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Act III, Scene 1
The political situation arising out of Cymbeline's refusal to pay tribute to Augustus Caesar is dramatized in this scene. When Caius Lucius, on behalf of the Roman Emperor, reminds Cymbeline of the events leading to the payment of the annual tribute of three thousand pounds which Cymbeline has neglected to pay, the Queen and Cloten are vociferous in opposing the payment of the tribute. Cloten shows rare spunk in declaring: "Britain is/a world by itself; and we will nothing pay/for wearing our noses."
The Queen also shows courage in resisting the Roman claim, and reminds the King of the Roman aggression and how the British King, Cassibelan, had fought bravely and almost defeated Caesar. She declares that it is time now, when Britain was stronger and more powerful than in Cassibelan's time, to ensure their freedom from Roman dominance. Cymbeline adds that Caesar had put a yoke upon them, and the warlike British have decided to shake it off. Faced with such opposition, Caius Lucius can do nothing better than to declare war on behalf of the Emperor. Cymbeline is not afraid; he is willing to face the consequences of his action even as he is gracious enough to extend an invitation to Lucius to stay as a friend for a day or two.
The scene depicts the negotiations between Cymbeline and Caius Lucius, the Roman ambassador. The influence of the Queen even in the high state affairs is well revealed in the action. Cymbeline's authority as King is entirely usurped by the Queen. She curtly tells the Roman ambassador, who complains about the non-payment of tribute, that it "..... shall be so ever." And before Cymbeline can say a word, Cloten cuts in bluntly to arrogantly declare Britain's resistance to Roman dominance. His lack of tact is softened by Cymbeline's more graceful negotiations yet Caius is affronted, and the negotiations naturally end in failure.
Cloten speaks the language of a patriot and a diplomat. Here his action and speech justify a critic's remark that Cloten "is a natural fool." He often talks with the wit of one of Shakespeare's professed fools. One wonders, however, what the motive of the wily Queen is in instigating Cymbeline against the Romans. One cannot imagine her to be actuated by any elevated idea like patriotism or love of freedom, but something more self-serving. The forces which attempt to separate Imogen and Posthumus are here united against the Romans.