William Shakespeare

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Cymbeline: Act 4, Scene 3 Summary & Analysis

Read our modern English translation of this scene.
At his court, Cymbeline asks a servant for news of the Queen’s health. With her son Cloten missing, she has developed a fever, and shows signs of madness. Cymbeline wishes Imogen were there to give him comfort. He threatens to torture Pisanio for information about Imogen’s whereabouts, and, under duress, Pisanio says he will faithfully serve the King. A lord points out that Pisanio was at court the day when Imogen went missing, and that they’ll continue looking for Cloten. Cymbeline promises to let Pisanio go, even though he still suspects him.
It appears as though the evil Queen may get her just desserts after all. After all of his harsh treatment of Imogen, it’s noteworthy that Cymbeline is acting less harsh. Facing the loss of his Queen as well as loss of the battle, the King seems to realize how much he needs his daughter at court. This is the beginning of the character’s softening, even though he does dole out threats to Pisanio. He’s nevertheless moving towards reconciliation, or would choose it if given the opportunity to see Imogen.
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The lord informs Cymbeline that the Gallic forces have arrived on British shores, along with the Roman gentlemen recruited by the Senate. The news overwhelms Cymbeline, who wishes the Queen and Cloten were there to advise him. The lord encourages Cymbeline to take action immediately to set the battle in motion, and urges him not to fear the Romans.
Cymbeline’s panic in the face of the highly organized Roman invasion shows what a risk the King took in refusing the tribute. Rome has manpower and resources that make it likelier to win the battle, threatening Cymbeline’s push for independence. Without the Queen and Cloten urging him on, Cymbeline’s confidence seems to plummet.
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The King and lord leave to prepare for war, and Pisanio addresses the audience. He has not heard from Posthumus since he sent the bloody handkerchief as “proof” that he killed Imogen. Further, he’s unsure about what happened to Cloten, but he knows the gods will work everything out. He says that through his trickery, he has remained loyal to his master. Pisanio also expresses his loyalty to king and country, even to the point of death in the battle.
Posthumus has been noticeably absent throughout the past few scenes, and Pisanio remains in the dark about the result of his deception—and about Cloten’s death. However, in a moment of piety, Pisanio surrenders everything to the will of the gods, who will ultimately control the outcome of events. Here, Pisanio expresses his philosophy on loyalty—that he must use deception to remain loyal—and shows how important loyalty is to him. He’s willing to sacrifice his life for his country in a battle they could very well lose.
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