Cymbeline

Cymbeline Act 3, Scene 4 Summary & Analysis

Read our modern English translation of this scene.
Summary
Analysis
Having arrived at Milford Haven, Imogen asks Pisanio why she doesn’t see Posthumus there. She thinks that Pisanio looks confused and scared, and when she asks him what’s wrong, Pisanio hands her the letter which Posthumus addressed to him. Imogen recognizes Posthumus’ handwriting, and worries that he is in trouble. Pisanio asks her to read the letter, and says that he’s an unfortunate man.
Imogen’s description of Pisanio’s worried looks confirms how much Posthumus’ orders have disturbed Pisanio, having shaken the foundation upon which his understanding of loyalty rested.
Themes
Morality and Loyalty Theme Icon
Imogen reads the letter aloud. Posthumus writes that Imogen has been unfaithful, and that he has proof of her infidelity. He feels grief, but he also thirsts for revenge. Instructing Pisanio to take Imogen to Milford Haven, Posthumus orders him to kill her with his own hands. Twice Posthumus warns Pisanio about being unfaithful to the order: if Pisanio doesn’t carry out the command, Posthumus will consider him as treacherous as Imogen. In an aside, Pisanio calls the claims against Imogen’s fidelity nothing more than slander. He says that the effect of the letter has done her more harm than his sword ever could.
In his letter, Posthumus equates any disobedience on Pisanio’s part with the behavior that warranted Imogen’s death. This goes to show how sharp a line Posthumus has drawn between loyalty and treachery, placing himself as the judge of what is acceptable and what is not. Pisanio implies that he’ll ultimately take Imogen’s side by referring to the allegations against her as slander.
Themes
Morality and Loyalty Theme Icon
Posthumus’ accusations shock Imogen. If being unfaithful means weeping for her husband and lying awake missing him, then she admits she’s unfaithful. Imogen recalls Iachimo’s description of her husband’s infidelity, and thinks that the Italian nobleman isn’t so bad after all—it appears as if he was telling the truth. She imagines that another woman in Italy has seduced Posthumus. Imogen has a hard time imagining why else he would order her death.
Though other characters have referred to Imogen’s sorrow, she gives a more intimate picture of her day-to-day sadness over her husband’s departure. Thus wracked with grief and missing him sorely, Imogen has proved herself to be faithful. It’s interesting, too, that Imogen, like Posthumus, has come to believe Iachimo—and she, too, feels unsettled from simply imagining her spouse’s infidelity.
Themes
Morality and Loyalty Theme Icon
Pisanio tries to interject, but Imogen continues her speech, citing examples of famous men who betrayed their lovers. She recalls Aeneas who left Dido, and Sinon, who allowed the Trojan Horse to enter within his city’s walls. Imogen claims Posthumus will join their ranks, setting a bad example for good men.
Imogen reconfigures Posthumus as one in a long line of treacherous men. Aeneas, a soldier fleeing Troy, seduced Carthage’s queen, Dido. After he left her, Dido committed suicide. Sidon allowed the Trojan Horse into his city, which led to utter destruction. Not only does Imogen allege that her husband is just as treacherous, but the ends of these stories imply similarly ruinous outcomes for the betrayed Imogen.
Themes
Morality and Loyalty Theme Icon
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Despite her distress with Posthumus, Imogen intends to die according to his order. She takes out Pisanio’s sword, hands it to him, and tells him, “Do thou thy master’s bidding.” Imogen asks him to stab her in the heart, the source of her love and grief. Pisanio knocks the sword away, and refuses to kill Imogen. She begs him to do so, for suicide is considered a mortal sin. On the subject of sin, she pulls out Posthumus’ love letters, which she has stored in her bodice. She calls the letters “heresy” before ripping them apart. Imogen laments how Posthumus drove a wedge between her and Cymbeline. She asks once again for Pisanio to kill her, and complains that he’s slow in executing Posthumus’ order.
Despite her own doubts about her husband’s sexual fidelity, Imogen means to follow his demands—even if it means her death. In so doing, she proves that she takes her loyalty to Posthumus so seriously that she would be willing to give up her life for him. The stage business with Pisanio’s sword presents an astonishing image to the audience and calls to mind another Roman heroine already referred to in this play: Lucretia, who killed herself after being raped by Tarquin so her husband wouldn’t suffer shame. However, Imogen won’t go down without protesting. Ever headstrong, she tears up love letters—the physical remains of her relationship with Posthumus.
Themes
Morality and Loyalty Theme Icon
Pisanio tells Imogen that Posthumus’ command disturbed him so much that he hasn’t slept since receiving it. Imogen asks him why he brought her to Milford Haven, then, if it caused him such distress. He explains that he used the trip to buy time, to come up with a plan to save her. He believes that someone has tricked Posthumus into thinking Imogen committed adultery, and he cannot let Imogen die because of a rumor. Pisanio explains that he’ll simply tell Posthumus that Imogen is dead, and send a piece of cloth with blood on it as “proof.” In the meantime, he suggests that Imogen go back to court.
Since Pisanio has refused to kill Imogen and she won’t kill herself, the audience can breathe easy—the princess’ life is safe, for now. Pisanio reveals his decision-making process—he remains loyal to Imogen, despite what her husband says. The audience can see a parallel between Imogen’s case and Belarius’. While Cymbeline exiled Belarius due to a rumor, Pisanio can’t in good conscience act on a rumor to kill Imogen. Cymbeline’s rash and unforgiving decision is in keeping with his tough character, unlike fair-minded Pisanio’s carefully-considered decision.
Themes
Morality and Loyalty Theme Icon
Forgiveness and Reconciliation Theme Icon
Imogen does not like the idea of going back to court, because she doesn’t want to encounter her father or the awful Cloten. Pisanio suggests there is nowhere else in Britain for her. Imogen considers that the world is wide, and that she could make a life outside of Britain. This gives Pisanio an idea: Lucius is on his way to Millford Haven with the Roman troops. Imogen can disguise herself in a man’s clothing and find Posthumus among the invading Roman troops.
Imogen continues to demonstrate her boldness here—she refuses to put herself into a bad situation at court, and the prospect of having to go abroad to seek her fortunes does not daunt her. Pisanio also shows his bold thinking in his plan for Imogen—his idea for Imogen to dress as a man amid a military engagement defies expectations for a princess.
Themes
Gender Roles Theme Icon
He instructs her how to act manly: she should command, not obey; be brave instead of fearful or sensitive; insult and contradict others; and let the sun tan her fair skin. Pisanio has even brought male clothing with him, and he suggests that Imogen enter into Lucius’ service. Imogen agrees to the plan, saying that Pisanio is “all the comfort/ The gods will diet me with.”
Pisanio’s instructions to Imogen on how to present herself as a man tell the audience a lot about gender expectations in the play. Patriarchal conventions inform male behavior as Pisanio describes it—confidence, aggression, and courage dominate. Women’s sensitivity is even made physical in cultural expectations for untanned skin. Imogen, however, is quick to defy those feminine expectations, demonstrating bravery worthy of Pisanio’s masculine ideal.
Themes
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Pisanio explains that he must return to court to avoid the charge of abducting Imogen. Before he goes, he hands Imogen the medicine which the Queen has given him; Pisanio hopes that the supposedly restorative medicine will help Imogen, in case she feels unwell. He leaves her to assume her disguise and prays that the gods protect her.
By handing over what he thinks is medicine, Pisanio adds dramatic tension—the audience knows that it could put Imogen into a deep sleep, which could leave her vulnerable to others.
Themes
Morality and Loyalty Theme Icon