Cymbeline Characters

Apparitions : The Apparitions comprise Posthumus’s mother, father and two brothers, and the god Jupiter, who appear on the stage assisted by special props and effects in the form of machinery and scenery. They constitute the deus ex machina of this play, in which the ancestors persuade the god Jupiter to intervene to solve an apparently hopeless situation.

Arviragus : Arviragus is the younger of Cymbeline’s sons, who are stolen from the nursery as babies by Belarius. He is brought up under the name of Cadwal, thinking that Belarius is his father. Arviragus shares his brother Guiderius’s princely nature, but is more poetic, imaginative and emotional, and less practical. It is Arviragus who plays the musical instrument Belarius keeps in the cave. Guiderius grows impatient with Arviragus when he waxes lyrical over Imogen’s supposedly dead body. But Arviragus has as much courage as his brother, fighting with him against the Romans and helping to rescue Cymbeline, with whom he is finally reunited.

Belarius : Belarius is a British Lord unjustly banished by Cymbeline. He steals the King’s baby sons, Guiderius and Arviragus, in revenge. With the sons and their nurse, Euriphile, whom he marries, he goes to live as an outlaw in a cave in the Welsh hills, where he goes under the name of Morgan. He brings up the King’s sons as his own. Prompted by the sons and against his initial cautious instinct, he goes to fight in the war against the Romans. He fights bravely, helping to turn the fortunes of the war in Britain’s favor and to rescue the captured Cymbeline. When he finally reveals his identity to Cymbeline, the King forgives him. If his immoral action in stealing the King’s sons is excluded, Belarius comes across as a virtuous man with a generous heart. But he is prone to utter wise philosophical sayings that are so abstract as to serve little practical purpose.

Caius Lucius : Some critics have argued that Caius Lucius, the Roman ambassador to Britain and later, the general of the invading force, is the only truly honorable man in the play. Unlike all the other characters, he never lies about anything. Even Cymbeline, while telling Lucius that he refuses to pay the tribute, praises Lucius’s honorable nature. Lucius takes Imogen (disguised as Fidele) as his servant out of compassion for her. In the battle, Lucius is captured by Belarius, the royal sons, and Posthumus, but Cymbeline is finally reconciled to Rome and, by implication, Lucius.

Cloten : Cloten is the Queen’s son by a former husband. The Queen wants him to inherit Cymbeline’s throne and plots on his behalf. Imogen was, against her will, betrothed to Cloten before her marriage to Posthumus. He constantly craves the respect due to a royal person but does nothing to deserve it, arousing the contempt of others at every turn. He is arrogant, stupid and quarrelsome, and wastes his time gambling. His unrefined nature is underlined by his lustful designs on Imogen and the fact that he smells bad. When Imogen spells out her rejection of him, he wants revenge on her and pursues her to Milford Haven. In the Welsh hills, he picks a quarrel with Guiderius, who kills him, an event that provokes little regret on the part of characters and audience.

Cornelius : Cornelius is a physician who has taught the Queen how to use medicinal herbs. He recognizes her wickedness, so when she asks him to supply her with deadly poisons, he outwardly agrees but actually supplies her with harmless potions that can make a person appear dead, only for them to awaken more refreshed than before. Like Pisanio, he is an honest servant who lies for honest ends. Cornelius later relates this to the court, revealing the Queen’s evil nature to Cymbeline. He also relates the Queen’s confession of her attempts to poison Imogen and provides confirmation that Pisanio gave Imogen a harmless drug.

Cymbeline : Cymbeline is King of Britain at a time when Britain is an outpost of the Roman Empire. He has three children-Guiderius, Arviragus and Imogen-by a previous wife. He has since married a second wife, the wicked Queen. At the opening of the play, Cymbeline is furious with his daughter, Imogen, for marrying the poor but worthy Posthumus. He imprisons Imogen and banishes Posthumus, actions which lead to Imogen running away. Years before, he had unwisely banished a loyal man, Belarius, who in revenge stole both of the King’s sons and heirs. Either directly or indirectly, therefore, Cymbeline cuts himself off from all his children, leaving him isolated and bereft of heirs.

For most of the play, Cymbeline is a weak and passive king who is ruled by his wife, and, to a lesser extent, her son Cloten. He makes mistakes of judgment, trusting the wicked (the Queen) and banishing the loyal (Belarius). Led by the Queen, he refuses to pay the tribute demanded of Britain by Rome. But after the Queen’s and Cloten’s death, a penitent Cymbeline begins to act with integrity and compassion. He is reunited with his lost sons and daughter, and also resumes the tribute to Rome.

Guiderius : Guiderius is the eldest of Cymbeline’s sons, who are stolen from the nursery as babies by Belarius. He is brought up under the name of Polydore, believing that Belarius is his father. Guiderius has many of the qualities expected of a ruler in Shakespeare’s time: an inherently noble and “prince-like” nature, courage and resoluteness. In contrast to his more poetical and imaginative brother, he has the practicality of the man of action. Under provocation, he kills Cloten and is willing to face the consequences. It is Guiderius’s idea that he and his adoptive family should fight in the war against the Romans. He fights bravely and helps to rescue Cymbeline. However, Cymbeline still intends to sentence him to death for Cloten’s killing. But the King reprieves Guiderius when his identity, as his lost son and heir, is revealed. We are left in no doubt that Guiderius will prove a worthy successor to the throne and will surpass his father in every way.

Iachimo : Iachimo is a cunning and dishonest Italian gentleman who makes a wager with Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen. When he fails, he resorts to trickery to convince Posthumus that his wife is unfaithful. Iachimo is a consummate psychological manipulator, who is able to spot Posthumus’s most sensitive point (his wife’s fidelity) and drive the knife into it. His animalistic and overtly sexual language, combined with his charm, combine to create a character who can radiate sexual heat and power on the stage. This is seen to good effect in the bedroom scene (Act 2, scene 2), where he commits a symbolic rape of Imogen in order to fabricate evidence of her infidelity. Iachimo repents of his villainy and joins the Roman army that invades Britain. After being captured, he clears Imogen’s name and offers Posthumus his life, but Posthumus spares it, in part because he believes that Iachimo should live with the burden of his guilt rather than escape it through death.

Imogen : Imogen is the central character, the romantic heroine who represents, in true Romance tradition, the epitome of beauty and virtue. However, she transcends this model because of her great vitality, spontaneity, intelligence, and emotional truth. Above all, she refuses to play the passive victim of her cruel circumstances. When Cymbeline rages at her for marrying with her heart, she tells him she is oblivious to his anger; she rounds on Iachimo when she realizes his motives are not pure; she trounces Cloten in a scene in which she begins by using cool politeness and ends with full-on anger; and she responds to Posthumus’s accusation of infidelity with furious yet elegant sarcasm. She shows resourcefulness in disguising herself as a boy to meet her husband (as she thinks) in Milford Haven. Finally, she gets her wish and is reunited with Posthumus.

Philario : Philario is a Roman gentleman who was a friend of Posthumus’s father’s. It is to his house that Posthumus goes after his banishment from England. Philario’s main role is to confirm Posthumus’s worthiness prior to his being tricked by Iachimo, and to provide the reasonable foil to Posthumus’s hysterical response to Iachimo’s slanders of Imogen. Philario is slower to be convinced of her adultery, but the fact that he too is finally persuaded seems to be an attempt on Shakespeare’s part to somewhat justify Posthumus’s response.

Philarmonus : Philarmonus is called the Soothsayer in the play. He makes a cryptic prophecy to Caius Lucius about an eagle (the Roman army) flying westwards into the sun (Cymbeline and Britain) and vanishing in the sunbeams, which he takes to mean Rome will be victorious in the war. When this proves wrong, he amends his interpretation to say that the vision means that Rome will be reconciled with Britain. He also interprets the prophecy that Posthumus finds lying next to him when he awakens from his enchanted dream about his ancestors. This prophecy predicts that from Posthumus’s reunion with Imogen, and Cymbeline’s reunion with his lost sons will flow prosperity and peace for Britain.

Pisanio : Pisanio, Posthumus’s loyal servant, becomes servant to Imogen and the Queen after Posthumus is banished. Posthumus orders him to kill Imogen for her supposed infidelity, but Pisanio decides that he will be a true servant by being a false one – by refusing to carry out the order. Instead, he sends Posthumus false proof that the order has been carried out. He thinks Posthumus is a noble man who has been abused by a villain. The Queen gives Pisanio a drug which she believes to be poison but claims to be a restorative medicine, and which she hopes Pisanio will give to Imogen. Pisanio follows Imogen on her journey to Milford Haven, where he is ordered to kill Imogen. On the journey, believing the Queen’s story, he gives the drug to Imogen, but it is a harmless drug which creates the temporary appearance of death. He returns to court and helps Imogen by denying all knowledge of her whereabouts. When in Wales, Imogen takes the drug, and is given up for dead by her hosts, Belarius and the sons. When she comes round, she suspects Pisanio has deliberately given her a poison, and fears that he was false to her, until the truth is revealed.

Posthumus Leonatus : Posthumus is an orphaned “poor but worthy” gentleman who is brought up by Cymbeline alongside Imogen, with whom he falls in love. He marries her and is banished by Cymbeline. He goes to live in Rome. In spite of his undoubted nobility of character and his deep love for Imogen, he is all too ready to believe the worst of her when Iachimo tells him she is unfaithful. He orders a servant, Pisanio, to kill her. Though he remains convinced of her infidelity on tenuous evidence, he later repents his decision to have her killed. In his penitence, he joins the Roman army that invades Britain in order to seek death in battle. With Belarius and the King’s lost sons, he fights bravely, helping to rescue Cymbeline, but death evades him. In an extraordinary scene, he strikes Imogen when she is trying to reveal her true identity to him. He does not know who she is at this point but it seems an ill omen that accords all too well with his previous tirade against womanhood and leads us to doubt whether he has truly reformed. He is finally reunited with Imogen and pardoned by Cymbeline.

Soothsayer : See Philarmonus

Queen : The Queen, Cymbeline’s second wife and mother to Cloten by a previous husband, is a beautiful but wicked character who schemes to have her son made heir to Cymbeline’s throne. She rules her husband and leads him to refuse to pay the tribute to Rome, proving the dominant figure in the negotiations. In contrast with the theme of nature as a life-giving force, she aims to master herbalism for killing people. She tries to poison Imogen, as in the absence of Cymbeline’s sons, this would leave Cloten as heir. When Cloten vanishes from court in pursuit of Imogen, she goes mad, confessing that she never loved Cymbeline, that she tried to poison Imogen, and that she planned the same fate for her husband. She dies in despair.