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MonkeyNotes-Cymbeline by William Shakespeare
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Notes

Many events take place in this long scene which is almost at the middle of play: Imogen's illness and the taking of the potion; Cloten's fight with Guiderius and subsequent beheading; the supposed 'death' of Imogen and the burial of the two bodies; Imogen's awakening and her discovery of a headless body in Posthumus's clothes; her shock and subsequent meeting with the Roman general. So much happens so quickly as the action moves forward. The boorish, insolent Cloten, who had planned vengeance on Imogen, soon finds himself at the receiving end of Guiderius's anger and gets his just deserts when Guiderius beheads him and floats his head downstream. Although a violent scene, it is not without its comic elements as Guiderius exposes his bluff and tells him that he could not possibly fear a fool, but only laugh at one. Cloten takes umbrage at this and they commence to fight.

The scene also reveals the difference in the natures of the two brothers. When they are introduced they are perceived as symbols of a kingly nature, blooming in wild surroundings. But here, one is able to observe them better. Guiderius, the elder one, the future king, is sharp, practical and not too imaginative, probably conforming to Shakespeare's idea of an ideal king. He is quick to understand Cloten's character and disposes of him and his head with an evenhanded coolness. On the other hand, Arviragus is imaginative, and some of the most poetical passages in the play come from his mouth. Their distinct characters emerge best when, after Arviragus has let his imagination play on the way he will deck the grave of the still unburied Fidele, Guiderius brings him back to business with a request to hasten the business of burying.


No other scene but the last in this play better testifies to the masterly craftsmanship of the playwright. The slow transition of one mood into another deserves well-merited praise. The scene divides itself into four parts. In the first part the tender sentiments that the brothers bid farewell to the sickly Fidele is developed with delicacy and charm. It enhances the pathos of the scene where they think Fidele is dead. The second part begins with the entry of Cloten on the stage, bragging and revealing his snobbery as well as self-importance, and ends when Guiderius enters with his head hanging in his hands. The death of Cloten may come as a surprise but it is not inconsistent to the play that such a malingerer ends up dead. He has elicited no sympathy from the audience and in fact has proven to be a threat to the social order of England. The third part consists of the brothers' grief over the dead body of Fidele and contains the Funeral hymn that they sing after covering Fidele's body with flowers and leaves. The hymn that they sing is as touching in its simple pathos as it is tender in its tone and melody. The last part of the scene consists of the grief of Imogen over the trunkless body which she thinks it to be that of Posthumus, owing to the clothes that Cloten wears and his superficial similarity to Posthumus. However, there may also be more of a similarity between the two than at first thought. It is possible that Posthumus' worst qualities have surfaced in the advent of recent events which may cause Imogen to see all men as being one and the same, not trustworthy in the least. There is also a supernatural feel to this part of the act when Imogen wakes up and thinks she has dreamed meeting the two brothers and looks to see the flowers covering her and the headless corpse. Lucius enters at this stage and with his promise of patronage to Imogen, there is a positive indication of the possibility of her travails coming to an end soon.

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