Cymbeline | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Cymbeline | Act 5, Scene 4 | Summary



In a British prison, Posthumus, captured as a Roman officer, prays to the "good gods" for death. In his sleep he has a vision of his dead father, mother, and two brothers. They pray to Jupiter, asking why Posthumus must suffer when he is such a good man. Jupiter appears and says Posthumus will be "lord of Lady Imogen, / And happier much by his affliction made." Jupiter leaves a written tablet or book for Posthumus. When Posthumus wakes, he finds the book with Jupiter's message. Unfortunately, the message is too confusing for Posthumus to understand. A jailer comes to take Posthumus to his death. Posthumus says he is ready—more than ready. But then a messenger arrives to take Posthumus to Cymbeline instead.


As he prays, Posthumus says he wishes he could exchange his life for Imogen's, saying, "For Imogen's dear life take mine; and though / 'Tis not so dear, yet 'tis a life." This is an echo of Imogen's words to her father in Act 1, when she claims Posthumus "overbuys me / Almost the sum he pays." The idea that people have a certain quantifiable value and can be bought, sold, exchanged, and the like is part of a larger debate about what gives a person worth. Do a person's values and actions give him or her worth, or does rank? Overall this play suggests the latter: Cloten has a high rank but is a worthless person by all accounts. Posthumus comes from a lower birth but at the end proves as noble as royalty.

Because of Jupiter's appearance and intervention, it appears that Posthumus's noble qualities, which his family members praise in their prayers to Jupiter, have won him some favor with the gods. This supports the idea that it is a person's fundamental qualities, not his circumstances, that have more sway with the gods.

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