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MonkeyNotes-Cymbeline by William Shakespeare
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Act II, Scene 5

Posthumus, angry and distraught, rages against his wife and women in general in a soliloquy. He is now inclined to believe the worst about women, to the extent of doubting his own parentage and questioning his mother's own fidelity. He cannot understand how Imogen, who had restrained him from his "lawful pleasure" should have allowed Iachimo to seduce her. He, who had called her chaste, now calls her a whore. He is convinced that it is the woman who is evil, and who induces the man to do evil. At the beginning of the soliloquy he hovers on the brink of intense emotion and mental turmoil, but then the speech issues into a conventional cynicism that is quite remote from tragic feeling and more involved with charging women with all the evils known to humanity.


Notes

It is in this scene that some incongruity in the characterization of Posthumus emerges. In the opening scenes of the play, he is introduced as a hero, the brave and handsome gentleman of limited means, who is preferred by the heroine to the influential Cloten. He woos and wins her; when banished, he takes leave of Imogen with the grace and ardor of Romeo, and the tender eloquence with which Pisanio describes his master's departure seems designed to fix the wronged exile as a sympathetic memory in the minds of the audience. However, once in Rome, a curious change comes over him, perhaps due to the influence of companions such as Iachimo. His readiness to wager his wife's honor and the credulous alacrity with which he accepts Iachimo's story do credit neither to his intelligence nor his love. He is too ready to accept as true the story told him and his subsequent jealous frenzy is as unpleasant as Othello's, while he lacks almost all the excuses, which make the Moor's passion and predicament comparatively tragic.

The purpose of this soliloquy is obvious. The dramatist wants to convey some idea of the turbulent condition of Posthumus's mind. The volcanic outbursts of his soul show that he is affected beyond all measure. He denounces the whole of womankind, not excluding even his mother. This volcanic flare-up also shows how deeply he loved Imogen and what an infinite trust he had in her yet he lashes out in generalities rather than specifics because underneath he knows Imogen's value and her inability to be duplicitous. Consequently, on further investigation of his character, one could make an argument that his fury is projected onto women when it should be directed towards himself. By testing his faith in his wife, he ends up being the one who comes up morally wanting. His faith in Imogen was not able to survive such a sordid test of faith. By waging money on her fidelity, Posthumus comes off as being unscrupulous and deserving of his tortured state.

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