Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Cymbeline (SIHM-beh-leen), the king of Britain. On the whole, he is more a conventional figure made to help the plot than a complex human being. Quick-tempered, arbitrary, and unreasonable, he is naturally well-meaning and generous. His second wife influences him far more than he realizes. His forgiveness of his enemies and his son-in-law at the end of the play is an example of his essential goodness.
Imogen (IHM-oh-jehn), Cymbeline’s daughter by his former queen; she is disguised for part of the play as Fidele (fih-DAYL), a boy. She is the most admired character in the play, and many critics believe it has small excuse for being except as a vehicle for her. She is a faithful wife, independent and courageous. She escapes her father’s court, her husband’s plot to have her murdered, her wicked stepbrother’s attempt to violate her, and her evil stepmother’s plot to poison her. Disguised as a boy, she finds her unknown brothers in the forest. She forgives her husband for his lack of trust.
Posthumus Leonatus (POS-tew-muhs lee-oh-NAY-tuhs), Imogen’s husband, a gentleman of good lineage but poor fortune; he is unacceptable to Cymbeline as a son-in-law. Banished for marrying Imogen, he goes to Italy....
(The entire section is 906 words.)
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Cymbeline is the king of England. Imogen is his daughter by a former marriage, as are his two sons, Guiderius and Arviragus, who were abducted from him by Belarius when the two boys were just infants. His present queen has a son named Cloten, and she convinces Cymbeline that a marriage between Imogen and her son would be an expedient one. Politically, a marriage between Cloten and Imogen would make more sense than her marriage to Posthumus, who is an aristocrat but not a prince, since it would give the impression of a greatly consolidated Britain. But Imogen has, in fact, married Posthumus, and Cymbeline, largely at the insistence of the queen, banishes Posthumus from the kingdom. As an example of how the queen manipulates Cymbeline, we need only observe her first appearance in the play. She allows Imogen and Posthumus a few moments of farewell, but then immediately informs Cymbeline that the couple are together in the garden. An angry Cymbeline surprises them and drives Posthumus off. He places Imogen under a kind of house arrest, putting the queen in charge of her freedom. Cymbeline also encourages Cloten to woo Imogen, thinking her resentment will fade and time will weaken her resistance to Cloten's proposals.
But Cymbeline has a greater problem than his daughter's unfortunate marriage. Caius Lucius, the Roman general, has landed in England to demand that Augustus Caesar be paid the tribute promised many years before, by an agreement between Julius...
(The entire section is 599 words.)
Imogen is the daughter of Cymbeline by a former marriage. She marries Posthumus, but the queen, Cymbeline's present wife, does not approve of the marriage that has left her son, Cloten, out of the picture. She plots to kill Imogen. Meanwhile, Jachimo, who has made a bet with Posthumus regarding Imogen's faithfulness, tells Imogen that Posthumus has been unfaithful to her. After suggesting that as revenge Imogen sleep with him, Jachimo tells Imogen he was only testing the virtue Posthumus has so highly praised. Jachimo then hides in Imogen's room, gathers some incriminating "evidence," and convinces Posthumus that Imogen has been unfaithful. Posthumus then arranges to have Pisanio kill Imogen. To avoid killing her as Posthumus has directed him to do, Pisanio fits Imogen with boy's clothes and sends her to Caius Lucius's departing ship in Milford-Haven. On the way there, however, Imogen is overcome with hunger and fatigue and finds herself in the cave of Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus. She does not know that the latter two are actually her brothers, but they share an unspoken bond with her that prompts them to call her "brother." After she appears to die, the result of the drug Pisanio has given her, her two brothers lay her in a grave and conduct funeral rites for her. She awakes in that grave next to the headless corpse of Cloten, which she thinks is the lifeless body of Posthumus. She throws herself on that body, weeping and moaning until Caius Lucius discovers...
(The entire section is 457 words.)
Leonatus (Posthumus Leonatus)
Posthumus is the husband of Imogen. His marriage to her displeases Cymbeline, and he is banished from England. He goes to Italy to stay at the home of Philario, a friend of Posthumus's deceased father. While there, he enters into an ill-advised wager with Jachimo, who thinks that he can seduce Imogen despite Posthumus's great confidence in her unfailing virtue. When Jachimo presents him with false proof that he has accomplished what he set out to do, Posthumus rails against Imogen and denounces all women, attributing to them every kind of vice and weakness. He writes Pisanio two letters, one meant to deceive Imogen into thinking that he might be met at Milford-Haven in Wales, the other directing Pisanio to kill Imogen when she travels to the appointed place. Pisanio sends him a bloody cloth meant to mislead Posthumus into thinking that Imogen has been killed and thereby set his mind at rest. The bloody cloth has the opposite effect; it throws Posthumus into a state of despair and bitter self-recrimination. He comes to England as part of an army of Italian gentry intending to fight the Britains, but he disguises himself as an English peasant and fights recklessly against the Romans, seeking death. That desire for death makes him change back to the uniform of a Roman soldier after the English have won the battle, in hopes that he might be captured and executed. He almost gets his wish, but as he is being led to the gallows, a messenger tells his jailers to take him to...
(The entire section is 675 words.)
These are the ghosts of Posthumus's father, mother, and two brothers. They appear to Posthumus in a dream while he sleeps in jail, desperate to end his own life. Sicilius, Posthumus's father, died fighting bravely in battle, as did Posthumus's two brothers. Posthumus's mother died giving birth to him. The apparitions lament that Posthumus is in such a state of despair, and they implore Jupiter to reward Posthumus for his brave actions in battle and his faithfulness to Imogen. They believe that Posthumus is the victim of Cymbeline's unfair banishment of him.
Arviragus is the son of Cymbeline and the brother of Guiderius, and Imogen. As an infant, he was abducted by Belarius, who raised him for twenty years in the primitive wilds of Wales and renamed him Cadwal. Even though Arviragus has been raised in a cave, he demonstrates the inborn virtue one would expect in the son of a king. He is eager for experiences beyond the homely life of hunting and gathering which he now lives with Belarius, the man he knows as his father. He envies his older brother, Guiderius, when the latter kills Cloten. He wishes that he might have had the opportunity to display his strength and courage in the face of danger. Arviragus feels an instant love for and kinship with Imogen, whom he thinks is a boy and later calls "brother," when he discovers her in the cave. Later, thinking that Imogen has died, he carries her from the cave and...
(The entire section is 3927 words.)