William Shakespeare

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Cymbeline: Act 1, Scene 2 Summary & Analysis

Read our modern English translation of this scene.
Two attendants follow Cloten after his encounter with Posthumus. The First Lord urges Cloten to change his shirt since he is sweaty and he smells, but Cloten says he would only change his shirt if it were bloody from fighting. Cloten complains that Posthumus wouldn’t fight him. The First Lord tries to encourage Cloten. He says that Cloten certainly hurt Posthumus. Then he puns that Posthumus moved away from Cloten to put space in between them. The ground in between the fighters would only add to the vast lands that Cloten already owns. In a series of comments to the audience, the Second Lord gives his take on the fight: Cloten didn’t strike Posthumus with his sword, and what’s more, Cloten doesn’t have as many lands as the First Lord claims. The Second Lord thinks Cloten is a fool.
The First Lord and the Second Lord establish themselves as foils of one another. While the First Lord is a flatterer, telling Cloten exactly what he wants to hear, the Second Lord ridicules Cloten behind his back. The two lords illustrate how disingenuous courtiers’ words can be.
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Cloten wishes that he and Posthumus hadn’t been separated so that they could have fought in earnest, and he marvels that Imogen could ever chose Posthumus over him. The Second Lord interjects that if Cloten and Posthumus fought, Cloten would have ended up lying flat on the ground. Further, he thinks Imogen has made a good choice in marrying Posthumus. The First Lord tells Cloten that Imogen’s choice of Posthumus demonstrates that she’s not very smart, even though she’s pretty. To the contrary, the Second Lord remarks in an aside that Imogen “shines not upon fools” like Cloten. Cloten plans to go back to his room, and the First and Second Lords dutifully follow him.
The Second Lord paints a portrait of Cloten that differs from Cloten’s self-aggrandizing version. In so doing, he affirms Imogen’s choice of the virtuous Posthumus for a husband. The Second Lord shows Cloten for who he is—a blustering, self-centered coward. However, it’s interesting to note that despite the way the Second Lord loathes Cloten, he still attends him faithfully. Like the Queen, the Second Lord shows one face to the courtiers, but another to the audience in asides.
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