William Shakespeare

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Cymbeline: Act 2, Scene 1 Summary & Analysis

Read our modern English translation of this scene.
Cloten complains about his bad luck—he bet 100 pounds at a lawn game but lost, and then he was reprimanded for swearing by a man of lower social rank. The First Lord says that Cloten paid the man back by cracking his head with his bowl. In an aside, the Second Lord says that if the injured man had a mind like Cloten’s, he would have run away, implying that Cloten is cowardly.
Cloten is a sore loser not just in love, but also in sports. He can’t let Imogen go, and he can’t let the bad result of his game go. Further, he seems to think his noble status makes him above social customs and norms of behavior. Both of these factors show how self-absorbed Cloten is. The Second Lord reasserts Cloten’s cowardice—he’s no match for the courageous Imogen.
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Cloten says he could have fought with the man who insulted him if they had been of the same rank, and he exclaims that the thing that annoys him most is his nobility: men don’t want to fight him because he’s the Queen’s son, whereas men with lower social status can fight as much as they like. In an aside, the Second Lord calls Cloten a chicken who’s all talk. Cloten asks him what he said, and the Second Lord tells him it’s not right to fight every companion who offends him. Cloten agrees, but says it’s okay for him to offend his social inferiors.
One point of similarity between Cloten and Imogen is their desire to shed their royal status so that they can freely obtain what they desire—for Cloten, that’s violent conflict, and for Imogen, it’s Posthumus. However, Cloten wants to have his cake and eat it too—he wishes his nobility would make him above the law, but he doesn’t want his nobility to restrict him.
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The First Lord asks Cloten if he’s heard of the stranger who’s arrived at court from Italy, a friend of Posthumus. Cloten calls Posthumus a “banished rascal,” and asks if it would be proper to go see the new arrival, or if people would think less of him for doing so. The Second Lord answers that he couldn’t possibly lower people’s opinions of him, whispering that that they’re low enough already.
Ignoble Cloten’s insecurity is on full display here—he doesn’t want others at court to think ill of him. Like a schoolyard bully, Cloten calls the virtuous Posthumus a name. Though Cloten often boasts, his words show that he is self-conscious.
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Cloten plans to meet the Italian gentleman in hopes of gambling with him and perhaps recovering what he lost betting on the bowls match. As soon as Cloten and the First Lord have left, the Second Lord berates Cloten, calling him an “ass.” He expresses his sorrow for Imogen, bemoaning how her father and stepmother undermine her. He prays that her honor remains intact until she reunites with Posthumus.
Cloten demonstrates his duplicity here—he goes to ostensibly welcome Iachimo to court, but really with the motive of winning money off of him. He tries to use people for his own ends—base behavior for which the Second Lord calls him an “ass.” His prayer to the gods shows how fervently the Second Lord supports Imogen.
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