David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s CYMBELINE: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 1

— 3.1 —

In a hall of King Cymbeline’s palace, Cymbeline, the Queen, Cloten, and some lords were meeting with Caius Lucius, who was one of Caesar Augustus’ generals and ambassadors. Many of Caius Lucius’ attendants and Cymbeline’s attendants were also present. Cymbeline and Caius Lucius liked each other, but it was possible that they would soon be on opposite sides in a war between Britain and Rome.

King Cymbeline said, “Now tell us, what does Augustus Caesar want with us?”

Caius Lucius replied, “When Julius Caesar, the memory of whom still lives in men’s minds and who will forever be spoken about, was in this Britain and conquered it, King Cassibelan, your great-uncle — who was famous because of Caesar’s praises, and whose feats entirely deserved both the praise and the fame — granted Rome a tribute both from him and from his successors, three thousand pounds annually, which by you lately has not been paid.”

The Queen said, “And, to stop the astonishment that this action causes, let me say that the tribute shall be paid no longer.”

Cloten said, “There will be many Caesars before there is another Caesar like Julius. Britain is a world by itself; and we will pay nothing for wearing our own noses.”

He was mocking the Roman nose, which often had a prominent bridge.

The Queen said to Caius Lucius, “In Julius Caesar’s day, the Romans had the opportunity to make the Britons pay tribute. Now the Britons have the opportunity to stop paying tribute.”

She said to her husband, the King, “Sir, my liege, remember the Kings your ancestors, together with the natural threatening appearance of your isle, which stands like the park of Neptune, god of the sea, enclosed as if within ribs and fenced in with unscalable rocks and roaring waters, and with quicksands that will not bear your enemies’ boats, but will suck them down all the way to the topmast. A kind of conquest Julius Caesar made here, but he did not here make his brag of ‘I came’ and ‘I saw’ and ‘I conquered.’ Instead, with shame — it was the first time that shame ever touched him — he was carried from off our coast, twice beaten; and his ships — poor inexperienced toys! — upon our terrible seas moved upon their waves like eggshells and cracked as easily as eggshells against our rocks. This brought much joy to the famed Cassibelan, who was once at the point — oh, Lady Fortune, you harlot! — of mastering Julius Caesar’s sword. To celebrate, Cassibelan made Lud’s town bright with rejoicing fires, and Britons strutted with courage.”

Lud’s town would in a later age be known as London.

Cloten said, “Come, we will pay no more tribute. Our Kingdom is stronger than it was at that time; and, as I said, there are no more such Caesars as Julius Caesar. Other Caesars may have crooked noses, but none own such straight, strong arms as did Julius.”

“Stepson, let your mother finish speaking,” Cymbeline said to Cloten.

Cloten continued, “We have yet many among us who can grip a sword as hard as Cassibelan. I do not say I am one of them, but I have a hand. Why tribute? Why should we pay tribute? If Caesar Augustus can hide the Sun from us with a blanket, or put the Moon in his pocket, we will pay him tribute in return for light; otherwise, sir, we will pay no more tribute, if you please.”

King Cymbeline said, “You must know, Caius Lucius, that until the injurious and insulting Romans extorted this tribute from us, we were free. Caesar’s ambition, which swelled so much that it almost stretched the sides of the world, against all reason here put the yoke upon us; to shake off that yoke is fitting for a warlike people, whom we reckon ourselves to be.”

Cloten and the other lords present said, “We do.”

Cymbeline said to Caius Lucius, “Say, then, to Caesar Augustus, that our ancestor was that Mulmutius who established our laws, whose use the sword of Caesar has too much mangled, and whose restoration and free exercise shall, by the power we hold, be our good deed, although Rome thereby be made angry. Mulmutius made our laws, and he was the first man of Britain who put his brows within a golden crown and called himself King.”

Caius Lucius replied, “I am sorry, Cymbeline, that I am to pronounce Augustus Caesar — who has more Kings acting as his servants than you yourself have domestic servants — your enemy. Receive this sentence from me, then. In Caesar’s name I pronounce war and destruction against you. Expect Roman fury that cannot be resisted. Having thus delivered this sentence from Caesar Augustus, I now personally thank you for what you have done for me.”

“You are welcome, Caius,” Cymbeline said. “Your Caesar knighted me. I spent much of my youth serving under him. From him I gathered honor. Since he seeks to take that honor from me, I will resist him, of necessity, to the utmost. I am perfectly aware that the Pannonians in Hungary and the Dalmatians on the Adriatic Sea are now up in arms and fighting for their liberties; this is a precedent that would show the Britons to be cold and apathetic if they did not follow it. Caesar Augustus shall not find us cold and apathetic.”

Caius Lucius said, “Let the outcome of the war do the speaking.”

“His majesty bids you welcome,” Cloten said. “Stay with us and enjoy yourself a day or two, or longer. If you seek us afterwards on other terms, you shall find us within the salt water that girdles our island. If you beat us out of our island, it is yours; if you fall in the venture, our crows shall fare the better because of feasting on you; and that’s all that needs to be said.”

“So be it, sir,” Caius Lucius replied.

King Cymbeline said, “I know your master’s message, and through you he will know mine. Our official business is over. All that remains to be done now is for me to say to you, personally, ‘Welcome!’”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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