Disguised as a boy, Imogen stumbles onstage, exhausted, lost, and very hungry. She laments how everyone lies—rich and poor alike. Her husband is one such liar, Imogen says, but the thought of him revives her for a moment. Imogen comes across Belarius and his sons’ cave dwelling. When she calls out and receives no reply, she draws her sword and goes into the cave.
In describing the male behavior Imogen must imitate, Pisanio warned Imogen against feminine sensitivity and delicacy. Even though travel and hunger wear on her body, she remains intrepid—unafraid to enter unfamiliar places. Imogen claims that deception is universal across lines of social class, which seems true since nobles like Iachimo and the Queen lie and deceive, and servants like Posthumus do, too. However, Imogen doesn’t realize that the reasons behind deception are inconsistent—sometimes deception is used for good ends.
Returning to the cave, Belarius praises Guiderius’ abilities as a hunter. Tired and hungry, Guiderius and Arviragus feel eager to go back into the cave, but Belarius stops them: he senses that someone is inside. Imogen emerges from the cave, asking them not to hurt her. She tells them that she ate their food, and hands Belarius gold as repayment. The brothers scoff at the money—they think gold is corrupt.
The intruder in Belarius and the brothers’ cave adds an element of danger that they haven’t known in their idyllic home. Imogen’s entrance, and her attempts to pay the men, come as a shock—the world of court comes into direct confrontation with the world of the countryside. The brothers consider the use of money—the common stock of the nobility—as, ironically, ignoble and corrupt.
Falling for Imogen’s disguise as a boy, Belarius asks Imogen about “his” identity. She tells him that her name is Fidele, and that she is going to meet a kinsman at Milford Haven, but felt too hungry and tired to carry on. Belarius welcomes Fidele to rest for the night at the cave. Guiderius says he might be attracted to Fidele if Fidele were a woman. For his part, Arviragus says he’ll treat Fidele like a brother. Imogen, in an address to the audience, wishes that the two men were really her brothers, because then she wouldn’t be heir to the kingdom, and Posthumus might have seemed her social equal.
As in other so-called “transvestite comedies” (Shakespeare plays in which the heroine dresses in male disguise), other characters are quick to comment on the heroine-in-drag’s androgyny. In Shakespeare’s time, the stage was all-male—so puns about boys who played women who played men abound, adding layers of irony to Guiderius’ comment. Imogen’s comment wishing that the brothers were her own family members contributes to the sense of dramatic irony in this scene.
Belarius and the brothers notice how sad Fidele looks. Imogen comments on the men’s honest living in the cave, so unlike the court, and wishes she could be friends with these men, because Posthumus isn’t trustworthy. Belarius invites Fidele to rest while the men prepare dinner, and then they’ll hear Fidele’s full story.
Imogen highlights the contrast between court and countryside, which Belarius has remarked upon previously. Cracks are beginning to show in Imogen’s steadfast loyalty to her husband. Before, when she maligned him, she still couldn’t help but find relief at the mere thought of him. Here, she doesn’t take back or qualify her statement about his disloyalty and untrustworthiness.