Cymbeline | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Cymbeline | Act 5, Scene 5 | Summary

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Summary

Cymbeline, in his tent on the battlefield, knights Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus for their heroism in saving him and helping the Briton army. He wonders about the fourth man and regrets not being able to knight him as well. Cornelius, the doctor, enters to tell the king the queen has died. Cornelius explains the queen confessed she planned to kill Imogen and "to work / Her son into th' adoption of the crown."

Some captured Roman prisoners are brought in, including Caius Lucius, Iachimo, Imogen/Fidele, the soothsayer Philarmonus, and Posthumus. Cymbeline intends to kill them, but Caius Lucius asks that his page Fidele be spared. Cymbeline thinks Fidele looks familiar. Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus are shocked, having believed Fidele to be dead. Pisanio realizes joyfully that Fidele is Imogen.

Cymbeline agrees to spare Fidele and offers any gift the boy names. Fidele wants to know how the prisoner Iachimo got the diamond ring he is wearing. When asked about it, a repentant Iachimo explains his bet with Posthumus and his deception. At this Posthumus reveals himself in order to confront Iachimo. He confesses he had Imogen killed for her adultery and asks the king to punish him. Imogen's true identity is then revealed. Pisanio explains how he got the "medicine" he gave to Imogen, and that it was actually a sleeping potion, clearing up the mystery of Imogen's "death" for Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus. Pisanio, with help from Guiderius, also explains Cloten's fate.

Cymbeline arrests Guiderius for killing a prince. But then Belarius confesses the two young men are the two lost princes of Britain and he kidnapped the boys out of revenge for being banished. Cymbeline is so joyful to have his sons he forgives Belarius.

Cymbeline again expresses regret that the mysterious fourth man he heard about can't be rewarded. Posthumus admits he was that man and describes how he defeated Iachimo on the battlefield. Iachimo admits his wrong and asks for the punishment of death. But Posthumus forgives him. Cymbeline pardons all the prisoners.

A soothsayer interprets Jupiter's message, which is shown to have foretold a happy ending for Posthumus and Imogen, the return of the princes, and peace between Britain and Rome. Cymbeline agrees to continue paying Rome tribute and calls for a celebration.

Analysis

For an audience that has been keeping track of multiple disguises, alternate identities, and various lies and deceptions, this final scene brings all secrets to light and provides closure for every plot line. That makes for a very long scene, full of dramatic irony. Some directors try to minimize the length of the scene by omitting the Jupiter storyline entirely. It is clear the play has a happy ending, even if a message from the god doesn't spell it out.

But no matter how a director may try to trim down this scene, there are still an incredible number of revelations here. Imogen, Posthumus, and Belarius reveal their true identities. People who were thought dead turn out to be alive. The two lost princes are "found." Cloten and the queen are revealed to be dead. The deceptions of the queen, Cornelius, Pisanio, and Iachimo are revealed.

Amid the hilarity, as one after the other character steps forward and shocks the assembled company, are a few poignant elements—both concerning fathers. The scene begins as Cymbeline wonders about the mysterious fourth soldier who "so richly fought." He wants to reward this mystery man as he is rewarding the three other heroes. The king is amazed that someone who was dressed in rags could have fought as well as those with armor. Belarius chimes in with a similar sentiment: "Such noble fury in so poor a thing, / Such precious deeds in one that promised naught / But beggary and poor looks." The audience knows this man is Posthumus, whose banishment is what sets off the chain of events that almost led to tragedy. Cymbeline could have accepted Posthumus as his son-in-law but chose instead to give in to pressure from his queen and his own insecurities about his family line. Cloten was the queen's son, after all, and so more nobly born than Posthumus. For this weakness, Cymbeline needs forgiveness as much as any of the others. By the end he has accepted Posthumus as his son-in-law.

Another poignant moment is the confession of Belarius, which reunites the king with his lost sons. Belarius's act of revenge is long in the past, and he has raised the boys as his own. He shows a father's love as he explains, "These two young gentlemen that call me father / And think they are my sons are none of mine ... I must lose / Two of the sweet'st companions in the world." His weeping seems to move Cymbeline, whose own shortcomings as a father have become quite apparent.

The interpretation and celebration of Jupiter's prophetic message concludes the play, and it sums up the "happy ending" of this fairy tale. The "lion's whelp" is Posthumus, and he is reunited with the "tender air" that is Imogen. The cedar is Cymbeline and the branches his two sons, who now rejoin the tree. Out of gratitude for these things, Cymbeline makes peace with Rome and calls for a feast at Jupiter's temple.

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