Cymbeline | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Cymbeline | Act 2, Scene 4 | Summary



At Philario's home in Rome, Posthumus and Philario are discussing a conflict between Rome and Britain that may ignite a war. Iachimo has just returned from Britain, and he enters, boasting that he won the bet and Posthumus owes him the ring. He describes Imogen's bedroom in detail, shows the bracelet, and describes the mark he saw on Imogen's breast. At first Posthumus doesn't believe him, but the amount of evidence finally convinces him. He gives Iachimo the ring and becomes hurt and enraged by his belief that Imogen betrayed his trust.


In this scene, Iachimo's cruelty is on display from the moment he enters, as he first praises Imogen's beauty, leading Posthumus to again declare how faithful she is. Posthumus's praise only makes Iachimo's accusation about Imogen more of a shock.

Dramatic irony drives most of the discomfort of the scene. The audience knows Imogen is innocent, so Iachimo's fabricated case against her seems all the crueler precisely because Posthumus is convinced by it. This difference in perspective increases the audience's sense that a grave injustice is being done, and Shakespeare draws it out over a rather long conversation. As Iachimo toys with Posthumus, so Shakespeare toys with the audience by allowing Philario to raise objections: The bracelet may have been lost, or one of her ladies may "hath stol'n it from her" and the evidence "is not strong enough to be believed." There is some slight hope, perhaps, that Posthumus will recognize Iachimo's deception. But ultimately he believes Iachimo's lies.

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