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vant in both cases, reconciles the lady to the assumption of a disguise; and, in both cases, she wanders alone, destitute, and in danger of starvation.
To enable us to speak intelligibly of the ensuing part of the plot, it is necessary to explain, that the queen is a woman of malignant disposition, who, finding it impracticable to unite her son Cloten to Imogen, contemplated the destruction of the princess by slow poison. Preparatory to the execution of her base design, she gave a box of the mixture to Pisanio, with great commendations of its medical virtues, hoping thus to deprive Imogen of this faithful adherent. The physician, however, by whom the drug had been prepared, too well understood the character of the queen to trust her with what she requested, and he rendered the preparation which he gave her perfectly innoxious by the substitution of an opiate for poison. In full confidence of its virtues, Pisanio gave the box to Imogen, when he parted with her in the woods, after having spared her life.
The continuation of the plot of the play is, that Guiderius and Arviragus, the sons of Cymbeline, had been stolen from court in their infancy. The names of these children of the king are rightly copied from Holinshed, but the idea of
their having been kidnapped is fabulous. Shakspeare introduces them in the third act, grown to man's estate; and with them Belarius, a nobleman, formerly banished by Cymbeline, under a false impression of treason. The poet supposes Belarius to have secretly carried the infant princes into the mountains of Wales, where he brought them up as his own, and all three followed the life of hunters, under the names of Morgan, Polydore and Cadwal.
Exhausted by fatigue and hunger, fortune directed the steps of the wandering Imogen to the cave where her brothers and old Belarius dwelt. They received and entertained her with the warmth and simplicity of rustic hospitality; but overcome by sickness, she has recourse to the medicine given her by Pisanio : a deep sleep ensues, accompanied by every outward appearance of death.
In the mean time, Pisanio had returned to court, and Cloten so directly charges him with being accessary to the flight of Imogen, and threatens him so determinately with instant death on prevarication, that Pisanio is driven to the expedient of giving him a feigned letter from Posthumus, which induces Cloten to set out in pursuit of Imogen, among the mountains near Milford. In the course of his search, Cloten encounters Guiderius, whom he provokes
by his insolence: Guiderius kills him, and cuts off his head. When Belarius and the princes return to their cave, they discover the apparently dead body of Imogen. The headless trunk of Cloten, and the senseless Imogen are laid together :
“ Thersites' body is as good as Ajax,
When neither are alive.” On recovery from the effects of the opiate, Imogen finds herself, as she imagines, near the corpse of her husband; for, in order to add insult to the injury he meditated on her person, Cloten had clothed himself in the dress of Posthumus, Imogen having once said, that she held the meanest of her husband's garments in more respect than the person of her silly admirer. Abandoning herself to grief, she falls in agony upon the body, where she lays insensible till found by the Roman-general Caius Lucius, who takes her as his page; as the lady in Westward for Smelts is discovered destitute by King Edward, and received into his service as a page.
To account for the appearance of a Roman army in England, in the reign of Cymbeline, Shakspeare is obliged to represent it as coming to enforce a neglected payment of tribute; forgetting that Holinshed asserts, in the first place, that Cymbeline “ was at liberty to pay his tribute or
not;" and secondly, that both “Cymbeline and his father Theomantius lived in quiet with the Romans, and continuallie to them paid the tributes.” The war between Rome and England respecting tribute was in the reign of Guiderius “ the first sonne of Kymbeline.”
Both Iachimo and Posthumus arrived in England with the Roman forces. Posthumus, how. ever, determined not to bear arms against his country, quits the Romans and follows the British force as a peasant. An engagement ensues, and Cymbeline is on the point of being destroyed; when Belarius, Guiderius, Arviragus, and Posthumus, place themselves in a lane, stop the victorious progress
of the Roman arms, and convert defeat into a triumph. This service completed, Posthumus resumes the character of a Roman, and as such, is made prisoner with Lucius, Iachimo, and others. Imogen follows the fortunes of her master Lucius, and remains a prisoner with him.
It is left to the last scene of the last act to unravel the almost inextricable maze into which the plot is by this time woven.
Cymbeline, seated in his tent, with Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus by his side, as the preservers of his throne, commands the Roman prisoners to be brought into his presence. Imogen attends on Lucius as his page.
In the progress of the scene, Cymbeline is so powerfully affected by the appearance of the page, that he promises to grant whatever the boy shall ask. Imogen's eye had been caught by the ring on the finger of Iachimo, which she knew to be the one given by herto Posthumus: she demands therefore, that Iachimo shall “render of whom he had it.” In Westward for Smelts, the lady under the protection of King Edward demands how a small crucifix of gold, once hers, came into the possession of the man by whom her husband had been deceived.
Bending under the weight of guilt, Iachimo makes full confession of his villany: Posthumus rushes forward, Imogen declares her sex, and mutual explanations and reconciliations ensue.
Belarius now also avows himself, and discovers the two noble youths who had fought with him, and by their valour preserved the British throne, to be the sons of Cymbeline, he having stolen them in their infancy, and reared them as his own in solitude. Guiderius and Arviragus are recognised and acknowledged, and Belarius is pardoned.
The play of Cymbeline, then, is the junction of a modern Italian novel and an ancient British story. Either tale set off with such episodes as adorn the Twelfth Night, and other dramas,