Fidele feels unwell, so Belarius and Arviragus urge him to rest in the cave while they hunt. Guiderius says he will stay behind, but Fidele tells him to go since he’ll be all right by himself. Guiderius says he loves Fidele as much as he loves his father. Arviragus doesn’t know why, but he, too, cares deeply for Fidele. Belarius comments to himself that the brothers are saying noble and virtuous things. Arviragus says goodbye, calling Fidele his brother. Imogen remarks to the audience how kind the men are, and how remarkable their good manners are in the country, compared to the vile behavior of courtiers. She says that she’s heartsick and will try the medicine that Pisanio gave her to feel better. She swallows the concoction.
Once again, the exchange between Fidele and the brothers is rich with dramatic irony. The brothers feel an almost familial love for Fidele, when, unbeknownst to the trio, they are actual siblings. Belarius finds that the boys’ kind words bespeak their nobility—courtesy and virtue were important ideals of nobility in Shakespeare’s day. The dramatic irony continues with Fidele swallowing the sleeping concoction in a twist of fate.
Guiderius says that he couldn’t get Fidele to open up about his identity: he just said that he was a poor, honest gentleman in a bad situation. Arviragus says Fidele told him the same thing, and that he might reveal more later on. Belarius tells Fidele that he hopes he’ll get better soon, since he’ll have to act as the trio’s housewife. Imogen says she’s bound to them, and goes into he cave.
Imogen seems to project Posthumus’ identity onto her disguise: Posthumus, too, is a poor, honest gentleman in a bad situation (exile). Again, Belarius uses an evocative word—“housewife”—as Shakespeare plays with gender conventions. Fidele (presumably a boy) will have to undertake a woman’s role, though Fidele is really Imogen, a biological woman.
Belarius says he finds Fidele noble, and Arviragus adds that he has a good singing voice. Guiderius praises Fidele’s excellent cooking. The trio notice that Fidele seems sad but also patient, enduring his sorrow with both sighs and smiles. As Belarius encourages the brothers to get going, Cloten arrives, complaining that he can’t find “those runagates” (Imogen and Posthumus).
Though Belarius and the brothers think that Fidele is a boy, he has a skillset that women in Shakespeare’s time aspired to—virtue, good cooking skills, musicality, and patience in suffering. Their assessment of Fidele’s character heightens dramatic irony as the audience recognizes the cross-dressing character.
Belarius interprets Cloten’s remark to mean that he knows that the boys are the kidnapped princes—and thus Cloten must know Belarius’ true identity. He recognizes Cloten as the Queen’s son, and urges the brothers to hurry away since they’re outlaws. Guiderius tells Belarius and Arviragus to scout for any men accompanying Cloten.
Belarius’ situation as a political exile is dangerous—he fears recognition, and the consequences that could result. Though the Second Lord found Cloten a coward, here Cloten’s presence is commanding—the sort of presence that Pisanio advised Imogen to adopt in her manly disguise.
Cloten asks who Guiderius is, calling him and the other men “villain mountaineers.” He insults Guiderius, calling him a “robber/ A law-breaker, a villain.” Guiderius doesn’t withstand the insults: he asks who Cloten thinks he is to call him such names. Cloten asks Guiderius if he knows who he is from his fancy clothes, but Guiderius says that his clothes make him look low-born. Cloten reveals his name, and Guiderius says that it doesn’t make him afraid. Then Cloten says he’s the Queen’s son, and Guiderius tells him that he doesn’t live up to his noble birth. Cloten asks if Guiderius is afraid of him, but Guiderius says he doesn’t fear fools. Cloten draws his sword, saying he’ll kill Guiderius. They exit, fighting.
Cloten’s prejudice is on full display. He derided Posthumus for his low social status, and now turns his insults towards Guiderius, who is, ironically, the King’s son, and therefore of nobler birth than even Cloten. Guiderius stands up to Cloten in ways others haven’t—the Second Lord hates him, but doesn’t tell it to his face. Even Pisanio felt threatened by Cloten. But Guiderius is fearless, and unafraid to call Cloten what he truly is—a fool. Freed from the restrictions of court, Cloten is finally successful in picking a fight—though his opponent, Guiderius, is a formidable one.
Belarius and Arviragus return, having found no other men around their cave. Arviragus wonders if Belarius is confused about who he saw, but Belarius is adamant that it was Cloten. Arviragus hopes that Guiderius deals with Cloten before too long, since Belarius says he’s dangerous and reckless.
Arviragus provides further commentary on Cloten, affirming what other characters have learned about him—he is foolhardy and dangerous, qualities unbecoming of an heir to the throne.
Carrying Cloten’s head and calling him a brainless fool, Guiderius comes back. Belarius asks him what he’s done; Guiderius tells him how Cloten insulted him and threatened to kill the three men. They fought, and Guiderius killed Cloten. Belarius fears that they’re “undone.” Yet Guiderius asserts the killing was done in self-defense. Besides, they live beyond the law, and there were no witnesses. Belarius, nevertheless, fears that Cloten had attendants who will find them. Arviragus sides with his brother and praises him for protecting his honor and killing Cloten.
Guiderius provides a visual shock for the audience by carrying Cloten’s head onstage. By killing Cloten, Guiderius has taken a final, decisive action that can’t be taken back later on in the play. However, not only did he save his own life and that of his brother and adoptive father, Guiderius also spared Imogen from the fate Cloten had in store for her. In such a way, Guiderius has done something noble according to the standards of Shakespeare’s time—he has prevented further violence, though his means were deadly.
Belarius no longer feels like hunting, and he worries about Fidele. While Guiderius goes to a creek to dispose of Cloten’s head, Belarius encourages Arviragus to return to the cave and cook dinner with Fidele. Alone, Belarius marvels how the princes’ natural nobility makes itself clear. Even though nobody taught them how to behave as royals, the brothers act with honor, civility, and bravery.
Continuing on an established theme, Guiderius and Arviragus display qualities of innate nobility which belie their humble station in the Welsh cave. Shakespeare demonstrates that true nobility comes from within, particularly for those in Cymbeline’s direct bloodline, as each of his biological children display noble characteristics.
Guiderius comes back from the creek. Suddenly, Belarius hears music playing from his instrument back at the cave. Guiderius notes they haven’t heard it played since Belarius’ wife Euriphile’s death, and he fears it’s a bad omen. Arviragus then enters, carrying a limp Fidele in his arms.
This play makes frequent use of visual effects, but here the music provides an arresting affect on the action, causing the audience to pay close attention. Belarius pays heed to superstition and omens—popular means of divining life’s meaning and the gods’ fate for human beings in ancient times. His hunch is confirmed as Arviragus enters with a supposedly lifeless Fidele.
Arviragus explains that he found Fidele lying dead in the cave, and says he would give up his youth to avoid seeing this sight. Guiderius praises Fidele’s beauty, and Belarius calls his melancholy bottomless upon seeing Fidele dead. Belarius asks how Arviragus found Fidele; he reports that Fidele looked as though he were smiling in his sleep, lying on the floor.
The play seems to veer into a tragic direction here. Fidele doesn’t deserve to die, and the evil Queen appears to have won the day. While Cloten’s fate seems like divine retribution, Fidele’s death looks senseless in comparison—a sad twist of fate.
The men plan to prepare a grave for Fidele, and decorate it with flowers as beautiful as his appearance and as sweet-smelling as his breath. Arviragus wants to reprise the mourning tune they sang when Euriphile died, but Guiderius fears he’ll cry if he tries to sing. They vow to recite it, but Belarius reminds them that they’ve forgotten all about Cloten’s body—even though he was their enemy, he was still a royal, and he deserves respect for his status. Belarius goes to fetch Cloten’s corpse, and the brothers arrange Fidele’s body and sing their song about the painlessness of death.
Like Posthumus when he took his leave of Imogen, Belarius, too, worries about expressing emotion through tears. This abiding fear shows how deeply entrenched masculine gender norms are in the play, and by extension, Shakespeare’s world. To show emotion is considered feminine. Belarius also subscribes to the norms of social hierarchy, planning to give Cloten a noble burial, even though his ignoble behavior does not match his status.
Belarius returns and lays Cloten’s body next to Fidele’s. He tells the brothers to strew some flowers on the corpses and they leave to pray.
Completing the funeral rites, Belarius and the brothers show piety towards the dead and the gods—an important part of life in ancient and early modern times, when medicine was underdeveloped and death was an ever-present reminder of the gods’ power over human life.
Imogen wakes up from a deep sleep babbling about finding the way to Milford Haven. Reviving, she notices the headless body of Cloten next to her. Since the headless body is dressed in Posthumus’ clothes, she thinks it’s her husband—even claiming that she recognizes his figure. She compares his body to that of the gods.
Cloten’s act of deceit has unintended consequences—even after his death. Dressed up as Posthumus, Cloten’s corpse causes Imogen distress. It’s notable that Imogen, wracked with grief, takes the headless body for her husband’s. Death and disguise has equalized two men who seemed different in life.
Imogen curses Pisanio. She’s sure that the servant must have plotted with Cloten to kill Posthumus out of resentment and greed. She calls Pisanio’s letters fake and thinks that he gave her the potion to knock her out while he killed her husband. She says she’ll put the corpse’s blood on her cheeks to scare anyone who comes their way.
After the lengths that Pisanio has gone to in order to remain loyal to Imogen, she questions his service. Even though she’s had proof of her husband’s deception, with his supposed death, Imogen sets her sights on Pisanio as the deceiver. Interestingly, Pisanio is indeed a deceiver—though for just, loyal ends.
While Imogen grieves, prostrate on the ground, Lucius and his troops enter. A captain says that the Roman recruitment effort was a success, and Iachimo will lead the Italian troops to Britain shortly. Lucius takes this as a good sign.
The captain’s announcement to Lucius sets the stage for the impending battle—the Roman troops are in a strong position against their British foes. Iachimo’s return to Britain will allow for a reckoning with Imogen and Posthumus.
Lucius asks his Soothsayer for his prediction on the battle’s outcome. The Soothsayer reports having a vision of Jove’s eagle flying and vanishing into the sun—a sign of impending Roman success. Lucius thanks him, but then spots the headless corpse and the “boy” lying beside it. Lucius asks the captain if the boy is dead, but he reports that the boy is alive.
In ancient Rome, people often looked to birds to deliver signs about the future, another reminder that ancient peoples found the gods to be in charge of human life. The prediction of victory from the bird representing Rome’s chief god certainly adds another reason to believe in their success, in addition to their robust number of troops.
Lucius asks Fidele what happened to the dead man, and Fidele responds that the dead man was his master, Richard du Champ, who was killed by mountaineers. In an aside, Imogen insists that lies like this—told for good reasons—can’t be bad. Fidele claims he’ll never find so good a master as this one, and Lucius praises him for his loyalty, inviting Fidele to join him as a servant. Fidele takes the offer, but insists that he must say prayers for his dead master first. Lucius tells his troops that Fidele is the portrait of proper manly honor. Then, he tells Fidele to cheer up—the men can bury “Richard” before they leave for battle.
Iachimo and Pisanio aren’t the only characters who successfully think on their feet—Imogen quickly comes up with a backstory to ensure that she conceals her identity and remains out of danger. Notably, Lucius praises Imogen—a woman—for demonstrating to his troops “manly” virtues. That a woman can exhibit such “manly” behavior calls into question whether or not gender roles hold water.