Cymbeline | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Cymbeline | Act 3, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

In Cambria, an old man called Morgan (whose true name is Belarius) converses with his two sons, Polydor and Cadwal, who all live in a cave in the mountains. Belarius tells the young men that the rural life is better than city life and far better than living in the king's court. The two young men are skeptical because they have no experience of living elsewhere and would like to try out other lifestyles. Belarius tells them he used to be in the court of Cymbeline, but someone falsely accused him and he was banished. Later, when his "sons" go out to hunt, Belarius, in soliloquy, reveals who they really are—the two lost sons of Cymbeline. Polydor is Guiderius, the elder son, and Cadwal is Arviragus, the younger son. Belarius had kidnapped them to get back at Cymbeline for banishing him unfairly. The boys have no memory of their life as princes, believing "Morgan" is their father and their nurse, Euriphile, their mother. Belarius also believes their princely nature is revealed in how brave and ambitious they are.

Analysis

Halfway through the play, the audience finally gets to meet the characters who inhabit the lost princes' subplot. This plot line evokes many aspects of the plot of The Winter's Tale. In The Winter's Tale Perdita—the lost princess—is raised in a rural setting as a peasant girl, unaware of her true identity. The two sons of Cymbeline have been in a similar situation—raised in the mountains of Wales without any knowledge of their royal identity. In The Winter's Tale a false accusation is the inciting event in the plot. False accusations play a significant role in Cymbeline as well. Imogen has been falsely accused of adultery, just as Hermione is in The Winter's Tale. Like Perdita, whose beauty and nobility set her apart from the other peasants, Cymbeline's sons display their royal origins—their inherent superiority—in their behavior. And in Belarius's backstory, false accusations caused the king to banish Belarius, which in turn led to the kidnapping of the princes as revenge.

In contrast to Posthumus and Cloten, who are in the grips of their own vows of vengeance, Belarius is presented as a person who took his revenge long ago. And his monologue revealing the princes' identities brings out another contrast between the true nobility of those born as royalty and the false nobility of those, like Cloten, who obtain their status by other means. Belarius sees the princes are so inherently royal, in fact, that he worries someone will find out his secret simply because of the way the young men naturally behave.

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