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Please see the bottom of the page for explanatory notes.

ACT V SCENE III Another part of the field. 
 Enter POSTHUMUS and a British Lord. 
Lord Camest thou from where they made the stand? 
 Though you, it seems, come from the fliers. 
Lord I did.
POSTHUMUS LEONATUS No blame be to you, sir; for all was lost, 
 But that the heavens fought: the king himself 
 Of his wings destitute, the army broken, 
 And but the backs of Britons seen, all flying 
 Through a strait lane; the enemy full-hearted,
 Lolling the tongue with slaughtering, having work 
 More plentiful than tools to do't, struck down

 Some mortally, some slightly touch'd, some falling 10
 Merely through fear; that the strait pass was damm'd 
 With dead men hurt behind, and cowards living
 To die with lengthen'd shame. 
Lord Where was this lane? 
POSTHUMUS LEONATUS Close by the battle, ditch'd, and wall'd with turf; 
 Which gave advantage to an ancient soldier, 
 An honest one, I warrant; who deserved
 So long a breeding as his white beard came to, 
 In doing this for's country: athwart the lane, 
 He, with two striplings -- lads more like to run 
 The country base than to commit such slaughter 20
 With faces fit for masks, or rather fairer
 Than those for preservation cased, or shame-- 
 Made good the passage; cried to those that fled, 
 "Our Britain s harts die flying, not our men: 
 To darkness fleet souls that fly backwards! Stand; 
 Or we are Romans and will give you that
 Like beasts which you shun beastly, and may save, 
 But to look back in frown: stand, stand!" 
 These three, 
 Three thousand confident, in act as many-- 
 For three performers are the file when all 30
 The rest do nothing -- with this word "Stand, stand," 
 Accommodated by the place, more charming 
 With their own nobleness, which could have turn'd 
 A distaff to a lance, gilded pale looks, 
 Part shame, part spirit renew'd; that some,
 turn'd coward 
 But by example -- O, a sin in war, 
 Damn'd in the first beginners! -- gan to look 
 The way that they did, and to grin like lions 
 Upon the pikes o' the hunters. Then began
 A stop i' the chaser, a retire, anon 40
 A rout, confusion thick; forthwith they fly 
 Chickens, the way which they stoop'd eagles; slaves, 
 The strides they victors made: and now our cowards, 
 Like fragments in hard voyages, became
 The life o' the need: having found the backdoor open 
 Of the unguarded hearts, heavens, how they wound! 
 Some slain before; some dying; some their friends 
 O'er borne i' the former wave: ten, chased by one, 
 Are now each one the slaughter-man of twenty:
 Those that would die or ere resist are grown 50
 The mortal bugs o' the field. 
Lord This was strange chance -- 
 A narrow lane, an old man, and two boys! 
POSTHUMUS LEONATUS Nay, do not wonder at it: you are made
 Rather to wonder at the things you hear 
 Than to work any. Will you rhyme upon't, 
 And vent it for a mockery? Here is one: 
 "Two boys, an old man twice a boy, a lane, 
 Preserved the Britons, was the Romans' bane."
Lord Nay, be not angry, sir. 
POSTHUMUS LEONATUS 'Lack, to what end? 
 Who dares not stand his foe, I'll be his friend; 60
 For if he'll do as he is made to do, 
 I know he'll quickly fly my friendship too.
 You have put me into rhyme. 
Lord Farewell; you're angry. 
 [ Exit Lord.  
 Still going? This is a lord! O noble misery, 
 To be i' the field, and ask "what news?" of me!
 To-day how many would have given their honours 
 To have saved their carcasses! took heel to do't, 
 And yet died too! I, in mine own woe charm'd, 
 Could not find death where I did hear him groan, 
 Nor feel him where he struck: being an ugly monster, 70
 'Tis strange he hides him in fresh cups, soft beds, 
 Sweet words; or hath more ministers than we 
 That draw his knives i' the war. Well, I will find him 
 For being now a favourer to the Briton, 
 No more a Briton, I have resumed again
 The part I came in: fight I will no more, 
 But yield me to the veriest hind that shall 
 Once touch my shoulder. Great the slaughter is 
 Here made by the Roman; great the answer be 
 Britons must take. For me, my ransom's death; 80
 On either side I come to spend my breath; 
 Which neither here I'll keep nor bear again, 
 But end it by some means for Imogen. 
 Enter two British Captains and Soldiers. 
First Captain Great Jupiter be praised! Lucius is taken. 
 'Tis thought the old man and his sons were angels.
Second Captain There was a fourth man, in a silly habit, 
 That gave the affront with them. 
First Captain So 'tis reported: 
 But none of 'em can be found. Stand! who's there? 
 Who had not now been drooping here, if seconds 90
 Had answer'd him. 
Second Captain Lay hands on him; a dog! 
 A leg of Rome shall not return to tell 
 What crows have peck'd them here. He brags
 his service 
 As if he were of note: bring him to the king. 
 Enter CYMBELINE, BELARIUS, GUIDERIUS, ARVIRAGUS, PISANIO, Soldiers, Attendants, and Roman Captives. The Captains present POSTHUMUS to CYMBELINE, who delivers him over to a Gaoler: then exeunt omnes. 

Cymbeline, Act 5, Scene 4


Explanatory Notes for Act 5, Scene 3
From Cymbeline. A.W. Verity. Cambridge, University Press.


"Another part of Cymbeline for which Holinshed furnished matter is the description ... of the means whereby victory was transferred from the Romans to the Britons. The prowess of Belarius, and his adopted children, Guiderius and Arviragus, has a parallel in an exploit attributed to a Scottish husbandman named Hay, who, with his two sons' help, routed the Danes at the battle of Loncart, fought A.D. 976" -- Stone.

Holinshed's narrative of the incident does not, I think, call for reproduction in extenso; but it is interesting to note how, as in the Roman plays founded on North's Plutarch, Shakespeare has kept some verbal touches of his original. The student can identify for himself the Cymbeline parallels to the parts which I have italicised in the following extracts from Holinshed:
"This Haie beholding the king with the most part of the nobles, fighting with great valiancie in the middle ward, now destitute of the wings, and in great danger to be oppressed by the great violence of his enimies, caught a plow-beame in his hand, and with the same exhorting his sonnes to doo the like, hasted towards the battell.... There was neere to the place of the battell, a long lane fensed on the sides with ditches and walles made of turfe, through the which the Scots which fled were beaten downe by the enimies on heapes. Here Haie with his sonnes, supposing they might best staie the flight, placed themselves ouerthwart the lane, beat them backe whome they met fleeing, and spared neither friend nor fo."
Shakespeare's use here of different parts of Holinshed recalls Macbeth, where he has supplemented Holinshed's brief narrative of the Macbeth and Duncan story with a good deal from Holinshed's much fuller account of the Donwald and Duff story given earlier in the Chronicle.

3. The abrupt, rhetorical style of these speeches of Posthumus recalls, I think, the Sergeant's speeches in Macbeth, I. 2.

12. hurt behind. Cf. Macbeth, v. 8, where old Siward hears of his son's death. So in Coriolanus, I. 4. 37. Quite a classical touch.

17. breeding, life; not, I think, 'nurture, support.' A man with a long white beard is usually a man who has lived a long time, and a man who has shown such bravery as this old soldier is a man who has deserved a long lease of life.

20. The country base; prisoners' base or prison-base; a very popular rustic game. See an account in Shakespeare's England, 1916, II. 478, 479.

22. i.e. women's faces.

24. harts, men timid and fleet as deer; Theobald's ingenious correction of the Folios' hearts. (F.)

Note the predominance of the hunting-metaphor in the speech. It may be noticed that the later Folios make the same mistake in II. 4. 27, printing hearts for harts.

27, 28. may save etc., may escape (viz. death at the hands of the "three") merely by turning and facing the foe.

30. are the file; "constitute the whole troop." file, a body of persons; especially, in a context like this, of soldiers.

32. charming, acting like a charm upon the others; cf. I. 3. 35.

The description that follow:; has much in common with the scenes "before Corioli" in Coriolanus.

34. gilded, flushed. Lady Macbeth was ready to "gild the faces of the grooms" with Duncan's blood (11. 2. 56).

38. lions; no longer "harts" (24), i.e. timid deer.

42. stoop'd, swooped; cf. V. 4. 116; a falconer's term.

44. Like fragments i.e. when a ship's provisions have run short; a vivid simile in those (Elizabethan) days of hazardous exploration. Touchstone's brain, according to Jaques, "is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage" (As You Like It, II. 7. 39).

51. mortal bugs, deadly terrors; see bug in Glossary.

53. Sneering at the courtier: "this is a lord" (64).

Shakespeare himself, as a mere player -- cf. the bitter Sonnets CX, CXI -- may have had to put up with Court-insolence?

68. "Alluding to the common superstition of charms being powerful enough to keep men unhurt in battle" -- Steevens. Cf. Macbeth's "charmed life" (v. 8. 13). In the mediaeval duello (combats between single champions) each combatant took an oath before the judges of the contest: "I do swear that I have not upon me, nor on any of the arms I shall use, words, charms, or enchantments, to which I trust for help to conquer my enemy, but that I do only trust in God, in my right, and in the strength of my body and arms." See Todd's note on Samson Agonistes, 1134 and 1139, where the custom is alluded to ("I know no spells, use no forbidden arts"). The Italian epics are said to be full of this notion.

74. now, just now, till a moment ago. Evidently (85-91), he "resumes" his "Italian weeds" (v. 1. 23), though one does not quite see what he could have done with them -- as a "Briton peasant" -- during the battle.

80. my ransom, i.e. release from his troubles.

86, 87. silly habit, rustic dress.

90, 91. i.e. if others had supported him.

Enter Cymbeline etc. "This is the only instance in these plays [i.e. Shakespeare's] of the business of the scene being entirely performed in dumb show. The direction must have proceeded from the players, as it is perfectly unnecessary, and our author has elsewhere [in Hamlet, III. 2. 13, 14] expressed his contempt of such mummery" -- Ritson.

There is, of course, a dumb-show (a relic of the old Morality-pieces) in Hamlet, but it comes in the Play-scene (III. 2), which is designedly of the pre-Shakesperean, Senecan type of tragedy (like Gorboduc). Possibly, too, in Hamlet, the use of this old-fashioned device was intended as a touch of "local (i.e. Danish) colour," there being some reason to think that in the Danish theatre the dumb-show was used, as in Hamlet, to give an actual representation of the coming action. Usually, the dumb-show merely symbolised by some slight incident the general drift of the play -- e.g. in Gorboduc the breaking up of the solid group of sticks to suggest the results of disunion in a realm. The dumb-show in the next scene occurs in a very doubtful context; see v. 4. 30, note. The parts of Pericles (containing Gower's speeches) in which the dumb-show is so prominent are obviously non-Shakespearean.

How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Cymbeline. Ed. A.W. Verity. Cambridge, University Press, 1899. Shakespeare Online. 10 Dec. 2013. < >.

How to cite the sidebar:
Mabillard, Amanda. Notes on Shakespeare. Shakespeare Online. 10 Dec. 2013. < >.

More to Explore

 Cymbeline: The Play with Commentary
 Cymbeline Plot Summary
 Famous Quotations from Cymbeline
 How to pronounce the names in Cymbeline
 Sources for Cymbeline

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

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