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The action of the play takes place in A.D. 16, the twenty-fourth year of Cymbeline's reign and forty-second of that of Augustus. The scene opens with a dialogue between two noblemen who are interested in discussing the news in the court of King Cymbeline. Their conversation is a neat device to give pertinent Background Information to the audience before the action begins. The talk reveals all the necessary "expired events" which are conveyed to the audience. It is related that Cymbeline, a widower, with one daughter, Imogen, has lately married a widow with an only son, Cloten. Their designs for securing the joint succession of this son and the daughter by marrying them to each other have been frustrated by the secret marriage of Imogen and Posthumus, an orphan who was adopted by the King. As a consequence of this marriage, Posthumus has been asked to leave the court by the King, who is under the influence of the wily queen. Cymbeline's only other children are two sons who were kidnapped twenty years ago, when the elder of them was only three years old. They have not yet been found. These are the important past events conveyed to the audience that also set up the Themes of lost children, fidelity, separated lovers and family conflict.
Because they are separating, Imogen and Posthumus exchange tokens of love - a ring and a bracelet, two important articles that will factor into the events that follow. Posthumus puts the bracelet on Imogen, commenting that it is a "manacle of love." This will reveal itself to be true later on when Posthumus bets his wife's fidelity and seemingly loses his wager and perceives himself as a cuckold. However, it is Imogen who becomes the victim of this apparently innocent bet that has serious repercussions.
As in King Lear, the father-daughter conflict results in a father's inability to see his daughter for what she is: loving and dutiful. Instead he sees her as intentionally sabotaging his own plans and upstaging his authority by going against his wishes, even though Posthumus will make a much more suitable husband than Cloten, the oafish and arrogant stepson. Their exchange is bitter as they discuss who is the more valuable of the two suitors yet Imogen holds her own and refuses to be cowed by her father's anger and threats. Despite his lack of wealth, Posthumus is the better man yet whether or not he is as virtuous as Imogen will be seen shortly.