In the ante-chamber outside of Imogen’s rooms, the First Lord compliments Cloten on how well he bears losses—he keeps his cool and is patient when he loses, but he’s energetic when he wins. Cloten wishes he “could get this foolish Imogen.” Then, he insists, he “should have gold enough.” Cloten awaits the arrival of musicians with impatience, since he’s been told to have music played for Imogen in the mornings, and it’s finally day.
The First Lord continues to flatter Cloten, to the point that he tells blatant lies. Based on Cloten’s behavior thus far, he is far from cool and patient. In this way, the First Lord deceives Cloten—perhaps to maintain favor with the King’s stepson. Cloten lashes out at Imogen and equates marrying her to material wealth, showing that he doesn’t love Imogen for who she is, but rather he simply craves power, like the scheming Queen.
The musicians arrive, and Cloten hopes that they can “penetrate” Imogen with their song. If not, he swears to never give up. He instructs the musicians about the type of songs to play, and they sing about the dawn and a pretty lady awakening. Cloten likes the music: he says that if it convinces Imogen to accept him, he’ll like the music better than he already does. If not, something must be wrong with Imogen’s ears.
Cloten makes crass allusions to having sex with Imogen—he sees her as an object for his gratification and as a prize to be won, not a person. He expresses the patriarchal views of his time, objectifying women as instruments for male pleasure and symbols of male status.
The Second Lord spots Cymbeline and the Queen coming their way. Cymbeline asks if Cloten is still waiting on Imogen, and if she refuses to see him. Cloten tells him that he tried to woo her with music, but she hasn’t responded. Cymbeline explains that Imogen hasn’t forgotten Posthumus, and he tells Cloten to give it time—before long, she’ll forget about Posthumus and will accept Cloten.
Just as the Queen puts little stock in Pisanio’s loyalty to Posthumus, Cymbeline underestimates Imogen’s loyalty to her husband. He thinks that Cloten’s repeated attempts to woo his daughter will wear her resistance down. Yet he doesn’t realize how deep Imogen’s loyalty to her husband is.
The Queen tells Cloten that he owes a lot to Cymbeline for attempting to get Imogen to look favorably on him. She encourages Cloten to try hard, to not take no for an answer, and to act as though he loves Imogen by obeying her in everything besides her orders to leave her alone.
Like Cymbeline, the Queen also encourages Cloten not to give up on Imogen. As she did with Pisanio, she tries to instruct Cloten in deceiving Imogen through flattery and obedience—behavior not in keeping with Cloten’s character.
A messenger enters with word that the Roman ambassador, Caius Lucius, has arrived at court. Cymbeline says that Lucius is a good man, even though he is coming with an angry message—an allusion to Lucius’ request for money from the King. Yet Cymbeline says that Lucius is just following Augustus’ instructions. Cymbeline says he himself must treat Lucius well because the Emperor deserves it, and because Cymbeline and Lucius have had a good relationship thus far. Before leaving, Cymbeline asks Cloten to come find him and the Queen as soon as he’s greeted Imogen, because they’ll need his help in their meeting with Lucius.
At this point, the play’s political realities take center stage. Though Cymbeline is a king, he must always answer to the Emperor, by way of the ambassador. Cymbeline is not entirely free to reign on his own, as he owes the Emperor his time and his money. He even calls on the Queen and Cloten to help navigate the difficult meeting. In such a way, Cymbeline’s royal authority appears compromised under the structure of the Empire.
Cloten knocks on Imogen’s door. He knows that her ladies are attending her, and he plans to bribe one of them with gold to give a good report of him to Imogen. A gentlewoman answers and asks what Cloten wants. He replies that he wants Imogen. The lady says Imogen will stay in her room, so Cloten offers the lady gold to say good things about him. The serving-lady responds with shock—to take the bribe would be to sell her reputation short. Besides, she would be lying if she praised him.
Like Pisanio, Imogen’s serving-woman shows loyalty to her mistress. Taking a cue from his duplicitous mother, Cloten tries to use deception to win Imogen’s good opinion. However, Cloten underappreciates the serving-woman’s loyalty to Imogen, and she’s not afraid to let Cloten know her low opinion of him.
Imogen arrives, and Cloten tries to kiss her hand, but she tells him that he’s trying too hard. Cloten swears that he loves Imogen, but Imogen says she doesn’t care. Imogen asks him to leave her alone, because she will only be rude to him, and she says he’s too smart to keep pursuing her when she refuses him.
Imogen is unmoving in her loyalty to Posthumus. Despite Cloten’s physical advances and his claims that he loves her, Imogen stands her ground, unafraid to tell him plainly that she refuses him.
Cloten says he can’t leave Imogen in her madness, and Imogen, in reply, calls Cloten a fool. Imogen says she’s sorry that Cloten has made her forget her ladylike manners, but she proclaims that she doesn’t care for him at all. Cloten counters that Imogen sinfully disobeys her father’s wishes, saying that her marriage to Posthumus isn’t legally binding, and that Posthumus is a lowlife raised on charity. He reminds Imogen of her rank: lower-class people can marry whomever they please, but she is a princess who will inherit the crown. She sullies it by marrying a lower-class man.
Using an age-old gender stereotype that a woman who refuses a “worthy” man’s advances must be crazy, Cloten insists that Imogen has gone mad. He also chides her for disobeying her father, since women were supposed to be obedient in antiquity and in Shakespeare’s time alike. To add an extra sting, Cloten reminds Imogen of the restrictions of nobility—which, ironically, the two of them both dislike.
Imogen calls Cloten rude, and says he is lowlier than Posthumus because of his behavior. Cloten wishes that Posthumus would rot in Italy, and Imogen says that Posthumus’ “mean’st garment…is dearer” to her than Cloten.
After Cloten has derided Posthumus for his low status, Imogen adds nuance to the meaning of nobility. Though Cloten may have a more noble position, his ignoble behavior is no match for the low-born but virtuous Posthumus.
As Cloten reels from Imogen’s comparison, Pisanio arrives, and Imogen asks him to fetch her serving-woman since Cloten is pestering her. She also asks Pisanio to tell her lady to look for Posthumus’ bracelet, which she seems to have lost in the night. Pisanio vows that it will be found.
Since Cloten values the material over the spiritual, Imogen’s barb that he’s less worthy than Posthumus’ “mean’st garment” wounds him, as he believes he’s a noble, upright man. Imogen is also preoccupied by a material item, but one with spiritual significance—her missing bracelet, the symbol of her loyalty to Posthumus.
Cloten complains that Imogen was rude to him by comparing him to Posthumus’ “mean’st garment,” but Imogen doesn’t take back the insult. Cloten says he will tell Cymbeline, but Imogen ups the ante, asking him to tell his mother, too. The Queen is supposed to be in charge of Imogen, and Imogen doesn’t care if she thinks worse of her for her comment. She leaves, and Cloten swears vengeance on Imogen for her words.
Imogen’s confrontation with Cloten is yet another example of the princess refusing to back down. Cymbeline’s show of force didn’t scare her, and Cloten doesn’t intimidate her. At this point, Cloten commits himself to a path of violent revenge, hoping to ruin Imogen’s life. He’s unable to forgive her insult.