David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s CYMBELINE: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 4

— 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 —”

He exited.

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


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


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

— 2.2 —

Imogen was in bed, reading, just before bedtime. Iachimo’s chest was in her bedchamber.

Imogen called, “Who’s there? My servant Helen?”

In mythology, Helen was the name of the wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta, and she became the cause of the Trojan War after either Paris, a Prince of Troy, kidnapped her or she ran away willing with him. Troy fell when the Greeks created the Trojan Horse, which was hollow and filled with armed Greek soldiers. The Trojans moved the Horse inside the city, and at night the Greek soldiers came out of the Horse and opened the city gates to let in the Greek army.

“I am here, if you please, madam,” Helen said.

“What time is it?”

“Almost midnight, madam.”

“I have read three hours then,” Imogen said. “My eyes are tired. Fold down the leaf where I have stopped reading. I am going to sleep. Do not take away the candle, leave it burning, and if you can awaken by four o’clock, please wake me up. Sleep has entirely overcome me.”

Helen exited.

Imogen prayed, “To your protection I commit myself, gods. Please guard me from malevolent fairies and the tempters of the night.”

She fell asleep, and Iachimo came out of the trunk — the Trojan Horse — where he had hidden himself.

He said quietly to himself, “The crickets sing, and man’s overworked senses repair themselves through rest. I am like our Roman Tarquin, who like me now did softly step on the rushes on the floor before he awakened the chastity he wounded.”

The ancient Roman Sextus Tarquinius had raped Lucretia, an evil act that led to the overthrow of the Roman King and the establishment of a republic. Iachimo did not dare to rape Imogen — such an act would lead to bad consequences for him — but he still wanted to win the bet that he had made with her husband.

Iachimo continued, “Imogen, you are Cytherea — Venus, who was born on the island of Cythera. How splendidly you become your bed, you fresh lily, symbol of purity, for you are whiter than the sheets! I wish that I might touch you! I want only a kiss — just one kiss! Rubies unparagoned, how dearly they do it! Your lips are like rubies, and they kiss each other. It is her breathing that perfumes the chamber. The flame of the candle bows toward her because smoke follows the most beautiful. The candle flame wants to peep under her eyelids, to see the lights — the eyes — they enclose, which are now canopied under these window shutters, which are white and azure laced with blue of Heaven’s own color. Her eyelids are white but have tiny blue veins.

“But let me carry out my plan. I will take note of her bedchamber so that I can describe it to her husband and convince him that I have slept with his wife. I will write everything down. Here are such and such pictures. There is the window. Such is the decoration of her bed. Here is the wall hanging. Here is a carving of figures on the mantle over the fireplace. Why, I see such and such, and the figures act out the contents of a story.

“Ah, but some personal notes about her body would be better evidence than over ten thousand notes about the items in her bedchamber; those personal notes would significantly enrich the inventory that I am writing down.”

He drew the covering away from Imogen’s body and said, “Oh, sleep, you mimic of death, lie heavy upon her! Let her consciousness be like that of an effigy on top of a coffin lying in a chapel! Don’t wake up!”

He began to take off her bracelet, saying, “Come off! Come off!”

It easily slipped off her arm, and he said, “It is as slippery and easy to remove as the Gordian knot was hard to untie!”

The Gordian knot was incredibly intricate, and according to prophecy, whoever was able to untie it would conquer Asia. Alexander the Great “untied” the knot by cutting it with his sword.

Holding the bracelet, Iachimo said, “It is in my possession; and this will be physical evidence that will aid me as I drive her husband to distraction.”

He looked at Imogen’s body and said, “On her left breast is a mole with five spots like the crimson drops in the bottom of a cowslip flower. Here’s a piece of evidence that is stronger than law could ever make. This secret knowledge of her body will force her husband to think that I have picked the lock and taken the treasure of her honor. I need no more evidence. It would not help make my case stronger. Why should I write this piece of evidence down? It is riveted — screwed — to my memory! She has been reading recently the tale of Tereus; here the leaf’s turned down where Philomel gave up.”

Imogen had been reading about Philomel, who was raped by Tereus, her brother-in-law. After raping her, he cut out her tongue to prevent her from telling anyone about the rape. However, she created a tapestry that told the story of the rape.

Iachimo was wrong when he said that Philomel had given up. He was the type of man who believes that it was a rare — perhaps nonexistent, given enough time for the seduction to take place — woman who could not be seduced. Philomel had not given up her chastity; Tereus had forcibly raped her.

Iachimo said, “I have enough evidence. I will go inside the trunk again, and shut its spring — its locking mechanism. Be swift, swift, you dragons of the night, so that dawning may bare the raven’s eye!”

According to a myth, dragons drew the chariot of the Moon. Ravens are birds of omen — they are ominous — and they wake up with the dawn.

Iachimo continued, “I lodge in this trunk in fear. Although Imogen is a Heavenly angel, Hell is here.”

A clock began to strike.

Iachimo counted, “One, two, three. It is time, time for me to go into the trunk!”

He went into the trunk and shut the lid.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s CYMBELINE: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 1

— 2.1 —

Cloten and two lords spoke together in front of King Cymbeline’s palace.

“Has any man ever had such bad luck!” Cloten complained. “I threw my ball so well that it kissed — touched — the target, but then it was hit away! I had bet a hundred pounds on the game, and I cursed, and then a bastardly upstart reprimanded me for swearing, as if I had borrowed my swearwords from him and could not spend them as I pleased.”

“He got nothing by criticizing you,” the first lord said. “You broke his head with your ball.”

The second lord thought, If the man with the broken head had weak and watery brains like Cloten, his brains would have all run out.

Cloten said, “When a gentleman is disposed to swear, it is not for any bystanders to curtail his oaths, is it?”

“No, my lord,” the second lord said.

He thought, Nor to crop the ears of the gentleman.

A curtail dog is a dog with a docked or cropped — that is, cut short — tail. The second lord was thinking of cropping the ears of an ass. Cloten was an ass, but his mother was Queen, and so no one could justly criticize him and thereby improve him — no one could crop Cloten’s ears.

“The dog! That son of a whore!” Cloten said. “I gave him what he deserved. I wish that he had been one of my rank!”

Cloten would have liked to fight the man in a duel instead of merely hitting him with a ball. But Cloten, a snob, believed that he could not fight the man in a duel because the man’s social status was lower than his own. Of course, because Cloten’s mother was the Queen, it would be very dangerous for a man of a lower social rank to duel Cloten. Anyone who killed Cloten would almost certainly be condemned to die.

The second lord thought, Cloten said, “I wish that he had been one of my rank!” If he had been rank like Cloten, he would have stunk like a fool.

Cloten said, “I am not vexed more at anything on the Earth — a pox on it! I had rather not be as noble as I am; they dare not fight with me because of the Queen my mother. Every Jack-slave has his bellyful of fighting, and I must go up and down like a cock — a rooster — that nobody can match.”

The second lord said quietly to himself about Cloten, “You are cock and capon, too; and you crow, cock, with your comb on.”

The second lord was calling Cloten a capon — a castrated rooster that had been fattened for eating — and a fool. Fools wore coxcombs — jesters’ hats — on their heads.

“What did you say?” Cloten asked.

“It is not fitting that your lordship should take on and fight every fellow that you give offence to,” the second lord said.

“I know that,” Cloten said, “but it is fitting that I should give offence to my inferiors. It is suitable for me to deliberately offend my inferiors.”

“Yes, it is fitting for your lordship only,” the second lord said.

Such an action as deliberately insulting others because they are “inferior” is fitting and suitable only for clods such as Cloten.

“Yes, that is what I am saying,” Cloten replied.

The first lord asked Cloten, “Did you hear about a stranger who came to the court last night?”

“A stranger came here! I did not know that! I was not informed about it!” Cloten said.

The second lord thought, Cloten is a strange fellow himself, and he does not know it.

“An Italian man has come here,” the first lord said, “and it is thought that he is one of Posthumus Leonatus’ friends.”

“Leonatus!” Cloten said, “He’s a banished rascal; and this Italian’s another rascal, whoever he is. Who told you about this stranger?”

“One of your lordship’s pages,” the first lord said.

“Is it fitting that I go to see him?” Cloten asked. “Is there any derogation in it? Will I be lowering myself?”

“You cannot derogate, my lord —” the second lord said.

He thought, — because you cannot go any lower.

Cloten said, “I cannot easily derogate, I think.”

The second lord thought, Everyone already knows that you are a fool; therefore, your actions, being foolish, do not derogate you. Your performing foolish actions does not lower you because people expect you to act foolishly.

Cloten said, “Come, I’ll go see this Italian. What I have lost today gambling at the game of bowls I’ll win tonight from him. Come, let’s go.”

“I’ll wait upon your lordship,” the second lord said.

Cloten and the first lord exited, and the second lord stayed behind and said to himself, “I can’t believe that such a crafty devil as his mother the Queen should yield the world this ass! His mother is a woman who overwhelms everyone with her brain, and this Cloten, her son, cannot subtract two from twenty, for his life, and come up with the answer eighteen. Alas, poor Princess, you divine Imogen, what you endure! You have a father who is ruled by your stepmother, who each hour forms plots. You also have a wooer — Cloten — who is more hateful than the foul exile of your dear husband and who is more hateful than that horrid act of divorce between you and your husband that he — Cloten — would make! May the Heavens hold firm the walls of your dear honor, and keep unshook that temple, your fair mind, so that you may endure and withstand such trials and may eventually enjoy your banished lord and this great land!”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s CYMBELINE: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 6

— 1.6 —

In another room of the palace, Princess Imogen sat alone.

She said to herself, “A cruel father, and a treacherous stepmother, a foolish suitor to a wedded lady whose husband has been banished — the banishment of my husband is my supreme crown of grief! These are my vexations, and I endure them day after day. If I had been kidnapped as my two brothers were, then I would have been happy because I could have married without problems the man I chose. Most miserable are those who have an unfulfilled longing for glorious things; blessed are those, however humble and impoverished, who have gotten their humble and honest desires, thereby giving a relish to their comfort.”

She saw Pisanio and a strange man — Iachimo — coming toward her, and said to herself, “Who may this man be? Bah!”

Pisanio said to her, “Madam, this is a noble gentleman of Rome, who has come from my lord, Posthumus, with a letter.”

Iachimo, seeing Princess Imogen looking sad, said to her, “Cheer up, madam. I bring good news. The worthy Posthumus Leonatus is safe and he dearly and deeply greets your highness.”

He gave her a letter from Posthumus.

Imogen replied, “Thanks, good sir. You’re kindly welcome.”

Iachimo thought, All of her that is on the outside is very rich! She is beautiful! If she has a mind that matches her rare beauty, she is alone the Arabian bird, and I have lost the wager.

The Arabian bird is the mythological Phoenix, of which only one exists at a time. When old, the Phoenix burns itself and is reconstituted from the ashes. Iachimo, whose opinion of women was poor, believed that Imogen, if she had a mind that matched her beauty, was as rare as the Phoenix — she was the only chaste woman on the planet.

Iachimo thought, May boldness be my friend! Arm me, audacity, from head to foot! Or, like the Parthian, I shall fight while fleeing. Or else I shall give up trying to win the wager and shall directly flee.

The Parthians fought on horseback. They would charge their horses at the enemy and throw their spears, and then shoot arrows while riding back to their ranks. Iachimo was praying for the boldness to directly attempt to seduce Imogen. The alternatives were to be indirect and convince Posthumus that he — Iachimo — had seduced Imogen, although he had not, or to give up trying to win the wager.

Imogen read part of the letter out loud, the part that praised Iachimo: “He is one of the noblest reputation and distinction, to whose kindnesses I am most infinitely tied. Welcome him accordingly, as you value your trust — LEONATUS.”

She then said, “So far I read aloud, but not the rest. But even the very middle of my heart is warmed by the rest, and takes it thankfully. You are as welcome, worthy sir, as I have words to bid you, and you shall find that you are welcome in all that I can do for you.”

“Thanks, fairest lady,” Iachimo said.

He then began his attempt to seduce Imogen by pretending to have distracting thoughts. He pretended to be wondering how Posthumus could be unfaithful to a woman such as Imogen. In doing so, he spoke disjointedly and not clearly.

He said, as if to himself but making sure that Imogen could hear him, “What, are men mad? Has nature given them eyes to see this vaulted arch, and the rich harvest of sea and land, which can distinguish between the fiery orbs above and the twinned stones upon the numbered beach? And can we not make division with spectacles so precious between fair and foul?”

Iachimo was saying, in unclear language, that he could not believe that Posthumus was unable to recognize the worth of Imogen. Men are able to see the sky, the sea, and the land, and they know the difference between the Sun and the Moon and the differences among the grains of sand of the beach — grains that look alike and are so numerous that only God can count them. On the Earth we see sights and can tell them one from another and tell which sight is more spectacular and better than the others. Why then can’t men — and especially Posthumus — tell the difference between fair and foul, between Imogen and other women?

Imogen asked him, “What is causing your amazement?”

Iachimo continued, “The faulty perception cannot be in the eye, because apes and monkeys between two such females would chatter approvingly toward the better female and contemn with grimaces the other female. Nor can the faulty perception lie in the judgment because idiots in this case of favor would be wisely definite — in such a case even fools would definitely make the wise choice and realize which is the best woman. Nor can the faulty perception lie in the sexual appetite. Sluttishness opposed to such elegant excellence would make sexual desire turn into dry heaves and not be tempted to feed.”

“What is the matter, I wonder?” Imogen said.

Iachimo said, “The overfilled sexual desire, which has been satiated and is yet unsatisfied, which is a tub that has been filled and is yet leaking, which has feasted first on the lamb and is yet longing to feast on garbage ….”

The lamb is a symbol of purity. Iachimo was hinting — make that lying — that Posthumus had enjoyed sex with Imogen but yet was pursuing sex with garbage, aka whores.

Imogen asked, “What, dear sir, is making you rapt? Are you well?”

“Thank you, madam,” Iachimo replied. “I am well.”

To get Pisanio out of the way, Iachimo said to him, “I beg you, sir, to tell my servant to wait for me where I left him. My servant is a foreigner here, and he is a worrier. He may be wondering about what he should do.”

“I was going, sir,” Pisanio said, “to welcome him.”

Pisanio exited to carry out his errand.

“Is my husband well?” Imogen asked Iachimo. “Please tell me whether he is healthy.”

“He is well, madam.”

“Is he disposed to be mirthful? I hope he is.”

“He is very cheerful. None of the other foreigners there is as merry and playful. He is called the British reveler.”

“When he was here,” Imogen said, “he was inclined to be solemn and often he did not know why.”

“I have never seen him solemn,” Iachimo said. “There is a Frenchman who is his companion, a person who is an eminent monsieur who, it seems, loves very much a French girl at home. The Frenchman sends out like a furnace very many warm sighs, while the jolly Brit — your husband, I mean — laughs from his open and unimpeded lungs and cries, ‘Oh, can my sides hold, when I think that a man, who knows by history, report, or his own experience what women are, yes, what she cannot choose but must be, will during his free hours languish for assured and betrothed bondage?’”

“Does my husband say that?” Imogen asked.

“Yes, madam, with his eyes drowned in a flood of tears with laughter. It is entertaining to be nearby and hear him mock the Frenchman. But, Heavens know, some men are much to blame.”

“Not my husband, I hope.”

“Not he,” Iachimo said, “but yet Heaven’s bounty towards him might be used more thankfully. In himself, Heaven has given him many gifts; Heaven has also given him you, whom I judge to be more valuable than all his other gifts. While I am bound to wonder at these gifts, I am bound to pity, too.”

“What do you pity, sir?”

“I heartily pity two creatures,” Iachimo replied, looking at Imogen.

He was pretending that he pitied Posthumus and Imogen.

“Am I one of the creatures you pity, sir?” Imogen asked. “You are looking at me. What fault do you see in me that deserves your pity?”

“This is lamentable! Should I hide myself from the radiant Sun and find solace in the dungeon by the smoldering burnt-out wick of a candle?”

Imogene was speaking deliberately unclearly, but he was saying that he was attracted to Imogen and the difference between her and any other woman was the difference between the Sun and the burning stub of a candle that was about to go out.

“Please, sir,” Imogen said, “speak more clearly when you answer my questions. Why do you pity me?”

“That others do — I was about to say — enjoy your — but it is the duty of the gods to avenge it, not mine to speak about it.”

Iachimo was lying that the gods needed to avenge what Posthumus was doing to his marriage — Iachimo was lying that other women were enjoying Imogen’s husband.

“You seem to know something about me, or something that concerns me,” Imogen said. “Please — since thinking that things may be ill often hurts more than being sure that they are because certain knowledge means knowing that things cannot be remedied, or if the ill things are known in time, the way to remedy them is also known — tell me what you start to say and then stop saying.”

Iachimo said, “Suppose I had this cheek to bathe my lips upon. Suppose I had this hand, whose touch, whose every touch, would force the feeler’s soul to take an oath of loyalty. Suppose I had this object, which takes prisoner the wild motions of my eyes, fixing it only here.”

“This object” referred to Imogen; he was objectifying her.

Iachimo continued, “If I had all this, then would I, who would be damned if I should do these things, sloppily kiss lips as common as the stairs that everyone climbs to the Capitol in Rome; clasp hands made hard by telling lies each hour, hands made as hard by lying as by laboring; and then glance sideways into eyes as base and ill-lustrous as the smoky light that is fed with stinking tallow? If I would do these things, then it would be fitting that all the plagues of Hell should at the same time come to the one who revolts.”

Iachimo was lying that Posthumus was revolting against the vows of marriage.

Again, his language was unclear. What does it mean to say that hands are made hard by lying? A person who works hard will have hard hands. Prostitutes can work hard, but their work involves a kind of lying. Married people make a legal contract that allows them to have sex, but prostitutes have sex without having first made the legal contract; prostitutes act as if they are married, but they are not married — at least, not to their customers. Acting as if they are married although they are not married is a kind of lie. Iachimo was also saying that the prostitutes with whom Posthumus was having sex were hardworking — they slept with many, many men. If they were to work in the fields rather than in bed, they would have hard hands indeed. Metaphorically, the hands of prostitutes are hard.

“My lord, I fear, has forgotten Britain,” Imogen replied.

“And himself,” Iachimo said. “I am not inclined to tell you this information regarding your husband’s change and descent into baseness, but your virtues charm this information from my most silent inmost thought and bring it to my tongue.”

“Let me hear no more,” Imogen said. “Tell me no more.”

“Oh, dearest soul!” Iachimo said. “Your situation strikes my heart with pity so much that it makes me sick. A lady as beautiful as you, the heir to an empire, would make the greatest King double in happiness and success. And yet you share your husband with prostitutes who are paid with money that you give to him. You share your husband with diseased whores who have sex with everyone for gold, despite their many infirmities that rottenness gives to a human being! Such stuff — whores — who ‘boil’ in vats filled with hot water used to treat venereal disease is enough to be poisonous to poison! Be revenged on your husband, or she who gave birth to you was no Queen, and you fall away from and make degenerate your great stock.”

“Be revenged on my husband!” Imogen said. “How should I be revenged? If this is true — my heart will not easily allow my ears to abuse it — if what you say is true, how should I be revenged?”

Iachimo replied, “Should he make me live, like Diana’s virginal priests, between cold sheets, while he is vaulting variable ramps — jumping on various whores — in contemptuous disregard of you, paying the whores with your money?”

Although Iachimo used the word “me,” referring to himself, he meant his words to apply to Imogen — why should she live without sex while her husband is having lots of sex with other women?

Iachimo continued, “Get revenge. I dedicate myself to your sweet pleasure. I am nobler than that runaway from your bed, and I will remain steadfast to your affection. I will be secretive about what we do as well as loyal to you.”

“Pisanio!” Imogen called. “Come here!”

“Let me offer you my service by kissing your lips,” Iachimo said.

“Get away from me!” Imogen said. “I condemn my ears that have listened to thee for so long.”

This society used “you” as a respectful and more formal way of referring to someone and “thee” and “thou” as a less respectful and more informal way of referring to someone. Imogen no longer respected Iachimo. “Thee” and “thou” were used to talk to a servant or a child or a pet dog. “Thee” and “thou” could also be used when talking to a person with whom one had an intimate relationship, such as one’s husband or wife. In the King James Bible, God is “Thou” because human beings can have a personal relationship with God. Imogen, however, makes it clear that she is using “thee” and “thou” to refer to Iachimo because she does not respect him. Iachimo is a newcomer to the palace and so ought to be called by the formal “you.”

Imogen continued, “If thou were honorable, thou would have told this tale for a virtuous reason, not for such a contemptible end as the one thou seeks — as dishonorable as it is strange. Thou wrong a gentleman, who is as far from thy report as thou are from honor, and thou are soliciting here a lady who disdains thee as much as she does the devil.”

She called again, “Pisanio!”

She then said to Iachimo, “I shall tell the King my father about thy assault. If my father thinks it fitting that an impudent, insolent foreigner should do business in his court as if he were in a Roman stew — a Roman whorehouse — and to expound his beastly mind to us, he has a court he cares little for and a daughter whom he does not respect at all.”

She called again, “Pisanio!”

Iachimo had failed to seduce Imogen. Now he needed to stay out of trouble — and to not die. Kings had the power to impose capital punishment.

“Oh, happy Leonatus!” Iachimo said. “I may say the respect that your lady has for you deserves your trust, and your most perfect goodness deserves her assured faith in you.”

He said to Imogen, “May you be blessed and live long! You are the wife to the worthiest gentleman that a country has ever called its own! You, his wife, are suitable only for the very worthiest! Give me your pardon. Forgive me. I have spoken these things only to learn if your marriage vows were deeply rooted, and I have discovered that they are. Those vows shall make your husband that which he is, but renewed — your lover. He is the truest mannered man. He is such a holy warlock — he uses white magic — that he enchants societies of friends. Half of the heart of every man is given to him.”

Imogen forgave Iachimo and began to use “you” when speaking to him: “You make amends for what you said.”

“Your husband sits among men as if he were a god who had descended from Heaven. He has a kind of honor that sets him off; his appearance is that of more than a mortal man. Do not be angry, most mighty Princess, that I have ventured to test how you would take a false report about your husband. This test has honored you by confirming your great judgment in choosing to marry so rare a gentleman — you know that your judgment in this matter cannot be wrong. The love I bear your husband drove me to fan and winnow — to test — you like this, but the gods made you, unlike all others, without chaff and unsullied. Please, I beg your pardon.”

“All is well, sir,” Imogen said. “You may use my power in the court as if it were yours.”

“I give you my humble thanks,” Iachimo said. “I had almost forgotten to ask your grace to fulfill a small request, and yet it is important, too, because it concerns your husband. He, myself, and other noble friends are partners in this particular matter.”

“Please, tell me what it is.”

“Some dozen of us Romans and your husband — who is the best feather of our wing — have mingled sums of money in order to buy a present for the Emperor. I, as agent for the rest, purchased the gift in France. It is a dish made of precious metal, remarkably well designed and inlaid with jewels of rich and exquisite form. The value of the dish is great, and I am somewhat anxious, being a foreigner, to have this gift placed in a safe place for now. May it please you to keep this gift to the Emperor safe for me?”

“I will do it willingly,” Imogen said. “I will pawn my honor for the safekeeping of this gift. Because my husband has an interest in it, I will keep it in my bedchamber.”

“It is in a trunk being looked after by my servants,” Iachimo said. “I will make bold to send the trunk to you for this night only. I must go onboard ship tomorrow.”

A good hostess, Imogen said, “No, no.”

“Yes,” Iachimo said. “I must, please. I shall fall short on what I promised if I lengthen the time of my return to Rome. From France I crossed the seas because I promised to see your grace.”

“I thank you for your pains,” Imogen said, “but do not sail away tomorrow!”

“Oh, I must, madam; therefore, I shall ask you, if you want to write to your husband, please do it tonight. I have taken up too much time; I must leave quickly because time is relevant to the giving of our present to the Emperor.”

“I will write my husband,” Imogen said. “Send your trunk to me; it shall safely be kept, and truly returned to you. You’re very welcome.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s CYMBELINE: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 5

— 1.5 —

In a room in King Cymbeline’s palace in Britain, the Queen and Doctor Cornelius, who made medicines and poisons from plants, were speaking. Some ladies attended the Queen.

The Queen said, “While the dew is still on the ground, gather those flowers. Be quick. Who has the list of the flowers I need?”

The first lady said, “I do, madam.”

“Go, and hurry,” the Queen said.

The ladies exited to gather the flowers.

The Queen said, “Now, master doctor, have you brought those drugs?”

“If it pleases your highness, yes, I have,” Doctor Cornelius replied. “Here they are, madam.”

He gave her a small box and said, “But I beg your grace, without meaning to offend you — my conscience makes me ask you this — why have you commanded me to bring you these most poisonous compounds, which are the causers of a languishing death? Though those compounds work slowly, they are deadly.”

“I wonder, doctor, why you ask me such a question,” the Queen said. “Haven’t I been your pupil for a long time? Haven’t you taught me how to make perfumes? How to distil? How to preserve? Yes, I have been. Our great King himself often asks me for my confections. Having thus far proceeded — unless you think me devilish and engaging in black magic — isn’t it suitable for me to increase my knowledge in areas related to what I already know? I will try the effects of these your compounds on such creatures as we count not worth the hanging, but on no human. I will test the compounds’ vigor and apply antidotes to their poison, and by these experiments I will learn the compounds’ several virtues and effects.”

Doctor Cornelius replied, “Your highness shall from these experiments only make your heart hard. Besides, seeing these effects will be both harmful and infectious. Handling such poisons is dangerous.”

“Oh, settle down,” the Queen said. “Be calm.”

Pisanio, the servant of Posthumus Leonatus and Princess Imogen, entered the room.

The Queen thought, Here comes a flattering rascal. Upon him I will first work. He’s loyal to his master, and he is an enemy to my son.

She asked, “How are you now, Pisanio?”

She then said to Cornelius, “Doctor, your service for this time is ended. Go on your way.”

Doctor Cornelius thought, I suspect you, madam, but you shall do no harm.

Rather than leaving immediately, he watched the Queen interact with Pisanio. He also kept an eye on the box of compounds she was holding.

The Queen said to Pisanio, “Listen, I want to have a word with you.”

They talked quietly.

Doctor Cornelius thought, I do not like her. She thinks she has a box of strange, unnatural, slow-acting poisons. I know her spirit, and I will not trust one of her malice with a poison of such damned nature. Those compounds she has will stupefy and dull the senses for a while. First, probably, she’ll test them on cats and dogs, and then afterwards on higher animals, but there is no danger in the show of death the compounds cause. All that will happen is that the spirit will be locked up for a while and then will revive, refreshed. She will be fooled by a very false and deceptive effect, and I will be all the truer the more I am false to her. By lying to her, I will be a better person.

Noticing that Doctor Cornelius was still present, the Queen said to him, “No further service is needed, doctor, until I send for you.”

He replied, “I humbly take my leave,” and then he exited.

The Queen said to Pisanio, “She still weeps, you say? Don’t you think that in time she will stop crying and follow advice while rejecting the folly she now possesses? Work on her. When you bring me word that she loves my son, I’ll tell you immediately that you are as great as is your master — no, greater, because all his fortunes lie speechless as if they were on a deathbed and his name is at its last gasp. He cannot return to our court, nor can he continue to remain where he is. To shift his place of residence is just to exchange one misery for another, and every day that comes to him is simply another day wasted. What shall you expect if you are dependent on a thing who leans and needs support, who cannot be newly built, and who has no friends, not even as many as are needed to prop him up?”

The Queen dropped the box of compounds, and Pisanio picked it up for her.

The Queen said to him, “You have picked up you know not what, but take it for your labor. It is a thing that I made, which has saved the King’s life five times. I do not know anything that has better medicinal value. Please, take it; it is a down payment on the further good things that I mean to do for you. Tell the mistress you serve, Princess Imogene, how the case stands with her. Tell her to love my son, and tell her that as if it came from your heart. Think what an opportunity this is to change and improve your life. You will still serve Princess Imogen, but in addition my son will take notice of you. I’ll persuade King Cymbeline to give you anything you desire, and I, who have set on you this course of action that shall give you good things, will chiefly and richly reward you for persuading Princess Imogen to love my son. Call my female servants to come to me. Most importantly, think about my words.”

Pisanio exited to get the female servants to come to the Queen.

The Queen thought about Pisanio, He is a sly and loyal knave. He is not one to be diverted from doing his duty to Posthumus Leonatus and to Princess Imogen. He acts as Posthumus’ agent at the court, and he is a constant reminder to Princess Imogen to remain loyal to her marriage vows. I have given him compounds that, if he takes them, shall quite remove from Princess Imogen this chief advocate for her sweetheart. After Pisanio dies of poison, Princess Imogen — unless she changes her mind and loves my son — shall taste the poison, too.

Pisanio returned with the Queen’s attendants.

The Queen said to the attendants, who were carrying the flowers they had gathered, “Good, good. Well done, well done. Take the violets, cowslips, and primroses to my private room.”

She added, “Fare you well, Pisanio. Think about my words.”

The Queen and her dependents exited.

Alone, Pisanio said to himself, “And I shall do so. But when to my good lord I prove untrue, I’ll choke myself. That is all I’ll do for you.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s CYMBELINE: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 4

— 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


David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s CYMBELINE: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scenes 2-3

— 1.2 —

The Queen’s son, Cloten, talked in a public place with two lords shortly after his fight with Posthumus.

The first lord said to Cloten, “Sir, I would advise you to change your shirt; the violence of action has made you reek — that is, steam — like a burnt sacrifice.”

Because the first lord was a flatterer, he added, “Where air comes out, air comes in. No air outside is as wholesome as the air you vent.”

Cloten replied, “If my shirt were bloody, then I would change it. Have I hurt Posthumus?”

The second lord thought, No, truly; you have not hurt even his patience.

“Hurt him!” the first lord said. “His body’s a passable and navigable carcass, if he is not hurt: It is a thoroughfare for steel, if it is not hurt. If you have not hurt him, then his body has hidden cavities into which you thrust your sword!”

The second lord thought, Cloten’s steel sword was in debt; like a debtor, it avoided the creditor — Posthumus — and traveled the side streets rather going downtown.

“The villain would not make a stand against me,” Cloten said. “He would not hold his ground.”

The second lord thought, Posthumus fled, all right — he constantly fled forward, toward your face.

The first lord said, “Make a stand against you! Hold his ground! You have land enough of your own, but he added to your having; he gave you some ground.”

The second lord thought, Posthumus gave Cloten as many inches of ground as Cloten has oceans — none!

He then thought about Cloten and the first lord, Young pups!

Cloten said, “I wish the bystanders had not come between Posthumus and me.”

The second lord thought, I wish that they had not come between you two until you had fallen and measured upon the ground how long a fool you are.

Cloten complained, “And that she should love this fellow — Posthumus — and refuse me!”

The second lord thought, If it is a sin to make a truly worthy choice of a man to be her husband, then she is damned.

The first lord said, “Sir, as I have always told you, her beauty and her brain do not go together. She’s a pretty woman, but I have seen little evidence of any intelligence she might have. I have seen small reflection of her wit.”

The second lord thought, She shines not upon fools, lest the reflection of her shine should hurt her.

Cloten said, “Come, I’ll go to my chamber. I wish there had been some hurt done!”

The second lord thought, I don’t wish that there had been some hurt done, unless it had been the fall of an ass, which is no great hurt.

Noticing the second lord for the first time, Cloten asked him, “You’ll go with us?”

An uncomfortable silence followed — the second lord did not like Cloten’s company. To stop the silence, the first lord said, “I’ll go with your lordship.”

Cloten said to the second lord, “Come, let’s go together.”

As son to the Queen, Cloten was a powerful person, so the second lord said, “Very well, my lord.”

— 1.3 —

Imogen and Pisanio spoke together in a room in King Cymbeline’s palace.

Imogen said to Pisanio, “I wish you would cling to the shores of the harbor, and question sailors on every ship. If Posthumus should write me a letter and I not receive it, it would be a paper lost — a loss as serious as the loss of a pardon. What was the last thing that he said to you?”

Pisanio replied, “He spoke about you: ‘My Queen! My Queen!’”

“Did he then wave his handkerchief?”

“Yes, and he kissed it, madam.”

“Linen that was unaware of the kiss! And yet the linen was more fortunate than I am because it was kissed! And was that all?”

“No, madam; as long as he could make me with my eyes or ears distinguish him from the others onboard ship, he stayed on the deck and kept waving his glove, or hat, or handkerchief. It was like he was expressing the fits and stirs of his mind — his soul all so slowly sailed away from you, no matter how swiftly his ship sailed.”

Imogen said, “You should have stayed and watched him until he was as small as a crow, or smaller, before you left. You should have gazed after him that long.”

“Madam, I did.”

“I would have broken my eyes and cracked them,” Imogen said. “I would have looked as long as I could look upon him, until the distance between us had made him the size of the sharp end of my needle. No, my eyes would have followed him until he had melted from the smallness of a gnat to invisible air, and then I would have turned my eyes away and wept. But, good Pisanio, when shall we hear from him?”

“Be assured, madam, he shall write you at the first opportunity.”

“I did not take my proper leave of him,” Imogen said. “I had very pretty things to say to him, but before I could tell him how I would think certain thoughts about him at certain hours, and before I could make him swear that the women of Italy should not betray my interest and his honor, and before I was able to make him promise to pray at the same time as me — at the sixth hour of the morning, at noon, and at midnight — for then my solicitations on his behalf would be in Heaven, and before I could give him that parting kiss that I had set between two enchanting words to protect him from evil, my father came in and like the tyrannous breathing and blowing of the north wind, he shook all our buds of love and kept them from growing.”

A lady entered the room and said to Imogen, “The Queen, madam, desires your highness’ company.”

Imogen said to Pisanio, “Those things I told you to do, get them done. I will attend the Queen.”

“Madam, I shall,” Pisanio replied.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s CYMBELINE: A Retelling in Prose — Cast of Characters, and Act 1, Scene 1


Male Characters

Cymbeline, King of Britain.

Cloten, son to the Queen by a former husband. The name “Cloten” rhymes with the word “rotten.”

Posthumus Leonatus, a gentleman, husband to Imogen.

Belarius, a banished Lord, disguised under the name of Morgan.

Guiderius and Arviragus, sons to Cymbeline, supposed sons to Morgan; their names as Morgan’s sons are Polydore and Cadwal. Guiderius (Polydore) is the older of the two. Guiderius and Arviragus are Welsh names.

Philario, friend to Posthumus.

Iachimo, friend to Philario.

A French Gentleman, friend to Philario.

Caius Lucius, general of the Roman forces, and an ambassador representing Caesar Augustus.

A Roman Captain.

Two British Captains.

Pisanio, servant to Posthumus, and to Imogen.

Cornelius, a physician.

Two Lords of Cymbeline’s Court.

Two Gentlemen of the same.

Two Jailers.

Female Characters

Queen, wife to Cymbeline.

Imogen, daughter to Cymbeline by a former Queen.

Helen, a Lady attending on Imogen.

Miscellaneous Characters

Lords, Ladies, Roman Senators, Tribunes, a Dutch Gentleman, a Spanish Gentleman, a Soothsayer, Musicians, Officers, Captains, Soldiers, Messengers, and other Attendants, and Apparitions.

Scene: Sometimes in Britain, sometimes in Rome.


— 1.1 —

Two gentlemen were speaking together in the garden of Cymbeline, King of Britain.

The first gentlemen said, “Every man you meet frowns. Just as the astrological planetsinfluence our emotions, so the face of King Cymbeline influences the faces of our courtiers.”

The second gentleman asked, “But what’s the matter?”

“King Cymbeline’s daughter, who is the heir of his Kingdom, and whom he intended to marry his wife’s sole son — his wife is a widow whom he married — has given herselfto a poor but worthy gentleman. She married him. Now her husband has been banished from the Kingdom, and she is imprisoned. Everyone has put on an appearance of outward sorrow, although I think the Kingis truly wounded to the center of his heart.”

“None but the King has been wounded?”

“The man who has lost her is wounded, too; so is the Queen,who greatly desired the match. But none of the courtiers,although their faces bear the same grief-stricken look as the King’s face bears, has a heart that is notglad at the thing they scowl at.”

“Why is that?”

“The man who has lost the Princess is a thingtoo bad for a bad report, and he who has won her —I mean, the good man who has married her and has therefore been banished — is a creature suchas, if you were to seek through the regions of the earthfor another man who is his equal, there would be something lacking in whatever man you found and compared him to. I do not think that any other man has as fair an outward appearance and such a good character within as he does.”

“You speak very highly of him.”

“He is better than I have said he is. I am understating his good points and not fully revealing them.”

“What’s his name and family?”

The first gentleman said, “I cannot trace his family back very far. His fatherwas named Sicilius; he foughtwith King Cassibelan against the Romans but he received his titles from King Tenantius, whomhe served with glory and remarkable success and so gained the additional name Leonatus, which in Latin means “born from a lion.” King Cassibelan was the great-uncle, and King Tenantius was the father, of King Cymbeline.

“Sicilius had, in addition to this gentleman who has married King Cymbeline’s daughter,two other sons, who in the wars of the timedied with their swords in hand. Because of this, Sicilius, their father,then old and fond of children, grieved so much that he died, and his gentle wife, who was then pregnant with this gentleman who has married King Cymbeline’s daughter, died when he was born.

“King Cymbeline took the babe under his protection and named him Posthumus Leonatus. In our society, Posthumus is a common name for a baby born after the death of the father. King Cymbeline raised him and made him a member of his inner circle, and he made available to him all the education that was suitable for a person of his age. Posthumus received that education as we do air — as fast as it was ministered, and in his spring he became a harvest. He lived at court much praised and very loved — which is rare to do. He was an example to the youngest; to the more mature he was a mirror that served as a model of behavior to them; and to the older and graver he was a child who guided dotards. As for his wife, for marrying whom he is now banished, her own price proclaims how she esteemed him and his virtue — she was willing to marry him although it meant that she is now imprisoned. We can truly know what kind of man Posthumus is by knowing that such a worthy woman as Princess Imogen chose to marry him.”

The second gentleman said, “I honor and admire Posthumus because of what you have told me about him. But please tell me, is Princess Imogen the sole child to King Cymbeline?”

“She is his only remaining child. He had two sons. If this is worth your hearing, take note of it. When the eldest of the two sons was three years old and the younger son was still in swaddling clothes, they were stolen from their nursery, and to this hour in all the fields of knowledge there is no credible guess which way they went.”

“How long ago did this happen?”

“Some twenty years.”

“It is difficult to believe that a King’s children should be so slackly guarded, so kidnapped, and the search for them so slow and unable to trace them!”

“Although it is strange, and although the negligence involved may well be laughed at, yet it is true, sir.”

“I entirely believe you.”

“We must stop,” the first gentleman said. “Here comes the gentleman Posthumus Leonatus, the Queen, and Princess Imogen.”

The two gentlemen exited.

The Queen said to Imogen, “No, be assured you shall not find me, stepdaughter, despite the bad reputation of most stepmothers, evil-eyed toward you. You’re my prisoner, but your jailer shall give you the keys that lock up your prison.

“As for you, Posthumus, as soon as I can win over the offended King, I will be your advocate; however, the fire of rage is still in him, and it would be good if you gave in to his sentence with whatever patience your wisdom may give to you.”

“If it please your highness,” Posthumus said, “I will go away from here today.”

“You know the danger,” the Queen said. “I’ll take a walk in the garden, pitying your pangs of barred affections, and allow you two to be together, although the King has ordered that you two should not speak together.”

The Queen exited.

Imogen, who disliked the Queen, said, “Oh, hypocritical kindness and courtesy! How well this tyrant can tickle where she wounds! My dearest husband, I somewhat fear my father’s wrath, but although I will always honor my father, I do not fear what his rage can do to me. You must go into exile, and I shall here endure the continual glances of angry eyes. I will not enjoy the comforts of life, except that I know I may see again a jewel — you — who is in the world.”

Posthumus said to Imogen, “My Queen! My wife! Oh, lady, weep no more, lest I give cause to be suspected of crying and feeling more tender emotions than is suitable for a man. I will remain the most loyal husband who has ever made marriage vows. I will reside in Rome with a man named Philario who was a friend to my father, and to me is known only by letter. Write there to me, my Queen, and with my eyes I’ll drink the words you send, even if the ink with which they are written is made of gall.”

Gall, which was then used in making ink, is a bitter substance that oak trees exude.

The Queen returned and said, “Be quick, please. If the King comes here and sees you two together, I shall incur I don’t know how much of his displeasure.”

She thought, Yet I’ll persuade him to walk this way. I never do him wrong without him enduring my injuries in order to be friends with me. He pays dearly for my offences.

The Queen exited.

Posthumus said, “Even if we were to take as long to say goodbye as we have years left to live, the loathness to separate would grow. Adieu!”

“No, stay a little longer,” Imogen said. “If you were going to ride on horseback a while to get some fresh air, this kind of goodbye would be too little. Look here, love; this diamond ring belonged to my mother. Take it, sweetheart; keep it until you woo another wife, after I, Imogen, am dead.”

“What!” Posthumus said. “Another wife? You gentle gods, give me only this wife I have, and wrap up in a shroud any embracings for a new wife. Instead of a new wife, give me death!”

He put Imogen’s ring on his finger and said to it, “Remain here while sense can keep it on.”

Posthumus intended to wear the ring for the rest of his life.

He then said to Imogen, “And, sweetest, fairest, just as I my poor self did exchange for you, to your so infinite loss, so in our gifts I still get the better of you. You are a better person than I am, and your gift to me is better than my gift to you. For my sake, wear this; it is a manacle of love. I’ll place it upon this fairest prisoner.”

He put a bracelet on her arm.

Imogen said, “Oh, the gods! When shall we see each other again?”

King Cymbeline and some lords entered the garden.

“The King!” Posthumus said.

Seeing him, Cymbeline said, “You basest thing, leave! Go away, and get out of my sight! If after this command you burden the court with your unworthiness, you die! Go away! You are poison to my blood.”

“May the gods protect you!” Posthumus said. “And may they bless the good people who remain in the court! I am leaving.”

He exited.

Imogen said, “There cannot be a pain, even in dying, sharper than this pain is.”

Cymbeline said to her, “Oh, disloyal thing, you should make me feel younger, but instead you have heaped an age of years on me.”

“I beg you, sir, do not harm yourself with your vexation,” Imogen replied. “I am oblivious to your wrath; a pain more exquisite than your wrath subdues all my pains, all my fears.”

“Are you past grace? Past obedience?” Cymbeline asked.

Cymbeline used the word “grace” to mean “sense of propriety or sense of duty.”

“I am past hope, and I am in despair,” Imogen said. “In that way, I am past grace.”

Imogen used the word “grace” to mean “mercy or forgiveness.” According to Christianity, a person who is in despair and feels that God cannot forgive him or her will not repent and so will be condemned to spend eternity in Hell. Such a person commits a sin of pride by believing that he or she has committed a sin so great that God cannot forgive it; God is great and merciful and can and will forgive any sin as long as it is sincerely repented. Imogen, however, was despairing because she and her husband were separated.

“You could have married the sole son of my Queen!”

“I am blest that I did not!” Imogen replied. “I chose an eagle, and I avoided choosing an ignoble, greedy, grasping puttock — a kite, a bird of prey.”

“You married a beggar; you would have made my throne a seat for baseness.”

“No; instead, I added a luster to your throne.”

“Oh, you vile person!”

“Sir, it is your fault that I have loved Posthumus. You raised him as my playfellow, and he is a man who is worth any woman. The sum he paid for marrying me — exile — is almost more than I am worth.”

“Are you mad?” Cymbeline asked.

“I am almost insane, sir. May Heaven restore me! I wish I were the daughter of a cowherd, and my Posthumus Leonatus were the son of our neighbor the shepherd! Then we could be married without any problems.”

“You foolish thing!”

The Queen returned, and using the royal plural King Cymbeline said, “Posthumus and Imogen were together again. You have disobeyed our command.”

He then ordered his attendants, “Away with Imogen, and pen her up.”

“I beg you to be calm, Cymbeline,” the Queen said. “Peace, dear lady stepdaughter, peace! Sweet sovereign, leave us for a while. Think about this matter for a while, and you will feel much better.”

“No, let her languish and lose a drop of blood a day; and, when she is old, let her die from this folly!” Cymbeline said.

In this society, people believed that they lost a drop of blood each time they sighed. Cymbeline wanted his daughter to grieve and feel ill until she got old and died.

King Cymbeline and his lords exited.

The Queen said to him as he left, “Bah! You must give way. You must give in.”

Pisanio, a servant to Imogen and Posthumus, entered the garden.

The Queen said to Imogen, “Here is your servant.”

Then the Queen asked Pisanio, “How are you, sir! What news do you have?”

“My lord your son drew on my master. Your son drew his sword against my master, Posthumus.”

“No harm, I trust, is done?”

“There might have been, except that my master played rather than fought — he kept calm and was not angry,” Pisanio said. “They were parted by some gentlemen who were at hand.”

“I am very glad of it,” the Queen said.

Imogen said to the Queen, “Your son is the friend of my father; he takes his part.”

She added sarcastically, “He drew his sword upon an exile! Oh, what a brave sir! I wish they were both together in Africa and I was nearby with a needle so that I might prick whoever tried to withdraw from their fight.”

She then said to Pisanio, “Why have you come here from your master?”

“He commanded me to come here,” Pisanio replied. “He would not allow me to accompany him to the harbor.”

Pisanio handed Imogen a paper and said, “He left these notes concerning what commands I should be subject to when it pleased you to employ me.”

The Queen said to Imogen, “This man has been your faithful servant. I dare to bet my honor that he will remain your faithful servant.”

“I humbly thank your highness,” Pisanio said to the Queen.

“Please, let us walk awhile,” the Queen said to Imogen.

Imogen said to Pisanio, “About a half-hour from now, please come and talk with me. You shall at least go help my husband get onboard his ship. Leave me and do that.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved