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Shakespeare at Winedale

Imogen Synopsis


Imogen is a retitling of Shakespeare's Cymbeline.

The play opens to chaos in the royal court of Roman-era Britain. Imogen, daughter to King Cymbeline, has married Posthumus Leonatus, an orphan brought up by the King himself. Imogen is believed to be the King’s only surviving heir, her two brothers having been stolen from the court as infants, making her choice of spouse particularly momentous. Cymbeline, thwarted in his intention to marry his daughter to the pugnacious and dim-witted Cloten—son of his second wife and current queen—orders Imogen’s imprisonment and banishes Posthumus.

After exchanging his bracelet for Imogen’s ring, Posthumus leaves for Rome to stay with Philario, an old friend of his father’s, at whose house he meets Iachimo, an Italian nobleman who taunts him into wagering his ring against Imogen’s chastity. The Queen, failing to convince Pisanio (servant to Posthumus and Imogen) to advocate to his mistress a marriage with Cloten, gives him a box, the contents of which she believes to be poisonous and Pisanio believes to be medicinal. Iachimo leaves for Britain to attempt to seduce Imogen, who rejects his advances. Unwilling to accept defeat, Iachimo smuggles himself into her bedroom, where he surveys her body and steals her bracelet, with which he convinces Posthumus of Imogen’s infidelity.

In the Briton court, Cymbeline informs Caius Lucius, ambassador from Augustus Caesar, that Britain will no longer pay tribute to the Roman Empire, provoking a declaration of war. Meanwhile, Posthumus orders Pisanio to kill Imogen at Milford Haven in Wales; the princess and her servant escape from the court, but, instead of murdering her, Pisanio reveals Posthumus’ intent to his mistress. Imogen, intending to leave Britain as a page in Lucius’ service, disguises herself as a boy. Lost and hungry en route to Milford, she is taken in by three cave dwellers, two of which, unbeknownst to her and to themselves, are Cymbeline’s lost children—Guiderius and Arviragus—accompanied by Belarius, the man who stole them as children from the King.

Cloten, having coerced from Pisanio Imogen’s destination and intending to rape the princess and kill her husband, encounters Imogen’s three rescuers and is killed by Guiderius. Imogen, kept in the cave by illness, swallows the Queen’s supposed medicine (given to her by Pisanio) and is taken for dead when the three return. The drugs, however, cause only the temporary appearance of death, and she wakes up next to Cloten’s headless body, which she believes to be that of Posthumus. She is discovered by Lucius, who takes her as his page.

Believing Pisanio to have killed Imogen, Posthumus is brought back to Britain as part of the invading Roman army. In despair, he resolves to fight against the Romans, hoping to be killed in the battle. He, with Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus, rescues Cymbeline and beats back the Roman troops. Posthumus, still hoping for death, pretends to be a Roman soldier and is captured by the victorious Britons. As he sleeps in his cell, the god Jupiter—along with the ghosts of Posthumus’ father, mother, and brothers—appears and pronounces a cryptic but hopeful prophecy. In the court, the doctor Cornelius informs Cymbeline that the Queen, despairing over the failure of her plot to kill both the King and Imogen and to plant Cloten on the throne, has died, confessing her schemes. Cymbeline calls for the Roman prisoners, including Iachimo, Posthumus and Imogen (still disguised as Lucius’ page), intending to execute them. Iachimo admits the deception he has practiced on Posthumus, prompting both Posthumus and Imogen to reveal their identities. Guiderius declares that he has killed Cloten, inciting Belarius to disclose the royal origins of Guiderius and Arviragus to save them from Cymbeline’s anger. A Roman soothsayer explains that the prophecy received by Posthumus foretells peace and prosperity resulting from the renewed alliance between Britain and Rome. Cymbeline pardons all the captives and promises to reinstate the tribute owed to Caesar.