Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
Cloten rants to the lords again, this time about his gambling misfortune and his swearing. “I had rather not be so noble as I am” (II.i.18), he says, as his rank prevents others from taking him on for a fight. One of the lords reports the visit of Posthumus’ acquaintance, and Cloten wonders if it would be beneath him to check him out. The lord figures Cloten cannot possibly lessen his dignity. When Cloten leaves, one lord calls him an “ass” (II.i.53) and expresses dismay at Imogen’s plight. “This is the Earl’s plea against Elizabeth’s degrading herself by marriage to the illiterate Alençon, who even had to have his subsequent love-letters to her written by his secretaries” (Ogburn and Ogburn 153). Cloten “is also a parodic version of a familiar pastoral and romance character, the ‘noble savage'” (Garber 809). “Great satirists and misanthropes have disputed whether man is more the brute, the fool, or the knave. Shakespeare makes Cloten the three in one” (Goddard, II 252). “Nor does Cloten stand alone. He is merely the dark consummate flower of a nobility and court society that is rotten to the core. The Queen is villainous, the King pusillanimous, the British lords cowardly and panicky in battle” (Goddard, II 253). “The poet appears to be incapable of resisting the temptation to get in a dig at any of the Caesars. He will elevate even a Cloten at their expense” (Goddard, II 253).
Imogen in her bedroom has for three hours been reading (II.ii.44). “Apparently she is reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which was written during the reign of Augustus and would, by Shakespeare’s conception of the time of the play, have been a current best seller” (Asimov 61). But she is overcome with weariness now and asks her servant Helen (a Trojan horse allusion?) to take the book but leave the candle burning and wake her up by 4:00.
“We are given the absurd Trojan Horse strategy” with the trunk in her room (Bloom 617-618). When she sleeps, “Iachimo, Jack-in-the-box” (Bloom 618) emerges from the trunk — “another box that contains poison” (Wells 354). “The picked lock was a familiar if vulgar image of stolen chastity” (Garber 822); and “The scene is one of double voyeurism: for Iachimo, and for the audience in the theater” (Garber 821). “But the emergence of Iachimo from the trunk in Imogen’s chamber is also an image of sexual knowledge, and perhaps even of unconscious desire. Imogen, we should recall, was reading the story of Philomela’s rape as she fell asleep. She has been propositioned by Iachimo, and the events that unfold in her bedroom, as she lies asleep on the bed, take the form of a kind of dream” (Garber 822). Iachimo makes a Tarquin reference (from the Lucrece story) and takes written notes concerning her bedroom features. He removes her bracelet and notices a crimson mole on her left breast. That should do it. Iachimo also notes that she has been reading the story of Philomela (raped by her brother-in-law Tereus). He climbs back into the trunk as the clock strikes three. Iachimo, like Iago, may represent a composite of Henry Howard and Yorke (Farina 96).
Cloten tries to woo Imogen musically, but he sucks and she does not acknowledge the concert from her bedroom. “Shakespeare may have meant it as the highest conceivable tribute to Imogen’s beauty that even Cloten, for one moment of his life, is sensible to it” (Goddard, II 250). The lark song resembles Sonnet 29 (Ogburn and Ogburn 961) and Oxford’s “Desire” poem, and a bit from Romeo and Juliet, III.v (Ogburn and Ogburn 157). Cloten whines to Cymbeline and the Queen, but Cymbeline says it’s too soon after Posthumus’ banishment — hang in there. The Queen encourages him with note of the King’s obvious approval of the match. Cloten wonders if he could bribe one of Imogen’s ladies to let him into her bedchamber. An attempt fails, and when Imogen herself enters and Cloten declares his love, she is direct and dismissive. Cloten persists unwisely, insulting Posthumus, whom Imogen defends by saying that “the meanest garment” of Posthumus’ is more worthy than Cloten. This particular statement successfully offends Cloten and he immediately becomes obsessive about it, vowing revenge. Imogen notices the missing bracelet and thinks she mislaid it. She send Pisanio to have her woman look for it.
Imogen “is an epitome, uniting in herself the virtues of at least three of Shakespeare’s feminine types: the naïve girl (in boy’s costume part of the time), the queenly woman, and the tragic victim” (Goddard, II 249-250).
It may be that the “Romans” (II.iv.10f) represent Catholics led by Philip of Spain (Ogburn and Ogburn 154) and that Gallia represents the Low Countries where Philip’s half-brother Don John had army ready to invade England (Ogburn and Ogburn 154).
Posthumus and his Roman host Philario chat. Posthumus is sure of Imogen’s honor but must bide his time before trying to approach Cymbeline. They also discuss the mounting tensions between Britain and the Roman Empire: Caius Lucius is in Britain to negotiate the traditional tribute, but will Cymbeline pay it? Posthumus thinks not and delivers a patriotic paean:
Are men more order’d than when Julius Caesar
Smil’d at their lack of skill, but found their courage
Worthy of his frowning at. Their discipline
(Now wing-led with their courages) will make known
To their approvers they are people such
That mend upon the world. (II.iv.20-26)
Iachimo enters and indicates his seduction has succeeded: “I’ll make a journey twice as far, t’ enjoy / A second night of such sweet shortness which / Was mine in Britain, for the ring is won” (II.iv.43-45). He describes the bedroom, including an impressive tapestry depicting Cleopatra’s meeting with Antony when the “Cydnus swell’d above the banks” (II.iv.71) and a chimney-piece depicting a bathing Diane; but all this could be gotten secondhand. Iachimo produces the bracelet. Posthumus states that Imogen may have given it to Iachimo to convey to Posthumus, but her letter offers no indication of this. So Posthumus coughs up the ring and rants against the empty vows of women. Philario says the bracelet could have been lost or stolen by one of Imogen’s servants. Knowledge of that mole under her breast, though, is pretty convincing, and Posthumus loses his reason: “O that I had her here, to tear her limb-meal! / I will go there and do ‘t, i’ th’ court, before / Her father” (II.v.147-149). Phil is convinced too, but worried Posthumus may harm himself. The passage is “interesting only for what it hints at in Shakespeare’s own consciousness. Something is here too strong for Posthumus” (Bloom 619).
Posthumus is perhaps “two men in one: the British Posthumus, who loves and has been chosen by Imogen, and the Italian Posthumus, who falls under the corrupt influence of the South” (Goddard, II 250). Posthumus, “convinced of the faithlessness of his wife, vomits forth his opinion of the other sex” (Goddard, II 250). He rants against women and, Hamlet-like, blurs motherhood and infidelity:
Is there no way for men to be, but women
Must be half-workers? We are all bastards,
And that most venerable man which I
Did call my father, was I know not where
When I was stamp’d. Some coiner with his tools
Made me a counterfeit; yet my mother seem’d
The Dian of that time. So doth my wife
The nonpareil of this. O vengeance, vengeance!
He declares lying, flattering, deceiving, mutability, etc. all to be female traits in this “Othello-like tirade on the infidelities of women” (Garber 806). “It is astonishing that the plodding, though virtuous, Posthumus utters this tirade, with its self-contradictory excesses. Why does Shakespeare assign this dreadfully unsympathetic outburst to Posthumus?” (Bloom 620). “Some scholars suggest that Shakespeare casts an ironic eye upon the satirists of the day when Posthumus, hardly a scribbler, vows literary revenge upon women” (Bloom 622). Once convinced of this infidelity, Posthumus renders up a reference to his father; the memory of the father served as a “security blanket in the author’s imagination” (Anderson 120). Posthumus’ speech is partly directed at Anne when she was alive, but partly at the Dark Lady; the portrayal is imbued, though, with remorse for the rashness (Ogburn and Ogburn 156).