Cymbeline | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Cymbeline | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary



At Cymbeline's palace, Caius Lucius has arrived with a message from Emperor Augustus Caesar of Rome. Because Julius Caesar had conquered Britain, the British had been paying tribute to Rome, but Cymbeline has stopped the payments on the advice of his new queen. Caius Lucius's message is simple: resume the payments. The queen argues against paying tribute, and her son agrees, adding he is a skilled soldier. Cymbeline is persuaded, even though he has nothing against the emperor or his representative Caius Lucius, and he declares that Rome has overstretched its authority over "warlike" Britain. As a result, Caius Lucius says there will now be war.


To match the growing tension between Cloten and Imogen, Posthumus and Imogen, and Posthumus and Iachimo, the political conflict of the play is also coming to a head. Britain is an independently run nation at this time, but it is not yet the imperialistic power it became later in its history. It is part of the Roman Empire and as such owes tribute—similar to taxes—to the Roman emperor. Predictably, the queen doesn't like this idea, and just as predictably Cloten boasts about his fighting skills. Cymbeline gives in to their position, suggesting a malleability in him that his queen—far more ambitious—is willing and able to exploit.

This brewing war between Britain and Rome may seem unimportant and understated in light of the apparent main conflicts of the play. But it is very important in terms of plot because it provides the means for the characters' geographic movements later in the play. Setting the play in wartime allows the final scene to unfold as a series of revelations and reunions that happen quite dramatically.

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