes the nature of the furnishings and decorations, takes a bracelet from the sleeping Imogen's wrist, notices a mole on her breast, and returns to the chest.
Act II, Scene 3: Musicians hired by Cloten serenade Imogen, but she does not respond. He accosts her. She tries to turn him away politely, but when he persists she lashes out at him and declares that he is not worth the clothes Posthumus wears. She leaves, and Cloten vows revenge.
Act II, Scene 4: In Rome; lachimo has returned from Britain and claims the diamond ring Posthumus had wagered. He offers a description of Imogen's bedchamber as proof that he has slept with her. When Posthumus refuses to believe him, he displays the bracelet—which Posthumus had given Imogen-and then clinches his case when he tells of the mole on Imogen's breast. Posthumus believes him and, cursing all women, vows to seek revenge on Imogen.
Act III, Scene 1: In Britain; Lucius, the ambassador from the Roman emperor, informs Cymbeline that Britain owes tribute money to the Romans. Cloten boldly insists that the tribute shall not be paid, and the king agrees. Lucius replies with a declaration of war.
Act III, Scene 2: Pisanio grieves over a letter from Posthumus that orders him to murder Imogen as punishment for her adultery; he is confident that Posthumus has been tricked Imogen arrives and Pisanio gives her a letter from Posthumus; it tells her to run away and join him at Milford Haven, a port in Wales. Delighted, she immediately makes plans to do so.
Act III, Scene 3: Belarius stands outside a cave in Wales and addresses his sons Guiderius and Arviragus. He praises the wilderness life they lead as infinitely superior to life at a king's court. The two young men respectfully declare that they regret the lack of an opportunity to prove themselves in the great world. Belarius argues that his own unjust banishment justifies his remarks. The sons leave to prepare for the day's hunt, and Belarius soliloguises that their enthusiasm for accomplishment reflects their royal blood. Although they believe him to be their father, they are actually royal princes, the sons of King Cymbeline, kidnapped by Belarius when he was exiled.
Act III, Scene 4: Near Milford Haven, Pisanio shows Imogen the letter from Posthumus that declares her unfaithfulness and commands her murder. Grief stricken, Imogen raves madly until Pisanio proposes a plan. The deceived Posthumus must be made to believe she is dead until he can learn the truth. Pisanio will claim to Posthumus that he has killed Imogen, and news other disappearance from court will confirm the account. In the meantime, she should disguise herself as a page boy and take service with Lucius, who is expected in Wales soon. She can then go to Rome and at least maintain contact with Posthumus. She agrees and assumes her disguise. Pisanio gives her the medicine he received from the queen in case she falls ill while alone, and returns to the court.
Act III, Scene 5: Lucius regrets the end of his friendship with Cymbeline and leaves the court for Milford Haven where he will sail for Rome. Imogen's absence is reported Cloten encounters Pisanio and threatens to kill him if he does not tell where Imogen is. He reveals Posthumus' letter to Imogen that tells her to meet him in Wales. Cloten then orders Pisanio to bring him some of Posthumus' clothes. After a soliloquy in which he plans to kill Posthumus in front of Imogen and then rape her, all while wearing the very clothes that she had insultingly compared him with, he sets out for Wales.
Act III, Scene 6: Imogen, tired and in despair, comes to Belarius' cave. Seeking rest, she calls out; she gets no answer and enters the cave.
Act III, Scene 7: Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus return from the hunt and discover Imogen, disguised as a boy. She identifies herself as Fidele' and says that she is traveling to join her master at Milford. Struck by 'his' courtly manners and almost supernatural beauty, the two young men declare their brotherly love for the stranger. They invite Imogen to stay the night before traveling on.
Act III, Scene 8: In Rome a Senator issues plans for the invasion of Britain. Lucius is to command a force raised from the gentry of Rome.
Act IV, Scene 1: In Wales, Cloten wears Posthumus' clothes and compliments himself on his appearance. He believes he will soon find his enemy and have his revenge.
Act IV, Scene 2: Imogen, who is ill, takes the medicine Pisanio has given her and retires to the cave. Cloten appears; Belarius recognizes him and believes he has been sent to arrest them. He and Arviragus go to scout for soldiers, and Guiderius addresses the intruder. After Cloten insults him, the two begin to fight and they skirmish their way off stage. Belarius and Arviragus reappear and meet Guiderius, who returns with Cloten's head. Belarius is afraid of the consequences, but the two young men are happily defiant. Their pleasure collapses when they discover that Fidele' has apparently died. They sing an elegy for 'him' and leave the body with the headless corpse of Cloten, while they go to prepare a funeral. Imogen awakes and sees a headless body in Posthumus' clothes. She believes that her lover is dead. Grief stricken, she falls insensate on the body. Lucius appears, on his way to join the troops arriving from Rome. He sees Imogen, who identifies herself again as Fidele and says that her master has been killed by brigands. She is taken into Lucius' service, the Roman orders his men to bury the corpse, and he departs with his new page.
Act IV, Scene 3: Cymbeline is distracted because Imogen is missing and the Queen has been stricken with madness since Cloten is also missing. He threatens Pisanio with torture if he does not reveal Imogen's whereabouts. News arrives of the approaching Roman army, and the king goes with his lords to prepare. Pisanio, in a soliloquy, admits bewilderment, having heard nothing from either Posthumus or Imogen. He puts his hope in providence, for he can do nothing.
Act IV, Scene 4: At their cave, Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus hear the battle. Belarius wishes to retreat into the mountains, but the young men insist on fighting. They say that it would be dishonorable not to take the opportunity to prove themselves. They convince him, and the three go to join the British forces.
Act V, Scene 1: Posthumus is serving as a Roman officer. He contemplates the bloody cloth Pisanio has sent him as proof of Imogen's death, and he is stricken with remorse. He wishes he had died rather than she and decides that he will disguise himself as a peasant and fight for the British until he is killed.
Act V, Scene 2: The Roman army, which includes Lucius and Iachimo, skirmishes with the British army, which includes Posthumus. Iachimo is disarmed by Posthumus but is left alone as the battle shifts off-stage. He laments that he has blackened Imogen's name and supposes that his burden of guilt has made him inept in battle. The battle continues; Cymbeline is briefly captured by the Romans, but Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus, aided by Posthumus, rally the British troops and rescue him.
Act V, Scene 3: Posthumus tells a fleeing Briton that the British, though nearly defeated, have won the battle thanks to an old man and two handsome young ones, who rallied the British troops. Posthumus regrets that he was not killed in battle and decides to resume his Roman garb and be captured by the British. He hopes that ' they will avenge the day's slaughter by killing their prisoners. A British Captain appears and talks about the old man and his sons who saved the army, and a Second Captain adds that they were assisted by a British peasant. Posthumus accosts them and is taken prisoner.
Act V, Scene 4: In jail Posthumus prays for death. He falls asleep and has a vision. His father, Sicilius Leonatus, appears, accompanied by his Mother and brothers. In solemn rhymes they beseech Jupiter to have mercy on Posthumus, who has suffered enough. The god himself appears, riding an eagle, and declares that Posthumus shall recover and marry Imogen. Posthumus awakes, and a Jailer arrives to escort him to his execution. However, a summons calls Posthumus to the king.
Act V, Scene 5: Cymbeline knights Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus as the heroes of the battle and regrets that he cannot find the peasant who fought beside them. Cornelius arrives with word of the Queen's death and reports her death-bed confession. She had planned to poison the king and place Cloten on his throne. The Roman prisoners include Lucius, Iachimo, the Soothsayer, Posthumus, and Imogen, who is still disguised as Fidele. Lucius asks mercy for Fidele; Cymbeline is struck by 'his' appearance and offers the 'boy' a boon. Imogen demands that Iachimo explain where he got the diamond ring he wears-Iachimo tells of his wager for Posthumus' ring, and Posthumus comes forward, declares himself a gullible fool, and confesses that he had Imogen murdered. This leads to a series of explanations that reveal the play's complications to all. Cymbeline, delighted with the return of his sons, forgives Belarius for kidnapping them and then frees the Roman captives. lachimo begs for death, as punishment for his wager, but Posthumus pardons him. Cymbeline declares that his happiness makes him desire peace, and he agrees to resume paying the Roman tribute. He commands a celebration of the renewed alliance.
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