At Cymbeline’s court, the King asks Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus to stand next to his throne. He only wishes that the British peasant who fought alongside them were there as well, and says that anyone who finds that fighter will please him. Belarius is astounded that someone with such a beggarly appearance could be so noble. Cymbeline asks if anyone’s seen that man, but Pisanio says that he vanished without a trace. Cymbeline laments that he can’t reward the man, but is glad to transfer that reward to the trio of soldiers, thanking them for their service.
The audience knows that the peasant soldier to whom the King refers is none other than Posthumus. Even through his disguise, Posthumus’ noble nature could not remain hidden—much like Guiderius and Arviragus’ nobility could not be concealed despite their lack of knowledge about their true identity. It’s ironic that Cymbeline—who has felt furious about Imogen and Posthumus’ marriage—should now be glad to reward his son-in-law.
Cymbeline asks about Belarius and his sons’ origins. Belarius says that they’re gentlemen from Cambria, nothing more. Cymbeline asks them to kneel so that he can knight them and give them titles worthy of their honorable deeds.
Belarius conceals the truth about the brothers’ identity, avoiding any consequences for kidnapping them. He has the chance to come clean, but doesn’t take it. The irony continues in this scene as Cymbeline looks to knight men who are actually his sons and princes—a status more noble than that of knights.
All at once, the doctor Cornelius and several ladies enter. Cymbeline can tell something is wrong by their sullen expressions. Cornelius reveals that the Queen has died. Cymbeline asks for the manner of death, and Cornelius reports that her life ended painfully—reflective of the pain she caused others. He relays the Queen’s deathbed confession: she never loved Cymbeline, and only wanted his power. Cymbeline said he wouldn’t have believed it in any context outside the deathbed confession.
Like her son Cloten, the Queen dies suddenly and painfully. Affirming the play’s overall, cosmic sense of justice, the Queen—who has done nothing but evil—receives her just desserts.
Cornelius continues, saying that the Queen hated Imogen, and would’ve poisoned Imogen if she hadn’t run away. Further, she had prepared a poison to slowly kill Cymbeline so that she could put her son on the throne. Once her plan failed and Cloten disappeared, she died of despair. Her ladies back up Cornelius’ account. Cymbeline says his senses didn’t fault him—she looked pretty, spoke sweetly, and that his heart loved her. Though to mistrust the Queen would have been cruel, Cymbeline regrets not treating Imogen more kindly and he asks the gods’ forgiveness.
That the Queen makes a deathbed confession of her crimes comes as a shock—it’s a redeeming moment for a character who has seemed unredeemable, and it signals the final scene’s trend towards repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. The theme of noble appearances or status contrasting with inward wretchedness is apparent in the way the Queen fooled the King. Cymbeline expressing regret for his treatment of Imogen is a huge step forward—wholly unlike his unilateral wrath from the play’s beginning.
Lucius, Iachimo, the Soothsayer, and other Romans enter, along with Posthumus and Imogen (still disguised as Fidele). Cymbeline takes a jab at Lucius, saying he and his army should worry more about their own wills than the tribute money. Lucius explains that the British victory was by chance, and that the Romans would not have threatened to kill their prisoners as Cymbeline does. He hints that Augustus may retaliate, but then asks one request of the King. He begs Cymbeline to save the life of his servant Fidele, who has proved himself virtuous.
Even though the outcome of the battle is decided, Cymbeline still pokes fun at the Romans—much to Lucius’ chagrin. Lucius’ announcement about the Emperor’s possible retaliation shows that tensions remain between the Empire and Britain, despite British victory on the battlefield. Cymebline has praised Lucius’s character previously, and Lucius proves worthy of it: he is loyal to the servant who stayed true to him in battle.
Cymbeline agrees to Lucius’ request, and swears he’s seen Fidele before, telling Fidele that he will grant him one favor. Lucius asks Fidele to beg for his life, but Fidele refuses, instead setting his sights on Iachimo. Fidele asks the King to speak privately about Iachimo. While Fidele and Cymbeline confer, Belarius and his sons marvel that Fidele has come back to life. They hang back to watch what Fidele will do and say. Meanwhile, Pisanio expresses his relief that Imogen is alive, still disguised as Fidele.
Fidele defies the expectations of Lucius, who hoped Fidele would plead for his master’s life in return. Wearing Imogen’s ring, Iachimo distracts Imogen from displaying loyalty to Lucius. While she and Cymbeline speak, Belarius, the brothers, and Pisanio all express relief that she’s lived. This relief demonstrates how readily they accept twists of fate, and their ultimate loyalty to Fidele/Imogen—she’s made an impact on the men.
Cymbeline invites Fidele to make his demands, and asks Iachimo to step forward. Fidele asks Iachimo where he obtained his ring. The boy’s request puzzles Posthumus. Cymbeline repeats Fidele’s question, and Iachimo is relieved to reveal the truth. He explains that the ring belonged to Posthumus, and he fooled Posthumus into thinking Imogen was unfaithful. Rattled by Iachimo’s admission, Posthumus reveals his identity, and that he ordered Imogen’s death. Posthumus thinks he deserves to die for commanding Pisanio to kill Imogen.
Iachimo continues to prove how much remorse has transformed him. His character has undergone a transformation; once a braggart who lied and tricked his way into obtaining material wealth, he feels the weight of his transgressions. Posthumus, too, has come around: gone is his thirst for vengeance, replaced with an urgent need for just punishment for his actions.
Imogen steps forward to calm Posthumus, but Posthumus hits her, thinking that she is just a page boy talking out of turn. Pisanio leaps into action, explaining that Fidele is actually Imogen. He revives Imogen as the men stand in awe, and when Imogen comes to, she accuses Pisanio of trying to poison her. Pisanio defends himself, saying that he thought the Queen gave him medicine, not poison. Cornelius verifies this from the Queen’s confession.
Another misunderstanding puts Imogen in danger—much like the sleeping drug—when Posthumus strikes her, believing she’s a page boy. Pisanio demonstrates continued care for Imogen by leaping into action, despite her accusations of disloyalty.
Reunited at last, Imogen and Posthumus embrace and swear never to go apart from each other. Cymbeline asks Imogen to pay attention to him, and she in turn asks him to bless her, as a means of reconciliation. Crying, Cymbeline freely blesses her, saying that his tears are like holy water, and announces the Queen’s death. Imogen offers her sympathy, but Cymbeline says the Queen was worth nothing. He wonders, though, what happened to Cloten.
The play began with the summary of interpersonal conflict between Cymbeline and Imogen and now has come full circle, featuring not only the father and daughter reconciling, but Imogen and Posthumus making amends.
Pisanio explains how he used one of Posthumus’ letters to send Cloten toward Milford Haven, and how Cloten demanded to disguise himself in Posthumus’ clothes so that he could rape Imogen and kill her husband. Guiderius steps in to finish the story; he confesses to killing Cloten. Cymbeline asks Guiderius to deny it, otherwise he’ll have to send him to jail. Guiderius stands firm, and Cymbeline brings up the fact that Cloten was a royal. But Guiderius insists that Cloten was an awful person who didn’t behave in a princely way. For treating him so rudely, Guiderius cut off his head, and he has no regrets. Imogen realizes then that the headless body was not Posthumus’, and Cymbeline orders Guiderius’ arrest.
Pisanio reveals the depth of Cloten’s treachery to the members of court. They may have simply thought that Cloten was unworthy, but Pisanio’s summary of Cloten’s plans shows that Cloten was not just awful, but also downright evil. This is the line of self-defense that Guiderius uses. He also explains that the nobility has an obligation to behave nobly, but for Cloten, his status and behavior were out of alignment.
Belarius intervenes, stopping the guard from tying up Guiderius and hinting at Guiderius’ nobility. He tells Cymbeline he will prove his sons’ worth, even though it may be dangerous for him, and he reveals his identity: he was the one, along with Euriphile, who stole the princes away. He gives back Cymbeline’s sons and tearfully wishes them well, offering proof of their identity by recalling what Arviragus wore in the nursery, and how Guiderius had a distinctive mole on his neck.
By lying about his and the brothers’ identity earlier in this scene, it looked as though Belarius was just trying to save his own skin. However, faced with the threat of losing Guiderius, Belarius looks outside of himself to spare his adopted son.
Cymbeline is overjoyed to have his three children together, but he is sad to inform Imogen that she has lost her place as sole heir now that her brothers have returned. Imogen replies that she is just happy to have her brothers back.
Belarius finally rights the wrong he committed twenty years ago, leading to a family reunion. While Imogen may have lost the power her status as heir conferred, her brothers’ return takes off the pressure on her marriage to Posthumus and means she can finally live freely and happily with her husband.
The King is amazed at the turn of events and he asks for the long version of the story. Instead of punishing Belarius, Cymbeline says he will consider him a brother for raising his sons, and Imogen says she will think of Belarius as a father for helping her survive as Fidele. In his joy, Cymbeline orders Lucius’ release and wishes once again that he could reward the peasant soldier. Posthumus reveals that he himself was that soldier, asking Iachimo to back him up, as they confronted each other on the battlefield. Iachimo kneels and begs for death for his treachery. Posthumus promises to let Iachimo live to show his power over him, and only asks him to treat people better. Cymbeline echoes Posthumus, and pardons all.
Cymbeline appears to have truly learned his lesson—bent on punishing others at the beginning of the play, the King unquestionably forgives Belarius, who committed a graver offense than Imogen did by stealing the princes away. Cymbeline continues to show generosity of spirit towards Lucius, and even Posthumus (who had been vengeful towards Imogen for perceived infidelity) forgives Iachimo, who shows himself to be wholly repentant. Cymbeline’s line “pardon’s the word to all” sums up the play’s ultimate outlook on forgiveness, which all who deserve it will receive.
Posthumus asks Lucius to call his Soothsayer to decipher the tablet. Philarmonus enters, and reads the prophecy. He explains that Posthumus is the lion’s cub (a reference to his surname, Leonatus). Furthermore, that the piece of soft air is Imogen (based on the similarity between the words “soft air” and “wife” in Latin). The limbs of the tree trunk are the sons reunited with their royal father. The restoration will mean peace and prosperity for Britain. Cymbeline declares that peace will start now: he tells Lucius that he will, after all, pay the tribute—especially since the instigators of the war, the Queen and Cloten, received a terrible fate at the gods’ hands.
The Soothsayer’s ability to decipher the words of the gods makes clear what was inscrutable to the other characters. Relaying Jupiter’s meaning to the others, the Soothsayer shows that the will of the gods has dictated the play’s resolution. Cymbeline’s reversal of opinion on the tribute comes as a bit of a surprise, but it is an ending reflective of the historical Cymbeline’s peaceful relationship with Rome.
The Soothsayer reiterates Cymbeline’s call for harmony, saying that the gods are orchestrating this peace. He explains that seeing the eagle fly and vanish into the sun before battle indicated a reunion between Britain and Rome. Cymbeline exhorts everyone to go with him to London to thank the gods at Jupiter’s temple. On the road, the Roman and British flags will fly together, and Cymbeline remarks that no war has ever ended with such a firm commitment to peace.
It’s interesting that the Soothsayer reinterprets his former reading of the omen of the eagle to suit the strange turn of events. The pro-Roman conclusion may seem abrupt, but it’s the only way that the play can end in true tragicomic fashion—with resolution instead of further violence. Ending on a note of piety, Cymbeline’s wish to praise the gods for peace shows how he deserves to rule in tranquility.