home contact

The Shakespeare Sisterhood: Imogen

To Imogen has been awarded, almost without a dissenting voice, the high distinction of being the most admirable of her immortal company -- a woman in whom all perfections meet in rare harmony -- who never cloys, never disappoints.

Of all Shakspeare's wives -- and he delighted in shaping models of conjugal fidelity -- she is the master-piece; chaste, ardent, brave, devoted, and beautiful, she is indeed "best of wives, most delightful of women." The secret charm of Imogen's character is that she comes within the range of popular sympathy more successfully than her equally excellent married sisters: we never recognize Juliet as a wife -- in fact, she never assumes that position; at the best, we offer but cold tribute of admiration to the classic virtues of Hermione and the Roman Portia; Desdemona we pity, tenderly, though with a degree of half-conscious contempt. But our sweet princess of Britain commands our exalted respect, while she elicits a sympathy which can never degenerate into commiseration.

With all her softness, her "fear and niceness" -- a "lady so tender of rebukes that words are strokes, and strokes death to her" -- she is not, like Desdemona, passive under injustice, even to painful self-humiliation; or, like Hermione, statuesquely heroic. Her dignity is never more proudly asserted than in her very subjection to her husband's will, even when he is no longer entitled to her duty.

An excellent exemplification of this trait of her character is afforded by the scene in which Pisanio detains her, when midway on her rapturous journey to meet her banished lord, to confess that Posthumus has ordered him to kill her, on an accusation of infidelity.

She receives the astounding intelligence, at first, with all the indignation natural to a woman whose purity is equalled by her spirit:
False to his bed! What is it to be false?
To lie in watch there, and to think on him?
To weep 'twixt clock and clock? if sleep charge nature,
To break it with a fearful dream of him,
And cry myself awake? That's false to his bed,
Is it?
Yet her despair, her shocking disappointment in one who, to her fond eyes, had "sat 'mongst men like a descended god," even a half malicious desire to die, in order that her husband's remorse may be complete when he discovers his mistake, influence her to pray for death at Pisanio's hands:
Come, fellow, be thou honest:
Do thou thy master's bidding. When thou see'st him,
A little witness my obedience. Look!
I draw the sword myself! take it; and hit
The innocent mansion of my love, my heart!
Fear not; 'tis empty of all things, but grief.
Thy master is not there, who was, indeed,
The riches of it. Do his bidding; strike!

How to cite this article:
Palmer, Henrietta L. The Stratford gallery, or, The Shakespeare sisterhood. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1859. Shakespeare Online. 20 Oct. 2009. (date when you accessed the information) < >.

Related Articles

 Elements of Shakespearean Comedy
 Cymbeline Plot Summary
 Famous Quotations from Cymbeline
 How to pronounce the names in Cymbeline
 Sources for Cymbeline

 More on Imogen
 Introduction to Guiderius and Arviragus
 Introduction to Cloten
 Introduction to Cymbeline
 Introduction to Posthumus
 Introduction to Iachimo

Previous: Titania              Next: Portia (Merchant of Venice)

Imogen. From A Stratford Gallery.