Cymbeline | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Cymbeline | Act 4, Scene 2 | Summary



At the home of Belarius, Imogen talks to Belarius's "sons," and they again remark on their feelings of brotherly love for her. After the other men go outside, Imogen (feeling ill) takes the "medicine" Pisanio left with her and falls into a deep sleep.

Cloten arrives near the cave, searching for Imogen and Posthumus, and encounters the three men. Belarius and Arviragus go look for any men who may have accompanied Cloten, leaving Guiderius with Cloten. Cloten insults Guiderius, and then says he will kill all three of the men. Guiderius and Cloten begin a fight that takes them offstage. Belarius and Arviragus return, and then Guiderius returns carrying Cloten's severed head. Belarius is worried they will be in trouble for the killing, but the brothers are unconcerned.

Arviragus then discovers the sleeping Imogen/Fidele, who appears to be dead. The three men, filled with grief, prepare to bury Fidele. Belarius instructs the young men to place the headless body of Cloten near Fidele, because even if he was a fool he was a prince. The three men leave, intending to return to bury the bodies that night. When Imogen wakes, she sees the headless body dressed in the clothes of Posthumus. She faints.

Caius Lucius, traveling on his way to meet the Roman army, arrives with a Roman captain and a soothsayer. The captain tells Caius Lucius the Roman army is approaching. Suddenly they notice Imogen's lifeless body lying on a headless body. Suddenly she wakes, introduces herself as Fidele, and explains the dead man was her employer, beheaded by robbers. Caius Lucius invites Fidele to be his servant. Imogen, as Fidele, agrees.


In this scene, storylines begin to converge, setting up the ultimate conclusion of the play. Imogen has already stumbled into the "lost princes" subplot, and now Cloten joins her—if only for a short time. In addition, the queen's scheme to poison Pisanio now intersects with Imogen and the lost princes, as Imogen takes the poison intended for Pisanio. In joining Caius Lucius, Imogen also unites herself with the Roman war subplot, allowing the play's formerly disparate elements to increasingly rely on one another.

Shakespeare's reliance on coincidental cause and effect is seen in both tragedies and comedies, as well as plays that fall somewhere between the two, like Cymbeline. In a tragedy, cause-and-effect relationships lead to the seemingly inevitable downfall and usually death of the main character(s). This pattern can be seen up until this point in the play. And in fact, the play would end here, in tragedy, had it not been for Cornelius's wisdom in substituting a sleeping potion for the poison the queen requested. His choice, made from an abundance of caution on the doctor's part, now saves Imogen's life. Her resurrection now begins a new chapter in the story, one in which events lead from one to the other in a series of events ending in a huge reunion of those now separated.

Of course, some elements of sadness remain despite the change in tone from tragic to comedic. Imogen believes her husband is dead, after all. But since the audience knows the dead man is really the despicable Cloten, Imogen's sorrow is understood to be temporary.

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