Cymbeline | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Cymbeline | Act 2, Scene 3 | Summary



In the morning, Cloten arrives near Imogen's bedroom with his two lords. He has been gambling unsuccessfully all night and now waits for some musicians he has hired. When the musicians arrive, Cloten makes several crude remarks before they serenade Imogen. However, Imogen does not emerge. Soon Cymbeline and his queen arrive, telling Cloten he should persist in his attempts to make Imogen fall in love with him.

The Roman emperor has sent a messenger, and Cymbeline and his queen leave to meet him. Cloten stays behind, still trying to see Imogen. When she finally emerges from her bedroom, Cloten declares his love but she refuses him—firmly but nicely. But when Cloten begins to insult Posthumus, Imogen becomes angry, expressing her dislike for Cloten in no uncertain terms. Cloten is surprised by her insulting words and vows revenge.


This scene develops Cloten's sense of grievance, which has so far been with his general situation, other men's unwillingness to fight him, and gambling losses. It begins in a familiar way, as the first lord flatters him in hyperbolic fashion: "Your Lordship is the most patient man in loss ... most hot and furious when you win." From this beginning, the scene shows Cloten becoming increasingly upset by the disrespect he perceives Imogen shows him. This is important, because Shakespeare needs Cloten to become a credible threat to Imogen, with enough emotional force behind his resentment to pursue her with murderous intent.

So from the familiar beginning, the scene quickly moves into new territory as Cloten attempts to win Imogen by serenading her. His instructions to the musicians show him to be a crude man who thinks of women as little more than objects of male pleasure: "If you can penetrate her with your fingering, so. We'll try with tongue, too." (He uses the word penetrate three times in 20 lines.) Armed with this low view of women and a sense of his own entitlement to her, Cloten becomes irritated when Imogen doesn't emerge from her bedroom in response to the music. When she does come out she begins politely, but he is persistent, and she calls him "fool" and says, "I care not for you." His response is to tell her she should marry him, leaving the "base wretch" Posthumus, because she owed her father obedience. By the time Imogen tells him she respects Posthumus's lowliest garment more than she respects a hair on Cloten's head, he is infuriated, repeating, "His garment? ... His garment! ... His meanest garment?" At the end of the scene he is ready to get his revenge: "I'll be revenged! 'His mean'st garment'? Well." In one scene the audience has gone from viewing Cloten as a bumbling, bragging fool to a credible threat.

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