— 2.4 —
Posthumus and Philario talked together in a room of Philario’s house in Rome.
“Don’t worry about it, sir,” Posthumus said to Philario. “I wish I were as sure of winning over King Cymbeline as I am sure that Imogen’s honor will remain intact.”
“What are you doing to make King Cymbeline your friend?”
“Nothing, except watching the passage of time,quaking in his present wintery mood and wishing that warmer days would come. With these seared, withered hopes of mine,I barely repay your friendship to me; if my hopes of being reconciled to King Cymbeline fail,I must die much your debtor.”
“Your true goodness and your companymore than pay me for all I can do,” Philario said. “By this time, your KingCymbeline has heard from great Augustus Caesar, first Emperor of Rome. Caius Luciuswill thoroughly do his commission of delivering Caesar’s message, and I think your King Cymbeline will grant that the tribute is owed and pay the as-yet-unpaid tribute,or else he will look upon our Roman legions, who recently caused the Britons much grief.”
Posthumus replied, “I believe, although I am not a politician or likely ever to be one, that this will cause a war; and you shall sooner hearthat the legions now in France have landedin our courageous Britain than you will have news of even a penny of tribute paid.Our countrymenare more organized than when Julius Caesarsmiled at their lack of skill, but foundtheir courageworthy of his frowning at. The Britons’ discipline,now mingled with their courage, will make knownto those who test them that they are people whose existenceimproves the world.”
Philario looked up and said, “Look! Iachimo is here!”
Posthumus said to him, “The swiftest deer have carried you quickly by land;and the winds of all the corners of the world have kissed your sails and made your ship nimble.”
“Welcome, sir,” Philario said.
Posthumus said to Iachimo, “I hope the shortness of the answer you got from my wife when you attempted to seduce her made the speediness of your return necessary.”
Iachimo replied, “Your lady is one of the most beautiful whom I have looked upon.”
“And also the best and most virtuous, or let her beauty look through a window to allure false hearts and be false with them,” Posthumus said.
In this culture, prostitutes displayed themselves in windows to allure customers.
“Here is a letter for you from your wife,” Iachimo said, handing Posthumus a letter.
“The subject matter of the letter is good, I trust,” Posthumus said.
“It is very likely,” Iachimo replied.
He had not read the letter, which was sealed. He was hoping that Imogen had not written her husband that Iachimo had tried to seduce her, but had failed.
Posthumus scanned the letter as Philario asked Iachimo, “Was Caius Lucius in the British court when you were there?”
“He was expected, but he had not yet arrived.”
Having scanned the letter, Posthumus said, “All is still well.”
He then held out the hand wearing the diamond ring he had bet and asked Iachimo, “Does this diamond sparkle as it used to? Or is it too dull for you to wear?”
“If I had lost our bet, I would have lost the worth of the ring in gold because I bet my gold against your ring,” Iachimo said. “I would make a journey twice as far, to enjoy a second night of such sweet shortness that was mine in Britain, for I have won the ring.”
“The diamond ring is too hard to come by,” Posthumus said.
“Not at all,” Iachimo said, “because your wife is so easy.”
“Sir,” Posthumus said, “do not make a joke out of your loss. I hope you know that we must not continue to be friends.”
“Good sir, we must continue to be friends, if you keep the terms of the bet we made. Had I not brought the carnal knowledge of your wife home with me, I grant that we would have to fight a duel, but I now say that I am the winner of your wife’s honor, and so I have also won the ring. However, I say that I have not wronged either her or you because I have done nothing that you two did not give me permission to do.”
“If you can prove that you have tasted my wife in bed, my hand of friendship and my ring are yours; if not, the foul opinion you had of my wife’s pure honor gains or loses either your sword or mine, or masterless leaves both swords to whoever shall find them. Either I shall kill you or you shall kill me or we shall kill each other.”
“Sir, my evidence, being so near the truth as I will make it, must first induce you to believe,” Iachimo said. “I will confirm the truth of my evidence with an oath, but I don’t doubt that you will give me permission not to swear an oath that my evidence is true because you will find that my evidence is so strong that you don’t need an oath to believe it.”
“Proceed,” Posthumus said. “Give me the evidence.”
“First, her bedchamber — where, I confess, I did not sleep, but I confess that I had something that was well worth keeping awake for — had a hanging tapestry made of silk and silver thread. It told the story of when proud Cleopatra met her Roman, Mark Antony, and the Cydnus River swelled above its banks, either because of the weight of the many boats on it or from pride of being Cleopatra and Antony’s meeting place. This was a piece of work so splendidly done, so rich, that I did not know which was greater — its workmanship or its value. I wondered how it could be so rarely and exactly wrought, since the true life on it was —”
Posthumus interrupted, “— this description is accurate, but you might have heard about the tapestry here, from me, or from some other person.”
“More particular details about your wife’s bedchamber must prove my knowledge,” Iachimo said.
“So they must,” Posthumus said, “or do your honor injury.”
“The fireplace is on the south wall of her bedchamber, and the statues on the mantle depict the virgin goddess Diana bathing. I have never seen figures so likely to speak; the sculptor was like another Mother Nature, but silent; the sculptor outdid Mother Nature, except that his sculptures did not move or speak.”
“This is another thing that you might have learned without seeing it because this artwork is much spoken about,” Posthumus said.
“The ceiling of her bedchamber is elaborately adorned with golden angels. Her andirons — I had forgotten them — were two winking Cupids made of silver. Each was standing on one foot and ingeniously depicted leaning against their torches.”
“You think that this is evidence that you have taken my wife’s honor!” Posthumus said sarcastically. “Let it be granted you have seen all this — and I have to praise your memory — still the description of what is in my wife’s bedchamber is no evidence that you have won the wager.”
“Then, if you can, grow pale,” Iachimo said as he took Imogen’s bracelet out of a pocket and showed it to Posthumus. “I ask permission to air this bracelet. See it!”
He replaced the bracelet in his pocket and said, “And now I have put it up again. It must be married to your diamond ring. I’ll keep them both together.”
“By Jove!” Posthumus said, turning pale. “Let me see that again. Is that the bracelet I left with her?”
“Sir, I thank her for this bracelet,” Iachimo said. “She stripped it from her arm; I see her doing it now. Her pretty action was worth more than her gift, and yet her action enriched the bracelet, too. She gave it to me, and she said that she had once valued it.”
Posthumus said, “Maybe she plucked it off to send it to me.”
“Did she write that in her letter to you, sir?” Iachimo said.
“Oh, no, no, no!” Posthumus said. “What you say about my wife is true. Here, take this, too.”
He handed Iachimo his diamond ring and said, “It is a basilisk to my eyes. It kills me when I look at it.”
A basilisk is a mythological serpent whose look can kill.
Posthumus ranted, “Let there be no honor where there is beauty; no truth, where there is only an outward appearance; and no love, where there is another man. May the vows of women be no more binding to the men they are made to than women are bound to their virtue — which is not at all! Oh, my wife is unfaithful and cheating beyond measure!”
“Be calm, sir,” Philario said, “and take your ring back again. Iachimo has not yet won it. It may be probable she lost her bracelet; or who knows if one of her women, being corrupted, has stolen it from her?”
“That is very true,” Posthumus said, “and in one of those two ways, I hope, he came by her bracelet. Give me back my ring. Tell me something about my wife’s body that will be more evidence than this bracelet because this bracelet was stolen.”
“By Jupiter, I swear that I got it from her arm,” Iachimo said.
“Listen!” Posthumus said to Philario. “He swears; he swears by Jupiter! What he says must be true since he swears by the supreme god!”
He gave the diamond ring back to Iachimo, saying, “Keep the ring — what you say is true.”
He then said, “I am sure that my wife would not lose her bracelet. Her attendants are all sworn to obey her and be honorable. Could they be induced to steal it! Induced by a stranger! No, Iachimo has enjoyed my wife in bed. The symbol of her cheating is this ring. She has bought the name of whore grievously at great cost.”
He said to Iachimo, “There, take your winnings; and may all the fiends of Hell divide themselves between you and my wife, Imogen!”
“Sir, be calm,” Philario said to Posthumus. “This evidence is not strong enough to be believed about one you have thought so well about —”
Posthumus interrupted, “— never talk about not believing it. Imogen has been colted — mounted — by him.”
“If you seek further evidence,” Iachimo said, “under her breast — which is worth squeezing — lies a mole, which is very proud of that most delicate place of residence. By my life, I kissed it; and it immediately made me hungry to feed again, though I was already full. You remember this mole — this stain and imperfection — on her?”
“Yes,” Posthumus said, “and it confirms another stain, as big as Hell can hold, even if she had no other stain than that.”
“Do you want to hear more?” Iachimo asked.
“Spare your arithmetic,” Posthumus said. “Don’t count the turns. Once, and a million, are both enough!”
“I’ll be sworn —” Iachimo began to say.
Posthumus interrupted, “— no swearing. If you will swear you have not done the deed with my wife, you lie, and I will kill you if you deny that you have made me a cuckold.”
“I’ll deny nothing,” Iachimo said.
“Oh, I wish that I had her here so I could tear her limb from limb!” Posthumus said. “I will go there and do it … in the court … in front of her father! I’ll do something —”
Philario said to Iachimo, “He is quite beside himself! He has lost all self-control! You have won the bet. Let’s follow him, and turn aside the present wrath he has against himself. We don’t want him to hurt himself.”
“With all my heart,” Iachimo said.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved