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Act I, Scene 6
Imogen ruminates on her fate: a cruel father who is opposed to her love; a stepmother who is cunning and double-faced; a foolish suitor, Cloten, who does not think it improper to woo a married woman. She wonders if she is actually luckier than the brothers who were stolen as babies, for she feels sure that they must be happier than her.
Pisanio enters with Iachimo who brings letters from Posthumus. While Imogen reads the letter, Iachimo, smitten by her beauty, determines to win her favor. He sends Pisanio to take care of his manservant and tries to woo Imogen. He deliberately tells her that Posthumus is very happy and satisfied in Italy, without a thought of his despairing wife. He tells her that she should revenge herself on her uncaring husband by taking him, Iachimo, as a lover. Imogen is furious and threatens to haul Iachimo before the King for his unacceptable advances.
However, Iachimo immediately turns the tables on her by declaring that he was only testing her loyalty and love for Posthumus. The good and naive Imogen relents, and allows him to make amends for his forthright conduct. He requests her to keep safely in her bedchamber a chest containing some expensive gifts for the Emperor which he will take with him the next morning. She agrees to do so and leaves.
This is an important scene in which the action decides the fate of the hero and heroine. This scene, along with the wager-scene, weaves the threads that form the web of the plot. The whole scene is charged with a variety of emotions as Iachimo attempts several times to seduce Imogen but to no avail. It depicts the sorry and foredoomed attempt of Iachimo to win the wager, as he is smitten at the first sight of Imogen. He doubts the success of his advances, which he had planned, but invoking "audacity" to his aid, he makes a desperate and cautious bid for success.
Imogen appears to be embarrassed by the first part of Iachimo's insinuating speech. She does not become suspicious about the motives of the stranger as he has come to see her with high recommendations from her husband. Naturally, she has no reason to doubt the credentials of her husband's friend. Iachimo also very cunningly manages to take her in by talking out loud about how Posthumus is unable to distinguish between women such as herself and those who are more common. He hints that Posthumus is having a fine time in Rome and is called the "Briton reveler." By subtle suggestions about her supposed misfortune he rouses her curiosity. Being pressed to be more definite, he becomes more and more direct and less vague in his insinuations.
Imogen appears to be perplexed. She balances herself on the thin edge of belief and disbelief for a considerable time. But Iachimo soon commits the fatal mistake of expounding "his beastly mind" to her. She immediately scents danger and calls out to Pisanio. Her first instinct is to safeguard her position. Iachimo, perfect master of his emotions, beats a masterly retreat. But he returns to gain ground by altogether different methods. He quickly realizes the weak spot in her character - her love and admiration for her husband - and soon regains her confidence. He praises her husband and pretends to be his great friend. The latter part of the scene shows Iachimo to be a diabolically clever person and Imogen to be magnificently noble. It is obvious that Iachimo has already come prepared for both direct and deceptive attacks. The former failing, he is prepared for the second plan. Rather than seduce her, he will have to pretend as if he did. This means he needs access to Imogen's room in order to steal the bracelet and show that he and Imogen were lovers.
The action in the scene is so skillfully managed that it has commanded the praise of many critics. An exquisite touch of Shakespeare's hand occurs in a single pronoun in a speech of Imogen. Born a princess, she has given herself to Posthumus, a nameless man, as freely as if she were a peasant's daughter. She is remarkable, with all her dignity, for her unassuming deportment. But the insult of Iachimo stings her pride. For the first and only time, she asserts her position as royalty and speaks of herself in the plural number. She says that Iachimo has expounded, "His beastly mind to us." On the other hand, Iachimo is lacking any morals and will do what he can in order to win his bet, even if it means cheating.