by William Shakespeare
Presented by Paul W. Collins
© Copyright 2011 by Paul W. Collins
By William Shakespeare
Presented by Paul W. Collins
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Note: Spoken lines from Shakespeare’s drama are in the public domain, as is the Globe edition (1864) of his plays, which provided the basic text of the speeches in this new version
of Cymbeline. But Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare: Presented by Paul W. Collins is a copyrighted work, and is made available for your personal use only, in reading and study.
Student, beware: This is a presentation, not a scholarly work, so you should be sure your teacher, instructor or professor considers it acceptable as a reference before quoting characters’ comments or thoughts from it in your report or term paper.
One of the most powerful lords in ancient Britain’s realm nods in agreement with his friend’s observation. “You do not meet a man but who frowns! Yet our blood obeys, and we courtiers must seem as does the king: in heaviness.” The tall nobleman clearly dislikes such pretense.
His guest, an aging earl visiting here at King Cymbeline’s palace, has seen the sovereign’s gloomy anger. “But what’s the matter?”
“His daughter and heir of ’s kingdom, whom he purposèd to wed to his wife’s sole son—she’s a widow that of late he married—hath instead proffered herself unto a poor but worthy gentleman!”
The princess’s action—refusing her new step-brother in favor of a commoner—has perturbed the monarch.
“She’s wedded!—her husband banished!—she imprisoned!” says the duke. “All is outward sorrow—though I think only the king be chafed at very heart.”
“None but the king?”
The duke amends: “He that hath lost her, too; so is the queen, who most desired the match!
“But not a courtier, although they wear their faces to the bent of the king’s looks, hath a heart that is not glad about the thing they scowl at!”
“And why so?”
As they stroll through the flowery formal garden, the younger nobleman frowns. “He that hath missed having the princess is a thing too bad for report! And he that hath her—I mean, that married her—a good man and, alas, therefore banished!—is such a creature that, though one search through the regions of the earth for his like, something would be found failing in any that should compare! I do not think so fair an outward and such strong stuff inward endows any man but he!”
“You speak him fair!” says the graybeard.
“I do extend him, sir, within himself!—crush him together, rather than unfold his measure duly.”
“What’s his name and birth?”
“I cannot delve him to the root.” The duke thinks for a moment, then recounts what he does know of the gentleman’s family, which is new to gentility. “His father was called Sicilius, who did gain his honour against the Romans with Cassibelan, but was awarded his titles by Tenantius, whom he served with glory and admirèd success, and so gained the sur‑addition Leonatus”—lion-born. Some years ago, the Britons’ King Cassibelan and his general, Tenantius, led successful battles against two Roman incursions from Gaul by the western forces of Julius Caesar.
“And he had, besides this in question, Leonatus, two other sons, who in the wars o’ the time died with their swords in hand—for which their father, old and devoted to his issue, took such sorrow as to quit being! And his gentle lady, big with this gentleman, our theme, deceased as he was born.
“The king, he takes the babe to his protection, calls him Posthumus Leonatus,”—Leonati’s survivor, “raises him, and makes him of his bed-chamber,”—a trusted member of the royal household, “puts to him all the learnings that his time could make him the receiver of!
“Which he took as we do air!—fast as ’twas administered!
“And from that spring, he became a harvest!—lived in court, most praisèd and most loved—which rare it is to do!—example to the youngest; to the more mature a mirror that fêted them; and to the graver, a child that guided dotards!
“As for his mistress, from whom he now is banished, her own choice proclaims how she esteems him and his virtue: by her election may be truly read what kind of man he is!”
The earl is impressed. “I honour him even from your report! But, pray you tell me: is she sole child to the king?”
“His only child. He had two sons. If this be worth your hearing, mark it: the elder of them, i’ swathing-clothes at three years old, and the other from their nursery were stolen!—and to this hour, no guess or knowledge which way they went.”
“How long is this ago?”
“Some twenty years.”
The visitor is surprised. “That the king’s children should be so slackly guarded, so conveyed!—and the search so slow that it could not trace them!”
“Howsoe’er ’tis strange, or that the negligence may well be laughed at, yet is it true, sir.”
“I do well believe you.”
His companion spots movement at the garden doors. “We must forbear; here come the gentleman, the queen, and the princess.” The two noblemen step discreetly behind some tall green shrubs and return in silence to the castle.
The queen speaks reassuringly to Princess Imogen. “No, be assured you shall not find me, daughter, after the slander to most stepmothers, evil-eyed unto you! You’re my prisoner—but your jailer shall deliver you the keys to unlock your restraint!
“As for you, Posthumus, so soon as I can win over the offended king, I will be known as your advocate! Marry, the fire of rage is yet in him!—and ’twere good you leaned unto his sentence with what patience your wisdom may inform you.”
Posthumus Leonatus bows. “Please it Your Highness, I will go from hence today.”
“You know the peril,” sighs the queen. She regards the couple sadly. “Though the king hath chargèd you should not speak together, I’ll fetch a turn about the garden, pitying the pangs of barrèd affections.” She moves away, and walks along the paved path.
Imogen watches her go. “Oh, dissembling courtesy! How finely this tyrant can caress where she wounds!
“My dearest husband, my father’s wrath I fear as nothing, for what his rage can do to me—my holy duty always reservèd.” Tears well in her eyes. “But you must be gone!—and I shall here abide the hourly shot of angry eyes, not comforted to live but that there is this jewel in the world that I may see again!”
Leonatus takes her hand. “My queen! My mistress! Oh, lady, weep no more, lest I give cause to be suspected of more tenderness than doth become a man! I will remain the loyal’st husband that did e’er plight troth!
“My residence in Rome—at one Philario’s, who to my father was a friend, to me known but by letter—thither write, my queen, and with mine eyes I’ll drink the words you send, though the ink be made of gall!”—however bitter the news.
They embrace, and kiss tenderly—then ardently.
The queen passes by. “Be brief, I pray you! If the king come, I shall incur I know not how much of his displeasure!” Her thoughts are quite different: Yet I’ll move him to walk this way! I never do him wrong but that he does pay dearly for my offences!—buying my injuries so as to be friends. Again she moves away—this time toward the palace.
Leonatus holds the princess close. “Would that our leave-taking were as long a term as yet we have to live! The loathness to depart still grows!” He kisses her hand. “Adieu!”
“Nay, stay a little!” she pleads. “Were you but riding forth to air yourself, such parting were too petty!” She slips a golden ring from her right hand. “Look here, love—this diamond was my mother’s. Take it, my heart!—and keep it till you woo another wife, when Imogen is dead.”
“What, what?—another? You gentle gods, give me but this one I have, and seal up my embracements from a next with bonds of death!” He slides the ring onto a finger, and closes his hand tightly, saying, “Remain!” He tells her, earnestly, “So long as my senses can keep it on, they’ll remain here with thee!
“And, sweetest, fairest, as I my poor self did exchange for you, to your infinite loss, so in our gifting I still win from you”—benefit more. He pulls from his wrist a silver bracelet inlaid with a small ruby. “For my sake wear this: it is a manacle of love—I’ll place it upon this fairest prisoner!”
Imogen clasps her other hand to it, now on her wrist. “Oh, the gods,” she moans, “when shall we see again?”
“Alack!—the king!” cries Leonatus, as Cymbeline, with two of his attendants, emerges from the castle and strides angrily to his adopted child—the man who is now his daughter’s banished husband.
“Thou basest thing, avoid!” growls the monarch. “Hence from my sight! If after this command thou affront the court with thy unworthiness, thou diest! Away! Thou’rt poison to my blood!”
Leonatus bows. “May the gods protect you, and bless the good remainers of the court. I am gone.” He heads into the palace where he spent his youth to fetch his few possessions.
Imogen sobs, watching him go. “There cannot be a pinch in death more sharp than this is!”
“O disloyal thing! You shouldst restore my youth,” groans Cymbeline, “but thou heap’st a year’s age on me!”
Says Imogen defiantly, “I beseech you, sir, harm not yourself with your vexation! I am senseless of your wrath: a touch more rare subdues all pangs, all fears!”
Cymbeline glares. “Past grace? Obedience?”
“Past hope, and into despair—that way I passèd grace!”
“That mightst have had the sole son of my queen!”
“Oh, blest that I might not! I chose an eagle, and did avoid a puttock!”—a lowly bird of prey.
“Thou took’st a beggar!—wouldst have made my throne a seat for baseness!”
“No!” cries Imogen, “I rather added a lustre to it!”
“O thou vile one!”
“Sir, it is your fault that I have loved Posthumus!—you raised him as my playfellow. And he is a man worth any woman—almost overbuys me in the sum he pays!”
Cymbeline is livid with frustration. “What, art thou mad?”
“Almost, sir! Heaven restore me!—I would that I were a neat-herd’s daughter, and my Leonatus our neighbour shepherd’s son!”
“Thou foolish thing!”
His wife arrives. “They were again together!” the king tells her. He turns back to Imogen. “You have not done after our command!” He tells the servants, “Away with her, and pent her up!”
The queen goes to comfort the weeping princess. “Beseech you, patience,” she tells the king. “Peace, dear lady!—daughter, peace!
“Sweet sovereign, leave us to ourselves; and make yourself some comfort out of your best deliberation.”
“Nay, let her languish, by a drop of blood a day!—and being agèd, die of this folly!” Still fuming, King Cymbeline returns with his men to the throne room.
“Fie!” says the queen, frowning. “You must give way!” She sees someone hurrying from the castle. “Here is your servant.” She is privately annoyed; Pisanio, fifty, had been Leonatus’s man before the marriage. “How now, sir. What news?”
“My lord your son drew on my master!” the gray-haired man tells the queen.
“No harm, I trust, is done?” she asks, hoping otherwise.
“There might have been, but that my master rather played than fought, and had no help from anger! They were parted by gentlemen at hand.”
“I am very glad on’t,” mutters the queen.
Imogen is indignant. “My father’s your son’s friend—he takes his part!” And she is disgusted: “To draw upon an exile!—oh, a brave sir! I would they were both in Afric together—and myself by with a needle, that I might prick the goer-back!
“Why came you from your master?” she asks Pisanio.
“On his command! He would not suffer me to take him to the haven,”—the port for his voyage to Italy, “but left these notes of what demands I should be subject to, when’t please you so to employ me.” He gives her a folded paper.
“This hath been a faithful servant,” says the queen. “I dare lay mine honour he will remain so.”
Pisanio is surprised; the queen has never been cordial to him. But he bows. “I humbly thank Your Highness.”
“Pray, walk awhile,” the queen tells Imogen, heading out into the fragrant garden.
Imogen whispers to Pisanio. “About some half-hour hence, I pray you, speak with me! You shall at least go see my lord aboard!
“For this time leave me….” She follows the queen.
Lord Cloten, the new queen’s inept son, the sweat of fear still on him, pants in angry frustration over failing to kill Leonatus—and at having been humiliated, then restrained by noblemen.
“Sir, I would advise you to shift a shirt,” says one of the two courtiers with him in a corridor near the palace entrance.
Thinks the other, taller lord, The violence of action hath made you reek like a sacrifice!
The younger noble sees Cloten’s frown forming. “Where air comes in, fair comes out!” he says hastily. “There’s none abroad so wholesome as what you vent!”
“If my shirt were bloody, then to shift it!” says Cloten. “Have I hurt him?”
No, ’faith—not even so much as his patience! thinks the taller courtier.
“Hurt him?” exclaims the portly lord. “If he be not hurt, his body’s a passable carcass! It is a thoroughfare for steel, if it be not hurt!”
But the tall man saw the attack. His steel was in debt; it went o’ the backside the town! Cloten had approached Leonatus stealthily, from behind.
“The villain could not ’stand me!”—withstand, Cloten argues.
No, thinks the silent lord wryly, so he fled forward, always toward your face!
“Stand you?” The other man offers a jest on stand as property, like a stand of trees: “You have land enough of your own, but he added to your having: gave you some ground!”
As many inches as you have oceans! thinks the older lord, watching the fop and his sycophant with scorn. Little curs!
“I would they had not come between us!” claims Cloten
So would I, thinks the courtier, till you had measured how long a fool you are upon the ground!
Cloten paces, vexed again by Imogen’s choice. “And that she should love this fellow, and refuse me!”
With difficulty, the tall man suppresses a harsh laugh. If it be a sin to make a true election, she is damned!
“Sir, as I’ve told you always, her beauty and her brain go not together,” the smaller lord assures Cloten. “She’s a good sign, but I have seen small reflection in her wit!”
She shines not upon fools, lest the reflection should hurt her eyes!
Cloten motions for the others to follow. “Come, I’ll to my chamber. Would there had been some hurt done!”
I wish not so, unless it had been the fall of an ass!—which is no great hurt.
“You’ll go with us?” asks Cloten, noting their stillness; he really does need a fresh shirt.
Only the paunchy man moves. “I’ll attend Your Lordship!”
“Nay, come, let’s go together.”
“Well, my lord,” says the tall man, and he yields to unpleasant necessity.
Imogen tells Pisanio, “I would thou grew’st upon the shores o’ the haven, and questioned’st every sail! If he should write and I not have it, ’twere paper lost as a deferrèd mercy is!”—as pointless as a pardon arriving after an execution. “What was the last that he spake to thee?”
“It was his ‘queen,’ his ‘queen’!”
“Then waved his handkerchief?”
“And kissed it, madam!”
“Senseless linen happier therein than I! And that was all?”
“No, madam!—for so long as he could make me out with his eye or ear he did keep to the deck!—distinguished him from others with glove or handkerchief or hat ever waving, as if the fits and stirs of ’s hand could best express how slowly his soul sailed on, how swiftly his ship!”
“Thou shouldst have made him as little as a crow, or less, ere left off eyeing him!”
“Madam, so I did,” Pisanio assures her.
“I would have broken mine eye-strings—cracked them, but to look upon him till the diminution of space had pointed him sharp as my needle!—nay, followed him till he had melted from the smallness of a gnat into air—and then have turned mine eyes, and wept!
“But, good Pisanio, when shall we hear from him?”
“Be assured, madam, with his next vantage.”
Imogen moans, wringing her hands. “I did take my leave of him, but had more pretty things to say! Ere I could tell him how I would think on him at certain hours such thoughts, and such—ere I could make him swear the shes of Italy should not betray mine interest and his honour—or have charged him, at the sixth hour of morn, at noon, at midnight, to encounter me in orisons,”—pray with her, “for then I am in heaven for him! Or ere I could give him that parting kiss which I’d have set betwixt two charmèd wards,”—his lips, “comes in my father!—and like the tyrannous breathing of the north wind, shakes all our buds from growing!”
Imogen stands taller and composes her expression; she sees one of the queen’s waiting-gentlewomen approaching.
The lady curtseys. “The queen, madam, desires Your Highness’ company….”
The young princess tells Pisanio, in a studiously humdrum manner, “Those things I bid you do, get them dispatched. I will attend the queen.”
He bows as she goes. Madam, I shall!
“Believe it, sir. I have seen him, in Britain; he was then of a crescent note,”—young and rising, “expected to prove so worthy as since he hath been allowed the name of,” the skeptic tells his host. “But I could look on him then without the help of admiration. The catalogue of his endowments tabled by his side, I perused him by items,” says Lord Giacomo—contemptuously.
Notes Lord Philario, in defense of his wartime friend’s widely praised son, “You speak of him when he was less furnished than he is now with that which makes him, both without and within.”
The nobleman has invited several acquaintances, members other countries’ legations, to join him here in his mansion in Rome for the arrival of the exile from the remote and backward island nation. A fine supper awaits them.
Says a haughty Parisian knight, “I have seen him in France. We had very many there could behold this ‘sun’ with as firm eyes as he!” He and Giacomo disdain newly acquired gentility.
Giacomo continues. “This matter of marrying his king’s daughter, wherein he must be weighed rather by her value than his own, awards him, I doubt not, a great deal!”
“As does his banishment,” adds the knight.
“Aye,” says Giacomo. “The approbation of those who weep over this divorce—lamentable under her colours!—they are wonderfully extending to him, be it but to fortify her judgment—which else an easy battery might lay flat for taking a beggar without quality!”—a poor commoner.
“But how comes it he is to sojourn with you?” he asks Philario. “How creeps acquaintance?”
Philario is annoyed by his tone. “His father and I were soldiers together—to him I had often been bound for no less than my life!” he says sharply. He sees that the exile is being greeted by servants at the entrance to the hall. “Here comes the Briton! Let him, a stranger of quality, be so entertainèd amongst you as suits with gentlemen of your knowing.”
The other foreign guests exchange glances; the islander’s gentility is very much in question.
Lord Philario returns the formal bow of Posthumus Leonatus, then grips his hand, as both beam. He turns to the guests. “I beseech you all, be better known to this gentleman, whom I commend to you as a noble friend of mine! How worthy he is I will leave to appear hereafter, rather than story him within his own hearing!”
“Sir, we have known together in Orléans,” the knight tells Leonatus.
The newcomer replies politely. “Since then I have been debtor to you for courtesies which I will be ever to pay, and yet pay still.”
The Frenchman smiles. “Sir, you o’er-rate my poor kindness; I was glad I did atone my countryman and you! It had been pity you should have been put together with so mortal a purpose as then each bore, upon the portance of so slight and trivial a nature.” He had intervened to stop a duel.
“By your pardon, sir, I was then a young traveller; being guided in my every action by others’ experiences, I rather shunned proceeding, even given what I heard. But upon my amended judgment—if I offend not to say it is mended—my quarrel was not altogether slight!”
The knight disagrees. “’Faith, yes!—to be put to the arbitrement of swords!—and by such two that would by all likelihood have confounded one the other, or have fallen both!”
Giacomo is curious. “Can we, with manners, ask what was this difference?”
“Safely, I think,” the Parisian allows. “’Twas a contention in public, which the reporter may offer without contradiction. It was much like an argument that fell out here last night, where each of us spoke in praise of our countries’ mistresses—this gentleman at that time vouching—and upon warrant of bloody affirmation!—his to be more fair, virtuous, wise, chaste, constant, qualified—and less temptable—than any the rarest of our ladies in France!”
Giacomo craves contention. “That lady is not now living,” he says casually, “or this gentleman’s opinion is by now worn out….”
Says Leonatus firmly, “She holds her virtue still—and I my mind.”
Giacomo speaks before the knight can comment: “You must not so far prefer her ’fore ours of Italy!”
“Even being so far provoked as I was in France, I would abate her nothing!—though I profess myself her adorer, not her friend!” says Leonatus.
“As fair and as good—a kind of hand-in-hand comparison—had been something too fair and too good for any lady in Britain!” says the Italian. He looks at Leonatus’s ring. “If she went before others I have seen as that diamond of yours outlustres those I have beheld, I could believe she excelled many; but I have not seen the most precious diamond that is—nor you the lady!”
“I praised her as I rated her, as I do my stone,” insists Leonatus, fondly regarding the ring his wife gave him.
“What do you esteem it at?”
“More than the world enjoys!”
“Either your unparagoned mistress is dead,” says Giacomo, “or she’s outprizèd by the trifle”—worth less than the diamond.
“You are mistaken,” says Leonatus. “This one may be sold, or given, if there were wealth enough for the purchase, or merit for the gift; the other is not a thing for sale—and a gift for only the gods!”
“Which the gods have given you?”
Leonatus nods, unabashed. “Which, by their graces, I will keep.”
Giacomo sniffs. “You may wear her in title yours; but, you know, strange fowl light upon neighbouring ponds—and your ring may be stolen, too!
“So, as for your brace of ‘unprizable’ estimations, the one is but frail, and the other casual: a that-way accomplished courtier or a cunning thief would hazard the winning of both, first and last!”
Leonatus only laughs. “Your Italy contains none so accomplished as to convince the honour of my mistress—if, in the holding or loss of that, you term her frail!
“I do nothing doubt you have a store of thieves,” he tells the Italian. “Notwithstanding, I fear not for my ring.”
Philario wants no further friction among his guests. “Let us leave here, gentlemen.”
“Sir, with all my heart!” says Leonatus. “This worthy signior, I thank him, makes no stranger of me: we are familiar at first!” he adds—rebuking the belligerent presumption.
But that spurs the cocky Giacomo further. “With few times so much conversation, I should get ground of your fair mistress—make her go back, even to the yielding!—had I admittance and opportunity to befriend.”
Leonatus merely laughs at the affront. “No, no.”
Giacomo flushes. “I dare thereupon pawn the moiety”—a half—“of my estate against your ring!—which, in my opinion, o’ervalues it somewhat,” he adds dryly. He sees Lord Philario’s glare. “But I make my wager rather against your confidence than her reputation—and, to bar your offence herein, I durst attempt it, too, against any lady in the world!”
“You are a great deal abused in too bold a persuasion,” Leonatus replies calmly, “but I doubt not you’d sustain what you’re worthy of by your attempt.”
“A repulse!—though your ‘attempt,’ as you call it, deserve more: a punishment too!”
Philario is alarmed. “Gentlemen, enough of this! It came on too suddenly!—let it die as it was born, and, I pray you, be better acquainted!”
“I would I had put my estate and my neighbour’s on the approbation of what I have spoken!” insists Giacomo.
Leonatus is equally defiant. “What lady would you choose to assail?”
“Yours!—whom in constancy you think stands so safe!
“I will lay you ten thousand ducats to your ring, that—commend me to the court where your lady is, and with no more advantage than the opportunity of a second conference—I will bring from thence that honour of hers, which you imagine so reservèd!”
“I will wager against your gold, gold to it!” says Leonatus. “My ring I hold dear as my finger—’tis part of it!”
Giacomo sneers. “You are afraid!—and therein the wiser; even if you buy ladies’ flesh at a million a dram, you cannot preserve it from tainting! And I see you have some reversion in you, that you fear—”
Says the Briton, waving aside the feint, “This is but a custom in your tongue”—Italian arrogance. “You bear a graver purpose, I hope.”
“I am the master of my speech, and would undergo what’s spoken, I swear!”
“Will you?” Leonatus shrugs. “I shall but lend my diamond till your return. Let there be covenants drawn between us. My mistress exceeds in goodness even the hugeness of your unworthy thinking!
“I dare you to this match! Here’s my ring!” He hands it to their host.
Lord Philario would forbid the wager: “I will have it no lay!”
“By the gods, it is one!” cries Giacomo—enjoying the ill-chosen lay. “If I bring you not sufficient testimony that I have enjoyed the dearest bodily part of your mistress, my ten thousand ducats are yours!—so is your diamond, too! If I come away and leave her in such honour as you have trust in, she, your jewel, this your jewel, and my gold are yours!
“Provided I have your commendation, for my more free entertainment.”
“I embrace these conditions; let us have articles betwixt us,”—terms set down in writing, says Leonatus gravely. “Only, thus far you shall answer: if you make your voyage and give me directly to understand you have prevailed upon her, I am no further your enemy, and she is not worth our debate; if she remain unseduced—you not make it clear otherwise—for your ill opinion and the assault you have made against her chastity, you shall answer me with your sword!”
“Your hand!” cries Giacomo, “a covenant!” They shake hands to confirm the bet. “We will have these things set down by lawful counsel—and I’ll straight away for Britain, lest the bargain should catch cold and starve! I will fetch my gold, and have our two wagers recorded.”
“Agreed,” says Leonatus, and they head for the door together—oblivious of their dismayed host.
“Will this hold, think you?” asks the Frenchman.
“Signior Giacomo will not back from it,” says Lord Philario, regretting having invited his quarrelsome countryman. “Pray, let us follow ’em!”
The queen is sending her waiting-gentlewomen on an apparently urgent task—to take them well away from her. “Whiles yet the dew’s on ground, gather those flowers—make haste! Who has the note of them?”
“I, madam!” replies the one with the list.
The queen nods. “Dispatch!” Her attendants hurry into the garden, and she turns to the court physician. “Now, Master Doctor, have you brought those drugs?”
“Pleaseth Your Highness, aye. Here they are, madam.” He shows her a string-tied parcel of small boxes. “But I beseech Your Grace, without offence—my conscience bids me ask—wherefore you have commanded of me these most poisonous compounds, which are the movers of a languishing death—though slow, deadly.”
She is annoyed. “I wonder, doctor, thou ask’st me such a question! Have I not been thy pupil long? Hast thou not taught me how to make perfumes?—to distil?—to preserve?—yea, so that our great king himself doth oft woo me for my confections?
“Having thus far proceeded, unless thou think’st me devilish, is’t not meet that I did amplify my judgment in other conclusions?”—procedures. “I will try the forces of these thy compounds on such creatures as we count not worth the hanging—but none human,” she adds, setting aside what in her view is a sizeable class—“to try the vigour of them, and apply allayments to their action, and by them gather their several virtues and effects.”
The physician frowns. “Your Highness shall from this practise but make hard your heart! Besides the seeing, these effects will be both noisome and infectious!”
“Oh, content thee.” She sets the package of chemical preparations on a table. As she unties the pasteboard containers, she sees Pisanio entering the room. Here comes a flattering rascal!—he’s for his master, an enemy to my son; upon him will I first work. She smiles brightly. “How now, Pisanio!
“Doctor, your service for this time is ended; take your own way.”
Master Cornelius bows. I do suspect you, madam; but you shall do no harm….
The queen motions Pisanio forward. “Hark thee, a word.”
The doctor watches. I do not like her! She doth think she has strange, lingering poisons; but I do know her spirit, and will not trust one of her malice with a drug of such damnèd nature! Those she has will stupefy, and dull the senses awhile—which first, perchance, she’ll prove on cats and dogs, then afterward up higher.
But there is no danger in what show of death it makes: no more than a locking-up of the senses for a time, only to be more fresh upon reviving.
She is fooled with a most-false effect—and I am the truer, so to be false with her!
The queen waves him away. “No further service, doctor, until I send for thee.”
“I humbly take my leave.” Cornelius bows again and goes.
The queen seems concerned about Pisanio’s mistress. “Weeps she still, say’st thou? Dost thou not think in time she will quench, and let instruction enter where folly now possesses?
“Do thou work!” she urges. “When thou shalt bring me word she loves my son, I’ll tell thee on the instant thou art then as great as is thy master!—greater, for his fortunes all lie speechless, and his name is at last gasp! Return he cannot, nor continue where he is; to shift, his being is to exchange one misery with another!—and every day that comes comes to decay a day’s work in him.
“What shalt thou expect, being a depender on a thing that leans?—who cannot be new-built, nor has no friends to do so much as but prop him up!”
She selects one of the little boxes and hands it to Pisanio. “Thou takest up thou know’st not what; but take it for thy labour!” she says generously. “It is a thing I made, which hath the king five times redeemed from death! I do not know what is more cordial!”
Pisanio tries to hand back the gift, clearly intended to suborn him.
“Nay, I prithee, take it!” says the queen. “It is an earnest of further good that I mean to thee! Tell thy mistress how the case stands with her—do’t as if from thyself.
“Think what a change thou chancest on! Just think!—thou hast thy mistress still!—and to boot, my son, who shall take notice of thee! I’ll move the king to any shape of thy preferment as thou’lt desire!—and then myself, I chiefly, who set thee on to this deserving, am bound to load thy merit richly!
“Call my women,” she orders, ignoring his silence. “Think on my words,” she tells him, as he goes into the garden. A sly and constant knave, not to be shaped!—the agent for his master, and the remembrancer of her to hold the hand-fast to her lord! —keep a wife’s promise to be faithful.
I have given him that which, if he take, shall quite unpeople her of liegers for her sweet!
And which she after, except she bend her mood, shall be assurèd to taste of too!
Pisanio returns, bringing the ladies and their dewy flowers.
“So, so! Well done, well done!” cries the queen merrily. “The violets, cowslips and the primroses, bear to my chambers.” She leads the women away. “Fare thee well, Pisanio; think on my words.”
Her words have alarmed him; he bows to the queen. “And shall do!”
He thinks, watching her, But when to my good lord I prove untrue, I’ll choke myself! There’s all I’ll do for you!
Imogen paces in her chambers, imprisoned in luxurious frustration, a powerless princess bemoaning her state: A father cruel, and a step-dame false; a foolish suitor to a wedded lady that hath seen her husband banishèd!
Oh, my banished husband! That supremely crowns my grief, in these repeated variations on it! Had I been thief-stol’n, as my two brothers, happy!—but most miserable in the desire that’s imploring me!
Blest be those who have their honest wills, howe’er so common, which can comfort their seasons!
Her ruminating on what she misses is disturbed by footsteps in the corridor. Who may this be? Fie!
Pisanio has brought a visitor. “Madam, a noble gentleman of Rome comes from my lord—with letters!”
Lord Giacomo sees the traces of her tears. “Change you, madam!” he says, pushing past the servant and bowing. “The worthy Leonatus is in safety, and greets Your Highness dearly!” He gives her a letter.
Imogen smiles, delighted to receive new word from her husband. “Thanks, good sir! You’re kindly welcome!”
As she reads, he studies the lady’s appearance. All of her that is ‘out of door’ is most rich!
He frets: If she be furnished with a mind so rare, she is alone—the Arabian bird!—and I have lost the wager! The phoenix, a singular, mythical firebird, cannot be captured.
Boldness, be my friend! Arm me, Audacity, from head to foot—or, like the Parthian, I shall fight flying! Parthia’s cavalry troops are known for shooting arrows back toward pursuers while fleeing. But he finds Imogen enchantingly attractive; he steadies himself. Rather, directly fly!
She looks up from the missive and reads out its final lines: “‘He is one of the noblest nation to whose kindnesses I am most infinitely tied’”—imperial Rome. “‘Reflect upon him accordingly, as you value your trust. —Leonatus.’
“So far I read aloud,” she says. “But even the very middle of my heart is warmèd by the rest!—and takes it thankfully!” She smiles at the Italian. “You are as welcome, worthy sir, as I have words to bid you—and shall find it so in all that I can do!”
“Thanks, fairest lady.” But then, looking perplexed, he turns to Pisanio. “What, are men mad?” He looks admiringly at Imogen, then shakes his head as if puzzled. “Hath nature given them eyes—to see this vaulted arch,”—the earth, “and the rich scope of sea and land—eyes which can distinguish ’twixt the fiery orbs above and the twinnèd stones numbered upon the beach—yet can we not distinction make—with example so precious—’twixt fair and foul?”
She is startled by his sudden vehemence. “What makes your wonderment?”
Giacomo is apparently still pondering. “It cannot be in the eye: for apes and monkeys ’twixt two such shes would chatter happily this way, and contemn with mows”—mocking looks—“the other!”
She watches the handsome, charming nobleman’s meditation, one seemingly delivered extempore.
He continues, pacing. “Nor in the judgment—for idiots in this case of faces would be wisely definite!
“Nor in the appetite: sluttery, opposed to such clear excellence, should make desire vomit to emptiness!—not so allure it to feed!”
“What is the matter, now?” asks Imogen.
He pursues his carefully chosen topic—debauchery. “The cloyèd will!—that tub, both filled and running!—satiate yet unsatisfied desire!—which, ravening first the lamb, longs after for garbage!”
She stares. “What, dear sir, thus wraps you? Are you well?”
Giacomo sees that his malicious musing—flattery laden with dark hints—has her attention. He speaks quietly now. “Thanks, madam; well.” He turns to Pisanio. “I beseech you, sir, acquire for my man his abode; I did leave him strange and peevish”—ill at ease after long travel.
Pisanio bows. “I was going, sir, to give him welcome.” He goes to provide for the foreign visitors’ lodging.
Imogen is eager for news of Leonatus. “Continues well my lord?—his health, beseech you.”
“Is he disposed to mirth? I hope he is,” she says—half-heartedly.
Giacomo tells her, falsely, “Exceedingly pleasant!—none a stranger there so merry and so gamesome! He is called ‘the Briton reveller!’”
Says the forlorn lady, “When he was here he did incline to graveness, but oft-times not knowing why….”
“I never saw him serious! There is a Frenchman, his companion—an eminent monsieur who, it seems, much loves a Gallian girl at home. He furnaces forth from him thick sighs, whiles the jolly Briton—your lord, I mean—laughs from’s lungs!—cries, ‘Oh, can my sides hold, to think that a man who knows by history—by report of his own proof, what Woman is!—yea, what she cannot choose but must be!—will in his free hours languish for assurèd bondage!’”
Imogen raises an eyebrow. “Will my lord say so?”
“Aye, madam!—with his eyes in flood with laughter! It is a recreation just to be nearby and hear him mock the Frenchman!
“But, heaven knows, some men are much to blame!”—foolish.
“Not he, I hope.”
“Not… he.” Giacomo looks concerned. “And yet, heaven’s bounty towards him might be used more thankfully—for you, whom I account beyond all credits, as much as for himself.” He sighs. “Whilst I am bound to wonder, I am bound to pity, too.”
“What do you pity, sir?”
“Two creatures, heartily!”
“Am I one, sir?” asks Imogen. “You look on me; what wreck discern you in me that deserves your pity?”
Giacomo shakes his head sadly. “Lamentable. What?—to hide from the radiant sun, and take solace i’ the dungeon with a snuff?”—one who extinguishes a taper to do her work.
She challenges his implication: “I pray you, sir, deliver with more openness your answers to my demands! Why do you pity me?”
“For that others do… I was about to say, ‘enjoy your’….” He looks down sadly. “But it is an office of the gods to avenge it, not mine to speak it.”
“You do seem to know something of me or what concerns me. Pray you—since suspecting things go ill often hurts more than being sure they do, for certainties are either past remedies, or, timely known, the remedy then born—reveal to me what both spurs and stops you!”
Giacomo moves closer. “Had I this cheek to place my lips upon; this hand, whose touch, whose every touch, would force the feeler’s soul to the oath of loyalty!—this object which takes prisoner the wild motion of mine eye, affixing it only here!—”
He turns away angrily. “Would I slaver with lips as common as the stairs that mount to the Capitol!—join grips with hands made hard in hourly falsehood, as if with labour!—be peeping with an eye as base and illustrous as the smoky light that’s fed with stinking tallow? Damnèd then!—’t were fit that such revolt should encounter all the plagues of hell at one time!”
She frowns. “My lord, I hear, has forgot Britain.”
“And himself!” Giacomo regards her warmly. “It is not I, burdened with this intelligence, who pronounce the beggary of his change, but ’tis your graces that from my muted conscience to my tongue charm out this report!”
“Let me hear no more.” She is thinking.
“Oh, dearest soul! Your cause doth strike my heart with pity that doth make me sicken!—a lady so fair—who, fastened to an empery, would make the great’st king double!”
He sputters with indignation over her husband’s alleged waywardness: “To be partnered with tomboys”—whores—“hired with that same commission which your own coffers yield!—with diseasèd venturers who play with all infirmities for gold!—whose rottenness can lend Nature such broilèd stuff as well might poison poison!”
He waits for her to absorb the accusations, then cries, “Be revenged!—or she that bore you was no queen, and you recoil from your great stock!”
Imogen looks at him coldly. “Revenged? How should I be revengèd? If this be true—and I have such a heart that mine ears must not in haste abuse—if it be true, how should I be revengèd?”
The Roman would make use of her own needs. “Should he make thee lie like Diana’s priestess—betwixt cold sheets!—whiles he is vaulting various tramps, in your despite, upon your purse?” demands Giacomo. “Revenge it!”
He kneels. “I dedicate myself to your sweet pleasure!—more noble than that renegade from your bed!—and will continue, ever fixèd to your affection, as sure as close!”—secret.
Imogen calls: “What ho, Pisanio!”
Giacomo rises and moves toward her. “Let me my service tender on your lips….”
“Away!” She steps back. “I do condemn mine ears that have so long attended thee!
“If thou wert honourable, thou wouldst have told this tale for virtue, not for such end as thou seek’st—as base as strange!
“Thou wrong’st a gentleman who is as far from thy report as thou from honour! And thou solicit’st here a lady who disdains thee and the Devil alike!
“What ho, Pisanio!
“The king my father shall be made acquainted of thy assault! If he shall think it fit a saucy stranger in his court to mart as in a Romish stew,”—brothel, “and to expound his beastly mind to us, he hath a court he little cares for!—and a daughter whom he respects not at all!
“What, ho, Pisanio!”
“O happy Leonatus!” cries Giacomo—looking very pleased. “I may say the credit that thy lady hath from thee deserves thy trust!—and thy most perfect goodness, her assurèd credit! Blessèd live you long, worthiest sir that ever country called its own! And with a lady—you, his mistress—for only the most worthiest fit!”
He kneels again. “Give me your pardon! I have spoken thus to know if your affiance were deeply rooted—and shall make your lord know that which he is o’er!—one truest mannered—as he is!—such a holy sorcerer that he enchants societies unto him! Half all men’s hearts are his!”
Imogen eyes him carefully. “You make amends….”
“He sits ’mongst men like a descended god!—he hath a kind of honour sets him off more than a mortal seeming!
“Be not angry, most mighty princess, that I have adventured to try your taking of false report—which hath honoured with confirmation your great judgment, which I know cannot err, in the election of a sir so rare!
“The love I bear him bade me to fan you thus,”—as in winnowing wheat, “but the gods made you unlike all others: chaffless!”—grain without husk. “Pray, your pardon!”
Imogen smiles. “All’s well, sir; take my power i’ the court for yours.”
Giacomo rises and bows deeply. “My humble thanks!”
He starts to go, then turns back. “I had almost forgot to entreat Your Grace in but a small request—and yet of moment, too, for it concerns your lord, myself, and other noble friends who are partners in the business.”
“Pray, what is’t?”
“Some dozen Romans of us, and your lord—the best feather of our wing!—have mingled sums to buy a present for the emperor—which I, as factor for the rest, have done, in France. ’Tis gold plate, of rare device and jewels of rich and exquisite form! Their value’s great, and I am somewhat concerned, being a stranger, to have them in safe stowage. May it please you to take them in protection?”
“Willingly,” says Imogen, “and pawn mine honour for their safety! Since my husband hath interest in them, I will keep them in my bedchamber.”
“They are in a trunk, attended by my men. I will make bold to send them to you—only for this night; I must aboard tomorrow.”
“Oh, no, no!….” Imogen still wants to hear about Leonatus—the truth this time.
“Yes, I beseech, or I shall short my word by lengthening my return! From Gallia I crossed the seas for purpose, and on promise to see Your Grace.”
“I thank you for your pains, but not away tomorrow!” pleads Imogen.
“Oh, I must, madam! Therefore I shall beseech you, if you please to greet your lord with writing, do’t to-night! I have outstood my time, which is material to the tender of our gift.”
Imogen nods, already gathering her loving thoughts. “I will write!
“Send your trunk to me; it shall safe be kept, and truly yielded you.”
She smiles at the Italian. “You’re very well come!”
“Was there ever man had such luck?” complains Lord Cloten. “When I kissed the jack,”—positioned a ball well in a game of bowls, “to be hit away upon an up-cast! I had a hundred pound on’t!
“And then the whoreson jackanapes must take me up for swearing!—as if I borrowed mine oaths from him, and might not spend them at my pleasure!”
“What got he by that?” asks his pudgy companion. “You have broken his pate with your ball!”
Thinks the taller lord who is with them, If his wit had been like his that broke it, it would all have run out!
Cloten turns to him for approval. “When a gentleman is disposed to swear, it is right for any standers-by to curtail his oaths, eh?”
“No, my lord.” Nor for you to curse their ears!
“Whoreson dog!” mutters the bully. “I—give him satisfaction?” he sniffs; he ignored a challenge to duel—and left in haste. “Would that he had been one of my rank!”
The tall man notes another sense for rank: Smelling like a foot!
“I am not more vexèd at anything on the earth!” whines Cloten. “A pox on’t!—I had rather not be so noble as I am! They dare not fight with me, because of the queen, my mother! Every Jack-slave hath his bellyful of fighting, but I must go up and down like a cock that nobody can match!”
You are a cock, and too a capon! —a prick and a castrate. And you crow with your comb on! A cloth cock’s-comb, coxcomb, is the emblem of a court fool.
Cloten notices the lord’s silence. “Sayest thou?”
The taller nobleman replies carefully. “It is not fit Your Lordship should undertake every companion that you give offence to.” There are too many.
“No, I know that,” says Cloten testily. “But is it not fit I should commit offence to my inferiors?”
“Aye, it is fit for Your Lordship only”—because Cloten is superior to no one.
“Why, so I say!”
The short lord has learned of the Roman’s visit. “Did you hear of a stranger that’s come to court last night?”
Cloten is peeved. “A stranger—and I not know of’t?”
He’s a strange fellow himself, and knows it not!
“There’s an Italian come—and, ’tis thought, one of Leonatus’s friends….”
“Leonatus!—the banished rascal!” cries Cloten. “And here’s another, whatsoever he be! Who told you of this stranger?”
“One of Your Lordship’s pages.”
“Is it fit I went to look upon him?” wonders Cloten. “Is there no derogation in’t?”—no loss of standing.
The tall man looks down at him. “You cannot be derogated, my lord,” he says dryly.
Cloten nods. “Not easily, I think!”
You are known to be a fool; therefore your comments, being foolish, do not derogate.
“Come, I’ll go see this Italian!” says Cloten. “What I have lost today at bowls I’ll win tonight from him! Come, go.”
The tall man tells him, “I’ll attend Your Lordship,” as the other two start down the stairs.
He shakes his head. That such a crafty devil as is his mother should yield the world this ass! A woman that bears all down with her brain—and this, her son, cannot for all his art take two from twenty and leave eighteen! Cloten thus loses at even the simplest card games.
Alas, poor princess, thou divine Imogen! What thou endurest, betwixt a father by thy step-dame governed, a mother-in-law hourly coining plots, and a wooer more hateful, in the foul expulsion of thy dear husband, for the horrid crime he’d make of divorce!
He knows that Cloten’s would like to murder her husband.
May the heavens hold firm the walls of thy dear honour, keep unshaken that temple, thy fair mind, so that thou mayst withstand!—to enjoy thy banished lord, and this great land!
In her quarters, sitting at the table on which she has been writing to Leonatus, Imogen now reads. She hears someone, and looks up. “Who’s there? My woman Helen?”
That gentlewoman comes in from a side room. “So please you, madam.”
“What hour is it?” She rises and yawns.
“Almost midnight, madam.”
Imogen goes to the bed and removes her robe. “I have read three hours, then; mine eyes are weak! Fold down the leaf where I have left. To bed!” says the princess. “Take not away the taper; leave it burning—and if thou canst awake by four o’ the clock, I prithee, call me.” While bringing Giacomo’s trunk, the servants advised of his very early departure. “Sleep hath seized me wholly.”
Helen curtseys and leaves; she will ask the night-watch to summon her just before the appointed hour.
Imogen pauses to pray. To your protection I commend me, gods. From fairies and the tempters of the night, guard me, beseech ye. She kisses her silver bracelet, slides under the cover, and is soon asleep.
For a while, all is still. Then, in a dark corner of the room, the top of a heavy trunk opens—just a crack. After a moment, Giacomo, clad all in black, slowly raises it, and climbs out carefully, silently. He peers around the lady’s bedchamber, listening. The crickets sing, and man’s o’er-laboured sense repairs itself by rest.
He tiptoes to the table, thinking of a legendary Roman—a rapist. Our Tarquin thus did softly press the rushes, ere he wakened the chastity he wounded. He looks at the princess. Cytherea, how bravely thou becomest thy bed, fresh as lily, and whiter than the sheets! He watches Imogen, sleeping peacefully like the goddess of beauty also known as Venus.
That I might touch!—kiss! He regards her lips. But one kiss!—rubies in parting, how dearly they do’t! ’Tis her breathing that perfumes the chamber thus! The flame o’ the taper bows toward her, and would peep under her lids to see th’enclosèd lights, now canopied in those windows—white and azure, laced with the blue of heaven’s own tinct!
But to my design: noting the chamber! I will write all down: such and such pictures; there the window; such the adornment of her bed; the arras, figures. He smiles, amused. Why, ‘such and such’ are the contents o’ the story! Giacomo intends to make full use of details in his false report to Leonatus.
He moves closer to Imogen.
Ah, but some notes about her natural body would testify, above ten thousand meaner moveables, to enrich mine inventory! O sleep, thou ape of death, lie dull upon her! And be her sense but as a monument, thus in a chapel lying!
He leans over the bed and reaches to her wrist. Come off, come off! The bracelet, large enough for a man’s wrist, slides off without her awakening. As slippery as the Gordian knot was hard! ’Tis mine!—and this will witness outwardly as strongly as awareness does within!—to the madding of her lord!
He moves closer, staring at the sleeping form. On her left breast a mole, five-spotted like the crimson drops i’ the bottom of a cowslip! Here’s a voucher stronger than ever law could make! This secret will force him to think I have picked the lock, and ta’en the treasure, of her honour!
He straightens, steps back to look around. No more. To what end?—why should I write this down, that’s riveted —he stifles a laugh— screwed to my remembrance?
He examines her book. She hath been reading late… the tale of Tereus—here the leaf’s turned down, where Philomel gave up…. She, too, was a victim of rape.
I have enough! To the trunk again, and shut the lock of it.
He eases himself in and lowers the lid.
Swift, swift, you dragons of the night, that dawning may bear the raven away! I lodge in fear! Though she’s a heavenly angel, hell is here!
Later, as a distant tower-bell ring, the sleepless intruder, crouched in waiting for his escape, counts the chimes. One… two… three…
As they walk toward the quarters where the princess is being confined, Cloten’s heavy companion offers him consolatory flattery. “Your Lordship is the most patient man in loss—the most coldest that ever turned up an ace!”
“It would make any man cold to lose.”
“But not every man patient after the noble temper of Your Lordship!—you are most hot and furious when you win!”
“Winning will put any man into courage,” says Cloten churlishly. They stop at the lady’s door, and he rubs his eyes after a night of playing—losing—at cards. “If I could get this foolish Imogen, I should have gold enough.” He yawns. “It’s almost morning, is’t not?”
“Aye, my lord.”
Cloten stares, his expression blank, down the empty corridor. “I would this morning would come,” he says petulantly; it is nearly six—six hours before he usually rises. “I am advisèd to give her music o’ mornings; they say it will mediate.”
Soon musicians, a lutenist and two men with hautboys, climb the stairs, approach the nobles, and bow.
“Come on, tune!” demands Cloten. “If you can penetrate her with your fingering, do so! We’ll try with tongue, too,” he adds, crudely. Behind him, the tall old lord’s eyes roll. “If none will do, let her remain here! But I’ll never give o’er!
“First,” he tells the players, “a very excellent, good-conceited thing; after, a wonderful, sweet air, with admirable, rich words to it. And then let her consider.”
As the wooden instruments lilt along, the lutenist, a tenor, plucks the strings and begins his lilting song of sunrise:
“Hark, hark!—the lark
At heaven’s gate now sings,
And Phoebus ’gins again to hie
His steeds to water at those high springs!
Here a chaliced flower lies,
As sleeping marigolds begin
To ope their golden eyes;
With every other pretty thing,
My lady sweet, arise!—arise!”
The musicians play a gentle refrain, but the door stays closed.
“So, get you gone,” Cloten tells them sourly. “If this persuades, I will think better of your music. If it do not, it is a fault in her ears, which horse-hairs and calves’-guts—nor the voice of unpavèd eunuch, to boot—can never mend!”
Listening to the boor, the tall lord frowns, which Cloten takes for concurrence.
Despite the gibe about his lacking stones, testicles, the singer bows and gladly takes the money.
As the musicians leave, the older lord looks down the passage. “Here comes the king.”
Yawning again, the degenerate dunce tells his companions, “I am glad I was up so late, for that’s the reason I am up so early.” He watches King Cymbeline. “He cannot choose but take fatherly this service I have done.”
He bows as the king and his queen arrive, with their train following. “Good morrow to Your Majesty, and to my gracious mother.”
“Attend you here the door of our stern daughter?” asks Cymbeline. “Will she not forth?”
Cloten shrugs. “I have assailed her with music, but she vouchsafes no notice.”
“The exile of her minion is too new; she hath not yet forgot him,” says Cymbeline. “Some more time must wear the print of his remembrance out, and then she’s yours.”
The queen tells her son, “You are most bound to the king, who lets go by no vantages that may recommend you to his daughter!”
She notes his bloodshot eyes and unkempt evening clothes, and offers advice: “Frame yourself to orderly soliciting, and be friended with aptness of the season!
“Let denials increase your services! Seem inspired to do those duties which you tender to her, as if in all you obey her!—save when command to your dismission tends, and therein you are senseless”—seem unable to hear.
“Senseless!” cries Cloten. He hears the epithet often. “Not so!”
A messenger comes with news for the king, and bows. “So please it you, sir, ambassadors from Rome. The chief one is Caius Lucius.”
The emissary is an old friend, but Cymbeline frowns; he knows what the emperor’s demand will be. “A worthy fellow, albeit he comes on angry purpose now. But that’s no fault of his; we must receive him according to the honour of his sender—and towards himself; his goodness forespent on us, we must extend our notice of it.
“Our dear son, when you have given ‘Good morning’ to your mistress, attend the queen and us; we shall have need to employ you toward this Roman.
“Come, our queen.” The royal party proceeds down to the throne room to meet the imperial visitors.
Cloten turns to the door. “If she be up, I’ll speak with her; if not, let her lie, still, and dream of me.” He knocks. “By your leave, ho!”
He has an idea. “I know her women are about her; what if I do line one of their hands?
“’Tis gold which buys admittance, oft it doth!—yea, and makes Diana’s rangers”—the goddess’s protectors of other virgins—“falsify themselves, yield up their deer to the stand o’ the stealer! And ’tis gold which makes the true man killed, and saves the thief!” He laughs. “Nay, sometimes hangs both thief and true man!
“What can it not do?” He winks at the fat lord—“And undo!
“I will make one of her women lawyer for me, for I do not yet understand the case myself.”
The tall nobleman concurs with the rare perception, if not the intent.
Cloten knocks again. “By your leave,” he says, as a gentlewoman opens the door.
“Who’s there that knocks?” she asks.
Helen knows who he is. “No more?”
“Yes—and a gentlewoman’s son.”
She looks askance at his slovenly appearance. “That’s more than some whose tailors are as costly as yours can justly boast of. What’s Your Lordship’s pleasure?”
“Your lady’s person; is she ready?”
The lady notes his gracelessness—or worse. “Aye: to keep to her chamber.”
Cloten edges closer, a hand reaching forward. “There is gold for you; sell me your good report.”
She laughs. “What?—my good name? Or to report of you what I shall think is good!”—clearly, not much. She hears movement behind her. “The princess,” she says, turning to curtsey to the lady, and going back into the room as Imogen comes to the door.
“Good morrow, fairest!” says Cloten. “Sister, your sweet hand,” he says, seizing it, and managing to kiss her nails as she pulls away.
“Good morrow, sir. You lay out too much pains for purchasing but trouble; the thanks I give is telling you that I am poor of thanks, and scarce can spare them.”
“I swear I love you!” he insists, yet again.
“’Twere as deep with me if you but said so; if you swear, your recompense is still that I regard it not.”
“This is no answer!” he protests.
She is obviously exasperated. “I would not even speak, but that you could say I yielded, being silent! I pray you, spare me!—or ’faith I shall unfold discourtesy equal to your best ‘kindness!’ Then your great knowing might learn, being taught, forbearance!”
He misses the sarcasm. “’Twere my sin to leave you in your madness. I will not!”
Says the dejected prisoner sadly, “Fools are not mad folks.”
Cloten frowns. “Do you call me fool?”
“As I am mad,”—angry, “I do! If you’ll be patient,”—a play on both behave and accept treatment, “I’ll no more be mad; that cures us both!
“I am much sorry, sir—that by being so verbal, you put me to forget a lady’s manners!
“And learn, now for all! I who know my heart do here pronounce the very truth of it: I care not for you! And, to recuse myself, as I am so near a lack of charity: I hate you!”
She raises a small fist menacingly. “Which I had rather you felt than make’t my boast!”
Cloten backs away. “You sin against obedience which you owe your father! As for the contract you pretend with that base wretch—one bred of alms, and fostered with cold dishes, with scraps o’ the court!—it is no contract, none!
“And though it be ‘allowèd’ in common persons, with those where lies no more dependency than brats and beggary!—and who is more lowly than he?—to knit in self-figurèd knot their hopes, yet you are curbed from that dissipation by the consequence o’ the crown, and must not soil the precious regard of it with a base slave!—a hilding fit for a livery, for a squire’s cloth, a pantler’s—not even so eminent!”
“Profane fellow!” cries Imogen, eyes flashing. “Wert thou the son of Jupiter and what thou art besides, thou wert too base to be his groom! Thou art dignified enough by thy virtues to be styled, if ’twere made a competition, the under-hangman of his kingdom!—and hated for being preferred so well, even to the height of envious malevolence!”
“The south-fog”—sultry Rome—“rot him!”
“He never can meet more mischance than to come to be but namèd along with thee! His meanest garment that hath ever but clasped his body”—his drawers—“is dearer in my respect than all the hairs above thee, were they all made into such men as thou!”
But suddenly she turns away, alarmed, having noticed her bare wrist. “How now, Pisanio!” she calls. He hurries to meet her at the door.
- “‘His garment!’” sputters Cloten, picturing it with disgust. “Now, the devil—”
“To Dorothy my woman hie thee presently!” she tells Pisanio.
- “‘His garment!’”
“I am haunted by a fool!—once frighted, now worse angered!” she tells the serving-man. But Imogen has another concern. “Go bid my woman search for a jewel that too casually hath left mine arm!—it was thy master’s! Beshrew me if I would lose it for the revenue of any king who’s in Europe!
“I do think I saw’t this morning; confident I am ’twas on mine arm last night—I kissed it! I hope it be not gone to tell my lord that I kiss aught but he!” she laughs, sure it’s still in her bedchamber.
“’Twill not be lost,” Pisanio assures her.
“So I hope! Go and search!” Pisanio bows and returns to the rooms.
Cloten fumes. “You have abused me! ‘His meanest garment!’”
“Aye, I said so, sir! If you will make’t an action,”—a case at law, “I’ll call witnesses to’t!”
“I will inform your father!”
“Your mother, too!—she’s ‘my good lady,’” says the princess sourly, “and will conceive, I expect, but the worst of me! And so I leave you, sir: to the worst of discontent!”
She shuts the door in his face.
“I’ll be revenged!” mutters Cloten. “‘His meanest garment!’ Well….”
The others follow as he stalks away grumbling.
All at Odds
“Fear it not, sir,” the British exile tells his Roman host. “I would I were so sure to win over the king as I am bold her honour will remain hers.”
“What means do you make to him?” asks Lord Philario. He remembers a proud but reasonable ruler, satisfied with the peace negotiated with Rome some years back, during which talks Philario and Leonatus’s father, once enemies, reaffirmed their friendship.
“Not any but to abide the changes of time—shiver in the present wintery state, and wish that warmer days would come,” says Leonatus. “In these sere hopes, I barely gratify your love; they failing, I must die much your debtor.”
“Your very goodness and your company o’erpay all I can do!
“By now your king hath heard from great Caesar Augustus”—the title bestowed upon Julius’s nephew Octavian as Rome’s first emperor. “Caius Lucius will do his commission thoroughly; and I think Cymbeline will grant the tribute, send the arrearages—or look upon our Roman soldiers, whose remembrance is yet fresh in their grief!”
“Statist though I am none—nor likely to be,” says the banished gentleman dryly, “I do believe that this will prove a war!—and that you shall sooner hear that the legions now in Gallia have landed in our not-fearing Britain, than have tidings of any penny paid in tribute!
“Our countrymen are now more ordered than when Julius Caesar smiled at their lack of skill, but found them audacious!—worthy his frowning at! Their skills now, wingèd with their courage, will make known to their confronters they are such people that wend upon the world!”—have imperial ambitions of their own.
Philario looks past him, surprised. “See—Giacomo!” he says, as he enters the hall.
Leonatus greets that traveler wryly; “The swiftest arts have posted you by land, and winds of all the corners kissed your sails to make your vessel nimble!” There has been little time for the Italian’s attempt, and the Briton is eager to hear his admission of failure—and to fight their duel.
“Welcome, sir,” says Lord Philario glumly; neither outcome of the wager can please him.
Says Leonatus, “I trust the briefness of your answer made the speediness of your return.”
“Your lady is one of the fairest that I have looked upon,” says Giacomo.
“And therewithal the best!—or let her beauty look through a casement, to allure false hearts and be false with them!”—offer itself from a brothel.
“Here is a letter for you.” Giacomo received it from Imogen not long after his men had removed the trunk from her quarters.
Leonatus unfolds the paper. “The tenor good, I trust.” He glances over the content—his wife’s earnest expressions of love.
“’Tis very likely.”
Philario is concerned about the prospect of war. “Was Caius Lucius in Britain’s court when you were there?”
“He was expected then, but had not approachèd.”
All is well yet, thinks Leonatus; Giacomo is not even mentioned in the letter. He points to the ring, now being held in Lord Philario’s hand. “Sparkles this stone as it was wont?” he asks Giacomo. “Is’t now too dull for my good wearing?” he challenges.
“If I had lost it, I should have lost the worth of it in gold,” the Roman replies. “But I’d make a journey twice as far to enjoy a second night of such short sweetness which was mine in Britain!—for the ring is won!”
Leonatus shakes his head. “This stone’s too hard to come by.”
“Not a whit, your lady being so easy.”
A hand grasping the hilt of his sword, Leonatus warns, “Make not, sir, your loss your sport! I hope you know that we may not continue as if friends!”
“Good sir, we must—if you keep covenant! Had I not brought the knowledge of your mistress home, I grant we were to question further; but I now profess myself the winner of her honour, together with your ring—and not the wronger of her or you, having proceeded but by both your wills.”
Leonatus contains his rising anger. “If you can make’t apparent that you have tasted her in bed, my ring and hand are yours. If not, the foul opinion you had of her pure honour gains or loses your sword or mine!—or leaves both blades masterless, to whomever shall find them!”
“Sir, my circumstances”—articles of testimony—“being, as I will state them, so clearly the truth—and whose strength I will confirm with oath!—which, I doubt not, you’ll give me leave to spare, when you shall find you need it not—must persuade you to believe!”
“First, her bedchamber,” says Giacomo, “where I confess I slept not, but profess it had that which was well worth watching!” Leonatus’s face turns scarlet as Giacomo continues: “It was hung with tapestry of silk and silver thread: the story of proud Cleopatra when she met her Roman on Cydnus”—the river where she first met Antony. “It swelled above its banks under the press of boats—or from pride!—a piece of work so bravely done, so rich, that workmanship and value did strive in it—at which I wondered it could be so rarely and exactly wrought, since the true life of’t was—”
“That is true,” says Leonatus, “but this you might have heard of here, by way of me or some other.”
Giacomo nods. “More particulars must justify my knowledge.”
“So they must, or do your honour injury!”
The Italian continues. “The hearth is south in the chamber; and by the chimney-piece, chaste Diana, bathing! Never saw I images so likely to report themselves! The stone-cutter was as another Nature!—but, motion and breath left out, silently outwent her!”
Leonatus scoffs. “This is a thing which you might from relation likewise reap, being, as it is, much spoken of.”
“The roof o’ the chamber with golden cherubim is fretted.
“Her andirons—I had forgot them—were two closed-eye Cupids of silver, each standing on one foot, their brands neatly depending”—burning logs, resting on a grate between.
“This is her honour!” cries Leonatus angrily. “Let it be granted you have seen all that—then praise be given to your memory. But nothing in the description of what is in her chamber saves the stake you have wagered!”
“Then be pale at what can! I beg but leave to air this jewel!” Giacomo raises a hand to display the silver bracelet and its ruby. “See! And, now ’tis off again, it must be marrièd—to that, your diamond!” He smirks: “I’ll keep them.”
Leonatus is stunned. “Jove! Once more let me behold it! Is it that which I left with her?”
Giacomo hands it to him. “Sir—I thank her—that! She stripped it from her arm; I see her yet—her pretty action did outsell her gift!—and yet enriched it, too: she gave it me, then said she prized it… once.”
“It may be she plucked it off to send it to me….”
“She writes to you so, doth she?”
“Oh, no!—no, no!” cries Leonatus. “’Tis true!” Impetuously he grabs the ring from Philario. “Here, take this, too! It is a basilisk unto mine eye!—kills me to look on’t!
“Let there be no honour where there is beauty, truth where is semblance—love where there’s another man!
“Let the vows of women hold no more bondage to where they are made than they are bound to their virtues—which is nothing!
“Oh, false above measure!”
“Have patience, sir!” insists old Lord Philario, “and take your ring again!—’tis not yet won!” He knows Giacomo well. “It may be, probably is, that she lost it!—or, who knows if one of her women, being corrupted, hath stolen it from her?”
“Very true!” says Leonatus. And I hope he so came by’t! “Back my ring!” he demands. “Render to me some corporal sign about her, more evident than this—or this was stolen!”
Giacomo is genuinely indignant. “By Jupiter, I had it from her arm!”
Young Leonatus moans. “Hark you, he swears!—by Jupiter he swears!” The supreme god is Rome’s patron. “’Tis true!—nay, keep the ring—’tis true! I am sure she would not lose it! Her attendants are all sworn and honourable!—they, induced to steal it?—and by a stranger?
“No!—he hath enjoyed her!” He stares at the bracelet. “The cognizance of her inconstancy is in this; and she hath bought the name of ‘whore’ thus dearly!”—at this price.
“There, take thy hire,” he growls, thrusting it at Giacomo. “And all the fiends of Hell divide themselves between you!”
Philario protests. “Sir, be patient! This is not strong enough to be believed by one persuaded well of—”
“Never speak of’t!” cries Leonatus, turning away. “She hath been bolted by him!”
Giacomo seems offended by their host’s doubt. “If you seek for further satisfying: under her breast—worthy the pressing!—lies a mole, rightly proud of that most-delicate lodging! By my life, I kissed it!—and it gave me immediate hunger to feed again, though full!
“You do remember this stain upon her?”
“Aye—and it doth confirm another stain!” groans Leonatus, “as big as Hell can hold, were there no more but it!”
“Will you hear more?”
“Spare your arithmetic! Never count the turns!—once—and a million!”
“I’ll be sworn—”
“No swearing! If you swear you have not done’t, you lie!—and I will kill thee if thou dost deny thou’st made me cuckold!”
“I’ll deny nothing.”
“Oh, that I had her here—to tear her to pieces!” Leonatus is livid. “I will go there and do’t!—i’ the court—before her father! I’ll do….” He sobs, “Something!” He storms away.
Philario is dismayed. “Quite beyond the government of patience!” He regards Giacomo with disgust. “You have won.
“Let’s follow him, and prevent the present wrath he hath against himself!” He hurries off to find Leonatus.
“With all my heart,” murmurs Giacomo, as he pockets the ring and bracelet.
He will enjoy assuring that the Briton’s pain persists.
Alone, Posthumus Leonatus fulminates.
Is there no way for men to be but that women must be half-workers?
We are all bastards!—and that most venerable man whom I did call my father was I know not where when I was stamped!—some coiner made me with his tool—a counterfeit!
Yet my mother seemed the Diana of that time!—so doth my wife the nonpareil of this!
Oh, vengeance, vengeance!
Me from lawful pleasure she restrainèd, and oft prayed my forbearance!—did it with a modesty so rosy that the sweet view of’t might well have warmed cold Saturn!—such that I thought her as chaste as unsunnèd snow. But—oh, all the devils!—this callow Giacomo, within an hour!—was’t not?—or less!
At first perchance he spoke not, but, like a full-acornèd boar, as men are now, cried, ‘On!’ and mounted!—found no opposition but what he looked for to oppose!—but which she should against encounter guard!
He paces. Oh, could I find out the woman’s share in me!—for there’s no motion that tends to vice in man but I affirm it is the woman’s part! Be it lying, flattering, deceiving, lust and rank thoughts, revenges, ambitions, covetings chargèd with pride’s disdain, nights’ longing, slanders, mutability—all faults that may be namèd, nay, that Hell knows!—why, hers, all or in part!
But rather all!—for even to Vice they are not constant, but are ever exchanging one vice but a minute old for one not half so old as that!
I’ll write against men, detest them, curse them! Yet ’tis greater skill in true hate to pray they have their will!—the very devils cannot plague them better!
“Now say: what would Caesar Augustus with us?” Cymbeline sits upon his throne; his queen is on hers beside him, and their court is in attendance, along with lords from the island’s farther reaches.
Caius Lucius stands before the king. “When Julius Caesar—whose remembrance yet lives in men’s eyes, and will to ears and tongues be hearing and theme ever!—was in this Britain and conquered it, Cassibelan, thine uncle—famous in Caesar’s praise, nor a whit less in his feats deserving it—from him and his succession granted Rome a tribute, yearly three thousand pounds. Which by thee lately is left untendered,” he adds—as if surprised.
“And, to kill thy marveling, shall be so ever!” says the queen harshly.
Cloten is standing beside her. “There’ll be many Caesars ere another Julius. Britain is a world by itself!—and we will nothing pay for wearing our own noses!”—a gibe; Romans’ coins show the feature as distinctive.
“That which he had opportunity to take from’s, to retain have we again!” says the queen.
She turns to Cymbeline. “Remember, sir my liege, the kings your ancestors!—together with the natural splendor of your isle, which stands as Neptune’s park, ribbed and palèd-in with oaks unscalable, sands”—shoals—“with roaring waters that will not bear your enemies’ boats, but suck them down, even to the topmast!
“A kind of conquest Caesar made here—but made not here his brag of came and saw and overcame! With shame—that first that ever touchèd him!—was he carried from off our coast, twice beaten! And his ships—poor, ignorant baubles on our terrible seas!—upon their surges cracked as easily as egg-shells ’gainst our rocks!
“For joy whereof the famèd Cassibelan, who was once at the point of mastering Caesar’s sword!—oh, harlot Fortune!—made Lud’s Town”—earliest London—“bright with rejoicing fires, and made Britons strut with courage!”
As the British courtiers applaud the spirited encomium, Cloten says flatly: “Come, there’s no more tribute to be paid. Our kingdom is stronger than it was at that time; and, as I said, there is no more such Caesars. Others of them may have crooked noses, but owning such strength in arms, none.”
Cymbeline frowns. “Son, let your mother end.”
But Cloten persists: “We have yet many among us can grip as hard as Cassibelan! I do not say I am one—but I have a hand!” He means for weapons, of course, but among those who know him, the comment prompts grins.
“Why tribute?” asks Cloten. “Why should we pay tribute? If Caesar can hide the sun from us with a blanket, or put the moon in his pocket, we will pay him tribute—for light!” he tells the ambassador. “Else, sir, no more tribute, pray you know.”
Cymbeline rises—finally. “As you must know,” he tells Lucius, “till the injurious Romans did extort this tribute from us, we were free. Caesar’s ambition, which swelled so much that it did almost stretch the sides o’ the world, against all colours here”—despite the many British clans—“did put a yoke upon us. Which to shake off becomes a warlike people, whom we reckon ourselves to be!”
The lords of Britain concur vocally and heartily: “We do!”
The monarch continues: “Say, then, to Caesar: our ancestor was that Mulmutius who ordained our laws—whose use the sword of Caesar hath too much mangled, and whose repair and franchise shall, by the power we hold, be our good deed, though Rome be therefore angry! Mulmutius who made our laws was but the first of Britain who did put his brows within a golden crown and call himself a king!”
Caius Lucius listens to the court’s vigorous approbation. “I am sorry, Cymbeline, that I am to pronounce Caesar Augustus—Caesar, who hath more kings as his servants than thyself domestic officers!—thine enemy! Receive it from me, then: in Caesar’s name I pronounce ’gainst thee war and devastation! Look for a fury not to be resisted!”
Then the Roman bows politely. “I thank thee, thus defied, for myself.”
“Thou art welcome, Caius,” says Cymbeline kindly. “Thy Caesar knighted me; my youth I spent much under him; from him I garnered honour—which he to take back perforce behooves me to resist utterly!”
He is well aware of the other rebellions now challenging the Roman Empire. “I am perfect that Pannonia and Dalmatia for their liberties are now in arms—a precedent which not to read would show the Britons cold. So Caesar shall not find them!”
The ambassador is confident. “Let proof speak.”
Cloten sneers. “His majesty bids you welcome; make pastime with us a day or two, or longer. If afterwards you seek us in other terms, you shall find us within our salt-water sash. If you beat us out of it, it is yours; if you fall in the adventure, our crows shall dine the better for you! And there’s an end.”
Caius Lucius sees the discomfiture the dolt is causing the noble sovereign, and will not protract it. “So, sir.”
King Cymbeline goes to the Roman. “I know your master’s pleasure, and he mine.
“All that remains is, ‘Welcome!’” he says cordially.
They will share reminiscences, and talk further, over supper.
Pisanio reads a letter, one of two newly arrived from Rome—and is dismayed by the topic. What? Of adultery! Wherefore write you not what a monster is her accuser?
Leonatus, oh, master, what strange infection is fall’n into thine ear! What false Italian, as poisonous tongued as handed, hath prevailed on thy too-ready hearing? Italians are thought to be especially treacherous—and prone to use poison for political gain.
He reads further. Disloyal! No!—she’s punished for her truth!—and undergoes, more goddess-like than wife-like, such assaults as are aimed to take in some of that virtue!
Oh, my master, thy mind toward her is now as low as are thy fortunes!
He is appalled by the next passage: What?—that I should murder her! Under the love and truth in vows which I have made to thy command?—I? Her?—her of royal blood!
If to do so be good service, never let me be counted serviceable!
How look I, that I should so much seem to lack humanity as to come to this crime?
He reads Leonatus’s words: ‘Do’t! The letter that I have sent her shall by her own command give thee opportunity.’
O damnèd paper!—dark as the ink that’s on thee! Senseless bauble, art thou a feodary for this act, yet look’st so virgin-like outside?
He sees Imogen. Lo, here she comes. He intends to shield her: I am ignorant of what I am commanded….
“How now, Pisanio!”
He gives her the other missive. “Madam, here is a letter from my lord.”
“Who?—thy lord?” cries Imogen, delighted. “That is my lord—Leonatus!
“Oh, learnèd indeed were that astrologer who knew the stars as I his characters! He’d lay the future open!” she says, admiring her husband’s handwriting on the folded paper. “You good gods, let what is here containèd relish of love, of my lord’s health, of his being content!”
Hastily she amends: “But not that we two are asunder!—let that grieve him! Some griefs are medicinal; that is one of them, for it doth physic love! Of his contentment in all but that!
“Good wax, thy leave!” she says happily, breaking the signet-impressed red seal. “Blest be you bees that make these locks of counsel! You play not alike for men in dangerous contracts and lovers: though forfeiters you cast in prison,”—by confirming failed agreements, “yet you clasp the young to Cupid’s tables!”
Imogen holds the letter close to her heart for a moment. Good news, gods! she prays.
She reads: ‘Injustice of your father’s wrath, should I be taken in his dominion,’—caught in Britain, ‘could not be so cruel as you, O thou costliest of creatures, if you would never renew me with your eyes.
‘Take notice that I am in Cambria, at Milford Haven.
‘What your own love will out of this advise you, follow.
‘He who wishes you all happiness remains loyal to his wish for your increasing love.
The writer’s last bitter line—about Giacomo—cost him the most; but his innocent wife has no reason to look for irony or sarcasm.
“Oh, for a horse with wings! Hear’st thou, Pisanio!—he is at Milford Haven! Read, and tell me how far ’tis thither!” Elated, she hands him the letter. “If one of plain affairs may plod it in a week, why may not I glide thither in a day, true Pisanio?—one who long’st as I do to see thy lord!”
She smiles, blushing. “Let me abate: not as I do!—thou long’st, but in a fainter kind. Oh, not like me!—for mine’s beyond beyond!
“Speak, and say headily!—love’s counsel should fill the bores of hearing, to the smothering of the sense!—how far it is to this same blessèd Milford!
“And, along the way, tell me how Wales was made so happy as to inherit such a haven!
“But first, how may we steal from hence?—and then excuse the gap that we shall make in time between our going and our return.”
Imogen is annoyed; she is, after all, a princess. “Why should excuse be bourn?
“Or e’er begot?” she laughs, at the play on born. “We’ll talk of that hereafter.
“But first of all, how get thence!” She is giddy with eagerness. “Prithee, speak: how many miles may well be ridden ’twixt hour and hour?”
“’Twixt sun and sun, one score,”—twenty, “madam, is enough for you,” Pisanio tells her. He thinks, sadly, And too much, too!
“Why, man, one that rode to ’s execution could never go so slow! I have heard of riding wagers where horses that run at the hourglass’s behest have been nimbler than the sands!
“But this is foolery! Go, bid my woman feign a sickness—say she’ll home to her father! And provide me immediately with a riding-suit no costlier than would befit a franklin’s housewife”—the spouse of a property-owning commoner; Imogen will disguise herself.
“Madam, you’d best consider—”
“I see before me, man!—neither here nor there nor what ensues has a fog on it that I cannot look through!
“Away, I prithee! Do as I bid thee!”
He bows and goes, folding up her letter.
She sighs happily. “There’s no more to say! Accessible is none but Milford way!”
In the mountainous lands along the coast of western Wales, bright sunrise draws a leathery old hunter, clad in faded black, to peer from within a sheltered cave. A rough, sunburnt hand slides along the rocky side of the low entrance as Belarius ducks down, then cautiously emerges and looks around at the narrow green valley.
“A goodly day not to keep house, for such whose roof’s as low as ours!” Inside, two strong young men with bows are approaching. “Stoop, boys; this gate bows you to a morning’s holy office—and instructs you how to adore the heavens! The gates of monarchs are archèd so high that giants may jaunt through and keep their impious turbans on, without a ‘Good morrow’ to the sun.
“Hail, thou fair heaven! We house i’ the rock—yet use thee not so hardly as prouder livers do!”
“Hail, heaven!” says the elder brother, standing at the dark opening.
“Hail heaven!” cries the younger, beside him.
“Now for our mountain sport,” says Belarius, rubbing his hands together eagerly. “Up to yond hill! Your legs are young; I’ll tread these flats.
“Consider, when from above you perceive me as a crow, that it is place which lessens or sets off!—and so you may resolve what I have told you in tales of courts, of princes, of the tricks in war.
“This service so done is not ‘service!’ Being thus allowed but to apprehend draws us a profit from all things we see!
“And often shall we find, to our comfort, that the sharded beetle is in a safer hold than the full-wingèd eagle!
“Oh, this life is nobler than waiting for rebuke, richer than doing nothing for a bauble, prouder than rustling in unpaid-for silk! What the cap one gains to make him fine keeps his book yet unglossèd!”
“No life, compared to ours!”
“Out of your proofs ”—experiences—“you speak!” complains Guiderius. “We poor unfledgèd have never winged from view of the nest, nor know not what air is away from home! Haply this life is best, if quiet life be best—sweeter to you that have known one sharper, and corresponding well with your stiff age.
“But unto us it is a cell of ignorance!—a prison for a debtor who dares not stride past a limit!—travailing a-bed!”—only dreaming.
His brother concurs. “What should we speak of when we are as old as you? When we shall hear the rain and wind beat dark December, how, in this our pinching cave, shall we discourse the freezing hours away? We have seen nothing!
“We are beastly: clever as the fox—for game; warlike as the wolf—for what we eat! Our valour is to chase what flees! In our cage we make a choir as doth a prisoner bird, and sing freely—of bondage!”
Belarius scoffs. “How you speak!” He crouches, tugs at the tall grass still sparkling with dew to gain a blade to chew, and looks down beyond the lower hills toward the sea. “Did you but know the city’s usuries—and feel them knowingly!
“The arts o’ the court, as hard to leave as keep, whose top to climb is a certain falling—or so slippery that the fear is as bad as falling!
“The pain of war: toil that seems to seek out danger i’ the name of fame and honour—which but die i’ the search—and hath as oft a slanderous epitaph as record of fair act! And, many times, ‘doing well’ doth ill deserve.
“What’s worse, courtesy must shown during a censure!
“Oh, boys, this story the world may read in me!
“My body’s markèd by Roman swords, and my report was once first with the best of note! Cymbeline loved me, and when soldier was the theme, my name was not far off! Then was I as a tree whose boughs did bend with fruit!
“But in one night, a storm—or robbery, call it what you will—shook down my mellow hangings, nay, even my leaves, and left me bare to the weather!”
Says the older brother sadly, “Uncertain favour.”
“My fault being nothing!—as I have told you oft! But two villains, whose false oaths prevailed before my perfect honour, swore to Cymbeline I was confederated with the Romans!
“So followed my banishment! And these twenty years this rock and these demesnes have been my world, where I have lived in honest freedom—paid more pious debts to heaven than in all the fore-end of my time.”
He rises. “But this is not hunters’ language! Up to the mountains! He that strikes the venison first shall be the lord o’ the feast!—to him the other two shall minister! And we will fear no poison, which attends in places of greater state.
“I’ll meet you in the valleys.”
And so begins their day of hunting again for food.
The grizzled man muses, watching as the youths climb, skillfully and silently. How hard it is to hide the sparks of Nature! These boys little dream they are sons to the king—nor does Cymbeline know that they are alive!
They think they are mine; and though trainèd-up thus meanly i’ the cave wherein they bow, their thoughts do hit the roofs of palaces, and nature prompts them, even in simple and low things, to prince-it much beyond the trick of others!
This Polydore, the heir of Cymbeline and Britain, who the king his father called Guiderius— He laughs. Jove! When on my three-leg stool I sit and tell the warlike feats I have done, his spirits fly out into my story!—says he, ‘Thus mine enemy fell, and thus I set my foot on ’s neck!’ And then the princely blood flows in his cheek! He sweats, strains his young sinews, and puts himself in posture that acts my words!
The younger brother, Cadwal, once Arviragus, in as like a figure strikes life into my speech—and shows much more his own conceiving!
He looks up. Hark!—the game is rousèd!
He gazes eastward. O Cymbeline! Heaven and my conscience know thou didst unjustly banish me! Whereon I stole those babes, at three and two years old, thinking to bar thee of succession as thou bereft’st me of my land!
He remembers, tearfully, his wife. Euriphile, thou wast their nurse; they took thee for their mother.
He watches the climbers. And every day they do honour to her grave.
Myself—Belarius, that am ‘Morgan’ callèd—they take for natural father. He stands in a high hill’s shadow, ruminating.
A clatter—of a startled deer’s hooves, kicking up stones as it runs, and the cries of two excited young men racing in pursuit—brings him back.
As morning sunlight slants closer, he again ponders the future of the young princes he loves as sons.
Slowly he nods, and sighs. The game is up….
“Thou told’st me, when we left the horses, the place was near at hand!” protests Imogen, looking around eagerly; the seaport town of Milford Haven lies ahead, in the Welsh valley far below. “Ne’er longèd my mother to see me first as I long now, Pisanio! Man, where is Posthumus?”
They have traveled fast, she disguised as a freeholder’s young wife. But now she is surprised to see that the servant is perturbed. “What is in thy mind, that makes thee stare thus?” she asks. “Wherefore breaks that sigh from the inward of thee? One but painted thus would be interpreted a thing perplexed beyond self-explication! Put thyself into a havior of less fear, ere wildness vanquish my staider senses!”
Pisanio reaches into his coat.
“What’s the matter? Why tender’st thou that paper to me with a look untender? If’t be summer news, smile to’t before; if winterly, thou need’st but keep that countenance still!”
She looks at the letter with foreboding. “My husband’s hand! That drug-damnèd Italy hath out-craftied him, and he’s at some hard point! Speak, man!—thy tongue may take off some extremity which to read would be even mortal to me!”
He blanches at the phrasing. “Please you, read!—and you shall find me, wretched man, a thing the most disdainèd by Fortune!”
Imogen reads: ‘Thy mistress, Pisanio, hath played the strumpet in my bed!—the testimonies whereof lie in me, bleeding! I speak not out of weak surmises but from proof as strong as my grief—and as certain as I expect my revenge!
‘That part thou, Pisanio, must act for me, if thy faith be not tainted with the breach of hers.
‘Let thine own hands take away her life!
‘I shall give thee opportunity at Milford Haven—she hath my letter for the purpose—where, if thou fail to strike and to make me certain it is done, thou art the pandar to her dishonour, and equally to me disloyal!’
Pisanio sees her hands fall, her face drained pale. Why would I need to draw my sword? The paper hath cut her throat already!
No, t’was the slander!—whose edge is sharper than the sword, whose tongue outvenoms all the serpents of Nile, whose breath rides on the posting winds, and doth belie, in all corners of the world, kings, queens and states, maids, matrons!—nay, the secrets of the grave this viperous Slander uninters!
He looks at her, sadly. “What cheer, madam?”
Imogen is angry. “False to his bed! What is it to be false?—to lie in watch there, and to think on him? To weep ’twixt ’clock and ’clock?—if nature demands sleep, to break it with a fearful dream of him, and cry myself awake? That’s false to’s bed, is it?”
“Alas, good lady—”
“I, false? My perception is witless! Giacomo, when thou didst accuse him of inconstancy, thou looked’st like a villain; now methinks thine acuity was good enough!” The princess paces, thinking. “Some she of Italy whose mother was her painting”—a creature born of cosmetics—“hath betrayed him!”
Her anger rises. “I am, poor stale, a garment out of fashion! Because I am richer than to hang by the walls,”—too costly for display alone, “I must be rippèd!—to pieces with me!
“Oh, men’s vows are women’s traitors! By thy revolt, O husband, all seeming good shall be thought put on for villainy!—not born where’t grows, but worn—as ladies-bait!”
“Good madam, hear me—”
“Honest men like Aeneas, being heard in his time, were thought false, while Sinon’s weeping”—as he betrayed Troy—“did scandal up many a holy tear—steal pity from a wretchedness most true!
“So thou, Posthumus, wilt belay the leaven”—halt the rise—“of all proper men: false and perjured shall be goodly and gallant, following thy great call!”
Furious, she turns to Pisanio. “Come, fellow, be thou honest!—do thou thy master’s bidding! And when thou see’st him, witness a little my obedience!
“Look!—I draw the sword myself!” she cries, jerking his blade from its sheath. “Take it, and hit the innocent mansion of my love, my heart!
“Fear not!—’tis empty of all things but grief! Thy master is not there, who was indeed the riches of it. Do his bidding!” she demands, proffering the hilt. “Strike!”
He stands motionless.
She chides: “Thou mayst be valiant in a better cause, but now thou seem’st a coward!”
Pisanio knocks the sword from her hand. “Hence, vile instrument! Thou shalt not damn my hand!”
“Why, I must die!” protests Imogen. “And if I do not by thy hand, thou art no servant of thy master’s!”
He turns away.
“Against self-slaughter there is a prohibition so divine that it cravens my weak hand,” she tells him. “Come—here’s my heart!” Imogen moves a hand to her bosom. “Something’s afore’t. Soft, soft… we’ll have no defence!—obedient as a scabbard!”
She pulls several letters from her bodice. “What is here? The scriptures of the loyal Leonatus, all turned to heresy!” She tears them in half and lets the pieces fall beside his crumpled message to Pisanio. “Away, away, corrupters of my faith! You shall no more be companions to my heart! Thus may poor fools believe false teachers!
“Though those that are betrayèd do feel the treason sharply, yet the traitor stands in worse case of woe! Thou, Posthumus, thou that didst stir up my disobedience ’gainst my father the king, and made me put into contempt the suits of princely fellows, shalt find it is no common act”—a dig at his not being a noble—“of passage toward the hereafter, but a strain of rareness!
“And I myself grieve to think of how—when thou shalt be dislodgèd by her that now thou thrust upon—thy memory will then be panged by me!”
Fighting the urge to retch, Imogen turns furiously to Pisanio. “Prithee, dispatch! The lamb entreats the butcher! Where’s thy knife?—thou art too slow to do thy master’s bidding, when I desire it, too!”
He is frantic. “Oh, gracious lady, since I received command to do this business I have not slept one wink!”
“Do’t!—and to bed then.”
“I’ll make mine eye-balls blind first!”
“Wherefore then didst undertake it? Why hast thou abused so many miles—mine action and thine own, our horses’ labour—with a pretence? Is the time”—with war imminent—“inviting thee to this place to perturb the court—whereunto I purpose never to return!—by my being absent?
“Why hast thou gone so far, only to be unbent”—like a hunter’s lowered bow—“when thou hast ta’en thy stand, and the elected doe is before thee?”
“But to win time to lose so bad employment!—for the which I have considered of a course!” Pisanio tells her. “Good lady, hear me with patience!”
“Speak!—talk thy tongue weary! I have heard that I am a strumpet!—mine ear, struck falsely therein, can take no greater wound—nor bandage to the depth of that! But speak.”
“Then, madam, as I thought you would not go back again—”
“Most likely,” cries Imogen bitterly, “bringing me here to kill me!”
“Not so, neither: if I were but as wise as honest, then my purpose would prove well!
“It cannot be but that my master is abusèd! Some villain!—aye, one singular in his art!—hath done you both this cursèd injury!”
“Some Roman courtezan!”
“No, on my life!” cries Pisanio, retrieving the sent letter to him.
He faces her, and speaks urgently. “I’ll give him but a notice you are dead, and send some bloody sign of it; for ’tis commanded I should do so. You shall be missed at court, and that will well confirm it!”
“Why, good fellow, what shall I do the while? Where abide? How live? Or find in my life what comfort, when I am dead to my husband?”
“If you’ll back to the court—”
“No court!—no father!” Imogen is adamant. “Nor no more ado with that harsh, notably simple nothing, that Cloten!—whose love-suit hath been to me as dreadful as a siege!”
“If not at court, then not in Britain must you bide.”
Imogen nods, slowly. “Wherein hath Britain all the sun that shines? Day, night—are they but in Britain? In the world’s volume, our Britain seems of ’t, but not all of it!—in a great pool, a swan’s nest! Prithee, think there’s livers out of Britain!”
Pisanio picks up the sword and sheathes it. “I am most glad you think of other places: Lord Lucius, the ambassador from Rome, comes through Milford Haven tomorrow. Now, if you should bear a mind as stark as your fortune is, and disguise that which must not yet appear as itself, for danger, you could tread a course readily and in full view—yea, haply near the residence of Posthumus!—so nigh at the least that, though his actions were not visible, yet report should render him truly to your ear as hourly he moves!”
“Oh, for such means! Though at peril of my modesty, but not the death of’t, I would adventure!”
“Well then here’s the point: you must forget to be a woman!
“Change! Obedience, fear and softness—the handmaids of all women—or, more truly, Woman its pretty self—conceal in a waggish courage! Be ready with gibes!—quick to answer, saucy—and as quarrelsome as a weasel!
“Nay, you must forgo that rarest treasure, your pale cheek, exposing it—but, woe thy hardy heart, alack, no remedy!—to the greedy touch of common-kissing Titan!”—sunlight, destroyer of delicate skin tones. “And forget the laboursome and dainty trims wherein you made great Juno angry!”—aroused envy even in Jupiter’s queen.
She demands, rudely, “Nay, be brief!” She notes that he is taken aback—and grins. “I see unto thy end, and am almost a man already!”
He laughs. “First make yourself but look like one. Fore-thinking this, I have already fitted apparel to thee; ’tis in my cloak-bag: doublet, hat, hose—all that will answer!
“I would that you—in their styling, and with what imitation you can borrow from such as is man’s in season of youth—’fore noble Lucius present yourself! Desire his service; tell him wherein you’re skilled—which you’ll make him know, if his head have ear for music!” Her voice is melodious. “Doubtless with joy he will embrace you, for he’s honourable—and, doubling that, most holy!
“As for means abroad, you have rich… meed”—only great deserving, he admits. “But I will never fail—beginning, nor supplyment!”
Imogen’s eyes glisten. “Thou art the comfort the gods will diet me with.
“Prithee, away! There’s more to be considered, but we’ll keep even with all that good Time will give us!” Lord Lucius will soon return to Rome, and she hopes to sail there with him. “This attempt I am soldier to, and will abide it with a prince’s courage!” She looks down at the harbor. “Away, I prithee.”
Pisanio is pleased. “Well, madam! We must take a short farewell, lest, being missed, I be suspected of your carriage from the court.” He reaches into a pocket. “My noble mistress, here is a box; I had it from the queen. What’s in’t is precious: if you are sick at sea, or stomach-qualmed on land, a dram of this will drive away distemper.”
He smiles, handing her the bundle of clothes. “To some shadows, and fit you to your manhood! May the gods direct you for the best!”
“Amen.” She says, touching his hand, “I thank thee.”
Pursuer and Pursued
The king and queen halt at the castle’s main entrance. “Thus far; and so farewell,” Cymbeline tells the Roman ambassador.
“Thanks, royal sir,” Caius Lucius replies. “My emperor hath wrote; I must from hence—and am right sorry that I must report ye my master’s enemy.”
“Our subjects, sir, will not endure his yoke; and for ourself to show less sovereignty than they must needs appear unkinglike.”
“So, sir. I desire of you a conduct overland to Milford Haven.” Lucius bows courteously to the queen. “Madam, all joy befall Your Grace.”
Says the hostile queen curtly, “And you.”
“My lords,” Cymbeline tells two of his courtiers, “you are appointed for that office; the due of honour in no point omit!
“So farewell, noble Lucius!”
The ambassador turns to Cloten. “Your hand, my lord….”
“Receive it friendly—but from this time forth I wear it as your enemy!”
“Sir, the event is yet to name the winner,” says the emissary gravely. “Fare you well.”
Cymbeline cautions, as the courtiers go, “Leave not the worthy Lucius, good my lords, till he have crossed the Severn.” The river’s mouth is between Britain and Wales. “Happiness!” he calls—almost wistfully—as his friend departs.
“He goes hence frowning,” the queen observes, “but it honours us that we have given him cause!”
“’Tis all the better,” says Cloten. “Your valiant Britons have their wishes in it!”
But the peaceable monarch is pensive. “Lucius hath written to the emperor how it goes here and had a reply; it befits us, therefore, that our chariots and our horsemen be in readiness. The powers that he already hath will soon be drawn to head in Gallia, from whence he moves his war for Britain.”
The queen frowns, concerned. “’Tis not sleepy business, but must be looked to speedily and strongly!”
“Our expectation that it would be thus hath made us move forward,” the king tells her calmly. “But, my gentle queen, where is our daughter? She hath not appeared before the Roman, nor to us hath tendered the duty of the day! She looks at us like one made more of malice than of duty—we have noted it!
“Call her before us,” he tells an attendant, “for we have been too slight in our sufferance!”
The queen appears to feel sympathy for the princess. “Royal sir, since the exile of Posthumus, most retirèd hath her life been—the cure whereof, my lord, ’tis time must do. Beseech Your Majesty, forbear sharp speeches! She’s a lady so tender of rebuke that words are strokes, and strokes death to her!” She has reason to think the princess might soon fall deathly ill.
The attendant returns, alone.
“Where is she, sir?” demands Cymbeline, annoyed. “How can her contempt be answered?”—defended.
“Please you, sir, her chambers are all locked!—and there’s no answer that will be given to the loudest noise we make!”
The queen speaks soothingly. “My lord, when last I went to visit her, she prayed me to excuse her keeping close,”—staying in her quarters, “whereto constrainèd by her infirmity, she should that duty leave unpaid to you which daily she was bound to proffer. This she wished me to make known; but our great court made me to blame in memory.”
“Her doors locked? Not seen of late?” cries Cymbeline. “Grant, heavens, that what I fear prove false!” He hurries down the corridor, quickly trailed by his startled attendants.
“Son, follow the king I say!”
Cloten frowns. “That man of hers—Pisanio, her old servant—I have not seen these two days….”
“Go, look after!” orders the queen. He goes.
She thinks of the serving man. Pisanio, who stand’st so for Posthumus! He hath a drug of mine; I pray his absence proceed from swallowing that, for he believes it is a thing most precious.
But as for her, where is she gone? Haply despair hath seized her!—or, wingèd with fervor of her love, she’s flown to her desirèd Posthumus! Gone she is—to death or to dishonour.
And my end can make good use of either! She being down, I have the placing of the British crown!
She sees Cloten returning—alarmed. “How now, my son?”
“’Tis certain she is fled! Go in and cheer the king—he rages!—none dares come about him!”
“All the better! May this night forestall him from the coming day!” She strides away, hoping to find a mortally stricken king—and prepared, if not, to strike.
Cloten frets again in his festering anger toward Imogen. I love and hate her!
For that she’s fair and royal, and hath all courtly parts more exquisite than lady—ladies—Woman! From every one, the best she hath; and she, of all compounded, outsells them all! I love her therefore.
But disdaining me and throwing favour on the low Posthumus so slanders her judgment that what’s else rare is chokèd!—and on that point I will conclude hating her!—nay, indeed being revenged upon her! For when fools shall—
Who is here? He sees Pisanio peeking into the hall from a side door. Cloten calls: “What?—are you backing, sirrah? Come hither! Ah, you precious pander!” He has no doubt that the princess has gone to meet her husband. “Villain, where is thy lady?—in a word, or else thou art straightway with the fiends!”—dispatched to Hell, he warns, grabbing the front of the man’s coat.
“Oh, good my lord—”
“Where is thy lady? Oh, by Jupiter, I will not ask again! Silent villain, I’ll have this secret from thine art, or rip thy heart to find it! Is she with Posthumus?—from whose so-many weights of baseness cannot a dram of worth be drawn!” He shoves the smaller man away.
Pisanio spreads his hands. “Alas, my lord, how can she be with him?—he is in Rome! When was she missed?”
“Where is she, sir? Come nearer; no further halting!—satisfy me home! What is become of her!”
Pisanio hesitates: “Oh, my all-worthy lord—”
“All-worthy villain! Reveal where thy mistress is at once, at the next word! No more of ‘worthy lord!’” He draws his sword. “Speak, or thy silence on the instant is thy condemnation and thy death!” He touches the sharp steel point to the servant’s throat.
Pisanio swallows, trembling. “Then, sir, this paper is the history of my knowledge touching her flight.” He offers Leonatus’s letter summoning Imogen to Wales.
Cloten seizes the paper. “Let’s see’t! I will pursue her even to Augustus’ throne!”
Thinks poor Pisanio, Either this or perish! She’s far enough—and what he learns by this may prove to be his travail, not her danger!
She is disguised, and Lucius should soon set sail.
Cloten sheathes his sword, and peers at the writing. “Hmh….”
Pisanio wants to proceed. I’ll write to my lord she’s dead. O Imogen, safe mayst thou wander, safe return again!
Cloten glares at him. “Sirrah, is this letter true?”
“Sir, as I think—”
“It is Posthumus’ hand!—I know’t!
“Sirrah, if thou wouldst not be a villain, do me true service: undergo those employments wherein I should have cause to use thee with a serious industry! That is, what villainy soe’er I bid thee do, perform it directly and truly, and I would think thee an honest man! Thou shouldst neither want my means for thy relief, nor my voice for thy preferment!”
Pisanio is urged to honest villainy—again. His left hand touches his neck, which was nicked by the blade. “My good lord—”
“Thou wilt serve me well! For, since patiently and constantly thou hast stuck to the bare fortune of that beggar Posthumus, thou canst not, in the course of gratitude, be a but diligent follower of mine! Wilt thou serve me?”
Pisanio’s fingers are slick with blood; he holds a kerchief to the cut on his neck. “Sir, I will.” Will serve him as he deserves.
“Give me thy hand; here’s my purse.” Pisanio accepts the pouch of coins. “Hast any of thy late master’s garments in thy possession?”
“I have, my lord, at my lodging, the same suit he wore when he took leave of my lady and mistress….”
Cloten is pleased. “The first service thou dost me, fetch that suit hither! Let it be thy first service; go.”
Pisanio bows. “I shall, my lord.” He hurries to the servants’ quarters.
I forgot to ask him one thing; I’ll remember’t anon. Cloten blinks. Meet thee at Milford Haven!—even there, thou posthumous villain, will I kill thee!
He paces. I would those clothes were come! She said, upon a time—the bitterness of it I now belch from my heart!—that she held the very garment of Posthumus in more respect than my noble and natural person, together with the adornment of my qualities!
With that suit upon my back will I ravish her!
First, kill him—and before her eyes!
Then shall she see my ‘valour!’—which, commended to her, will be a torment!
He on the ground, my ‘speech of insultment’ endeth on his dead body!
And when my lust hath dined—which, as I say, to vex her I will execute in the clothes that she so praisèd!—to the court I’ll kick her back!—foot her home again!
She hath despised me rejoicingly—and I’ll be merry in my revenge!
Pisanio returns, with the clothing.
“Be those the garments?”
“Aye, my noble lord.”
Cloten remembers his question. “How long is’t since she went to Milford Haven?”
Pisanio equivocates. “She can scarce be there yet….” He hopes she’s gone—aboard a ship sailing for Italy.
“Bring this apparel to my chamber. That is the second thing that I have commanded thee; the third is that thou wilt be a voluntary mute to my design. Be but duteous and true, preferment shall tender itself to thee.
“My revenge is now at Milford—would I had wings to follow it! Come—and be true!”
Pisanio follows the fop. Thou bid’st me to my loss!—for true to thee were being false—which I will never be!—to him that is most true! To Milford go—and find not her whom thou pursuest!
Flow, flow upon her, you heavenly blessings! May this fool’s speed be crossed with slowness; labour be his meed!
Cloten heads to his rooms in the palace. After an hour’s cursing and muttering of vile vows, he will ride—galloping toward Cambria.
A gentleman, quite young and not very tall, is passing down through a verdant Welsh valley as the afternoon sun sinks lower. He pauses to rest at a bend in his path.
I see that a man’s life is a tedious one! groans Imogen. She looks back, up the stony slopes. I have tired myself, yet for two nights together have made the ground my bed! I should be sick, but that my resolution helps me!
Milford, when from the mountain-top Pisanio showed me thee, thou wast within a ken!
She has lost sight of the town while walking down between the hills. O Jove, I think foundations fly from the wretched!—such, I mean, as should be relievèd! Two beggars told me I could not miss my way! Why would poor folk that have afflictions on them lie, knowing ’tis a punishment or a trial?
Yet no wonder, when rich ones scarce tell true! To lapse while in fullness is sorer than to lie for need! Then falsehood is worse in kings than in beggars.
Imogen pictures Leonatus. My dear lord, thou art one o’ the false ones. Now that I think on thee, my hunger’s gone; but just before, I was at point to sink for lack of food!
But what is this? She has noticed the mouth of a cave, nearly hidden by brush. Here is a path to’t; ’tis some savage’s hold! I were best not to call….
With great caution, she moves closer, peering into the darkness beyond the low entrance. I dare not call—yet famine, ere it can o’erthrow a nature, makes it valiant! Plenty and peace breed cowards—hardness is ever mother of hardiness!
“Ho! Who’s here?” she calls. “If any thing that’s civil, speak; if savage, take or defend!
No answer? Then I’ll enter. Best draw my sword…. Hefting the long blade, the princess is sharply aware of knowing nothing about using such weapons. If mine enemy fear me as much as I this sword, he’ll scarcely face us! The gleaming steel quivers before her. Such a foe!—good heavens!
But she moves, slowly, carefully, into the cool dimness.
The princess has crept well inside, feeling her way along the rock wall with her left hand, when at the entrance Lord Belarius approaches, returning from the day’s hunt with Guiderius and Arviragus.
“You, Polydore, have proved best woodman, and are master of the feast!” he tells the elder prince, as they near the cavern. “Cadwal and I will play the cook and servant! ’Twas our match—the sweat would dry, and industry die, but for the end it works toward!
“Come; our stomachs will make what’s homely savoury! Weariness can snore upon flint, while rested sloth finds the down pillow hard!
“Now peace be here, poor house, that keep’st thyself,” says Belarius, as they reach the servantless home. He crouches to duck beneath the rocky ledge, and goes inside.
“I am thoroughly weary!” confesses Guiderius.
“I am weak with toil—yet strong in appetite!” laughs Arviragus, who has carried the game.
“There is cold meat i’ the cave,” says his brother. “We’ll nibble on that whilst what we have killed be cooked.”
Belarius comes out—wide-eyed. “Stay!—come not in! But that it eats our victuals, I should think here were a fairy!”
“What’s the matter, sir?” asks Guiderius.
“By Jupiter, an angel!—or, if not, an earthly paragon!” He points, as the disguised Imogen emerges—sheepishly, with the sword back in its sheath. “Behold divineness—no elder than a boy!”
“Good masters, harm me not!” she cries. “Before I entered here, I called!—and thought to have begged or bought what I have took! In good troth, I have stol’n nought, nor would not, though I had found gold strewed on the floor!
“Here’s money for my meat! I would have left it on the board so soon as I had made my meal—and parted with prayers for the provider!”
Guiderius scoffs. “Money, youth?”
“Gold and silver, rather, ill-turnèd to dirt,” scowls Arviragus. “’Tis reckoned no better but by those who worship dirty gods!” The recluses have little use for coins.
“I see you’re angry,” says Imogen. “Know, if you’d kill me for my fault: I should have died had I not made it!”
Belarius steps closer, and asks, sternly, “Whither bound?”
“To Milford Haven.”
“What’s your name?”
“Fidele, sir. I have a kinsman who is bound for Italy; he embarks at Milford—to whom being going, almost spent with hunger I am fall’n in this offence.”
Belarius nods, then smiles; despite their hermit-like posture, the men are quite charmed by the pale, ingenuous boy. “Prithee, fair youth, think us no churls, nor measure our good minds by this rude place we live in. Well encounterèd! ’Tis almost night; you shall have better cheer”—food—“ere you depart!—and thanks to stay and eat it!
“Boys, bid him welcome!”
“Were you a woman, youth, I should woo hard but to be your groom!” says the older, studying the boy’s delicate features. He blushes. “I’d bid for you in honesty—as I’d buy.”
Arviragus concurs, but laughs. “I’ll make’t my comfort he is a man: I’ll love him as my brother!”
Guiderius tells Imogen, “And such a welcome as I’d give to him after long absence, such is yours! Most welcome! Be sprightly, for you fall ’mongst friends!”
Imogen smiles. “Amongst friends.” But she turns, wearily, and goes to sit upon a wide, round rock. If brothers…. I would it had been so!—that they had been my father’s sons! Although both boys were abducted before her birth, she has often thought about what they might be like.
Then had my price been less—and so balancing more equal with thee, Posthumus.
In the presence of male heirs to the throne, the king’s daughter would have seemed better matched to her husband.
Belarius sees the tears in her eyes, her slender hands clutched together upon her lap. He tells the young men softly, “He wrings some distress.”
“Would I could free’t!” says Guiderius earnestly.
“Or I, whate’er it be, what pain it cost, what danger, gods!” whispers Arviragus.
Belarius hushes them. “Hark, boys….” They speak quietly among themselves.
Imogen, weak with hunger, regards the three, touched by their concern for a poor stranger. She had heard, from far off to the east, of disciples who have begun to propagate a new kind of thinking about others. Great men who had a court no bigger than this cave—who did attend themselves, and, laying aside the nothing of gift-offering multitudes, had but the virtue which their own conscience certified in them—could not out-peer these twain!
Pardon me, gods: since Leonatus is false, I’d change my sex to be a companion with them!
Belarius intends to shelter Fidele; he nods to the two princes, who also hope to bring comfort to the troubled young traveler. They are agreed. “It shall be so.
“Boys, we’ll go dress our hunt”—prepare the game for cooking. He goes into the cave, and, with a courtly bow and gesture, invites Imogen. “Fair youth, come in!” he says kindly. “Discourse is heavy, fasting; when we have supped, we’ll mannerly demand of thee thy story, so far as thou wilt speak it.”
“Pray, draw near,” says Guiderius, entering the cave.
Arviragus smiles. “As the night to the owl, and morn to the lark, no less welcome!”
Imogen’s young gentleman rises. “Thanks, sir.”
“I pray, draw near,” says Arviragus.
As the sun sets, they follow the others into the cave, now aglow with the light of torches.
In Rome tonight, patrician lords meet with two of the commoners’ elected representatives.
“This is the tenor of the emperor’s writ,” a senator tells the tribunes. “That—since the common troops are now in action ’gainst the men of Pannonia and Dalmatia, and the legions in Gallia are too weak to undertake, alone, our war against the fall’n-away Britons—we do incite the gentry to this business.
“He creates Caius Lucius proconsul; and for this immediate levy he commends his absolute commission to you the tribunes.” He hands the taller man a scroll authorizing them to impress gentlemen into service as officers—force them join commoners already conscripted as soldiers to invade Britain. “Long live Caesar!”
“Is Lucius general of the forces?” asks the other tribune, stroking his beard thoughtfully.
“Remaining now in Gallia?”—just across the water from the British.
The senator nods. “With those legions which I have spoken of, whereunto your levy must be supplyant. The words of your commission will tie you to the numbers and the time of their dispatch.”
The tribunes bow. “We will discharge our duty.”
Cloten, riding alone, surveys the surrounding Welsh hills this morning. Satisfied, he dismounts. I am near to the place where they should meet, if Pisanio have mapped it truly.
He is wearing Leonatus’s clothes. How fitly his garments serve me! Why should the mistress of him that was made by a tailor not fit me too?—especially as, with all due reverence for the word, ’tis said, a woman’s fitness comes by fits! —between menses. Therein I must play the workman!
He ties the reins to a sturdy branch on a small pine, and walks toward the bend ahead—noticing, with satisfaction, his own legs.
I dare speak it to myself—for it is not vainglory for a man and his mirror to confer in his own chamber— He stumbles but manages to stay upright, and continues walking. I mean, the lines of my body are as well drawn as his: no less young, more strong, not beneath him in fortunes, beyond him in the advantage of the time, above him in birth, alike conversant in general services, and more remarkable in single oppositions!
He scowls, thinking of Imogen. Yet this unperceiving thing loves him in my despite!
Rounding a turn, he stops. Here mortality is! Posthumus, thy head, which now is growing upon thy shoulders, shall within this hour be off, thy mistress enforcèd, thy garments cut to pieces before her face!
And all that done, I’ll spurn her home to her father!—who may perhaps be a little angry for my so-rough usage. But my mother, having power over his testiness, shall turn all into my commendations.
He looks around. This is the very description of their meeting-place, and the fellow dare not deceive me.
Actually, Pisanio has sent him to a lonely, barren spot well outside and above the town.
My horse is tied up safe. Out, sword, and on to a sore purpose!
Fortune, put them into my hands!
Cloten moves forward, stealthily, and crouches behind some bushes, to wait for the fatal rendezvous.
Barely concealed, not far behind him, is the low entrance to the cavern.
In the sleeping area at the back, Belarius has been watching Fidele—with sympathy. “You are not well; remain here in the cave; we’ll come to you after hunting.”
In the time he has spent with them, the gentle lad has endeared himself to the hardy hunters.
“Brother, stay here,” Arviragus urges softly. “Are we not brothers?”
She smiles. “As man and man should be: clay and clay, whose dust is both alike, differing but in regard. I am not very sick.” Imogen has been pressing to hunt with them.
“Go you to hunting,” Guiderius tells the others. “I’ll abide with him.”
That draws a protest from Fidele. “So sick I am not yet! I am not well, but not so wanton a citizen as to seem to die! So please you, leave me; stick to your journal course!—the breach of custom is breach of all! I am ill, but your being by cannot mend me; society is no comfort to one not sociable.”
The men still look worried.
“I am not very sick, since I can reason of it,” she argues. “Pray you, trust me here—I’ll rob none but myself—and, stealing so poorly, let me die!” she laughs.
Guiderius laughs, too, and throws a comforting arm around the boy’s shoulders. “I love thee!—I have spoken it! How much the quantity?—the weight as much as I do love my father!”
“Eh?—what? What!” cries Belarius in mock indignation.
Arviragus tells the white-bearded man, “Even if it be sin to say so, I yoke me in my good brother’s offense! I know not why I love this youth; but I have heard you say, ‘Love’s reason is without reason’”—the heart is beyond argument. With a young man’s casualness about death, he grins. “A bier at door, and the demand, ‘Who is’t shall die?’—I’d say ‘My father; not this youth!’”
Belarius only laughs and shakes his head. But he thinks, watching the prince, Oh, noble strain! Oh worthiest of Nature—bred of greatness! Cowards father cowards, and base things sire base; nature hath bran and meal, contempt—and grace!
He regards the young men. I’m not their father, yet he who should be, if not belovèd by me, doth mirror himself.
“’Tis the ninth hour o’ the morn,” the old warrior notes gruffly; they are late for starting to work.
“Brother, farewell,” Arviragus tells Imogen—his sister, though he doesn’t know it.
She smiles. “I wish ye sport!”
“You, health!” says he, ready to begin the day’s outing. “So please you, sir,” he says courteously to Belarius.
Imogen watches as the hunters move forward in the cave to gather their weapons. These are kind creatures.
Gods, what lies I have heard!—our courtiers say all’s savage but at court! O experience, thou disprovest report! The seas, imperious, breed monsters; for the dish, poor tributary rivers sweet fish!
Still, I am sick—heart-sick! Pisanio, I’ll now taste of thy drug. She rises and finds the small box in a coat pocket. She swallows some of the powdered mixture, and starts toward the front.
Just outside the cave entrance, Guiderius quietly advises the other men, “I could not stir more from him; he said he was gentle but unfortunate—dishonestly afflicted, but yet honest.”
Arviragus nods. “Thus did he answer me; yet said that hereafter I might know more.”
But Belarius is eager for the day’s hunt. “To the field, to the field!” He turns as Fidele reaches them. “We’ll leave you for this time; go in and rest.”
“We’ll not be long away,” Arviragus promises.
“Pray, be not sick—for you must be our housewife!” gibes Belarius.
The boy laughs. “Well or ill, I am bound to you!”
“And shalt be ever,” says Belarius, reassuringly, as the men walk from the cave. The three confer as they ready themselves. The old man looks back. “This youth, how’er distressèd he appears, hath had good ancestors.”
“How angel-like he sings!” says young Arviragus, tightening his bow-string.
“And his skillful cookery!” adds Guiderius, attaching a long, sheathed knife to his belt. “He cut our roots into alphabets, and sauced our broth as if Juno had been sick, and he her dieter!”
“Nobly he yokes smiling with a sigh,” says Arviragus, “as if the sigh were sad about not being a smile—and smile mocked sigh for flying from so divine a temple, to commix with winds that sailors rail at!”
Guiderius concurs: “I do note that grief and patience, both rooted in him, mingle their stems together.”
“Grow, patience!” wishes Arviragus. “And let thy sinking elder, grief, untwine its perishing stem from thy increasing vine!”
Belarius wants no further delay. “It is great morning! Come!—away!” But as they start to go, he is startled to spot someone, his back to them, rising in the brush. Whispering, the old man asks the princes, “Who’s there?”
Lord Cloten is very annoyed. “I cannot find those runagates! That villain hath mocked me!” Vexed by Pisanio’s trick, and hot in the unfamiliar light of daytime, he pulls off his hat and wipes his forehead in frustration. “I am faint!”
- Belarius speaks with quiet urgency: “‘Those runagates!’ Means he not us? I partly know him… ’tis Cloten, the son o’ the queen! I fear some ambush! I saw him not these many years, and yet I know ’tis he!” He glances around. “We are held to be outlaws! Hence!”
- “He is but one!” says tall Guiderius. “You and my brother search out what companions are near! Pray you, away; leave me alone with him.”
Warily, the other two hurry off, in different directions.
Cloten now notices them and strides forward. “Soft!—what are you that fly me thus? Some villain mountaineers!”—brigands. “I have heard of such! What slave art thou?” he demands.
Guiderius steps toward him, already offended. “I ne’er did anything more slavish than answer a slave—with a knock!”
“Thou art a robber, a law-breaker—a villain! Yield thee, thief!”
Guiderius scoffs. “To whom? To thee? What art thou? Have not I an arm as big as thine?—a heart as big? Thy words, I grant, are bigger—for I wear not my dagger in my mouth! Say what thou art—why I should yield to thee.”
“Thou villain base, know’st me not by my clothes?” asks Cloten haughtily.
“No—nor the rascal tailor who is thy stepfather: he made these clothes which, as it seems, make thee!”
“Thou precious varlet, my tailor made them not!”
Guiderius waves him away. “Hence, then!—and thank the man who gave them thee: thou art such a fool I am loath to beat thee!”
Cloten glowers. “Thou injurious thief, hear but my name—and tremble!”
“What’s thy name?”
“Cloten, thou villain!”
Guiderius laughs. “If double ‘Cloten-thou-villain’ be thy name I cannot tremble at it! Were it Toad, Adder, or Spider, ’twould move me sooner!”
Cloten scowls. “To thy further fear—nay, to thy sheer consternation!—thou shalt know I am son to the queen!”
“I am sorry—about your not seeming so worthy as thy birth!”
Cloten stares. “Art not afeard?”
“Those that I reverence, them I fear: the wise. Fools I laugh at, not fear!”
His face red with rage, Cloten draws his sword. “Die the death!” he cries. “When I have slain thee with my proper hand, I’ll follow those that even now fled hence—and on the gates of Lud’s Town”—Britain’s capital—“set your heads!”
He rushes forward, but Guiderius drives the vicious thrust aside with his own plain broadsword.
“Yield, rustic mountaineer!”
The prince backs away, countering each of the angry slashes.
Then he surges forth, driving Cloten back with a relentless rain of heavy blows.
“No companies abroad?” asks Belarius, meeting Arviragus as they return to the cave entrance.
“None in the world. You did mistake him, surely.”
“I cannot tell,” says the old man, frowning. “Long is it since I saw him, but time hath nothing blurrèd those lines of ill-favour which then he wore!” He shakes his head. “The snatches in his voice, and bursts of speaking, were as his…. I am positive: ’twas very Cloten!”
Arviragus looks around, worried. “In this place we left them. I wish my brother marked good time with him you say is so fell!”—so deadly.
“Being scantly made up—I mean, as a man—he has no apprehension of roaring terrors, for the effect of judgment is oft the cause of fear,” says Belarius. His contempt is mixed with concern, though: obtuse fearlessness can be dangerous. “But, see!—thy brother!” he cries.
Guiderius returns—with a severed head dangling by the hair from his right hand. “This Cloten was a fool!” He lifts the trophy. “An empty purse: there was no money in’t! Not Hercules could have knocked out his brains, for he had none!
“Yet, I not doing this, the fool had borne my head as I do his.”
The other men stare, aghast. “What hast thou done?” gasps Belarius.
Guiderius shrugs. “I am certain of what: cut off the head of one Cloten, son to the queen, after his own report—who called me traitor!—mountaineer!—and swore that with his own single hand he’d take us in—displace our heads from where, thank the gods, they grow, and set them on Lud’s Town bridge!”
Belarius groans. “We are all undone!”
“Why, worthy father, what have we to lose but what he swore to take?—our lives! The law protects not us,” says Guiderius. “Then why should we be so tender as to let an arrogant piece of flesh threaten us?—play judge and executioner all by himself, because we do respect the law!
“What company discover you abroad?”
“No single soul can we set eye on,” Belarius admits. “But in all safe reason, he must have some attendants! Though his mood was nothing but mutation—aye, and that from one bad thing to a worse!—no frenzy of absolute madness could so far have raved as to bring him here alone!
“Although perhaps it may be heard at court that such as we cave here, hunt here, are outlaws, and in time may make some stronger head,”—join forces with other rebels, “the which hearing, he might, as is like him, break out in swearing he’d fetch us in, yet is’t not probable to come alone!—either he so undertaking, or they so permitting!
“Thus on good grounds do we stare, if we fear his body hath a tail more perilous than the head!”
Arviragus is unafraid. “Let ordinance come as the gods foresay it! Howsoe’er, my brother hath done well!”
But old Belarius recalls forebodings. “I had no mind to hunt this day; and the boy Fidele’s sickness did make my way coming forth long….” It is nearing noon.
Guiderius cites the angry assault he faced: “With his own sword—which he did wave against my throat!—I have ta’en his head from him. I’ll throw’t into the stream behind our rock, and let it wash to the sea—and tell the fishes he’s the queen’s son Cloten!
“That’s all I reck,” he says, striding away to dispose of the still-dripping remnant.
Lord Belarius is concerned. “I fear ’twill be revenged.” He tells Guiderius as he heads toward the creek, “Though valour becomes thee well enough, Polydore, I would ye hadst not done’t.”
“Would I had done’t!” cries Arviragus, “so the revenge pursued me alone! Polydore, I love thee brotherly, but envy much that thou hast robbed me of this deed! I would that revenges which opposable strength might meet would seek us through—and put us to our answer!”
“Well, ’tis done,” says Belarius. “We’ll hunt no more today, nor seek for danger where there’s no profit. I prithee, go to our rock. You and Fidele play the cooks; I’ll stay till hasty Polydore return, and bring him to dine presently.”
“Poor sick Fidele; I’ll willingly go to him. To restore his colour I’d let a parish of such Clotens’ blood!—and praise myself for restraint!” Arviragus heads toward the cave.
Sitting on a flat rock under the hot midday sun, Belarius ponders.
O thou goddess, thou divine Nature, how thyself thou blazon’st in these two princely boys! They are as gentle as zephyrs blowing below the violet, not wagging its sweet head—and yet as rough, their royal blood enchafèd, as the rudest wind that doth shake the mountain pine by the top, and make it stoop to the vale!
’Tis a wonder that an invisible instinct should frame them to royalty unlearnèd, honour untaught, civility not seen from others—valour that wildly grows in them, but yields a crop as if it had been sowèd!
That the two young men have been well taught, by fine example indeed, does not occur to the humble soul. After a few minutes he rises. Yet still it’s strange what Cloten’s being here to us portends—or what his death will bring us!
Guiderius returns from the fast-flowing tributary, his hands rinsed clean of blood. “Where’s my brother? I have sent Cloten’s clotpoll down the stream—in embassy to his mother; his body is hostage for its return!”
And then they look up, surprised to hear sad, slow music—a dirge—coming from the cave.
“My simple instrument,” says Belarius, who carved the wooden pipe himself. “Hark, Polydore, it sounds! But what occasion hath Cadwal now to give it motion? Hark!”
“Is he at home?”
“He went hence even now.”
“What does he mean?” They listen to the sorrowful tones. “Since the death of my dear’st mother, it did not speak; for only a solemn time should its accidence be answer!
“The matter?” He frowns. “Triumph’s for nothing, and lamenting toys is jollity for apes and grief for boys! Is Cadwal mad?”
Belarius points. “Look, here he comes!—and brings in his arms the dire occasion of what we blame him for!”
Arviragus, tears streaking his face, carries a willowy body. “The bird is dead that we have made so much of!” he moans. “I had rather have skipped from sixteen years of age to sixty—to have turned my leaping time to one on a crutch!—than to have seen this!”
“O sweetest, fairest lily,” groans Guiderius, “my brother wears thee not half so well as when thou grew’st by thyself!”
Belarius moans. “O Misery, which never yet could discover thy depth, sound the ooze to know what coast might most readily harbour this slug of care!” He looks at the peaceful face. “Thou blessèd thing, Jove knows what a man thou mightst have made—but I know thou diedst, most rare boy, of melancholy.
“How found you him?”
“Stark as you see, thus smiling—as if some fly-tickled slumber, as if Death’s dart were being laughed at—his right cheek reposing on a cushion.”
“Where?” asks Guiderius.
“O’ the floor, his arms thus leaguèd; I thought he slept, and I pulled my clouted brogues, whose rudeness answered my steps too loud, from off my feet.”
Guiderius, wiping away tears with his sleeve, smiles. “Why, he does but sleep: if he be gone, he’ll make his grave a bed!—with female fairies will his tomb be haunted!” he says, tenderly touching the young face. “And worms will not come to thee.”
The younger prince lowers the lad gently to the turf. “Whilst summer lasts and I live, here, Fidele, with fairest flowers I’ll sweeten thy sad grave,” pledges Arviragus. “Thou shalt not lack the flower that’s like thy face, pale primrose; nor the azured harebell, like thy veins; no, nor the leaf of eglantine, which, not to slander, out-sweetened not thy breath!
“Then would ruddock”—robin—“with charitable bill—a bill sorely shaming those rich-left heirs that let their fathers lie without a monument—bring thee all this. Yea, and furrèd moss besides, when flowers are none, to winter-guard thy corpse.”
Says Guiderius, tearfully, “Prithee, have done; and do not play with wench-like words in that which is so sad. Let us bury him, and not protract with admiration what is now due debt to the grave.”
His brother nods. “Say, where shall ’s lay him?”
“By good Euriphile, our mother.”
“Be’t so. And let us, Polydore, though now our voices have got the mannish crack, sing him to the ground as once we did our mother—use like note and words; Fidele must be sent to Euriphile.”
“Cadwal, I cannot sing,” says Guiderius, his voice rasping. “I’ll weep, and word it with thee; for notes of sorrow out of tune are worse than temple priests that lie.”
“We’ll speak it, then.”
Guiderius brings a spade out from the cave, and they approach the body.
Says Lord Belarius sternly, “Great griefs I see—meditation the less, for Cloten is quite forgot! He was a queen’s son, boys; and though he came as our enemy, remember he was paid for that. Though the poor and the mighty, rotting, together leave one dust, yet Reverence—that angel of the world—doth make distinction of place ’tween high and low.
“Our foe was princely; and though you took his life as being our foe, yet bury him as a prince.”
Guiderius shrugs. “Pray you, fetch him hither. Thersites’ body is as good as Ajax’s, when neither is alive.” The legendary Greeks were a slender cynic and a powerful hero.
But Arviragus touches the old man’s shoulder. “If you’ll go fetch him, we’ll say our song the whilst.” Belarius nods, and goes to find the corpse. “Brother, begin.”
“Nay, Cadwal, we must lay his head to the east; my father hath his reason for’t” Britain lies east of them.
“Come on then, and we’ll move him.” They gently shift the slight figure on the soft grass.
“So,” says Arviragus. Holding their hats before them, they tearfully regard their sister as a brother—one found, then soon lost. “Begin.”
Guiderius speaks, softly:
“Fear no more the heat of the sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done;
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages.
Golden lads and girls all must,
As dandelions, come to dust.”
“Fear no more a frown of the great;
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke.
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak.
Sceptres lean and forsake must.
All follow so, and come to dust.”
“Fear no more the lightning flash,” says Guiderius.
“Nor all-dreaded, thunderous tone,” adds Arviragus.
“Fear not slander, censure rash.”
“Thou hast finished joy and moan.”
The princes intone together:
“Lovers young, as all others must,
Consign with thee in coming to dust.”
Guiderius again leads: “No exorciser harm thee.”
“Nor witchcraft charm thee.”
“Unsettled ghost forbear thee.”
“Nothing ill come near thee.”
They utter, voices choked: “Quiet consummation have.” “And reverenced be thy grave.”
Belarius returns, lugging a gruesome burden.
“We have done our obsequies,” says Guiderius. “Come, lay him down.”
While looking for the cadaver, Belarius had stooped to gather. “Here’s a few flowers; but after midnight more.” He will rise well before dawn. “The herbs that have on them cold dew o’ the night, laid upon their faces”—as if weeping—“are fitt’st for graves.”
Mournfully, he regards the dead. “You were as flowers, now withered; even as shall be these which we upon you strew,” he says, gently placing the blossoms.
“Begin we upon our knees,” he tells the princes, “then come away.” They all kneel before Fidele.
The white-haired man looks up to the hills, and beyond. “The ground that gave them first has them again: their pleasures here are past; so is their pain.”
The three rise, and they go up to a glade in the woods to dig two graves.
The boy’s body stirs.
Eyes still closed, Imogen sighs, slowly waking as the drug’s effect wears off. She murmurs, still half asleep, “Yes, sir, to Milford Haven….” “Which is the way?”
“…I thank you. … By yond bush?” She shifts onto her side. “…Pray, how far thither?”
She sits up, blinking slowly. “’Ods pittikins! Can it be six miles yet?—I have gone all night! ’Faith, I’ll lie down and sleep….”
She starts to lean back—and sees a man’s body. “But, soft!—no bedfellow!
“—O gods and goddesses!” she cries, scrambling away.
She rises, and edges unsteadily forward, peering at the corpse.
These flowers are like the pleasures of the world; this bloody man, the cares of’t!
She turns away and rubs her forehead. I hope I dream!—for so I thought I was a cave-keeper, and cook to honest creatures….
But ’tis not so! ’Twas but a dart of nothing, shot at nothing, which the brain makes of fumes!—our very judgment, like our nighttime eyes, blind!
In good faith, I tremble, stiff with fear! She looks up. But if there be yet left in heaven a drop of pity small as a wren’s eye, fearèd gods—a part of it! she pleads.
She looks down again. The dream’s here still! She moves closer and touches a sleeve. Even when I wake, it is without me as within me—not imagined, felt!
A headless man! She stares. The garments of Leonatus! I know the shape of’s leg!—this is his hand; his foot Mercurial; his Martial thigh!—the brawns of Hercules!
But his Jovial face!—’tis gone! Murder upon heaven—how?
She thinks: agents from Britain have managed to find Leonatus in Wales.
Pisanio!—all the curses madded Hecuba gave to the Greeks—and mine to boot!—be darted on thee! The queen of Troy cursed its besiegers after her husband’s slaughter. Thou, conspiring with that ridiculous devil Cloten, hast cut off my lord here!
To write and read be henceforth treacherous! Damnèd Pisanio hath with his forgèd letters from this most bravest vessel of the world struck the main-top! Damn Pisanio!
Oh, Posthumus!—alas, where is thy head? Where’s that? Ay, me!—where’s that? Pisanio might have killed thee at the heart, and left thy head on!
How should this be?
Pisanio!—’tis he—and Cloten! Malice in him—and lucre!—have laid this woe here! Oh, ’tis pregnant, pregnant! The drug he gave me, which he said was precious and cordial to me—have I not found it murderous to the senses? That confirms it home! This is Pisanio’s deed—and Cloten’s!
She sways, looking around uneasily as fear returns; but she has an idea. She addresses the dead man: Oh, give colour to my pale cheek with thy blood, that we the horrider may seem to those who chance to find us!
She kneels and reaches over the body, intending to daub her husband’s protective blood onto her face.
But the shock is too much. “Oh, my lord,” she says weakly, “my lord….”
She faints, falling across the corpse.
Caesar Augustus’s new proconsul looks back, down into the valley, to observe as troops of his army make camp there in western Cambria, not far from the shore. The Welsh are no friends of the British.
The Romans’ chief military officer tells Caius Lucius, “To these add the legions garrisoned in Gallia that, after your will, have crossed the sea, attending you here at Milford Haven with their ships. They are in readiness.”
“But what from Rome?” asks Lucius, dismounting to lead his horse up though the vale with the officer, followed by several young soldiers, to gain a better view of the growing city of tents.
Those recently arrived from the Continent have brought word to their commander. “The Senate hath stirred up the residents and gentlemen of Italy—most willing spirits, that promise noble service! And they come under the conduct of bold Giacomo, Syenna’s brother!”
“When expect you them?”
“With the next benefit o’ the wind!”
Lucius can feel the strong, steady breeze flowing in off the sea. “This forwardness makes our hopes fair! Command our present numbers be mustered! Bid the captains look to’t!” The officer nods and goes.
The civilian leader of the empire’s forces against Britain turns to the soothsayer who came along with the troops from Rome. “Now, sir, what have you dreamed, of late, of this war’s purposes?”
The man frowns; everyone dreams. The deep voice is calm. “Last night the very gods showed me a vision! I fast, and pray for their intelligence; thus I saw Jove’s bird, the Roman eagle, wing it from the spongy south to this part of the west—and there vanish in the sunbeams!”
The proconsul’s eyebrows rise, questioning.
“Which portends, unless my sins abuse my divination, success to the Roman host!”
Lucius is hardly surprised; no one bets against Rome. “Dream often so, and never falsely,” he says dryly, as they round a turn. “Soft… ho!” he cries, after spotting two bodies on the ground ahead. “What trunk is here without its top?” he gasps, dismayed, as he approaches. “The ruin speaks that it was sometime a worthy building!”
He looks at Imogen. “What? A page!—either dead or sleeping on him! Dead rather, for our nature doth abhor to make a bed with the defunct.
“Let’s see the boy’s face.”
The officer reaches down and rolls the page onto his back. “He’s alive, my lord!” He helps the moaning youth to sit up.
“Then he’ll instruct us of this body,” says Lucius, kneeling beside Imogen. “Young one, inform us of thy fortunes, for it seems they crave to be demanded! Who is this thou makest thy bloody pillow? Or who was he that hath altered that good picture, otherwise than noble Nature did?
“What’s thine interest in this sad wreck? How came it? Who is it? What art thou?”
Says pale Imogen, weakly, “I am nothing. Or if not, to be nothing were better! This was my master, a very valiant Briton, and a good!—who here lies slain by mountaineers!
“Alas!—there are no more such masters!” she sobs, remembering the man she married.
But she needs help—and soon; she looks up, tearfully, at the nobleman she recognizes. “I may wander from Occident to east, crying out for a service,”—a new position, “try many, all good—serve truly—but never find another such master!”
Caius Lucius is touched by the boy’s grief, and respects his devotion. “Alack, good youth!—thou movest me no less with thy suffering than thy master in bleeding! Say his name, good friend.”
“Richard du Champ.” Thinks Imogen, If I do lie and do no harm by it, though the gods hear, I hope they’ll pardon it! She sees, through honest tears, that Lucius is speaking again. “Say you, sir?”
The Latin word means faithful. Lucius smiles. “Thou dost prove thyself the very same! Thy name well fits thy faith, thy faith thy name.”
The proconsul has no page here on the isle. “Wilt take thy chance with me?” he asks. “I will not say thou shalt be as well mastered, but, be sure, no less belovèd! The Roman emperor’s letters, sent by a consul to me, should not sooner than thine own worth recommend thee! Go with me!”
Imogen agrees. “I’ll follow, sir.” With the officer’s help, she rises. “But first, an’t please the gods, I’ll hide my master from the flies, as deep as these poor pickaxes”—she is wringing her hands—“can dig; and when with wildwood leaves and weeds I have strewed his grave, and on it said a century of prayers, such as I can, twice o’er, I’ll weep, and sigh goodbye.
“And, leaving so his service, follow you, so please you entertain me.”
“Aye, good youth!” says Lucius, again moved by the lad’s intense sorrow. “And rather father thee than master thee!”
He turns to the others. “My friends, this boy hath taught us manly duties!” He rises beside the corpse. “Let us find out the prettiest daisied plot we can; then make for him, with your pikes and halberds, a grave. Come, lift him.” Four soldiers grasp the body’s limbs to carry it.
“Boy, he is referred to us by thee,” Lucius tells Fidele, “and he shall be interrèd as soldiers can!
“Be cheerful!—wipe thine eyes. Some falls are means the happier to arise!”
Cymbeline tells an attendant, urgently, “Again!—and bring me word how ’tis with her!” The man bows and hurries away. “A-fever with the absence of her son!—a madness in which her life’s in danger!
“O heavens, how deeply you at once do touch me!” moans the king. “Imogen, a great part of my comfort, gone!—my queen upon a desperate bed!—and in the time when fearful war points at me! Her son gone, so needful for this present! It strikes me past the hope of comfort!”
He turns angrily to Pisanio. “But as for thee, fellow—who needs must know of her departure, yet dost seem so ignorant!—we’ll force it from thee by sharp torture!”
“Sir, my life is yours. I humbly set it at your will,” says Pisanio. “But as for my mistress, I nothing know where she remains or has gone, nor when she purposes to return! I beseech Your Highness, hold me to be your loyal servant!”
A tall lord intervenes: “Good my liege, the day that she was missing he was here! I dare be bound he’s true, and shall perform all parts of his subjection loyally! As for Cloten, there wants no diligence in seeking him.” The king fails to note the courtier’s disgust when he adds, sourly, “And no doubt he will be found.”
Cymbeline drops onto his throne, dejected. “The time is troublesome!” He glares at Pisanio. “We’ll slip you, for a season—but our forgiving does yet depend!”
The nobleman has a more pressing matter. He begins according to form: “So please Your Majesty, the Roman legions, all from Gallia drawn, are landed on your coast—with a supply of gentlemen sent by the Roman Senate!”
Cymbeline groans. “Oh, for the counsel of my son and queen! I am amazèd with matters!”
The courtier assures him. “Good my liege, your preparation can affront no less than what you hear of; come more, for more you’re ready!
“The want is but to put those powers in motion that long to move!” The British forces, already called, are eager to fight the invaders.
“I thank you,” says Cymbeline, rising wearily. “Let’s withdraw, and meet the time as it seeks us.” The lords will hold a council of war. “We”—the royal we: I—“fear not what can from Italy annoy us; but we grieve at what chances here!
“Away.” The king and advisors proceed to a hall with many tables and chairs—and maps.
Pisanio frets—but not about himself. I’ve had no letter from my master since I wrote to him Imogen was slain! ’Tis strange!
Neither hear I from my mistress, who did promise to yield me tidings often!
Nor know I what is betid to Cloten, but remain perplexed in all!
And he has qualms about withholding some of what he does know. As always, the heavens must work. Wherein I am false I am honest—not true, to be true.
These present wars shall find I love my country, even to the noting o’ the king—or I’ll fall in them!
All other doubts, by Time let them be cleared. Fortune brings—in some boats that are not steered!
Before their cave, Belarius—long since calling himself “Morgan”—faces rebellious sons.
“The noise is round about us!” says Guiderius. They have heard—and seen from hiding—the busy assembling of Roman forces, all nearly ready now to move east, toward Britain, for the imminent incursion.
“Let us from it!” urges Belarius.
“What pleasure, sir, find we in life, locking it from action and adventure?” asks Arviragus.
His older brother concurs. “And what hope have we in hiding us? That way the Romans must either slay us for being Britons, or receive us”—let them take part against the king—“as barbarous and unnatural rebels during their attack—and slay us after!”
But Belarius has decided. “Sons, we’ll go higher into the mountains, there secure us.
“To the king’s party there’s no going.” He paces, distraught. “Upon news of Cloten’s death, we being not known to them nor mustered among their bands, they may drive us to render where we have lived—and so extort from ’s what we have done!—response to which would be death, drawn on with torture!”
Guiderius frowns. “This doubt, sir, in such a time, is nothing becoming you—nor satisfying us!”
Arviragus too wants to join the British fighters. “It is not likely that when they hear the Romans’ horses neigh, behold their quartered fires!—have both their eyes and ears so cloyèd by invaders as now are ours!—that they will waste their time inquiring from whence are we!”
“Oh, I am known to many in the army!” counters Belarius. “And the years, as you see, wore not Cloten from my remembrance, though he was then but young!
“Besides, the king hath not deserved my service!—nor your loves, who find in my exile and thy want of rearing, only the certainty of this hard life!—hopeless to have the courtesy your cradle promised, but ever to be hot summer’s tanlings, and the shrinking slaves of winter.”
“Than be so, better to cease to be!” cries Guiderius. “Pray, sir—to the army! I and my brother are not known; yourself, so long out of thought, and thereto so o’ergrown, cannot be questioned!”
“By this sun that shines, I’ll thither!” insists Arviragus. “What a thing it is, that I never did see a man die!—scarce ever looked on blood, but that of coward hares, broiling goats, and venison!—never bestrid a horse, save one that had a rider like myself, who ne’er wore iron nor spur on his heel!” He and Guiderius, as children, briefly rode a farm animal, met along the way during a rare trip to the town. “I am ashamed to look upon the holy sun, to have the benefit of his blest beams, remaining so long a poor unknown!”
“By heavens, I’ll go!” exclaims Guiderius. “If you will bless me, sir, and give me leave, I’ll take the better care; but if you will not, the hazard therefore due falls on me at the hands of Romans!”
“So say I! Amen!” adds Arviragus.
The aging warrior realizes—proudly—that the princes are determined to fight in defense of Britain—their native land. But he simply shrugs. “Since of your lives you set so slight a valuation, no reason I should reserve my crackèd one to more care.”
And then he smiles. “Have with you, boys! If in your country’s wars you chance to die, that is my bed, too, lads, and there I’ll lie!”
The princes look at each other, chary, now, of offending the man they know as their father.
“Lead, lead!” he tells them gruffly; but his tearful pride cannot be hidden. The young men head eagerly into the cave to gather up their weapons.
The time seems long, thinks the old exile, following. Their blood holds kings in scorn—till it cry out to show them princes born!
The new forces under Roman gentlemen called into service on the emperor’s order have disembarked and joined a regular army, along with troops sent from Gallia; united, they start to move east, into Britain.
The imperial invasion has begun. And Posthumus Leonatus, banished from his forefathers’ land, finds himself compelled to return—and to serve among the Romans.
Just before sailing, he had received a parcel from Britain, one sent by Pisanio, containing a handkerchief—stained dark. Standing outside his tent, he once again holds it—and again weeps in anguish.
Yea, bloody cloth, I’ll keep thee, for I wishèd thou shouldst be coloured thus!
O Pisanio! Every good servant does not all commands!—no bond but to do just ones!
O married men, if each of you should take this course, how many must murder wives much better than yourselves for but wavering!
O Gods, if you had ta’en vengeance on my crimes—had stricken me, a wretch more worthy of your vengeance!—I had never lived to put on this one!—and so had you savèd the noble Imogen to repent!
But, alack, you snatch hence some for little fault, to have them we love fall no more—yet some permit to second ill, with ills each worse than the elder in the doer’s thoughts!—and make them dreaded!
He looks at the cloth—stained, actually, with Pisanio’s blood. Now Imogen is your own!
Leonatus bows his head in penitence. Do your best wills; and make me blest to obey.
He sees the officers milling around him. I am brought hither among the Italian gentry, and am to fight against my lady’s kingdom. But he has reached a resolution: ’Tis enough, Britain, that I have killed thy mistress. Peace!—I’ll give no wound to thee!
Therefore, good heavens, hear patiently my purpose: I’ll disrobe me of these Italian clothes, and suit myself as does a peasant Briton. So I’ll fight against the part I come with!—so I’ll die for thee, O Imogen, for whom my life is every breath a death! And thus unknown, not pitied nor hated, even in the face of peril myself I’ll dedicate.
Let me make men know more valour in me than my garb shows! Gods, put the strength o’ the Leonati in me!
To shame the guise o’ the world, I will begin a fashion: less without, and more within!
On a span of rocky land, the Romans encounter the British forces led forth by King Cymbeline to halt the invaders, and the battle is joined.
Riding and marching onto the field of battle from the west are the troops directed by Caius Lucius and spurred forward by Lord Giacomo. Striving to drive them back are proud ranks of Britons, soldiers of the army and militia troops from the counties, all now commanded by lords and knights of Cymbeline’s court.
The emperor’s proconsul demands payment of tribute to Rome; the defiant British noblemen assert their independence. Both sides’ gallant, well armored leaders call aloud, on horseback, to their gods for victory.
On the barren ground, cloth-clad men now find the fighting fierce and brutal. They move close in, and struggle against each other with spear, ax, sword and knife, then bloody fists, feet, thumbs and teeth. Gasping for breath, they send silent prayers to the heavens—for survival.
During an early skirmish, Lord Giacomo confronts a threadbare opponent who is fighting on foot, and who, with a powerful blow of the broadsword to the Roman’s chest armor, has left him unhorsed—and stunned.
Thinks Giacomo, as he staggers to his feet, The heaviness and guilt within my bosom take off my manhood! I have belied a lady—the princess of this country—and the error of it revengingly enfeebles me! How else could this churl, a very drudge of Nature’s, have subdued me?—in my profession! Knighthoods and honours, borne as I wear mine, are but titles scorned!
He stares, still dazed, as the tatterdemalion Briton fights valiantly against another Roman officer, and quickly kills him. If that thy gentry, Britain, go before this lout as he exceeds our lords, the disparity is that we scarce are men, and you are gods!
He turns, retrieves his fallen sword, and backs away hastily—frustration turning to fear.
The Briton—Posthumus Leonatus—shouts encouragement to his fellows as he fights on.
At one juncture of the continuing conflict, the king’s party is suddenly surprised—ambushed while chasing Romans through a ravine—and forced to turn back. Cymbeline stumbles and falls. A heavy young lord with him is killed, and the king is taken; two triumphant Roman soldiers grasp his arms, holding him prisoner, as two others, elated, call for their captain.
But three Britons spring to their sovereign’s rescue. “Stand, stand!” warns Belarius. “We have the advantage of the ground! The lane is guarded!—nothing routs us but the villainy of our fears!” His sword and hands are smeared with blood; he hardly looks fearful.
“Stand!” demands Guiderius.
“Stand and fight!” cries Arviragus.
And Leonatus strides up to support the British yeomen’s challenge.
The proud Roman soldiers will not yield; instead they step forward boldly—and die, cut down two at a time.
Cymbeline again leads his resurging army.
Caius Lucius, watching the battle, is appalled at the swift turn of fortune.
“Away, boy, from these troops, and save thyself!” he tells his new page, as the Roman soldiers fall back and scatter. “For friends kill friends when disorder’s such!—as if War were hoodwinked!”—blindfolded. He hurries after his fleeing men.
Wide-eyed Imogen turns to watch them go, and is soon engulfed by island defenders.
Lord Giacomo thinks Cymbeline has cleverly held troops in reserve. “’Tis their fresh supplies!”
“It is a day turned strangely!” mutters Lucius. “Let’s reinforce betimes—or fly!”
There are no Roman reinforcements. They flee.
Leonatus encounters a British lord who is edging cautiously forward from the rear.
“Camest thou from where they made the stand?” the nobleman asks the dusty, sweaty commoner.
“I did. Though you, it seems, come from the fliers.”
The courtier is somewhat abashed. “I did.”
“No blame be to you, sir; for all was lost—but that the heavens fought!” Leonatus describes it. “The king himself—destitute of his wing troops, the army broken, and but the backs of Britons seen, all flying through a straight lane!”—hurrying from a trap set by the Romans.
“The enemy—full-hearted, lolling their tongues in slaughtering, having work more plentiful than tools to do’t!—struck some down mortally, touched some slightly, felled others merely through fear!—so that soon the pass was dammed with dead men!—those beyond hurt, and cowards living to die with lengthened pain!”
“Where was this lane?”
“Close by the battle—ditched, and walled with turf!” Once in it, the Britons could move only forward or backward. “Which gave vantage”—opportunity—“to an ancient soldier—an honest one, I warrant!—who deserves so long a breathing as his white beard can come to, in doing this for ’s country!
“Athwart the lane,”—blocking British retreat, “he and two striplings—lads more likely to run a country race than to commit such slaughter—with faces fit for bold masks; rather fairer than those faces cased for preservation in shame—controlled the passage!
“They cried to those that fled, ‘Our Britain’s harts die flying, not our men!—to darkness fleet souls that fly backwards!
“‘Stand!—or we are Romans, and will beastly give you—looking back and frowning like beasts!—that which you shun!
“Those three—three-thousand confident!—in act so many, for three performers are a file, when all the rest do nothing—with this word ‘stand’—Stand!—accommodated by the site, persuading more with their own nobleness, which could have turned a distaff to a lance!—warmed pale looks, and spirits part shamed, part renewed!
“So that some, who’d been turned coward but by example—oh, a sin in war, damnèd in the first beginning it!—’gan to look to the way that they had come, and to glare like lions at the pikes o’ the hunters!
“Then began a stop i’ the chase—then a return!—anon a rout, destruction thick!
“Forthwith they—chickens, in how they stopped, as eagles flew!—slaves’ strides they made into victors’! And now our cowards, like fragments on hard voyages,”—stale provisions found by starving sailors, “on the need became the life!
“Having found the door open onto the unguarded hearts,”—the fallen, “heavens, how they wend back!—past some slain before, some dying; some their friends, o’erborne i’ the former wave.
“Ten are chased by one!—each Briton now the slaughter-man of twenty!
“Those Romans that would die before desisting are sown for the mortal bugs o’ the field!”
The courtier is amazed. “This was strange chance!—a narrow lane, an old man, and two boys!”
“Nay, do not wonder at it,” Leonatus tells the pusillanimous patrician. “You are made rather to wonder at the things you hear than to work any!” He asks the craven lord how he will describe the event, when safely back at the court. “Will you vent it as in mockery?—and rhyme upon’t?
“Here is one:
‘Two boys, one man twice a boy, and a lane
Preserved the Britons!—were Romans’ bane!’”
Leonatus sees the man’s face redden. “Nay, be not angry, sir.
“‘Alack, and to what end?
Who dares not stand against his foe,
Him I will befriend—
For if he does what he was made to do,
He’ll quickly flee my friendship too!”
Complains Leonatus, disgusted, “You have driven me into rhyme.”
The nobleman turns away stiffly. “You’re angry. Farewell.”
“Still going?” gibes Leonatus. He shakes his head. Aware of his own poor attire, he watches the peacock slink away. This is a lord! Oh, a noble misery!—to be i’ the field, yet ask ‘What news?’—of me!
Today, how many would have given their honours to have saved their carcasses?—took heel to do’t! And yet, dièd, too.
Under an enchantment—mine own woe, I could not find Death where I did hear him groan, nor feel him where he struck! Being an ugly monster, ’tis not strange he hides him—in fresh cups, soft beds, and sweet words!—and hath more ministers than we who draw his knives i’ a war!
Well, I will find him!
As for being now a favourer of Britain—no more a Briton!—I have resumed again the part I came in. Fight I will no more, but yield me to the veriest hind that shall once touch my shoulder! —to arrest a fugitive, banished and condemned. Great is the slaughter here made by the Romans; great be the answer that Britons must make!
He stands alone, exhausted and despairing. As for me, my ransom’s death, on either side. I came to spend my breath—which I’ll neither keep here nor bear away again, but end by some means—for Imogen.
Two British captains approach, with a band of weary soldiers. “Great Jupiter be praised!—Lucius is taken!” the older officer is telling the younger. He wags his head in astonishment: “’Tis thought the old man and his sons were angels!”
“There was a fourth man, in a pauper’s garb, who gave the affront with them!”
“So ’tis reported. But nothing of him can be found!” They spot Leonatus. “Stand! Who’s there?”
“A Roman,” says Leonatus, “who had not now been drooping here if seconds had answered him!”—others had heeded his demands to stay and fight.
“Lay hands on him!—the dog!” cries the older officer. “A lag of Rome shall not return to tell what crows have pecked here!”—report the British losses.
But he stares suspiciously at the prisoner. “He brags his service as if he were of note; bring him to the king.”
The fighting is done.
Ready to return east over land with the British royal party are the three heroic strangers, Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus—and the valorous Pisanio, bandaged, but no longer suspected of treachery.
Behind the regal procession are the troops, officers and soldiers, many of them injured and limping. Those following at the end are guarding prisoners.
Two captains approach King Cymbeline and bow deeply; their men bring forward a peasant, and the monarch motions for him to be taken to join the other battered captives at the rear.
The mighty Roman Empire, annoyed with this troublesome island, will soon withdraw its forces; in Wales, the Italians’ ships are already being prepared for the voyage home, as are those from Gaul.
The exhausted Britons now struggle to enjoy the victory, despite their pain and the loss of many companions. Tomorrow they will break camp. Except for those kept here long enough to bury the dead, the survivors will trudge steadily homeward.
Remorse, Atonement and Tidings
“Now you shall not be stolen—you have locks upon you!” gibes the fat warden, as the shackled captive is shoved into a dank cell in the palace dungeon. “So graze as you find pasture,” he mutters. It is too late to bring even such food as inmates get.
“Aye, or a stomach!”—courage. The beardless young jailer, never in battle, has only contempt for one who allows himself to be taken alive.
Leonatus watches the heavy iron door clank shut, leaving him in near-darkness.
Most welcome, bondage!—for thou art a way, I think, to liberty.
Yet am I better off than one that’s sick o’ the gout, since he would rather groan so in perpetuity than be cured by the sure physician: Death—who is the key to unlock these bars.
O my conscience, thou art fettered more than my shanks and wrists!
He kneels in prayer. You good gods, give me, a penitent, instrument to pick that bolt—then, free for ever!
Is’t enough to sorrow? So children temporal fathers do appease; and gods are more full of mercy….
Must I repent? ’Tis the main part! I can do better than shackles, desirèd more than constraining to my freedom, to satisfy you: take no stricter render of me than my all!
I know you are more clement than vile men, who from their broken debtors take a third, a sixth, a tenth, letting them thrive again on their abatement; that’s not my desire. For Imogen’s dear life take mine; and though ’tis not as dear, yet ’tis a life—you coined it!
But coins, he knows, are not minted perfectly. ’Tween man and man they weigh not every stamping—and take pieces, though light, for the figure’s sake —at face value, even though metal may have been trimmed off illegally.
You rather mine beings already yours! And so, great powers, if you will, take this audit: take this life, and cancel these cold bonds.
His most important obligations—commitments—were to his wife. He stands, and moans. O Imogen, in silence I’ll speak to thee.
The bereaved Briton sinks onto the cell’s narrow bench, and leans back against the rough stone.
At length he falls asleep, tears still wet upon his face.
From a high, narrow window, faint traces of radiance from a star touch his haggard visage.
The dreaming penitent perceives, vaguely, a soft, solemn strain of ethereal music from out of the vast night. An old man comes into view, arm in arm with a gray-haired matron: Sicilius Leonatus, with his wife, the mother of Posthumous. With them are two young men, Leonatus’s brothers; he can see the wounds from which they died during their wars with Rome.
They near the prisoner, and old Sicilius stops and peers upward—in bold defiance of Jupiter. No more, thou thunder-master, show thy spite on mortal flies!—with Mars fall out!—chide with Juno, who berates and revenges thy adulteries!
The warrior demands that the gods’ king cease fomenting war on earth, and contend instead with his own wife—who knows he’s often unfaithful.
Hath my poor boy, whose face I never saw, done aught but well? I died whilst in the womb he stayed, Nature’s law attending—he whose father thou shouldst then have been!—and shielded him from this vexèd earthly smart, as men report thou orphans’ father art!
The lady, too, glares up. Lucina lent not me her aid, but took me in my throes! From me was my Posthumus ript!—left crying ’mongst his foes!
Adds the father, As a thing of pity! But from his ancestry, great Nature moulded the stuff so fair that he deserves praise o’ the world as great Sicilius’ heir!
The older brother demands, angrily, When once he was maturèd man, where in Britain was one could stand his parallel?—or fruitful object be, in the eye of Imogen?—best meed unto his dignity!
Asks the mother, Wherefore in marriage was he mocked?—to be exilèd, thrown from Leonati seat, and cast from her, his dearest Imogen, the sweet!
Sicilius complains into the reaches beyond all clouds, Why did you suffer Giacomo—a slight thing of Italy!—to taint this nobler heart and brain with needless jealousy?—to become the pawn and scorn o’ th’ other’s villainy?
The younger brother addresses Jupiter: For this from stiller seats we came, our parents and us twain—who striving in our country’s cause fell bravely, and were slain, our fealty and Tenantius’ right with honour to maintain!
Like hardiment for Cymbeline hath Posthumus performèd! his brother insists. Then, Jupiter, thou king of gods, why hast thou thus abjured the graces for his merits due?—all being to dolours turnèd!
Thy crystal windows ope! cries Sicilius. Look out! No longer exercise upon a valiant race thy harsh and potent injuries!
The prisoner’s mother pleads: Since, Jupiter, our son is good, take off his miseries!
Peep from thy marble mansion! cries Sicilius. Help—or we poor ghosts will cry to the shining synod of the rest against thy deity!
Help, Jupiter! demands the older brother.
Or we appeal!—and from thy justice fly! adds the younger.
The threats have been heard. The stone walls vanish, and at a great distance in the blackness surrounding the frail platform, Jupiter himself appears over a billowing of white vapor—riding nearer, amid lightning and thunder, upon the back of an enormous eagle—its menacing talons hurtling toward them.
The frowning god flings ahead a bolt of lightning—and in its startling flash, the apparitions fall to their hands and knees.
As the thunder echoes away, Jupiter, hovering, scowls.
His voice booms out, Hush! No more, petty spirits of region low, offend our hearing!
He leans forward, and reaches out to point. How dare ghosts accuse the thunderer?—whose bolt I, sky-planted, throw to batter all rebelling coasts! Poor shadows of Elysium, hence, and rest upon never-withering banks of flowers! Be not with mortal incident opprest—it is no care of yours, you know—’tis ours!
The mighty eagle shuffles its feathers, smoothing the massive, folded wings, and the spirits cower, afraid even to look up past the huge, hooked beak.
The powerful voice is calmer, if no less imperious. Whom best I love I cross, to make my gift, delay’d, the more to delight! Be content; your low-laid son our godhead will uplift!—will his comforts thrive!
His trials well are spent. Our Jovial star reign’d at his birth, and in our temple was he marrièd. In rise and fade he shall be lord of Lady Imogen—and happier much by his affliction made!
This tablet lay upon his breast, wherein our pleasure his full fortune doth define.
And so, away! No further with your din express impatience—lest you stir up mine!
Mount now, eagle, to my palace crystalline!
The immense bird’s long wings extend, and the splendorous figures spring upward, then glide away through the starry night.
Sicilius rises slowly to his feet—still fearful; they might easily have been damned. He came in thunder!—his celestial breath was sulphurous to smell!—on the holy eagle he stooped as if to uproot us!
But now he looks up and watches, amazed: His ascension is to a place more sweet than our blest fields! His royal bird now trims immortal wings, and closes its beak, as when its god is pleased!
The others stand, gazing at the shimmering path of the disappearing deity.
Thanks, Jupiter! whisper Sicilius, as the image fades from view. The marble pavement closes; He is under his radiant roof.
The father reaches for the tablet—which in a twinkling becomes a little book of notes; he lays it over Leonatus’s heart.
Sicilius turns to the others. Away! And, to be blest, let’s with care perform his great behest!
The clear, silvery apparitions become more transparent—and vanish.
Leonatus awakens suddenly—refreshed and alert. He blinks.
O Sleep, thou hast been a grandsire, and begot a father to me!—and thou hast created a mother and two brothers! But, gone!—they went hence so soon as they were born. Oh, forlorn!
And so am I, awake. Poor wretches that depend on greatness’ favour dream as I have done—wake and find nothing!
But, alas, I swerve! Many cannot dream to find—neither deserve—and yet are steeped in favours! So am I, that have this golden chance, and know not why!
What fairies haunt this ground? He is much aware of the cramped cell’s rough walls—and of his recently fervent wish, now gone, for death.
He sits up, and is surprised when something falls onto the bench. A book? O rare one!—be not, as in our fangled world, a garment nobler than what it covers! To be most unlike our courtiers, let thy effects follow so—as good as promisèd!
Standing at the door’s small, barred window, he opens the slender volume and reads, by the flickering light of a torch in the corridor.
‘When a lion’s whelp, to himself unknown, shall without seeking find, and be embracèd by a peace of tender air;
‘And when branches lopped from a stately cedar, which, being dead many years, shall after revive, be jointed to the old stock, and freshly grow;
‘Then shall Posthumus end his miseries, and Britain be fortunate—flourish in grace and plenty!’
Leonatus puzzles over the words. ’Tis still a dream—such stuff as madmen tongue, but brain not; or else a senseless speaking, speaking of such as sense cannot untie! Or both—or nothing!
But whatever it is, the action of my life is like this—which I’ll keep, if but for sympathy. With difficulty, his manacled hands slip the thin book into a frayed coat pocket.
A clinking of keys from outside the row of cells heralds the warden. He unlocks the heavy door and pulls it open. “Come, sir. For death are you ready?”
Leonatus, surprised at feeling much better, quibbles wryly with a cook’s use of ready: “Over-roasted, rather! Ready long ago.”
“‘Hanging’ is the word, sir; if you be ready for that, you are well-cooked!”—drunk. Clearly craving a pint, the lugubrious keeper rubs his jowls and licks his lips.
A rough crowd commonly gathers around the gallows to enjoy a public execution, Leonatus knows. “If I prove a good repast for the spectators, ‘the dish pays the shot’”—the game’s meat justifies the hunter’s expense.
“A heavy reckoning”—tab—“for you, sir,” says the glum jail keeper. “But the comfort is, you shall be called to no more payments, fear no more tavern-bills which offset the procuring of mirth with sadness in paying for it.”
The seedy man’s girth suggests he knows what he’s talking about. “You come in, faint for want of meat,” he says, “and depart reeling with too much drink, sorry that you have paid too much—and sorry that you are paid too much”—punished with nausea and an aching head. “The brain, the heavier for being too light,”—hurt by heedlessness, “the purse too light, being drawn of its heaviness,”—drained of money, “purse and brain both empty! Of this contradiction you shall now be quit.”
The jailer nods sagely. “Oh, the charity of a penny cord!”—noose. “You have no true debtor and creditor but it: it sums up thousands in a trice—pen, book and counters for what’s past, is, and to come. The discharge, sir, is your neck.
“Soon follows the acquittance,” he adds mournfully; death cancels all bonds.
The condemned man laughs. “I am merrier to die than thou art to live!”
The tippler shrugs. “Indeed, sir, he that sleeps feels not the toothache.” He regards Leonatus dourly. “But a man with the hangman to help him to bed—who were to sleep your sleep!—I think he would change places with the officer! For, look you, sir, you know not which way you shall go.”
“Yes, indeed I do, fellow!” says Leonatus, increasingly buoyed by the propitious dream, and the book’s prophecy.
Says the jailer, “Your ‘Death’ has eyes in ’s head then; I have not seen him so pictured. You must either be directed by some that take upon them to know, or do take upon yourself that which I am sure you do not know. On you jump to the after-inquiry”—Judgment—“at your own peril!
“And how you shall fare in your journey’s end, I think you’ll never return to tell.”
As best he can in chains, Leonatus straightens his faded coat, and stands erect. “I tell thee, fellow, there are none who lack eyes to direct them the way I am going, but only such as close and will not use them!”
“I am sure hanging’s a way to close eyes. What an infinite mock is this—that a man should have the best use of eyes to see the way to blindness.” He has escorted many—too many—to the gallows, but heard few epiphanies. He motions for the prisoner to come out of the cell.
As they walk toward the door leading outside, a messenger from the court runs down between the rows of cells to the warden. “Knock off his manacles! Bring your prisoner to the king!”
“Thou bring’st good news,” says Leonatus. He feels oddly calm, with a profound new hope. “I am called to be made free.”
The warden is doubtful; kneeling to unbolt the iron shackles, he mutters, “I’ll be hanged then.”
“Then thou shalt be free, jailer!” laughs Leonatus. “No bolts for the dead!”
And soon the gentleman is briskly following the young messenger out of the dungeon.
The melancholy warden watches them go. Unless a man would marry a gallows and beget young gibbets, I never saw one so prone!
Despite himself, he has been moved. Yet, for all that he be a Roman—and there be some of them that died against their wills!—by my conscience there are verier knaves who desire to live!
So should I, if I were one.
It occurs to him that he is something of a knave.
I would we were all of one mind—and one good mind.
Then he laughs. Oh, there were desolation for jailers and gallowses!—I speak against my present profit!
He gazes up, thoughtfully, through a high window at a brightening star in the east.
But my wish holds a premonition in ’t….
Comfort and Joy
“Stand by my side, you whom the gods have made preservers of my throne!” says King Cymbeline, once again at the palace among his courtiers. Three lowly hunters from the hills of Cambria come forward and bow.
“Woe is my heart that the paupered soldier who so richly fought, whose rags shamed gilded arms, whose naked breast stepped before targes of proof,”—hardened shields, “cannot be found! He shall be happy who can find him, if our grace can make him so!”
Old Morgan remembers. “I never saw such noble fury in so common a thing—such precious deeds in one that promised nought but beggary and pleading looks!”
Cymbeline asks Pisanio, “No tidings of him?”
“He hath been searched for among the dead and living, but no trace of him found.”
“Then, to my grief, I am the heir of his reward,” says the king. But he beams at the three strangers. “Which I will add to yours—the spirit, heart and mind of Britain—by whom, I grant, she lives!
“’Tis now the time to ask of whence you are. Report it.”
Belarius replies—equivocally. “Sir, in Cambria we were born as gentlemen. Further to boast were neither true nor modest; unless I add, we are honest,” he says—sharply; it is a sore point.
“Bow your knees,” Cymbeline commands. He draws his sword, and touches the flat of its blade to each man’s shoulder.
“Arise my knights o’ the battle! I create you companions to our person, and will fit you with estates becoming your dignities!”
The three bow deeply as the courtiers applaud.
But now the king pales as the court physician arrives, accompanied by several waiting-gentlewomen. “There’s business in these faces. Why so sadly greet you our victory?” he asks Doctor Cornelius. “You look like Romans, and not of the court of Britain.”
The physician bows. “Hail, great king. I must report to sour your happiness: the queen is dead.”
Says Cymbeline, angrily, “Whom would this report worse become than a physician? But consider: by medicine life may be prolongèd, yet Death will seize the doctor too!” He has dreaded reaching this moment; the queen upon whom he had long relied has been ill for weeks. “How ended she?”
Cornelius’s face is stern. “With horror!—madly, like her life—which, being cruel to the world, concluded most cruelly to herself!”
He sees the king flush with anger. “So please you, I will repeat what she confessed! These her women, who with wet cheeks were present when she finished, can trip me, if I err.”
Cymbeline glares. “Prithee, say.”
“First, she confessed she never loved you—cared only for the greatness got by you, not you—married your royalty, was wife to your place—abhorred your person.”
The king is visibly shocked. “She alone knew this!—and, but that she spoke it dying, I would not believe her lips in opening it!” He moves slowly to her throne, and sadly touches its arm. He turns and looks at the doctor, tears in his eyes. “Proceed.”
“Your daughter, whom she pretended to love with much integrity, she did confess was as a scorpion to her sight!—whose life, but that her flight prevented it, she had ta’en off by poison!”
“O most delicate fiend,” groans Cymbeline. “Who is’t can read a woman?” Wearily, he sits upon his own gilded throne. “Is there more?”
Cornelius nods. “More, sir—and worse! She did confess she had for you a mortal mineral!—which, being took, should by the minutes feed on life, and lingering, waste you by inches!—during which time she purposed, by watching, weeping, kissing attendance, to o’ercome you with her show—and in time, when she had unfitted you with her craft, to work her son into adoption of the crown!
“But failing, in his strange absence, she grew desperate—and, at her end, shamelessly opened her purposes in despite of heaven and men!—regretted only that the evils she hatched were not effected!
“And so despairing, she died.”
Cymbeline looks to the ladies. “Heard you all this, her women?”
The eldest curtseys, and they all nod. “We did, so please Your Highness.”
Cymbeline is stricken again—by irony: So please Your Highness. He stares down, sadly, at his hands. “Mine eyes were not in fault, for she was beautiful… nor mine ears, that heard her flattery—nor my heart, that thought her like her seeming.” His voice, now barely audible, cracks with sorrow: “It had been vicious to have mistrusted her….
“Yet, O my daughter, that it was folly in me thou mayst say!—and thy fleeing proved it!”
He looks up, oblivious of the court. “Heaven mend all,” he moans—wondering, fearfully, where Imogen may be.
Guarded by soldiers, several of the captured Roman prisoners are being brought to face the British monarch. The king rises from his sad reflection as the procession enters the tall chamber.
Cymbeline glares at the invaders’ commander. “Thou comest now, Caius, not for tribute!—that the Britons have razèd out!—though with the loss of many a bold one.” The king steps forward. “Whose kinsmen have made suit that their good souls may be appeasèd with slaughter of you, their captives!—which ourself have granted!
“So think on your estate.” He turns away.
“Consider, sir, the chance of war!” says Lord Lucius. “The day was yours, as it happens; had it gone with us, we should not, when the blood was cool, have threatened our prisoners with the sword!
“But since the gods will have it thus—that nothing but our life may be callèd ransom—let it come! Sufficeth that a Roman a Roman’s heart can proffer!”
He adds, pointedly, “Augustus lives, to think on’t.
“But so much for my particular care,” says Lucius. “This one thing only will I entreat: my boy, a Briton born—let him be ransomed. Never had master a page so kind, so duteously diligent, so tender over his occasions!—so true, so graceful, so nurse-like!
“Let his virtue join with my request—which, I make bold, Your Highness cannot deny. Though he have served a Roman, he hath done no Briton harm! Save him, sir, if you spare no blood beside.”
Cymbeline motions the page forward. He stares. “I have surely seen him; his face is familiar to me….”
The queen’s heavy influence—and potions—now gone, the king feels strangely clear-headed. He smiles at the youth’s rosy cheeks, and the unblinking gaze of clear blue eyes. “Boy, thou hast looked thyself into my grace—and art mine own, I know not why. But I say, ‘Live, boy!’”
The page returns the smile, bows, and turns to Lucius.
Warns the king sternly, “Live, but ne’er thank thy master.” Still, seeing the boy’s admiration for his own old friend, he relents. “Ask of Cymbeline what boon thou wilt, befitting my bounty and thy state, and I’ll give it—yea, though thou do demand a prisoner—the noblest ta’en!”
“I humbly thank Your Highness,” says the page.
“I do not bid thee beg my life, good lad,” says Lucius, “and yet I know thou wilt.”
But the boy, facing the other prisoners, has suddenly become very distressed. “No… now, alack, there’s other work in hand!—I see something bitter to me as death! Your life, good master, must shuffle for a while….”
The Roman is stunned. “The boy disdains me!—he leaves me, scorns me! Briefly die their joys who place them on the truth of girls and boys!” And then he is surprised to see the page burst into tears. “Why stands he so perplexèd?”
Cymbeline tells the boy, who reminds him, somewhat, of his first wife, “I love thee more and more. What wouldst thou, boy?” he asks kindly. “Think more what’s best to ask….”
He sees that the page is staring at another prisoner in the sullen ranks. “Know’st him thou look’st on? Speak: wilt have him live? Is he thy kin? Thy friend?”
The boy looks up, wet cheeks red with indignation. “He is a Roman!—no more kin to me than I to Your Highness! Being born your vassal, I am somewhat nearer.”
“Wherefore eyest him so?”
“I’ll tell you, sir—in private, if you please to give me hearing.”
“Aye, with all my heart!—and my best attention! What’s thy name?”
The king, who has always been faithful, nods sadly. “Thou’rt my good youth, my page.” He puts an arm, fatherly, around Fidele’s slender shoulders. “I’ll be thy master. Walk with me. Speak freely….”
Apart from the others, Cymbeline listens.
Sir Belarius can now see the page’s face—and stares, transfixed. “Is not this the boy?—revivèd from death!”
Sir Arviragus gasps. “One and another cannot more resemble!—that sweet rosy lad who died, and was Fidele! What think you?”
Sir Guiderius is staring as intently. “The same dead thing alive!”
“Peace, peace!” says Belarius, hushing them. “See further… he eyes us not. Forbear; creatures may be alike! Were’t he, I am sure he would have spoken to us….”
“But we saw him dead!” whispers Guiderius.
“Be silent; let’s see further….”
It is my mistress! Pisanio’s mind races, but he is joyously silent. Since she is living, let the time run on, to good or bad!
Cymbeline moves forward. “Come, stand thou by our side,” he tells the page. “Make thy demand aloud.” He motions to a prisoner—Giacomo. “Sir, step you forth; give answer to this boy! And do it freely,”—without reservation, “or by our greatness and the grace of it, which is our honour, bitter torture shall winnow the truth from falsehood!
“On,” he tells the lad. “Speak to him.”
The page stands near the Roman lord. “My boon is that this gentleman may reveal from whom he had this ring!” He points to Giacomo’s hand, which sports a gold band, set with a large, sparkling diamond.
- A prisoner at the back, Posthumus Leonatus, is puzzled by the boy’s interest. What’s that to him?
Cymbeline is glaring; he knows the ring. “That diamond upon your finger—say how came it yours!”
Giacomo is struck by an irony: “Thou would torture me for leaving unspoken that which, to hear spoken, would torture thee.”
Giacomo steps forward. “I am glad to be constrainèd to utter that which torments me to conceal!
“By villainy I got this ring! ’Twas Leonatus’s jewel—he whom thou didst banish! And, may it grieve thee more than it doth me—a nobler sir ne’er lived ’twixt sky and ground!
“Wilt thou hear more, my lord?”
Cymbeline nods. “All that belongs to this.”
“That paragon, thy daughter—for whom my heart drips blood, and my false spirit quails to remember…!” He must pause, weak from hunger—and remorse. “Give me leave; I faint….”
“My daughter! What of her? insists Cymbeline. “Renew thy strength! I had rather thou shouldst live while Nature will”—to a normal demise—“than die ere I hear more!
“Strive, man, and speak!”
Giacomo nods tearfully. “Upon a time—unhappy was the bell that struck the hour!—it was in Rome—accursèd the mansion where!—’twas at a feast—oh, would our viands had been poisoned, or at least those which I heaved-to had! The good Posthumus—
“What might I say? He was too good to be where ill men were, and was, amongst the rarest of good ones, the best of all!
“In propriety, silent, but hearing us praise our Italian loves for their beauty—for features becoming the shrine of Venus, and, beside, for their condition of straight-standing Minerva—postures beyond the brief of Nature—a show of all the qualities that man loves woman for—
“Fairness which strikes the eye, but was made barren by the swellèd boast of him that best could speak a book of wiving—”
“I stand on fire!” cries the impatient king. “Come to the matter!”
“All too soon I shall!—unless thou wouldst grieve quickly.
“This Posthumus, most like a noble lord in love, and one who had a royal lover, took his turn, and—not dispraising whom we praised—therein he was as calm as Virtue—he began his mistress’ picture, which by his tongue being made—and then put a mind in’t!
“Either our brags were tracèd from kitchen-trolls, or his description proved us unseeing sots!”
Cymbeline scowls. “Nay, nay!—to the purpose!”
“Your daughter’s chastity!—there it begins. He spake of her as if Diana”—the virgin goddess of chastity—“had hot dreams, and she alone were cold!
“Whereat I, wretch, made doubt of his praise—and wagered with him pieces of gold ’gainst this, which then he wore upon his honoured finger: to attain in suit the place of his bed, and win this ring by adultery, hers and mine!
“He, true knight, no less confident of her honour than I did truly find it, staked this ring—and would so had it been a carbuncle of Phoebus’ wheel!—and might safely so had it been all the worth of ’s chariot!
“Away to Britain posted I in this design. Well may you, sir, remember me at court—where I was taught by your chaste daughter the wide difference ’twixt amorous and villainous!
“Being thus quenched of hope, but not of longing, mine Italian brain began in your simpler Britain to operate most vilely—excelling for my advantage.
“And, to be brief, my scheme so prevailèd that I returned with simulated proof, enough to turn the noble Leonatus mad by wronging his belief in her renown with tokens—averring thus of chamber-hangings, pictures—and this her bracelet—oh, cunning, how I got it, and noted some marks of secret on her person, so that he could not but think her bond of chastity quite cracked!”
He looks down, ashamed. “I have ta’en the forfeit.
“Whereupon—” But he is startled by a man’s movement nearby. He gasps. “Methinks I see him now!”
Leonatus, in chains, comes forward. “Aye, so thou dost, Italian fiend!
“Ah, ‘Thief!’ me, a most credulous fool, egregious murderer!—anything that’s due to all the villains past, in being, to come! Oh, give me rope or knife or poison, some upright justicer!
“Thou, king, send out for ingenious torturers! It is I who all the abhorrèd things o’ the earth amend by being worse than they!
“I am Posthumus—who killed thy daughter!” He shakes his head angrily; “Villain-like, I lie!—I who caused a lesser villain than myself, a sacrilegious thief, to do’t!” He sobs. “The temple of Virtue was she—yea, and she herself!
“Spit and throw stones, cast mire upon me, set the dogs o’ the street to bay at me! Let every villain be called Posthumus Leonatus!—and so define ‘villainy’ as less than ’twas!
“O Imogen!” he wails. “My queen, my life, my wife! Oh, Imogen, Imogen, Imogen!”
“Peace, my lord!” cries the page, coming to him. “Hear, hear!”
Leonatus, now on his knees, weeping, looks up—angrily. “Shall we have a play of this?” He pushes the boy away, and the famished young prisoner, overwhelmed, reels, then faints. “Thou scornful page, there lie!—that’s thy part!”
Pisanio rushes to her. “Oh, gentleman, help mine and your mistress!
“Oh, my lord Posthumus! You ne’er killed Imogen til now! Help!—help mine honoured lady!”
Cymbeline goes to them, dizzied. “Does the world go ’round?”
Leonatus rises, vexed. “Why come these staggerers to me?”
Pisanio rubs the princess’s hand. “Wake, my mistress!” He pulls off her cap, letting tresses tumble free.
Cymbeline kneels beside her, and cries, astonished, “If this be so, the gods do mean to strike me to death with mortal joy!”
“How fares my mistress?” asks Pisanio kindly.
Imogen looks up at him—fearfully. “Oh, get thee from my sight!” she cries, shoving him away. “Thou gavest me poison! Dangerous fellow, hence!—breathe not where princes are!”
“The tone of Imogen,” murmurs Cymbeline, hearing the familiar pluck.
Protests Pisanio, “Lady, may the gods throw stones of sulphur on me if that box I gave you was not thought by me a precious thing! I had it from the queen!”
Cymbeline, helping the princess to rise, is alarmed: “New matter, still!”
“It poisoned me!” insists Imogen.
“O gods!” Cornelius comes to the king. “I left out one thing which the queen confessèd—which must approve thee honest!” he tells the servant. “‘If Pisanio have,’ said she, ‘given his mistress that confection which I gave him for cordial, she is served as I would serve a rat!’”
“What’s this, Cornelius?” demands Cymbeline.
“The queen, sir, very oft importuned me to prepare poison for her, always pretending it to be for the satisfaction of her knowledge, and for killing only creatures vile!—as cats and dogs of no esteem”—strays. “I, dreading that her purpose was of more danger, did compound for her a certain stuff which, being ta’en, would cease the immediate power of life!—but in short time, all offices of nature should again do their due functions.”
The physician asks Imogen, “Have you ta’en of it?”
“Most likely I did—for I was dead!”
- “My boys, there was our error!” whispers Belarius.
- Guiderius nods happily. “This is, surely, Fidele!”
Imogen goes to confront poor Leonatus. “Why did you throw your wedded lady from you?—sink as if you were on a wreck!” But she has heard how he was deceived, and how he has suffered. She puts her arms around his neck and clasps him to her. “Enfold me now again!”
Leonatus overcomes his astonishment enough to kiss her tenderly. “Hang there like fruit, my soul, till the tree die!”
Cymbeline is touched by their obvious love. “How now, my dear, my child,” he says, with a warmth not seen for years. He chides gently, “What?—makest thou me the dullard in this scene?” He pleads: “Wilt thou not speak to me?”
She turns to curtsey. “Your blessing, sir.” And then she embraces her father.
“Though you did love this youth, I blame ye not,” the king tells her. “You had a motive for’t!” Weeping softly, he holds her close. “May tears that fall prove holy water on thee!”
After a moment he regards the princess sadly. “Imogen, thy mother’s dead.”
She knows he means the harsh queen—and knows that he had loved her. “I am sorry for’t, my lord.”
“Oh, she was nought,” says Cymbeline brusquely; but his face reveals the pain. “And because of her it was that we meet here so strangely. And her son is gone—we know not how, nor where.”
“My lord, now that fear is from me, I’ll speak fully,” says Pisanio. “Lord Cloten, upon my lady’s being known missing, came to me—with his sword drawn!—foamed at the mouth, and swore if I discovered not which way she was gone, it was my instant death!
“By accident, I had a letter of my master’s then in my pocket, which—as I feigned it—directed him to seek her on the mountains near to Milford—where, in a frenzy—and in my master’s garments, which he enforcèd from me—away he posts with unchaste purpose!—with oath to violate my lady’s honour!
“What further became of him I know not.”
Guiderius steps forward boldly. “Let me end the story! I slew him there!”
“Marry, the gods forfend!” cries Cymbeline. “I would not that thou of good deeds should from my lips pluck a hard sentence! Prithee, valiant youth, again—deny’t!”
“I have spoken it, and I did it.”
“He was a prince!” protests the king.
“A most incivil one!” retorts Guiderius. “The wrongs he did me were nothing prince-like; for he did provoke me with language that would make me spurn the sea, if it could so roar to me!
“I cut off ’s head!—and am right glad he is not standing here to tell this tale of mine!”
“I sorrow for thee,” Cymbeline tells the new knight sadly. “By thine own tongue thou art condemnèd, and must endure our law; thou’rt dead.”
“That headless man I thought had been my lord!” cries Imogen.
Cymbeline orders the soldiers, “Bind the offender, and take him from our presence.”
“Stay, sir!” cries old Belarius angrily. “King, this man is better than the man he slew!—as well descended as thyself!
“And he hath merited more from thee than a band of Clotens had ever scar for!” He tells the guards, “Let his arms alone! They were not born for bondage!”
Cymbeline stares. “Why, old soldier, wilt thou undo the worth thou art yet unpaid for, by tasting of our wrath?” He demands, “How of descent as good as we?”
Arviragus, standing at the old man’s side, says, humbly, “In that he spake too far.”
Cymbeline tells Belarius, “And thou shalt die for’t!”
“We will die, all three,” the aged warrior admits, with philosophical calm. “But I will prove that two of us are as good as I have given out him!
“My sons,” he tells the youths, “I must unfold a dangerous speech, for mine own part—though, haply, well for you.”
“Your danger’s ours!” says Arviragus staunchly.
Guiderius moves beside them. “And our good his!”
Lord Belarius smiles. “Have at it then!
“By leave,” he says to Cymbeline. “Thou hadst, great king, a subject who was called Belarius—”
“What of him? He is a banished traitor!”
Belarius touches his white beard. “He it is that who hath assumèd this age!—indeed a banished man; I know not how a traitor!”
“Take him hence!” Cymbeline orders the guards. “The whole world shall not save him!”
Cries Belarius—indignantly, “Not too hot!—first pay me for the nursing of thy sons!” He adds, resigned, “Then let it be confiscated, all, so soon as I have received it.”
“Nursing of my sons!”
“I am too blunt and saucy,” says Belarius. He kneels before the king. “Here’s my knee. Ere I arise, I will proffer my sons; then spare not the old father.
“Mighty sir, these two young gentlemen that call me Father, and think they are my sons, are none of mine—they are the issue of your loins, my liege, and blood of your begetting!”
“What? My issue?”
“As surely as you’re your father’s! I, old ‘Morgan,’ am that Belarius whom you at one time banished! What I’ve suffered was all for harm that you did! Taking your treasure was my only offence!—my ‘treason’ was for my banishment itself!
“These gentle princes—for such and so they are!—these twenty years have I trainèd up; those arts as I could put into them, they have. My breeding was, sir, as Your Highness knows it.
“Their nurse, Euriphile—whom for the theft I wedded!—stole these children upon my banishment. I moved her to’t—having received the punishment before, for that which I did then!
“Being banished for loyalty incited me to treason: their dear loss! The more ’twas felt by you, the more it conformed to my end in stealing them!
“But, gracious sir, here are your sons again.” He looks at the amazed young men. “And I must lose two of the sweet’st companions in the world!” He wipes his eyes. “The benediction of these covering heavens fall upon their heads like dew! For they are worthy to inlay heaven with stars!”
Cymbeline is moved. “Thou weep’st as speak’st….”
The king ponders; a new sense of peaceful beneficence has infused the palace. “The service that you three have done is more surpassing than this thou tell’st,” he allows. “I lost my children; but if these be they, I know not how to wish a pair of worthier sons!”
Belarius nods. “Be pleased awhile.” He rises and grasps the taller young man’s shoulder. “This gentleman, whom I call Polydore, most worthy prince, as yours is true Guiderius.
“This gentleman, my Cadwal—Arviragus, your younger princely son. He, sir, was wrapped in a most curious mantle—wrought by the hand of his queen mother—which for more probation, I can with ease produce.”
Cymbeline regards the princes. “Guiderius had upon his neck a mole, a sanguine star; it was a mark of wonder….”
Belarius smiles. “This is he—who hath upon him still that natural stamp! It was wise Nature’s end in its donation for that to be his evidence now!”
Cymbeline regards his children lovingly. “Ah, what?—am I a mother to the birth of three? Ne’er mother rejoicèd deliverance more!”
He smiles at the princes—who are still stunned. “Blest pray you be!—so that, after that strange departure from your orbs, you may reign in them now!”
He turns to his daughter—no longer his only heir. “O Imogen, thou hast lost by this a kingdom!”
“No, my lord!” says she, gazing happily at her siblings. “I have got two worlds by it!” Already she can tease. “My gentle brothers, have we just met? Oh, never say hereafter but that I am the truest speaker: you called me brother when I was your sister; but I called you brothers when indeed ye were so!”
Cymbeline is surprised yet again. “Did you e’er meet?”
Arviragus smiles. “Aye, my good lord!”
“And at first meeting loved!—continued so until we thought he died!” adds Guiderius.
Doctor Cornelius explains: “By the queen’s dram she swallowed.”
And now the king is in rapture, watching as his happy children, reunited, embrace. O rare instinct!
When shall I hear all through? This fierce abridgement hath to it circumstantial branches, which should be rich in distinction! How lived you? Where?
And when came you to serve our Roman captive? He sees that Lucius looks grave.
The king watches Imogen again hugging her husband. How parted from your brothers? How first met them? Why fled you from the court? And whither?
These, and your three motives to the battle, along with I know not how much more, should be demanded—and all the other by-dependencies, from chance to chance!
But nor this time nor place will serve our long inter’gatories!
See, Posthumus anchors upon Imogen!
And she throws her glances, like harmless lightning, on him, her brothers, me—
And her husband touches each with a joy! The exchange is encountered severally in all!
He cries, “Let’s quit this ground, and smoke the temple with our sacrifices!”
He turns to Belarius and embraces him. “Thou art my brother!—so we’ll hold thee ever!”
Imogen comes to them. “You are my father, too,” she tells Belarius, “and did relieve me to see this gracious season!”
Cymbeline sees something else new before him: his courtiers’ smiling faces now reflect his own happiness.
“All o’erjoyed,” he notes, “save these in bonds.” He motions toward the prisoners. “Let them be joyful, too, for they shall taste our comfort!”
The princess smiles at Caius Lucius. “My good master, I will yet do you service!”
The proconsul bows to the sprightly page. “Happy be you!”
Cymbeline has but one remaining concern. “The forlorn soldier who so nobly fought—he would have well becomèd this place, and graced the thankings of a king.”
Leonatus bows. “Sir, I am the soldier who did accompany these three in poor beseeming; ’twas a fitment for the purpose I then followed. That I was he, speak, Giacomo! I had you down, and might have made your finish….”
Lord Giacomo kneels. “I am down again,” he says humbly. “But now my heavy conscience sinks my knee, as then your force did! Take that life, beseech you, which I’ve so often owed! But first, your ring,” he says, pulling it from his finger, “and here—the bracelet of the truest princess that ever swore her faith!” He hands them to the Briton.
“Kneel not to me,” says reborn Leonatus. “The power that I have over you is for sparing you; the motive towards you, to forgive you. Live, and deal with others better!”
“Nobly doomed!” says Cymbeline. “We’ll learn our freeness from a son-in-law: pardon’s the word to all!” he calls out.
“Your servant, princes!” says Leonatus, bowing to his young brothers-in-law.
He goes to Lucius. “Good my lord of Rome, call forth your soothsayer. As I slept, methought great Jupiter, upon his eagle’s back, appeared to me—with other spritely shows of mine own kindred!” He reaches into his coat pocket. “When I waked, I found this book on my bosom—whose containing is, in its hardness, so far from sense that I can make no collection of it!
“Let him show his skill by construing it.”
Lucius calls to the prisoners. “Philarmonus!”
“Here, my good lord.”
“Read, and declare the meaning.” He hands the slender volume to the seer.
The soothsayer reads: “‘When a lion’s whelp to himself unknown shall without seeking find, and be embraced by a peace of tender air;
“‘And when branches lopped from a stately cedar, which, being dead many years, shall after revive—be jointed to the old stock, and freshly grow;
“‘Then shall Posthumus end his miseries, and Britain be fortunate—flourish in peace and plenty!’”
The graybeard smiles. “Thou, Leonatus, art the lion’s whelp; the fit and apt construction of thy name, being Leo-natus,”—in Latin, “doth import so much.
“As to the peace of tender air—which we’d call mollis aer… and might speak it mulier….” He turns to Cymbeline. “I divine is this most-constant wife, thy virtuous daughter—who, even now, reflecting the letter of the oracle—unknown to you, unsought—was wrapped about with this most tender air!”
Cymbeline nods. “This hath some seeming.”
“The lofty cedar, royal Cymbeline, personates thee—and thy loppèd branches point thy two sons forth—who, by Belarius stol’n, for many years thought dead, are now revivèd, to the majestic cedar joined—whose issue promises Britain peace and plenty!”
“Well, my peace we will begin,” says Cymbeline. “And, Caius Lucius, although the victor, we submit to Caesar, and to the Roman empire, promising to pay our wonted tribute—from the which we were dissuaded by our wicked queen. The heavens, in justice, have laid most-heavy hand on both her and hers.”
The soothsayer pronounces, “The fingers of the powers above do tune the harmony of this peace! The vision which I made known to Lucius ere the first stroke of this yet scarce-cold battle, at this instant is full accomplishèd!
“For the Roman eagle, from south to west on wing soaring aloft, lessoned herself, and in the beams o’ the sun so vanished—which foreshowed that our princely eagle, the imperial Caesar, should again unite his favour with the radiant Cymbeline, which shines here in the west!”
“Laud we the gods!” cries Cymbeline, “and let our swirling smokes climb to their nostrils from our blest altars!
“Publish we this peace to all our subjects!
“Set we forward. Let a Roman and a British ensign”—two flags—“wave friendly together!
“So through Lud’s Town march! And in the temple of great Jupiter our peace we’ll ratify, and seal it there with feasts!
“Set on! Never was a war that did cease, ere bloody hands had washed, with such ease!”