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Act I, Scene 5
The scene shifts back to Britain to Cymbeline's palace. The Queen is closeted with her ladies when Cornelius, the physician, enters. The Queen sends her ladies to gather flowers while she talks to Cornelius. The physician is apprehensive about giving her the box he has brought with him as it contains deadly and poisonous compounds that bring about a slow and agonizing death. The Queen, however, assures him that she would not administer it to any human being but will try its effects on creatures that are not "worth the hanging."
The Queen spots Pisanio and bids him come to her. In an aside, she reveals her intention of trying the poison on him as he is loyal to his master and an enemy to her son. Cornelius, who witnesses her summons to Pisanio, in an aside voices his apprehensions, and reveals that the "deadly" compounds he has supplied her are not really so. Instead of death, they bring a death-like sleep to the person who takes it, and helps him to wake refreshed.
Cornelius leaves, and the Queen, in her conversation with Pisanio, tries to make him see the impossibility of his master's return. She tells Pisanio to try and turn Imogen's attention away from the memory of her husband and to look upon Cloten favorably. She promises Pisanio that if he should succeed in the task, she will reward him richly with wealth and position. During the conversation, she lets the little box fall, and when Pisanio takes it up, she bids him to keep it. She tells him that it is a potion she has made, which has the power to bring a person back from the dead. She then sends him to summon her ladies; while he is away, she reveals that Pisanio, not won over by wealth or pomp, has to be killed in order to deprive Imogen of the only support she had. Only then would the Queen and Cloten have a chance of persuading her to change her mind; if she did not, she too could taste the deadly brew. Pisanio accompanies the ladies to the Queen's chamber, and leaves. To the Queen's parting words, he replies in an aside that he would rather die than prove faithless to his master.
This short scene is introduced to indicate the lapse of time required for Iachimo to reach Britain from Rome while also reinforcing the impression of the Queen as a maligned woman who is trusted by none but the king. Her own doctor, with whom she seems to be closely associated, does not trust her. In his long soliloquy, he reveals that the Queen has told him that she is only to test it on cats and dogs, which he does not believe. Then he assures the audience that the mixture that he had given the Queen is not fatal but only feigns death. Who will end up taking this concoction is called into question by the Queen's soliloquy. Pisanio is seen here as a loyal subject who sees through the Queen's friendly guise and who refuses to be coerced into bringing Cloten and Imogen together. He proves more loyal than his master whose character is flawed because of his wager.