Cymbeline | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Cymbeline | Act 1, Scene 6 | Summary



Iachimo arrives at Cymbeline's palace, intending to win his bet with Posthumus. He tells Imogen that Posthumus is enjoying Rome and has even taken a prostitute as a lover. Imogen believes him, but her suspicions are aroused when he suggests she can get back at Posthumus by sleeping with him. Imogen recognizes the whole story as a trick to get her into bed, and says she will tell Pisanio and her father what he has said. Iachimo backtracks, pretending he was only testing Imogen's fidelity to Posthumus and adding a great deal of praise for both Posthumus and Imogen. Imogen believes him. Iachimo then says he has some valuable jewels in a trunk and needs a place to store it. She allows him to store the trunk in her bedroom.


Imogen opens the scene by complaining about her situation. Her assertion she would be happier if she'd been kidnapped along with her two brothers—"Had I been thief-stol'n, / As my two brothers, happy"—is a gentle reminder to the audience of an unsolved mystery that will (eventually) be part of the plot. Shakespeare does not want the audience to forget about the two missing princes.

The majority of the scene, however, is the interaction between Iachimo and Imogen. This interaction has several interesting features. First, when Iachimo finally meets the woman he has pledged to ruin for the sake of a bet, he has a few second thoughts. In an aside he praises her beauty and says if she is as smart as she is beautiful, he will lose the bet. He has to resolve himself to "boldness" and "audacity" in order to continue on with the wager. Second, she reads aloud part of a letter Posthumus has sent her introducing Iachimo and asking her to treat him well. This does not reflect very well on Posthumus. It is the first hint he is not simply defending her honor by taking up this wager but is actually using it to test her fidelity: he is setting his wife up to be vulnerable to Iachimo's seduction. That Posthumus uses deception against his wife is important for the development of the theme of forgiveness, because he cannot be characterized as simply a man who was deceived by a villain. He has actively taken part in the deception.

Ultimately, it is Imogen's trust in Posthumus and her inherent goodness that inclines her give Iachimo the benefit of the doubt. Her own virtues move her to accommodate Iachimo's request to store a trunk in her bedchamber. Iachimo shows himself to be a strategic thinker, as his first attempt at winning the bet by seducing Imogen goes awry and he has to move to an alternate plan.

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