David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s CYMBELINE: A Retelling — Act 2, Scene 3

— 2.3 —

In an antechamber adjoining Imogen’s apartments, Cloten and some lords were talking.

The first lord said to Cloten, “Your lordship is the most patient man when enduring loss. You are the very coldest man who ever turned up the lowest number on a die — an ace.”

“It would make any man cold to lose,” Cloten said.

The first lord had used “cold” as meaning “impassive,” but Cloten used the word as meaning “gloomy.”

“But not every man is patient after your lordship’s noble temper. You are most hot and excitable when you win,” the first lord said.

“Winning will put any man into courage,” Cloten said. “If I could get this foolish Imogen, I should have gold enough.”

Imogen was the presumed heir to the throne, so if Cloten married her, he would almost certainly become very, very rich.

Cloten asked, “It’s almost morning, isn’t it?”

“It is day, my lord,” the first lord replied.

“I wish the musicians I hired would come,” Cloten said. “I have been advised to provide music for Imogen in the mornings. They say the music will penetrate.”

The musicians arrived, and Cloten continued his indelicate puns: “Come on; tune your instruments. If you can penetrate her with your fingering, good; we’ll try to penetrate her with tongue — vocal music — too. If none will do for her, then let her alone; but I’ll never give up.

“First, we will hear a very excellent cleverly devised thing; afterward, a wonderfully sweet air, with admirably rich words to it, and then let her consider me as a mate.”

A musician sang this song:

Hark! Hark! The lark at Heaven’s gate sings,

And Phoebus Apollo the Sun-god begins to arise,

His steeds to water at those springs

Where flowers with cup-like blossoms lie.

And closed marigold blossoms begin

To open their golden eyes.

With everything that pretty is,

My sweet lady, arise.

Arise, arise.

When the musicians had finished playing and singing the song, Cloten said, “So, leave now. If this penetrates, I will regard your music as being better than I have regarded it. If it does not penetrate, then it is a vice in her ears, which neither horsehairs and calves’ guts, nor the voice of an unpaved eunuch in addition, can ever amend.”

Horsehairs were used in bowstrings, and calves’ guts — intestines — were used in the strings of lutes and viols. An unpaved eunuch had no stones, aka testicles. A different kind of stones was used in paving roads.

The musicians exited.

The second lord said, “Here comes the King.”

Cloten said, “I am glad I was up so late because that’s the reason I was up so early — I have not gone to bed. The King — Imogen’s father — cannot choose but take fatherly this service I have done.”

King Cymbeline and the Queen came over to Cloten and the two lords.

Cymbeline said, “Are you waiting here at the door of our stern daughter? Won’t she come out?”

Cloten said, “I have assailed her with music, but she gives no notice of it.”

Cymbeline said, “The exile of her minion — Posthumus — is too new and recent. She has not yet forgotten him. Some more time must pass before she forgets him, and then she’s yours.”

“You owe the King, who lets go by no suitable opportunity to recommend you to his daughter,” the Queen said. “Prepare yourself to pursue her in a methodical fashion. Take advantage of favorable opportunities. Whenever she rejects you, pursue her more doggedly. Seem as if you were inspired by love to do those duties that you offer to her. Obey her in everything except when she rejects you and commands you to let her alone — that command you shall ignore and be senseless to.”

By “senseless,” the Queen meant “incapable of hearing.”

“Senseless!” Cloten said, misunderstanding her. “I am not senseless! I am not a fool!”

A messenger entered the room.

The messenger said to King Cymbeline, “Sir, ambassadors from Rome have come. The main ambassador is the Roman general Caius Lucius.”

Using the royal plural, Cymbeline replied, “He is a worthy fellow, although he comes here now with an angry purpose, but that’s no fault of his. We must receive him in accordance with the honor of his sender, and we must treat him well because of his past goodness to us.”

He said to Cloten, “Our dear stepson, when you have said good morning to Imogen, attend the Queen and us; we shall have need to employ you in escorting this Roman.”

He then said, “Let us go, our Queen.”

Everyone except Cloten exited.

Cloten said to himself, “If Imogen is up, I’ll speak with her; if she is not up, then let her lie still and dream.”

He knocked on her door and said loudly, “Open, please!”

Then he said quietly to himself, “I know her female servants are around her. What if I line one of their hands with money as a bribe? It is gold that buys admittance, often it does; yes, and gold makes the virgin goddess Diana’s gamekeepers be false to their vows and yield their deer to the stand of the stealer.”

The Roman goddess Diana was a hunter who fiercely guarded her virginity. A mortal hunter named Actaeon once accidentally saw her bathing naked; Diana turned his body into that of a stag although he kept his human mind, and his own hounds tore him to pieces. Cloten believed that gold would make the female servants of Imogen, who carefully guarded her chastity, deliver her into his hands. As he often did, he made an indecent pun. A hunter’s stand was a spot from which the hunter could shoot game; a stand was also an erection.

Cloten continued, “And it is gold that kills the honest man and saves the thief; no, sometimes gold hangs both thief and honest man. What can’t gold do and undo? I will make one of her female servants be a lawyer — an advocate — for me, for I do not yet understand the case myself.”

The word “case” meant “lawsuit,” and it was slang for “vagina.” The indecent meaning of what Cloten had said was that his erection was not yet under Imogen’s vagina; it was not yet under standing — that is, standing under — it.

He knocked again on Imogen’s door and said, “Open, please!”

As one of Imogen’s female servants opened the door, she asked, “Who’s knocking?”

Cloten replied, “A gentleman.”

“No more than that?” the female servant replied, coming out of Imogen’s bedchamber.

“Yes, more than that. I am a gentlewoman’s son,” replied Cloten, who was expensively dressed.

“That’s more than some men, whose tailors are as expensive as yours, can justly boast of. What’s your lordship’s pleasure?”

“Your lady’s person is my pleasure. Is she ready?”

Cloten was asking if Imogen was up and decently dressed, but the female servant misunderstood, perhaps deliberately, the meaning of “ready,” as she answered, “Yes, she is ready to stay in her bedchamber.”

Cloten held out some money to her and said, “There is gold for you; sell me your good report.”

“What!” the female servant said. “Sell you my own good report? Sell you what people say about me? Sell you my good reputation? Or do you want me to report — to say — good things about you to Imogen?”

Imogen walked through the door, and the female servant said, “The Princess!”

Cloten said to Imogen, “Good morning, fairest lady. Stepsister, give me your sweet hand.”

The female servant exited.

“Good morning, sir,” Imogen replied. “You take too many pains for purchasing nothing but trouble; the thanks I give you are to tell you that I am poor of thanks and scarcely can spare them.”

“Still, I swear I love you,” Cloten said.

“If you had just said you love me instead of swearing you love me, it would be the same to me. If you continue to swear, your recompense will continue to be the same — I will ignore what you say.”

“This is no answer,” Cloten said.

“I would say nothing to you except that I am afraid that if I am silent, you may say that I have yielded to your love. Please, spare me from speaking to you. Truly, I am afraid that I will give you discourtesy that will equal your best kindness. One of your ‘great knowledge’ should learn, being taught, forbearance.”

Imogen was being sarcastic when she said that Cloten possessed “great knowledge.”

“If I were to leave you in your madness, it would be my sin,” said Cloten, who believed that it would be mad for Imogen to reject him. “Therefore, I will not leave you.”

“Fools are not mad folks,” Imogen said.

She meant that she might be a fool for talking to Cloten, but she was not mad, and therefore Cloten could leave her.

Misunderstanding as usual, Cloten asked, “Are you calling me a fool?”

“As I am ‘mad,’ I do,” Imogen said. “You call me mad; I call you a fool. If you’ll exercise self-restraint and leave me alone, I’ll no longer be mad; that will cure us both. I am very sorry, sir, that you make me forget a lady’s manners. A lady ought to be mostly silent, but I have been very verbal. So that I need not speak further words to you, learn now, once and for all, that I, who know my own heart, do here say, very truthfully, that I do not care for you, and I am so close to lacking Christian charity that I must — am forced to — accuse myself of hating you. I wish that you could understand what I feel without my expressing it verbally.”

“You sin against obedience, which you owe your father,” Cloten said. “You made a marriage contract without the approval of your father, and so it is only a pretend marriage contract that you made with Posthumus, that base wretch, who was brought up with alms and fostered with cold dishes, with leftover scraps of food from the court — it is no marriage contract, not at all. Such a marriage contract is allowed for lowly people — yet who is more lowly than Posthumus? — to knit their souls in a marriage arranged by themselves only. Relying on these people are no dependents other than brats and beggars.

“You, however, are not permitted that freedom because of your importance. You will inherit the crown, and you must not dishonor and soil its precious reputation by either marrying a base slave, a good-for-nothing, worthless man fit only for the uniform of a servant, for wearing the cloth of a squire, for being the servant who keeps the pantry, or by marrying a man who is not as eminent as these men are.”

Imogen replied, “Profane fellow, if you were the son of Jupiter and no more but what you are besides that, you would be too base to be Posthumus’ servant. If social rank were based on merit and not on birth, Posthumus would be a King and you would be an assistant executioner in his Kingdom. As a hangman’s apprentice, you would be raised high enough in status that other people would envy and hate you for being promoted so well. People would envy and hate you because they would think that you had been promoted beyond what you deserve.”

“I hope the south wind rots Posthumus!” Cloten said.

In this culture, the south wind was thought to be damp and unhealthy.

Using the less respectful “thou” to refer to Cloten, Imogen said, “He can never meet more misfortune than for thou to say his name. His meanest garment — his underwear — that has ever hugged his body is dearer to me than all the hairs above you if they were to be made such men as you.”

Suddenly noticing that the bracelet that Posthumus had given to her was missing from her arm, Imogen said, “What!”

She called, “Pisanio!”

Pisanio came to her.

Cloten muttered, “‘His garment!’ What the devil —”

Imogen said to Pisanio, “Hurry immediately to my servant Dorothy—”

Cloten muttered, “‘His garment!’”

Imogen said, “I am haunted by a fool. Something has happened that frightens — and worse, angers — me. Go tell Dorothy to search for a bracelet that accidentally and too carelessly has left my arm. It was your master’s gift to me. May I be cursed if I would lose it for the income of any King who is in Europe. I think I saw it this morning; I am confident that it was on my arm last night — I kissed it. I hope that it has not gone to make my husband think that I kiss anyone but he.”

“We will find it,” Pisanio said.

“I hope so,” Imogen replied. “Go and search for it.”

Pisanio exited.

Cloten said to Imogen, “You have insulted me. ‘His meanest garment!’”

“Yes, I said that, sir. If you want to make a lawsuit out of it, call me as a witness to it.”

“I will inform your father,” Cloten said.

“Inform your mother, too,” Imogen replied. Sarcastically, she said, “She’s my ‘good lady,’” and then added, “and will think, I think, only the worst of me. So, I leave you, sir, to the worst discontent and unhappiness.”

Imogen exited.

Alone, Cloten said, “I’ll be revenged on her. ‘His meanest garment!’ Well!”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: