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  • Writer's pictureMackenzie Elisa


Setting: 16 AD



My really abridged plot summary: The overarching premise of this play is that Britain pays an annual tribute to Rome, thanks to Julius Caesar (RIP), and Britain refuses to pay it. Cymbeline is the King and his daughter, Imogen, has married a lowborn boy named Posthumus. The King is furious about this because he wanted Imogen to marry Cloten, the son of his new and evil Queen. Yes, you read that right, she tries to poison Cymbeline and Imogen. Posthumus is exiled to Italy where he is baited by Iachimo to make a bet about Imogen's fidelity (this is problematic on so many levels). Iachimo goes to Britain to seduce Imogen, but he finds himself unsuccessful in his attempts and resorts to hiding in a chest until she falls asleep and stealing the bracelet Posthumus gave her. Cloten pursues Imogen, but she refuses him as well. Iachimo gloats to Posthumus about winning the bet and Posthumus writes to his servant Pisanio to kill Imogen for her infidelity. Imogen and Pisanio are in the forest searching for Posthumus when he tells her about his lord's orders, but he cannot follow through because he believes Imogen is innocent. He urges her to disguise herself as a man (#classic) and continue to look for her husband. She runs into her long lost-brothers who were were kidnapped as babies by Belarius as revenge for being banished from court, but they don't know that. Cloten shows up and duels with Guiderius, one of the long-lost brothers, and gets his head chopped off (I promise that detail is important). Imogen, feeling ill, has taken a bottle of medicine in her pack... which was actually placed there by the Queen and is POISON!!! dun dun dun!!! Actually, it's just a sleeping potion because the apothecary suspected the Queen of treason and switched the bottles. Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus believe Imogen (still disguised as a guy) is dead so they lay her body next to Cloten's. Now, Cloten went into the forest looking for Imogen, dressed in Posthumus' clothes because he is STUPID and his intentions were morbid as all get out. Imogen wakes up and thinks headless Cloten, wearing Posthumus's clothes, is her husband and she falls into despair. Meanwhile, the Romans have invaded Britain because they weren't paying the Tribute. Posthumus has a death wish because he feels guilty over the whole Imogen dying situation, so he dresses like a British soldier. When Britain surprisingly wins he changes costume into Roman garb and is taken prisoner. He has a dream where Jupiter appears and he sees his ancestors(?). The next day, Cymbeline gathers all the Roman prisoners and confusion and chaos are laid to rest. Posthumus and Imogen are reunited, and Iachimo confesses his guilt and is forgiven. The true identities of Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus are revealed and Belarius is forgiven. It is revealed that the Queen has died, leaving Cymbeline free from her evil manipulation. Finally, Cymbeline frees the Roman prisoners and then agrees to continue to pay the tribute(?)

My favorite quotes:

Though this a heavenly angel, hell is here.

~Iachimo, II.ii

Hang there like fruit, my soul, till the tree die.

~Posthumus, V.iv


  • Overall Impression: 7- The ending of this play is incredibly convenient and easy. Also, why do they continue to pay the tribute? I don't understand... I mean I guess I do- looking at it historically it's a price to pay for peace and security? Cymbeline wasn't exactly a great ruler, or father for that matter. I do think that this play makes a lot of interesting observations about misogyny, harmony, hope, and learning from past mistakes.

  • Use of Language: 9- This play is full of beautiful poetry and songs (it was almost like a musical lol!)

  • Protagonist Arc: 10- It's not Cymbeline, the title is misleading. Cymbeline feels really irrelevant and distant from a lot of the action in this play. He is not a good father or ruler. Imogen is the character that we get to know the best and feel the most empathy for. Imogen is beautiful, resilient, faithful, intelligent, and vulnerable. She goes through one heck of a rollercoaster in this play, and still manages to hold on to her hope and love of Posthumus, and is able to forgive Iachimo. You cannot help but root for her. She is also by far the smartest person in this play.

  • Female Characters: 10- Imogen steals this play. Cymbeline was written later on in Shakespeare's career, so we already have strong and powerful female characters that he's written, and draws from for Imogen. We can see traces of Juliet, Portia, Hero, and elements of our favorite cross-dressing heroines, Viola, Rosalind, etc., just to name a few. I think Imogen is a beautiful blend of these characters, while still remaining her own unique person. I think she is an underrated heroine. She's by far the smartest character in the play AND she gets a cross-dressing moment which we love to see!!! I cannot begin to speak highly enough of her so just read this article. I think she's simply fascinating. Now the Queen? Talk about a waste of potential. I'm really disappointed in Shakespeare for this.

  • Fits Genre: 10- I think Romance is an interesting genre and is kind of all-encompassing for all the plays that don't neatly fit the tragedy, comedy, or history categories. There aren't many of them in Shakespeare's canon, so there isn't much to compare this to. This play can't be a history because it's mostly based on the legend of the early Celtic British King Cunobeline, so it is similar to a history in the same sense that King Lear is. This isn't a tragedy because there simply is not enough death, and the ending is somewhat similar to that of a comedy. This play is sometimes referred to as a problem play, but I don't think that's the case with this one. Problem plays have issues with tonal consistency. Again, tragedy often times contains humor AND people die in comedies, but problem plays are clearly more gray-area. This play fits neatly into the Romance category using the following criteria:

  1. An enveloping conflict that may cover a large timespan and is resolved at the end. *check*

  2. Happy endings to potentially tragic situations. *check*

  3. Improbable plots, rapid action, surprises, or extraordinary occurrences. *check*

  4. Characters of a virtuous hero/heroine, and/or pure and gross loves often contrasted. *check*

  5. Themes of the acknowledgment of evil, human experience after tragedy, forgiveness, joy mixed with sorrow, human community, or deus ex machina. *check*

It checks all of the boxes, so I don't think it can be considered a true problem play.

  • Overall Enjoyment: 8- I liked this play, and I was pleasantly surprised by it. I love Imogen, but I really was not a huge fan of any other character. I really wanted Iachimo to have a better villain arc. The Queen who had so much potential was nonexistent. I thought the themes and ideas of this play were really interesting and unique compared to other Shakespeare plays. I appreciated it.

  • Hype Worthy: 8- I think this play is underrated, especially Imogen. I get why it's not the most popular or produced show, when I think of Shakespeare I don't think of his Romances. I would consider this play a good pallet cleanser.

  • Emotional Impact: 6- Again, Imogen was the only character I really cared about. I liked Iachimo more than Posthumus for most of the play, and that's probably not what Shakespeare intended. I love a good villain, but he was kinda lacking :( I felt no pity for Posthumus when he kept trying to get himself killed because he was high key a tool, but that's ok because Imogen is a queen.

Total: 68/80

Average: 8

*4 out of 5 stars*

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