Cymbeline Plot Summary

Scene from Cymbeline
Scene from Cymbeline. Print Collector/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Shakespeare's Cymbeline may not be one of his most famous plays, but this is a well-written and thought-provoking text. In this article, we pull the entire plot down into a single page.

Introducing Cymbeline

Cymbeline is the King of Britain. His second wife, the evil Queen, wishes that her oafish son Cloten should be married to Cymbeline’s daughter from his first marriage Imogen. However, against her father’s wishes, Imogen has eloped and married Posthumus Leonatus.

Posthumus Leonatus is banished to Italy for this insubordination (he is low born and not worthy of Cymbeline’s daughter) but on parting with her, he gives Imogen a bracelet.

In Rome, Iachimo goads Posthumous with his boasting he says that Imogen, like all other women, is corruptible and later when in Britain, he tries to seduce her, when she refuses to succumb to his demands he hides in a trunk in Imogen’s bedchamber, waiting until she is asleep he emerges to steal her bracelet.

A Plan to Kill Imogen

Posthumous is convinced that Imogen has been untrue to him as Iachimo is able to perfectly describe her bedchamber. Posthumous vows to have his revenge on Imogen. He writes to Imogen to ask her to meet him at Milford Haven. He then orders his servant Pisanio to kill Imogen while she is on her way to him.

Pisano is however faithful to Imogen, he believes in her innocence and he warns her of Posthumous’ plot.

He encourages her to disguise herself as a boy and go in search of her husband while Pisanio will in the meantime tell him that she is dead.

Roman Tribute

Rome demand tribute from Britain but the King refuses to pay. Tribute is a treaty where one country pays another in return for peace. Rome decides to invade Britain.

A Cave in Wales!

Imogen is now lost in Wales, still dressed as a boy she seeks refuge in a cave. In the cave she discovers a man living there with his two sons. The man is Belarius but goes by the name of Morgan he is a banished Lord. Polydore and Cadwal are living with Belarius as his sons but unbeknown to them they are Cymbeline’s sons and are actually called Guiderius and Arviragus. Belarius kidnapped the boys in revenge for being exiled.

The men welcome Imogen and when Cloten arrives in pursuit of Imogen Guiderius kills him and lays his body down.

Imogen, feeling unwell drinks a potion given to her by the Queen believing it to be medicine. The Queen believed that the potion was poison and planned to kill Imogen but instead the potion gave the appearance of death but only brought about a very deep sleep.

The devastated men put her body next to Cloten and leave the scene.

When Imogen awakens, she believes the dead body of Cloten to be that of her husband Posthumous and in the depths of despair she hires herself out as a Page to the Roman army.

Posthumous' Death Wish

Posthumous and Iachimo are travelling with the Roman army. Posthumous is regretful believing that his orders were carried out to kill Imogen and as a result, he has a bit of a ‘death wish’.

He switches his Italian clothes for that of a British peasant and fights the Roman’s valiantly.

The Romans are defeated with the intervention of Belarius, Guiderius and Arviragus. Posthumous, hating himself, changes back into Roman attire and allows himself to be taken prisoner.

Plot Resolution

The God Jupiter appears and promises Posthumous’ dead ancestors that he will be protected.

The next day, Cymbeline calls for the prisoners to come before him. The confusion is then sorted out. Imogen and Posthumous are reunited. They forgive Iachimo for his false accusations after he confesses to his deception. The true identity of Guiderius and Arviragus is revealed. Belarius is forgiven for taking them.

Cymbeline’s evil wife dies and free of her influence he frees the Roman prisoners and agrees to pay the tribute.