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Cymbeline: Summary, Characters & Quotes

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

''Cymbeline'' is one of William Shakespeare's final plays and tells the story of an ancient British king who banishes his daughter for marrying the man she loves.

Shakespeare's Romances

Near the end of his career, William Shakespeare wrote a group of beautiful and confounding plays that did not easily fit into any of his previously chosen genres, or categories of literature. These plays are neither tragedies nor comedies, though they contain elements of both at times. They also often feature exotic locations, elaborate special effects, and magic. Shakespearean critics have classified this group as Shakespeare's romances. One of these romances is Cymbeline, first performed around 1611. This play tells of a legendary ancient king of Britain who banishes his daughter for defying him and marrying the man she loves.

Characters

These are some of the most important characters in Cymbeline:

Cymbeline

The King of Britain. Cymbeline has recently remarried after the death of his first wife and allows himself to be manipulated by his new queen. He also possesses a temper that leads him to make bad decisions, such as banishing Posthumus and going to war with Rome.

Queen

Cymbeline's second wife, stepmother to Imogen, and mother to Cloten. The evil and manipulative Queen wants Imogen to marry her son Cloten to consolidate her power and later tries, unsuccesfully, to murder both Cymbeline and Imogen.

Imogen

Cymbeline's daughter. She defies her father and stepmother to marry her love Posthumus, who is banished for it. Later, she escapes disguised as a boy named Fidele to meet Posthumus, who is actually trying to murder her.

Cloten

The Queen's son. He follows Imogen into the woods, where he is beheaded in a swordfight.

Posthumus

Imogen's true love, he is banished for secretly marrying her. After being fooled into thinking she is unfaithful, he attempts to have Imogen murdered and then joins the Roman forces that are fighting Cymbeline.

Belarius

A British lord who, twenty years earlier, had attempted a rebellion against Cymbeline. He was defeated and banished, but managed to kidnap Cymbeline's two sons and is now living under the name Morgan.

Guiderius and Arvirargus

Cymbeline's two sons who were kidnapped by Belarius and raised as his sons. Guiderius was raised under the name Polydor, and Arvirargus under the name Cadwal.

Imogen Discovered in the Cave of Belarius by George Dawe
Imogen

Plot Summary

Cymbeline has a famously convoluted plot, so let's dive in, shall we?

A Scheming Queen

Cymbeline, King of Britain, has recently remarried an evil Queen who wants his daughter Imogen to marry her son Cloten. Imogen refuses and reveals she has secretly married her true love Posthumus. Cymbeline refuses to recognize the marriage and banishes Posthumus since Imogen is an only child and must produce a full-blooded heir to the throne. Her two brothers, Guiderius and Arvirargus, were lost twenty years earlier when they were kidnapped by the traitor Belarius.

Having failed to marry off Cloten and Imogen and secure her place on the throne, the Queen decides to murder Cymbeline and Imogen with a poisonous potion. Suspecting her plan, the druggist switches the poison with a sleeping potion. The Queen then gives the potion to the servant Pisanio, telling him it is medicine.

A Bitter Posthumus

Meanwhile Posthumus, living in Italy, makes a weird bet with a creep named Iachimo, who says he can seduce Imogen and bring back proof. Iachimo sneaks into Imogen's room and steals her bracelet, bringing it back as proof. The fooled Posthumus then sends a letter to Imogen telling her to meet him in the woods and another one to Pisanio telling him to murder her there.

Imogen goes into the woods disguised as a boy named Fidele, but Pisanio can't go through with the murder and instead gives her the Queen's medicine, which, remember, is actually a sleeping potion, to relieve her distress. So long story short, she ends up passed out in a cave.

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