Cymbeline | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Cymbeline | Act 3, Scene 2 | Summary



In another part of the palace, Pisanio has become upset after reading a letter in which Posthumus has instructed Pisanio to kill Imogen for her infidelity. Pisanio is supposed to send proof that she is dead. Pisanio believes Imogen is innocent and Posthumus has been deceived. Posthumus has also sent Pisanio a letter to give to Imogen, which says (falsely) that Posthumus is in Britain and is living secretly in Milford Haven in Cambria—modern-day Wales. Through this deception, Posthumus plans to lure Imogen away from home so Pisanio can kill her. Pisanio is uncertain what to do, so he gives Imogen her letter. She is overjoyed at the prospect of seeing Posthumus and makes plans to have Pisanio take her to Milford Haven to see her husband.


Imogen's loyalty is being called into question, and the bond of trust between Imogen and Posthumus is frayed to the breaking point. But it is Pisanio's loyalty and trust that now becomes the focus. He is torn between his duty to Posthumus and his role looking after Imogen, whom he knows to be a faithful wife. Without knowing the situation, he jumps to the correct conclusion: Posthumus has been tricked. When Pisanio witnesses Imogen's joyful reaction to the letter from Posthumus—a reaction meant to make the audience cringe along with Pisanio at Posthumus's behavior—he knows his instincts are correct. She clearly is blameless or she would not be so excited to see her husband.

Shakespeare often uses letters in his plays—frequently to miscommunicate rather than communicate truth. Letters may contain untruths; for example, the letter Malvolio finds in which Olivia declares her love for him in Twelfth Night. Letters may contain truth but go undelivered, or come too late, as happens when Friar John fails to deliver Friar Lawrence's letter to Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. Letters may also be delivered to the wrong people, as happens in Love's Labours' Lost. In this scene, Pisanio receives two letters: one meant to deceive Imogen and one containing falsehoods Posthumus has been led to believe. In this scene Shakespeare uses these two letters to illustrate Pisanio's predicament. Pisanio knows both are false, in different ways. There seems to be no easy solution to his problem.
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