Gold and jewelry have a double meaning in Cymbeline, representing virtue or corruption depending on how they’re used. At the beginning of the play, before Posthumus goes into exile, he and Imogen exchange a bracelet and a ring as a pledge of fidelity. Posthumus says that he holds the ring “as dear as [his] finger,” and Imogen treasures her bracelet. In this context, gold and jewelry symbolize virtue, loyalty, and love. However, this is a well-intentioned exchange of jewelry; later on, as characters seek gold or jewelry through force or trickery, gold and jewelry take on the meaning of corruption and greed. For example, Iachimo uses deception to win Posthumus’ ring in his bet over Imogen’s chastity. Further, Iachimo tries to convince Imogen that Posthumus is using her gold to pay for prostitutes while in exile. He even steals the bracelet Posthumus gave Imogen in order to “prove” her infidelity. Likewise, Cloten uses the language of gold to convey his lust for power, claiming that when he wins Imogen (whom he desires for her status and wealth) he will “have gold enough.” Though Imogen and Posthumus’ exchange of jewelry is virtuous, when Imogen tries to give Guiderius and Arviragus gold as an honest payment for food, the brothers reject the gold, since they understand that gold corrupts. Arviragus says that “All gold and silver rather turn to dirt!/ As ‘tis no better reckon’d, but of those/ Who worship dirty gods.” Shakespeare therefore suggests that, while gold and jewelry can embody virtue, they also have corrupting potential and are perhaps best avoided altogether.
Gold and Jewelry Quotes in Cymbeline
…This diamond was my mother’s: take it, heart;
But keep it till you woo another wife,
When Imogen is dead.
How, how! another?
You gentle gods, give me but this I have,
And sear up my embracements from a next
With bonds of death!
…for my sake wear this;
It is a manacle of love; I’ll place it
Upon this fairest prisoner.
What lady would you choose to assail?
Yours; whom in constancy you think stands so safe.
I will lay you ten thousand ducats to your ring,
that, commend me to the court where your lady is,
with no more advantage than the opportunity of a
second conference, and I will bring from thence
that honour of hers which you imagine so reserved.
[Kneeling] I am down again:
But now my heavy conscience sinks my knee,
As then your force did. Take that life, beseech you,
Which I so often owe: but your ring first;
And here the bracelet of the truest princess
That ever swore her faith.
Kneel not to me:
The power that I have on you is, to spare you;
The malice towards you to forgive you: live,
And deal with others better.
We’ll learn our freeness of a son-in-law;
Pardon’s the word to all.