Cymbeline | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Cymbeline | Act 1, Scene 4 | Summary



At the home of Philario in Rome, several men converse about Posthumus. One is Iachimo, a nobleman, and another is a Frenchman who has met Posthumus before. Posthumus enters, and the Frenchman recalls Posthumus once said Imogen was more "more fair, virtuous, wise, chaste, constant, qualified ... than any the rarest of our ladies in France." Posthumus reiterates this evaluation, which makes Iachimo laugh. Iachimo's derisive attitude angers Posthumus, and the two argue. Iachimo wagers with Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen—betting 10,000 ducats against Posthumus's ring.


This scene begins with a long discussion of Posthumus and why he has come to Rome. Although Posthumus obviously has a very good reputation, Iachimo continually calls Posthumus's worth into question, saying Posthumus had been "expected to prove so worthy" but Iachimo "looked on him without the help of admiration." This disparaging attitude makes it easier to understand Iachimo's irritation at Posthumus's belief that Imogen is "more fair, virtuous, wise, chaste, constant, qualified ... than any the rarest of our ladies in France" (and in the world, as the wager later expands Posthumus's sentiment).

It is significant that the target of Iachimo's contempt and trickery is Posthumus, not Imogen: "I make my wager rather against your confidence than her reputation." Iachimo cares little about what might happen to Imogen as a result of his actions. The vital thing to Iachimo is to get the better of Posthumus, whether or not Imogen's reputation may be ruined in the process. Iachimo's motivation here reflects a similarity with Iago, the villain of Othello, who sets his sights on taking down Othello and treats the reputation and life of the innocent Desdemona as collateral damage.

This wager between Iachimo and Posthumus is important to the plot and themes of the play. The wager sets in motion the series of events that leads to Imogen going into hiding as the young man Fidele. It also develops the theme of trust and betrayal, as Imogen's fidelity—her loyalty and trustworthiness—is the subject of the bet.

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