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Act IV, Scene 6
There is a welcome change of mood here. Marina has driven the brothel-keepers to hysteria with "her quirks, her reasons, her master reasons, her prayers, her knees; that she would make a puritan of the devil if he should cheaper a kiss of her"! Lysimachus, governor of Mytlene, enters the brothel as a client. He is in disguise to preserve his respectability. He demands "wholesome iniquity" which will not drive him to the surgeon. In other words, he wants a clean and healthy prostitute. The trio of pimps nervously offers Marina to him.
They beg her to "use him kindly." Instead, she exposes his disguise, and tells him to be worthy of the honored position he holds. He is stunned. He is also moved by her plea: "that the Gods Would set me free from this unhallow'd place Though they did change me to the meanest bird.That flies i' the purer air." Lysimachus gives her his good wishes and a large sum of gold. He promises her that he will change his corrupt ways. This naturally drives the brothel-keepers to despair. They are furious that she "sent him away as cold as a snowball, saying his prayers too."
Boult then decides to rape her as a drastic remedy. Inevitably he is defeated and Marina convinces him that "even the fiend of hell" wouldn't care to be in his place! Finally, she makes him agree to help her set up as a teacher of fine arts in a respectable house.
The scene continues the theme of virtue versus vice, but changes mood rapidly. The brothel keeper, his wife, and Boult, the pimp oppose Marina, as virtue personified, in her quest for purity. These three are standard figures of vice. They are prepared to use their "pitifully sodden" women though they make the clients "roast - meat for worms." Yet with Shakespeare's handling, even their struggle to survive is shown with humanity. Boult, replying to Marina's attack on his work, says bitterly: "What would you have me do - go to the wars, would you? Where a man may serve seven years for the loss of a leg, and have not money enough in the end, to buy him a wooden one?"
This paradoxical situation, where the villains are righteously indignant at their victim's refusal to submit, makes the scene hilarious. But it moves from humor to pathos to humor again.
The jewel image that recurs throughout the play is used here to stand for virginity. Boult threatens Marina: "to take from you the jewel that you hold so dear." But several metaphors are used for virginity from being a criminal "whom the common hangman will execute" to a glass to be cracked; to even "a dish of chastity." Marina's virginity is an obsession with her antagonists. They see it first as a valuable commodity to be sold, and later as an obstacle to be got rid of.
Marina's character is central to the conflict in this scene, and she wins hands down. Another character, Lysimachus, is introduced here. Initially portrayed as morally weak, Lysimachus is reformed through Marina's purity and becomes a suitable mate for her by the end of the play. Like many of Shakespeare's lively heroines-- Rosalind, Perdita, Imogen, and Miranda--Marina is stronger than her future husband and reforms his character.
With the conclusion of this conflict, the play moves steadily towards the harmonious ending in the final Act.