— 1.4 —
In a room in Philario’s house in Italy, a number of people were speaking about Posthumus. They were Philario, Iachimo, and a Frenchman, a Dutchman, and a Spaniard. Iachimo and the others were friends of Philario’s.
Iachimo said, “Believe it, sir, I have seen Posthumus in Britain. He was then of growing reputation, expected to prove as worthy as since he has been so called, but I could then have looked on him without the help of wonder and amazement, even if the catalog of his endowments had been written on a tablet by his side and I was able to peruse him with the benefit of the items written in the catalog. He was not all that impressive.”
Philario replied, “You are talking about him when he was less furnished than he is now with that which makes him distinguished both without and within. Now, he is more distinguished than he was then, both in his appearance and in his character.”
The Frenchman said, “I have seen Posthumus in France. We had very many men there who could behold the Sun with as firm eyes as he.”
The Frenchman was referring to the eagle, a symbol of nobility, which was reputed to be able to look at the Sun without blinking. Like Iachimo, the Frenchman was wondering if Posthumus’ excellent reputation was inflated.
Iachimo said, “This matter of marrying his King’s daughter, wherein he must be weighed rather by her value than by his own, has given him an excellent reputation that I am sure he does not deserve.”
The Frenchman said, “His banishment also plays a role in his reputation.”
“That is true,” Iachimo said. “Many who mourn the lamentable separation of Posthumus Leonatus and Princess Imogen and who are on the side of the Princess have given their approval of Posthumus, and this has greatly boosted his reputation and has served to justify her choice of him as husband. If not for that, a case might easily be made that she made the wrong choice when she took as her husband a beggar — which I say Posthumus is without even taking into account his lower rank. But how is it that he comes here to stay with you, Philario? How did he creep into your life and become acquainted with you?”
Philario replied, “His father and I were soldiers together; to his father I have been often bound for no less than my life. On more than one occasion, he saved my life.”
He heard a noise, looked up and saw Posthumus coming toward them, and said, “Here comes the Briton. Let him be so entertained among you as gentlemen of your savoir-faire should treat a stranger of his quality and rank. Treat him well. I beg all of you to become acquainted with this gentleman, whom I commend to you as a noble friend of mine. How worthy he is I will leave to appear hereafter, rather than to tell you his story and accomplishments in his own hearing.”
The Frenchman said to Posthumus, “Sir, we have met in Orleans.”
Posthumus replied, “Since that time I have been debtor to you for courtesies that I will never be able to pay for in full.”
“Sir, you overrate my poor kindness,” the Frenchman said. “I was glad I was able to reconcile my countryman and you. It would have been a pity if you two should have fought a deadly duel about so slight and trivial a matter.”
“I beg your pardon, sir,” Posthumus said. “I was then a young and inexperienced traveller; I did not always agree with what I heard because I did not want my every action to be guided by others’ experiences. But upon my improved judgment — I hope that I do not offend anyone if I say that my judgment has improved — my quarrel was not altogether slight.”
“I disagree,” the Frenchman said. “The quarrel was to be decided by a duel fought by two people, one of whom would in all likelihood have destroyed the other, or perhaps both of you would have fallen.”
Iachimo asked, “Can we, without causing offense, ask what the quarrel was about?”
“You can, I think,” the Frenchman said. “It was a quarrel in public, which I may tell you about without anyone contradicting me. It was much like the argument that fell out between us last night, where each of us began to praise our country’s women. This gentleman — Posthumus — at that time was vouching — and pledging that he would bloodily fight anyone who disagreed — that his lady was more beautiful, virtuous, wise, chaste, constant and true, and less capable of being seduced than any of the rarest of our ladies in France.”
Iachimo said, “That lady is not now living, or this gentleman’s opinion has changed by this time.”
Posthumus replied, “She is still alive and still virtuous, and I have not changed my opinion.”
Iachimo said, “You must not so far esteem her above our ladies of Italy.”
Posthumus said, “Even if I were as provoked as I was in France, I would not lessen my opinion of her, though I profess myself her adorer, not her lover. To me, she is more than a piece of flesh.”
“As beautiful and as good — a kind of hand-in-hand comparison; in other words, saying that British ladies and Italian ladies were equals — would have been an opinion too fair and too good for any lady in Britain,” Iachimo said. “If your lady goes before others I have seen, as that diamond ring of yours outshines many I have seen, I could not but believe that she excelled many ladies, but I have not seen the most precious diamond ring that exists, nor have you seen the most precious lady who exists.”
“I praised her as I rated her,” Posthumus said. “I do the same thing with my diamond ring.”
“What do you esteem it at?” Iachimo said. “What do you value it at?”
“I value it at more than the world possesses.”
“Either your unparagoned — unequalled — mistress is dead, or she’s outprized by a ring,” Iachimo said. “The lady is part of the world, so the diamond ring is more valuable than she is.”
Posthumus replied, “You are mistaken. The diamond ring may be sold, or given, if there were wealth enough for the purchase, or merit for the gift. The lady is not a thing for sale, and only the gods can give such a gift.”
“Is she a gift whom the gods have given you?” Iachimo asked.
“The lady is my wife: Princess Imogen. I will keep her, by the graces of the gods.”
“You have married her, and you may wear — enjoy — her because she is legally yours,” Iachimo said, “but, you know, strange fowl light upon neighboring ponds.”
In this society, the word “pond” was slang for “vagina.”
Iachimo continued, “Your ring may be stolen, too. Of your brace — your duo — of treasures beyond price, the lady is frail and the diamond ring is subject to accident and chance. A cunning thief or a that-way-accomplished courtier would run risks to win both.”
Posthumus said, “Your Italy does not contain a courtier accomplished enough to overcome the honor of my wife, if you think her frail in the holding or the loss of her honor. I don’t doubt that Italy has an abundance of thieves; notwithstanding, I’m not afraid I will lose my ring.”
“Let’s stop this conversation, gentlemen,” Philario said. “Let’s change the subject and talk about something else.”
“Sir, with all my heart,” Posthumus said. “This worthy signior, I thank him, does not consider me a stranger; we are familiar — not formal — with each other right from the start.”
“With five times as much conversation,” Iachimo said, “I could get ground on your fair mistress, I could make her retreat, and I could even make her yield to me, if I had admittance into her company and the opportunity to befriend and become acquainted with her.”
“No, no,” Posthumus said.
“I dare to bet half of my estate against your ring,” Iachimo said. “In my opinion, half of my estate somewhat exceeds your ring in value, but I make my wager rather against your confidence in your wife than against her reputation, and to stop your giving offence with your confidence, I dare to attempt to seduce any lady in the world.”
Iachimo’s words are interesting. A close examination of his words reveals that he is betting that he can shake Posthumus’ confidence in the chastity of his wife. Chastity means refraining from unlawful sexual intercourse; a chaste woman can have lawful sex with her husband, but she will not engage in adultery. One of the ways for Iachimo to shake Posthumus’ confidence in the chastity of his wife would be for Iachimo to seduce her, but there are other ways for him to shake Posthumus’ confidence in the chastity of his wife.
Posthumus replied, “You are a great deal deceived in holding this very bold opinion of women, and I don’t doubt that you will receive what you deserve if you dare to attempt to accomplish what you say you will do.”
“What’s that?” Iachimo asked.
“You will deserve a repulse, though your ‘attempt,’ as you call it, deserves more; it deserves a punishment, too.”
Philario attempted to make peace between the two men: “Gentlemen, enough of this. This argument was born too suddenly; let it die as it was born, and, please, become better acquainted and friends with each other.”
“I wish that I had bet my estate andmy neighbor’s that I can do what I have spoken about!” Iachimo said.
“What lady would you choose to assail and seduce?” Posthumus asked.
“Yours,” Iachimo replied, “your wife who in constancy and faithfulness to you, you think stands so safe. I will bet you ten thousand ducats against your ring that if you write me a letter of introduction to the court where your lady is and give me no more advantage than the opportunity of a second meeting with your wife, I will bring from thence that honor of hers that you imagine so preserved. If I can meet her only twice, I can seduce her.”
“I will wage against your gold the same amount of gold, but I will not bet my ring,” Posthumus replied. “My ring I value as dearly as I do my finger; it is part of it.”
“You are afraid to bet your ring, and therein you are the wiser. You know your wife well, and you know what you can afford to bet on her. Even if you buy ladies’ flesh at a million units of money for one dram — an exorbitant price — you cannot preserve it from being tainted. I see that you have some religion in you because you fear. My bet has put the fear of God in you. You are afraid that your lady will sin, and you are afraid that you will lose the bet.”
“This is only macho talk of the kind that you are accustomed to speak,” Posthumus said. “You have something more serious in mind, I hope.”
“I am the master of my speech, and I will undertake to do what I have said that I will do,” Iachimo said. “I swear it.”
“Will you? I shall give my diamond ring to Philario to hold until your return,” Posthumus said. “It shall be only a loan — I will get it back. Let there be a legal agreement drawn up between us concerning this bet. My wife exceeds in goodness the hugeness of your unworthy thinking. I dare you to compete against her.”
He then offered his ring to Philario, saying, “Here’s my ring.”
“I will not allow this bet,” Philario said, declining to take the ring.
“By the gods, the bet is already made,” Iachimo said.
He then said to Posthumus, “If I bring you no sufficient testimony that I have enjoyed the dearest bodily part of your wife, my ten thousand ducats are yours, and your diamond ring, too. If I leave the court and give up my efforts and leave her with such honor as you trust she has, she your jewel, this your jewel, and my gold are yours — provided I have your letter of introduction so that I may be well received at the court and am able to have a conversation with your wife.”
“I agree to these conditions,” Posthumus said. “Let us have a legal agreement drawn up between us. However, let us add these conditions. If you make your attempt to seduce my wife and give me direct evidence that you have prevailed, I am no further your enemy; if she can be seduced, she is not worth our being enemies. However, if she remains unseduced, and you are not able to make it appear otherwise, then for your ill opinion of her and the assault you have made against her chastity, you shall answer me with your sword — we shall fight a duel.”
Posthumus’ words are interesting: “if she remains unseduced, andyou are not able to make it appear otherwise ….” Part of the bet was that Iachimo would not be able to convince Posthumus that his wife had committed adultery. Of course, it is possible that Iachimo could fail to seduce Posthumus’ wife and yet convince Posthumus that he — Iachimo — had succeeded in seducing Posthumus’ wife.
“Give me your hand,” Iachimo said. “Let us make a contract between us. We will have these things set down by lawful counsel, and I will leave immediately for Britain, lest our agreement catch cold and starve and die. I will fetch my gold ducats and we will have our two wagers recorded. Someone will hold on to my gold ducats and your ring until we know which of us has won our wager.”
Posthumus said, “I agree.”
Posthumus and Iachimo exited.
The Frenchman asked Philario, “Will they really do this, do you think?”
“Signior Iachimo will not back down from it,” Philario replied. “Come, let us follow them.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved