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Act I, Scene 4
The setting is Rome where a group of men are gathered in Philario's house: Philario, Iachimo, and a Frenchman, a Dutchman and a Spaniard. They are talking about Posthumus, who is to arrive there as the guest of Philario because he has been banished from his homeland. Iachimo maintains that he has seen Posthumus once in Britain before his marriage to Imogen. Philario requests the company to look after Posthumus, whose father had been his friend, and treat him as a gentleman.
Posthumus arrives, and after being introduced to the other gentlemen, it transpires that he is acquainted with the Frenchman from Orleans. Their conversation, about a quarrel that almost came to be decided with swords, intrigues Posthumus and he insists on knowing the full details. It turns out to be a wager about the chastity, beauty and virtue of their "country mistresses." Posthumus then declares that his British lady is more fair, virtuous, wise and chaste than any woman in France. Iachimo now takes charge, and manipulates Posthumus into renewing the wager with him. So confident is he about his sexual prowess, Iachimo promises to prove to Posthumus that his lady is no paragon of virtue, and further states that if he comes back with proof of Imogen's infidelity, Posthumus will have to forego the diamond ring that Imogen had given him. However, if Imogen remains chaste and pure, Iachimo would lose ten thousand ducats and would have to fight a duel with Posthumus.
Against the protests of Philario, the two men agree to the wager, and record a covenant before Iachimo leaves for Britain.
This scene takes place after an interval of time required for Posthumus to travel from Britain to Rome. It seems from the opening few lines that Posthumus arrived in Rome just a few hours before the action of the scene takes place. The shifting of scenes was easy on the Shakespearean stage, as the settings were practically non-existent. A passing hint in the dialogue about the atmosphere was considered enough to indicate the locality of action.
This scene is a very important one, as the main action of the play pivots on the wager between Posthumus and Iachimo. That Posthumus accepts so disgraceful a challenge reveals that his value as a husband may be less than what it appears to be to Imogen. However, it also reveals Iachimo's powers of persuasion and manipulation. The conversation between Iachimo and Posthumus takes a serious turn, though it begins as a casual discussion. One will find that it becomes not only serious but finally verges on a point of honor when Iachimo maliciously remarks, "I see, you have some religion in you, that you fear." By this he means that Posthumus is the wiser in fearing to have his wife put to proof. Thus he brings his confidence in her over the side of the wager and trial.
Iachimo is introduced here as a stereotypical Latin lover. He is full of himself and his capability to seduce women even those who are reputed to be virtuous and faithful. Although a scoundrel, he is not as evil a figure as Cloten or The Queen. He is a troublemaker and schemer who creates trouble but often has a conscience about what he has done.
More in question in this scene is Posthumus' ability to wager such a bet without any compunction. In doing so, he sets himself up for trouble. What makes the wager more reprehensible is his stipulation that if Iachimo proves he is right, then they will be friends as Imogen is not worth a fight. Yet if she proves Iachimo wrong, then he and Posthumus will have a duel.