Cymbeline tells the story of a British king, Cymbeline, and his three children, presented as though they are in a fairy tale. The secret marriage of Cymbeline’s daughter, Imogen, triggers much of the action, which includes villainous slander, homicidal jealousy, cross-gender disguise, a deathlike trance, and the appearance of Jupiter in a vision.
Kidnapped in infancy, Cymbeline’s two sons are raised in a Welsh cave. As young men, they rescue a starving stranger (Imogen in disguise); kill Cymbeline’s stepson; and fight with almost superhuman valor against the Roman army. The king, meanwhile, takes on a Roman invasion rather than pay a tribute. He too is a familiar figure—a father who loses his children and miraculously finds them years later; a king who defeats an army and grants pardon to all.
Cymbeline displays unusually powerful emotions with a tremendous charge. Like some of Shakespeare’s other late work—especially The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest—it is an improbable story lifted into a nearly mythic realm.
The authoritative edition of Cymbeline from The Folger Shakespeare Library, the trusted and widely used Shakespeare series for students and general readers, includes:
-Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play
-Full explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play
-Scene-by-scene plot summaries
-A key to the play’s famous lines and phrases
-An introduction to reading Shakespeare’s language
-An essay by a leading Shakespeare scholar providing a modern perspective on the play
-Fresh images from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s vast holdings of rare books
-An annotated guide to further reading
Essay by Cynthia Marshall
The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs. For more information, visit Folger.edu.
About the Author
William Shakespeare was born in April 1564 in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, on England’s Avon River. When he was eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway. The couple had three children—an older daughter Susanna and twins, Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died in childhood. The bulk of Shakespeare’s working life was spent in the theater world of London, where he established himself professionally by the early 1590s. He enjoyed success not only as a playwright and poet, but also as an actor and shareholder in an acting company. Although some think that sometime between 1610 and 1613 Shakespeare retired from the theater and returned home to Stratford, where he died in 1616, others believe that he may have continued to work in London until close to his death.
Barbara A. Mowat is Director of Research emerita at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Consulting Editor of Shakespeare Quarterly, and author of The Dramaturgy of Shakespeare’s Romances and of essays on Shakespeare’s plays and their editing.
Paul Werstine is Professor of English at the Graduate School and at King’s University College at Western University. He is a general editor of the New Variorum Shakespeare and author of Early Modern Playhouse Manuscripts and the Editing of Shakespeare and of many papers and articles on the printing and editing of Shakespeare’s plays.
Date of Death:2018
Place of Birth:Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom
Place of Death:Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom
Read an Excerpt
By Shakespeare, William
Washington Square PressCopyright © 2003 Shakespeare, William
All right reserved.
Enter two Gentlemen.
You do not meet a man but frowns. Our bloods
No more obey the heavens than our courtiers'
Still seem as does the King's.
SECOND GENTLEMAN But what's the matter?
His daughter, and the heir of 's kingdom, whom
He purposed to his wife's sole son -- a widow
That late he married -- hath referred herself
Unto a poor but worthy gentleman. She's wedded,
Her husband banished, she imprisoned. All
Is outward sorrow, though I think the King
Be touched at very heart.
SECOND GENTLEMAN None but the King?
He that hath lost her, too. So is the Queen,
That most desired the match. But not a courtier,
Although they wear their faces to the bent
Of the King's looks, hath a heart that is not
Glad at the thing they scowl at.
SECOND GENTLEMAN And why so?
He that hath missed the Princess is a thing
Too bad for bad report, and he that hath her --
I mean, that married her, alack, good man!
And therefore banished -- is a creature such
As, to seek through the regions of the earth
For one his like, there would be something failing
In him that should compare. I do not think
So fair an outward and such stuff within
Endows a man but he.
SECOND GENTLEMAN You speak him far.
I do extend him, sir, within himself,
Crush him together rather than unfold
His measure duly.
SECOND GENTLEMAN What's his name and birth?
I cannot delve him to the root. His father
Was called S join his honor
Against the Romans with Cassibelan,
But had his titles by Tenantius, whom
He served with glory and admired success,
So gained the sur-addition Leonatus;
And had, besides this gentleman in question,
Two other sons, who in the wars o' th' time
Died with their swords in hand. For which their father,
Then old and fond of issue, took such sorrow
That he quit being; and his gentle lady,
Big of this gentleman our theme, deceased
As he was born. The King he takes the babe
To his protection, calls him Posthumus Leonatus,
Breeds him and makes him of his bedchamber,
Puts to him all the learnings that his time
Could make him the receiver of, which he took
As we do air, fast as 'twas ministered,
And in 's spring became a harvest; lived in court --
Which rare it is to do -- most praised, most loved,
A sample to the youngest, to th' more mature
A glass that feated them, and to the graver
A child that guided dotards. To his mistress,
For whom he now is banished, her own price
Proclaims how she esteemed him; and his virtue
By her election may be truly read
What kind of man he is.
SECOND GENTLEMAN I honor him
Even out of your report. But pray you tell me,
Is she sole child to th' King?
FIRST GENTLEMAN His only child.
He had two sons -- if this be worth your hearing,
Mark it -- the eldest of them at three years old,
I' th' swathing clothes the other, from their nursery
Were stol'n, and to this hour no guess in knowledge
Which way they went.
SECOND GENTLEMAN How long is this ago?
FIRST GENTLEMAN Some twenty years. GENTLEMAN
That a king's children should be so conveyed,
So slackly guarded, and the search so slow
That could not trace them!
FIRST GENTLEMAN Howsoe'er 'tis strange,
Or that the negligence may well be laughed at,
Yet is it true, sir.
SECOND GENTLEMAN I do well believe you.
We must forbear. Here comes the gentleman,
The Queen and Princess.
Enter the Queen, Posthumus, and Imogen.
No, be assured you shall not find me, daughter,
After the slander of most stepmothers,
Evil-eyed unto you. You're my prisoner, but
Your jailer shall deliver you the keys
That lock up your restraint. -- For you, Posthumus,
So soon as I can win th' offended king,
I will be known your advocate. Marry, yet
The fire of rage is in him, and 'twere good
You leaned unto his sentence with what patience
Your wisdom may inform you.
POSTHUMUS Please your Highness,
I will from hence today.
QUEEN You know the peril.
I'll fetch a turn about the garden, pitying
The pangs of barred affections, though the King
Hath charged you should not speak together. She exits.
Dissembling courtesy! How fine this tyrant
Can tickle where she wounds! My dearest husband,
I something fear my father's wrath, but nothing --
Always reserved my holy duty -- what
His rage can do on me. You must be gone,
And I shall here abide the hourly shot
Of angry eyes, not comforted to live
But that there is this jewel in the world
That I may see again. [She weeps.]
POSTHUMUS no more, lest I give cause
To be suspected of more tenderness
Than doth become a man. I will remain
The loyal'st husband that did e'er plight troth.
My residence in Rome at one Philario's,
Who to my father was a friend, to me
Known but by letter; thither write, my queen,
And with mine eyes I'll drink the words you send,
Though ink be made of gall.
QUEEN Be brief, I pray you.
If the King come, I shall incur I know not
How much of his displeasure. [Aside.] Yet I'll move him
To walk this way. I never do him wrong
But he does buy my injuries, to be friends,
Pays dear for my offenses. [She exits.]
POSTHUMUS Should we be taking leave
As long a term as yet we have to live,
The loathness to depart would grow. Adieu.
IMOGEN Nay, stay a little!
Were you but riding forth to air yourself,
Such parting were too petty. Look here, love:
This diamond was my mother's. [She offers a
ring.] Take it, heart,
But keep it till you woo another wife
When Imogen is dead.
POSTHUMUS How, how? Another?
You gentle gods, give me but this I have,
And cere up my embracements from a next
With bonds of death. [He puts the ring on his finger.]
Remain, remain thou here,
While sense can keep it on. -- And sweetest, fairest,
As I my poor self did exchange for you
To your so infinite loss, so in our trifles
I still win of you. For my sake, wear this.
[He offers a bracelet.]
It is a manacle of love. I'll place it
Upon this fairest prisoner. [He puts it on her wrist.]
IM When shall we see again?
Enter Cymbeline and Lords.
POSTHUMUS Alack, the King.
Thou basest thing, avoid hence, from my sight!
If after this command thou fraught the court
With thy unworthiness, thou diest. Away!
Thou 'rt poison to my blood.
POSTHUMUS The gods protect you,
And bless the good remainders of the court.
I am gone. He exits.
IMOGEN There cannot be a pinch in death
More sharp than this is.
CYMBELINE O disloyal thing
That shouldst repair my youth, thou heap'st
A year's age on me.
IMOGEN I beseech you, sir,
Harm not yourself with your vexation.
I am senseless of your wrath. A touch more rare
Subdues all pangs, all fears.
CYMBELINE Past grace? Obedience?
Past hope and in despair; that way past grace.
That mightst have had the sole son of my queen!
O, blessèd that I might not! I chose an eagle
And did avoid a puttock.
Thou took'st a beggar, wouldst have made my throne
A seat for baseness.
IMOGEN No, I rather added
A luster to it.
CYMBELINE O thou vile one!
It is your fault that I have loved Posthumus.
You bred him as my playfellow, and he is
A man worth any woman, overbuys me
Almost the sum he pays.
What, art thou mad?
Almost, sir. Heaven restore me! Would I were
A neatherd's daughter, and my Leonatus
Our neighbor shepherd's son. [She weeps.]
Thou foolish thing!
They were again together. You have done
Not after our her up.
Beseech your patience. -- Peace,
Dear lady daughter, peace. -- Sweet sovereign,
Leave us to ourselves, and make yourself some comfort
Out of your best advice.
Nay, let her languish
A drop of blood a day, and being aged
Die of this folly. He exits,
Fie, you must give way.
Here is your servant. -- How now, sir? What news?
My lord your son drew on my master.
No harm, I trust, is done?
There might have been,
But that my master rather played than fought
And had no help of anger. They were parted
By gentlemen at hand.
QUEEN I am very glad on 't.
Your son's my father's friend; he takes his part
To draw upon an exile. O, brave sir!
I would they were in Afric both together,
Myself by with a needle, that I might prick
The goer-back. -- Why came you from your master?
On his command. He would not suffer me
To bring him to the haven, left these notes
Of what commands I should be subject to
When 't pleased you to employ me.
QUEEN, [to Imogen] This hath been
Your faithful servant. I dare lay mine honor
He will remain so.
I humbly thank your Highness.
QUEEN, [to Imogen]
Pray, walk awhile.
IMOGEN, [to Pisanio] About some half hour hence,
Pray you, speak with me. You shall at least
Go see my lord aboard. For this time leave me.
Excerpted f Cymbeline by Shakespeare, William Copyright © 2003 by Shakespeare, William. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Reading Shakespeare's Language: Cymbeline
The Publication of Shakespeare's Plays
An Introduction to This Text
Text of the Play with Commentary
Cymbeline: A Modern Perspective by Cynthia Marshall
Key to Famous Lines and Phrases