Cymbeline | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Cymbeline | Act 5, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Posthumus is at the camp of the Roman army, having come with Iachimo and the others to fight against Britain on the Roman side. He believes Pisanio killed Imogen (and is angry that he did so, saying, "Every good servant does not all commands; / No bond but to do just ones.") But he is even more filled with regret for his own angry and violent actions. He looks at the bloody cloth Pisanio sent him and says even though Imogen was unfaithful she did not deserve death. Her fault was small compared to his own faults, especially since he is responsible for the death of Britain's only princess. He decides as penance he will fight for Britain against the Romans. He disguises himself as British peasant and joins the fight on the British side, thinking perhaps he will die in battle.

Analysis

Posthumus has had a drastic change of heart. Though he still believes Imogen committed adultery, he feels now he should have been more forgiving since that is a small fault compared with his own fault—murder. This is the opposite attitude he took in Act 2, Scene 5.

Dramatic irony again plays a crucial role in the play, as Posthumus complains Pisanio should not have killed Imogen—he should have refused to follow such a terrible and unjust order from Posthumus. Posthumus's insistence that Pisanio should not have obeyed an unjust command shows a broadening sense of what true loyalty involves—one more in line with the play's overarching attitude. The audience knows, of course, that Pisanio did refuse to follow this order. Unbeknownst to Posthumus, Pisanio did exactly what Posthumus now concludes is the correct action.

At the end of the scene, yet another person is donning a disguise. Posthumus, a Briton who has been traveling as a Roman, will now disguise himself as a British peasant in order to atone for his sin in depriving Britain of its princess. Meanwhile, Cloten's dead body is dressed as Posthumus, and Imogen is still masquerading as Fidele.

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