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MonkeyNotes-Cymbeline by William Shakespeare
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Act II, Scene 4

The scene shifts again to Rome to Philario's house where Posthumus is engaged in a conversation with Philario. Posthumus is sure that he will win the wager as he has great faith in his lady. In reply to Philario's questions about Cymbeline, he has nothing to say except to wait for time to heal all wounds. They talk of Caius Lucius' visit to Britain to collect the tribute due to the Roman Emperor. Posthumus prophesies that they will soon hear of war, for he does not expect Cymbeline to pay the tribute.

Iachimo enters, and is greeted warmly by Posthumus who does not know what awaits him. Swiftly and with consummate ease, Iachimo describes his supposed seduction of Imogen yet he never quite admits to actually making love to her. Instead he uses the details of the room and its furnishing, and produces the bracelet as proof, but when Posthumus declares that all these could have been obtained by other means, Iachimo clinches the argument with his description of the mole on her breast. He intersperses his remarks with lewd comments to suggest that he had found the conquest too easy. Posthumus is shattered; the lady whose honor he believed was invincible, had made him a cuckold. He leaves, defeated and angry at Imogen, followed by Philario and Iachimo.


Notes

The wager leads to the destruction of Posthumus's happiness as Iachimo arrives with the news of his conquest. Even as he tells Posthumus the details of her room, its arrangement, and produces the bracelet, Posthumus does not believe him. He declares that all these details could have been obtained otherwise, through bribing her maids or stealing the bracelet. Yet at the same time, he becomes filled with rage at the possibility that Imogen has made him a cuckold. His pride is wounded and he denounces not just Imogen but all women: "Let there be no honor where there is beauty; truth, where semblence...." By being so easily deceived and denouncing all women, Posthumus reveals his lack of faith not only in Imogen but in his own ability to love and be faithful. Philario pipes in as the voice of reason, commenting that it is not such a done deal and that Iachimo needs to offer further proof of his conquest.

However, when Iachimo describes the mole located on her breast, even the steadfast Philario is inclined to believe him, and Posthumus considers his wife little better than a whore. It does not occur to him that Iachimo could have noticed the mole quite by accident, as her robes were dislodged in sleep. In fact, Iachimo does not ever say that he has slept with Imogen; he simply provides the evidence that leads Posthumus to his own conclusion. Therefore, it is Posthumus who becomes his own victim by allowing himself to be duped.

He is defeated and believes that he has lost everything - his wife, honor and country, as he is in exile, for the love of a worthless woman. Little wonder, then, that Philario asks Iachimo to see that Posthumus does not harm himself.

There are references to the political situation as well. From the conversation between Philario and Posthumus, it appears that the Roman messenger to Britain, Caius Lucius, had been sent by the Emperor to collect the tribute due to him, with arrears, from Cymbeline. Knowing the nature of the British, he does not believe that a penny will be paid in tribute, and that war is inevitable. He shows more confidence in the power of the British army than he does in his wife's fidelity.

Most of the modern critics find it difficult to sympathize with Posthumus who lays a wager upon his wife's virtue. He denounces her as a disloyal wife and condemns her to death. "Why", asked Sir Walter Raleigh, "did (Shakespeare) create so exquisite a being as Imogen for the jealous and paltry Posthumus?" Granville-Barker admits that Posthumus falls an easy prey to Iachimo's wiles. He describes his failure to see through the mischief and machinations of Iachimo as a "pretty ignominious collapse." He explains Posthumus's failure by pointing out that he had no chance to "store up resistant virtues" because until his exile he had been Cymbeline's favorite, "most praised, most loved."

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