Cymbeline | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Cymbeline | Act 3, Scene 6 | Summary

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Summary

In Cambria, Imogen—dressed now as a young man—searches for Milford Haven. She is exhausted, afraid, and hungry, so when she comes upon the home of Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus she calls out. Hearing no answer, she goes inside. The three men come home to find a strange young man. Imogen thinks they will be upset, but they prove to be good and kind. The two young men feel brotherly toward their visitor, who they think is a young man named Fidele. Imogen/Fidele tells them she is seeking Milford Haven. They invite her to spend the night in their home.

Analysis

This scene continues Shakespeare's escalation of the dramatic irony of the play, as three siblings are reunited but all of them are operating with identities not their own. Imogen, Guiderius, and Arviragus appear in the scene as Fidele, Polydor, and Cadwell. Imogen is aware of her true name, but the young men are not aware of either her true identity or their own.

The theme of appearance versus reality is developed through this ridiculous situation, as the brothers' strange feelings of fraternity emphasize the play's message that false appearances are only temporary and reality will eventually be revealed. Imogen, too, feels something special for the two brothers, remarking in an aside "Would it had been so, that they / Had been my father's sons!" In addition, the overwhelming royal traits of the two brothers is again highlighted by their almost supernatural virtue. They don't take Imogen's money because gold is for those who worship "dirty gods."

Like all cross-dressing Shakespearean heroines, Imogen would have been played in Shakespeare's time by a boy or young man, giving an extra layer of dramatic irony to these scenes. For example, when Imogen notes she would "change my sex to be companion with them," not only has the character Imogen "changed" her sex to appear as a man, but originally a young man would have "changed" his appearance to play Imogen.

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