home contact


Please see the bottom of the page for explanatory notes.

ACT V SCENE IV A British prison. 
 Enter POSTHUMUS and two Gaolers. 
First Gaoler You shall not now be stol'n, you have locks upon you; 
 So graze as you find pasture. 
Second Gaoler Ay, or a stomach. 
 [ Exeunt Gaolers.  
POSTHUMUS LEONATUS Most welcome, bondage! for thou art away,
 think, to liberty: yet am I better 
 Than one that's sick o' the gout; since he had rather 
 Groan so in perpetuity than be cured 
 By the sure physician, death, who is the key 
 To unbar these locks. My conscience, thou art fetter'd
 More than my shanks and wrists: you good gods, give me 
 The penitent instrument to pick that bolt, 10
 Then, free for ever! Is't enough I am sorry? 
 So children temporal fathers do appease; 
 Gods are more full of mercy. Must I repent?
 I cannot do it better than in gyves, 
 Desired more than constrain'd: to satisfy,

 If of my freedom 'tis the main part, take 
 No stricter render of me than my all. 
 I know you are more clement than vile men,
 Who of their broken debtors take a third, 
 A sixth, a tenth, letting them thrive again 20
 On their abatement: that's not my desire: 
 For Imogen's dear life take mine; and though 
 'Tis not so dear, yet 'tis a life; you coin'd it:
 'Tween man and man they weigh not every stamp; 
 Though light, take pieces for the figure's sake: 
 You rather mine, being yours: and so, great powers, 
 If you will take this audit, take this life, 
 And cancel these cold bonds. O Imogen!
 I'll speak to thee in silence. 
 [ Sleeps.  
 Solemn music. Enter, as in an apparition, SICILIUS LEONATUS, father to POSTHUMUS, an old man, attired like a warrior; leading in his hand an ancient matron, his wife, and mother to POSTHUMUS, with music before them: then, after other music, follow the two young LEONATI, brothers to POSTHUMUS, with wounds as they died in the wars. They circle POSTHUMUS round, as he lies sleeping. 
Sicilius Leonatus No more, thou thunder-master, show 30
 Thy spite on mortal flies: 
 With Mars fall out, with Juno chide, 
 That thy adulteries
 Rates and revenges. 
 Hath my poor boy done aught but well, 
 Whose face I never saw? 
 I died whilst in the womb he stay'd 
 Attending nature's law:
 Whose father then, as men report 
 Thou orphans' father art, 40
 Thou shouldst have been, and shielded him 
 From this earth-vexing smart. 
Mother Lucina lent not me her aid,
 But took me in my throes; 
 That from me was Posthumus ript, 
 Came crying 'mongst his foes, 
 A thing of pity! 
Sicilius Leonatus Great nature, like his ancestry,
 Moulded the stuff so fair, 
 That he deserved the praise o' the world, 50
 As great Sicilius' heir. 
First Brother When once he was mature for man, 
 In Britain where was he
 That could stand up his parallel; 
 Or fruitful object be 
 In eye of Imogen, that best 
 Could deem his dignity? 
Mother With marriage wherefore was he mock'd,
 To be exiled, and thrown 
 From Leonati' seat, and cast 60
 From her his dearest one, 
 Sweet Imogen? 
Sicilius Leonatus Why did you suffer Iachimo,
 Slight thing of Italy, 
 To taint his nobler heart and brain 
 With needless jealosy; 
 And to become the geck and scorn 
 O' th' other's villany?
Second Brother For this from stiller seats we came, 
 Our parents and us twain, 70
 That striking in our country's cause 
 Fell bravely and were slain, 
 Our fealty and Tenantius' right
 With honour to maintain. 
First Brother Like hardiment Posthumus hath 
 To Cymbeline perform'd: 
 Then, Jupiter, thou king of gods, 
 Why hast thou thus adjourn'd
 The graces for his merits due, 
 Being all to dolours turn'd? 80
Sicilius Leonatus Thy crystal window ope; look out; 
 No longer exercise 
 Upon a valiant race thy harsh
 And potent injuries. 
Mother Since, Jupiter, our son is good, 
 Take off his miseries. 
Sicilius Leonatus Peep through thy marble mansion; help; 
 Or we poor ghosts will cry
 To the shining synod of the rest 
 Against thy deity. 90
First Brother | Help, Jupiter; or we appeal, 
 | And from thy justice fly. 
Second Brother |
 Jupiter descends in thunder and lightning, sitting upon an eagle: he throws a thunderbolt. The Apparitions fall on their knees. 
Jupiter No more, you petty spirits of region low, 
 Offend our hearing; hush! How dare you ghosts 
 Accuse the thunderer, whose bolt, you know, 
 Sky-planted batters all rebelling coasts? 
 Poor shadows of Elysium, hence, and rest
 Upon your never-withering banks of flowers: 
 Be not with mortal accidents opprest; 
 No care of yours it is; you know 'tis ours. 100
 Whom best I love I cross; to make my gift, 
 The more delay'd, delighted. Be content;
 Your low-laid son our godhead will uplift: 
 His comforts thrive, his trials well are spent. 
 Our Jovial star reign'd at his birth, and in 
 Our temple was he married. Rise, and fade! 
 He shall be lord of lady Imogen,
 And happier much by his affliction made. 
 This tablet lay upon his breast, wherein 
 Our pleasure his full fortune doth confine: 110
 and so, away: no further with your din 
 Express impatience, lest you stir up mine.
 Mount, eagle, to my palace crystalline. 
 [ Ascends.  
Sicilius Leonatus He came in thunder; his celestial breath 
 Was sulphurous to smell: the holy eagle 
 Stoop'd as to foot us: his ascension is 
 More sweet than our blest fields: his royal bird
 Prunes the immortal wing and cloys his beak, 
 As when his god is pleased. 
All Thanks, Jupiter! 
Sicilius Leonatus The marble pavement closes, he is enter'd 
 His radiant root. Away! and, to be blest,
 Let us with care perform his great behest. 
 [ The Apparitions vanish.  
Posthumus Leonatus [ Waking ] 
 A father to me; and thou hast created 
 A mother and two brothers: but, O scorn! 
 Gone! they went hence so soon as they were born: 
 And so I am awake. Poor wretches that depend
 On greatness' favour dream as I have done, 
 Wake and find nothing. But, alas, I swerve: 
 Many dream not to find, neither deserve, 130
 And yet are steep'd in favours: so am I, 
 That have this golden chance and know not why.
 What fairies haunt this ground? A book? O rare one! 
 Be not, as is our fangled world, a garment 
 Nobler than that it covers: let thy effects
 So follow, to be most unlike our courtiers, 
 As good as promise.
 [ Reads.  
 "When as a lion's whelp shall, to himself unknown, 
 without seeking find, and be embraced by a piece of 
 tender air; and when from a stately cedar shall be 
 lopped branches, which, being dead many years, 
 shall after revive, be jointed to the old stock and
 freshly grow; then shall Posthumus end his miseries, 
 Britain be fortunate and flourish in peace and plenty." 
 'Tis still a dream, or else such stuff as madmen 
 Tongue and brain not; either both or nothing; 
 Or senseless speaking or a speaking such
 As sense cannot untie. Be what it is, 
 The action of my life is like it, which 
 I'll keep, if but for sympathy. 150
 Re-enter Gaolers. 
First Gaoler Come, sir, are you ready for death? 
POSTHUMUS LEONATUS Over-roasted rather; ready long ago.
First Gaoler Hanging is the word, sir: if 
 you be ready for that, you are well cooked. 
POSTHUMUS LEONATUS So, if I prove a good repast to the 
 spectators, the dish pays the shot. 
First Gaoler A heavy reckoning for you, sir. But the comfort is,
 you shall be called to no more payments, fear no 
 more tavern-bills; which are often the sadness of 
 parting, as the procuring of mirth: you come in 
 flint for want of meat, depart reeling with too 
 much drink; sorry that you have paid too much, and
 sorry that you are paid too much; purse and brain 
 both empty; the brain the heavier for being too 
 light, the purse too light, being drawn of 
 heaviness: of this contradiction you shall now be 
 quit. O, the charity of a penny cord! It sums up
 thousands in a trice: you have no true debitor and 
 creditor but it; of what's past, is, and to come, 
 the discharge: your neck, sir, is pen, book and 
 counters; so the acquittance follows. 
POSTHUMUS LEONATUS I am merrier to die than thou art to live. 170
First Gaoler Indeed, sir, he that sleeps feels not the 
 tooth-ache: but a man that were to sleep your 
 sleep, and a hangman to help him to bed, I think he 
 would change places with his officer; for, look you, 
 sir, you know not which way you shall go.
POSTHUMUS LEONATUS Yes, indeed do I, fellow. 
First Gaoler Your death has eyes in 's head then; I have not seen 
 him so pictured: you must either be directed by 
 some that take upon them to know, or do take upon 
 yourself that which I am sure you do not know, or
 jump the after inquiry on your own peril: and how 
 you shall speed in your journey's end, I think you'll 
 never return to tell one. 
POSTHUMUS LEONATUS I tell thee, fellow, there are none want eyes to 
 direct them the way I am going, but such as wink and 185
 will not use them. 
First Gaoler What an infinite mock is this, that a man should 
 have the best use of eyes to see the way of 
 blindness! I am sure hanging's the way of winking. 
 Enter a Messenger.  
Messenger Knock off his manacles; bring your prisoner to the king.
POSTHUMUS LEONATUS Thou bring'st good news; I am called to be made free. 
First Gaoler I'll be hang'd then. 
POSTHUMUS LEONATUS Thou shalt be then freer than a gaoler; no bolts for the dead. 
 [ Exeunt Posthumus and Messenger. 
First Gaoler Unless a man would marry a gallows and beget young 
 gibbets, I never saw one so prone. Yet, on my
 conscience, there are verier knaves desire to live, 
 for all he be a Roman: and there be some of them 
 too that die against their wills; so should I, if I 
 were one. I would we were all of one mind, and one 
 mind good; O, there were desolation of gaolers and 200
 gallowses! I speak against my present profit, but 
 my wish hath a preferment in 't. 
 [ Exeunt.  

Cymbeline, Act 5, Scene 5


Explanatory Notes for Act 5, Scene 4
From Cymbeline. A.W. Verity. Cambridge, University Press.


15-17. to satisfy etc.; to make actual atonement for his guilt, not merely to "repent" it. "If such atonement is the condition of my regaining freedom of conscience, then be so merciful as to let me make it by giving all I have, i.e. my life" -- Herford.

The whole drift of the passage ("liberty" -- "conscience ... fetter'd" -- "free for ever") shows that the "freedom" Posthumus means, and the only one he cares about, is release from the tortures of remorse; not physical freedom from his chains, nor freedom from punishment after death. For death is his "ransom" (v. 3. 80), and that fine once paid, he is "free for ever."

No stricter; implying 'no lesser.'

19. broken. "That poor and broken bankrupt there," As You Like It, II. i. 57. It was the common word for 'become bankrupt'; cf. Richard II. II. 1. 257, "The king's grown bankrupt, like a broken man." Antonio's creditors said "he cannot choose but break." Such terms had painful associations for Shakespeare: his father went bankrupt at Stratford.

24, 25. i.e. men in their ordinary dealings do not weigh each coin: they accept a coin for the sake of the monarch's head stamped on it.

27. audit, statement of accounts. Shakespeare is rather fond of this metaphor; cf. Hamlet, I. 5. 78, in. 3. 82; Macbeth, I. 6. 27.

28. cancel... bonds. An obvious Macbeth (III. 2. 49, 50) touch:
"Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond
Which keeps me pale!"
(i.e. the lives of Banquo and Fleance). The quibble on bonds recalls III. 2. 37. It displeased the 18th century sense of "decorum"; another instance, says Johnson, "of our Author's infelicity in pathetic speeches."

Solemn music. "Here follow a vision, a masque, and a prophecy which interrupt the fable [i.e. story] without the least necessity, and unmeasurably lengthen this act. I think it plainly foisted in afterwards for mere show, and apparently not of Shakespeare" -- Pope. The subsequent narrative of Posthumus renders it unnecessary -- Steevens. See V. 5. 425-433. Many editors reject the Vision as not Shakespeare's. Yet, there are verbal touches which do just suggest that Shakespeare may have accepted and revised another's work. Anyhow, the Vision brings Cymbeline within the sphere of court-drama.

31. King Lear, IV. 1. 38, 39:
"As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods,
They kill us for their sport."
38. Attending, awaiting.

43. Lucina; the goddess (Juno Genitalis) who assisted women in child-birth.

45. ript; Macbeth, v. 8. 15, 16.

64. "This is a slight unmeritable man" (Lepidus), Julius Ccesar, IV. 1. 12. thing; cf. I. 1. 16, 125.

65-68. A little like Othello?

geck, dupe; cf. Twelfth Night, v. 350-352 (the only other place in Shakespeare where the word occurs):
"Kept in a dark house, visited by the priest,
And made the most notorious geek and gull
That e'er invention play'd on."
(Malvolio's account of his experiences.)

75. hardiment, bravery, "hardiness" (in. 6. 22).

89. synod. "The glorious gods sit in hourly synod about thy particular prosperity" (Coriolauus, v. 2. 74)! But a closer parallel, the idea being the same, is Hamlet, II. 2. 516 (the Play-scene):
"Out, out thou strumpet, Fortune! All you gods,
In general synod, take away her power."

Jupiter descends. The classical deities were accustomed to these missions in the Masque-literature of the period (Inigo Jones the great architect and others designing ingenious stage contrivances for their descents). "Diana descends" in Act v. of Pericles and makes a rhymed speech which rings rather doubtful; but the Act as a whole is Shakespeare's.

93-113. Theobald has a good comment: "I own, to me, what Jupiter says to the Phantoms seems to carry the stamp of our Author, if the other parts of the masque appear inferior." (F.)

101. Whom best I love I cross. A scriptural sentiment, rather than pagan?

102. delighted, delightful.

In Elizabethan E. the use of the participial and adjectival terminations was less fixed and regular than now, hence we find -ed = -ful. Cf. 'graced' = full of grace, dignity, King Lear, 1. 4. 267; 'disdained' = disdainful, 1 Henry IV. I. 3. 183 ("disdain'd contempt"); 'guiled' = 'guileful, treacherous,' The Merchant of Venice, III. 2. 97 ("guiled shore").

113. crystalline; in Milton always crystalline; cf. Samson Agonistes, 546, "Allure thee from the cool crystalline stream." So in Par. Lost, in. 482, vi. 772, vii. 271.

116. to foot, to clutch in his talons.

118, 119. "A bird is said to prune himself when he clears his feathers from superfluities.... To claw their beaks is an accustomed action with hawks and eagles" -- Steevens. No doubt the action of stroking with the claw is meant, but the word cloys must, I presume, have some such sense as 'soothes,' i.e. it cannot be taken as a variant form of claws.

129. swerve, go astray, mistake; used obviously for the sake of the rhyme.

138-144. Here again we have what seems an anticipation of the final scene of the play. Why introduce the passage twice? It is clearly needed in the denoument (v. 5), where the riddles are all explained.

145, 146. Macbeth's verdict on life:
"a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing" (v. 5. 26-28).
147, 148. Either dream-speech, which lacks consciousness ("sense"), or the unintelligible babble of madness.

150. sympathy, agreement, conformity; for him life has lost all reality ("dream") and meaning ("such stuff").

Note how inconsistent this conclusion (148-150) is with his train of thought earlier (22-29) and later (192, 193); and how easily the whole episode of the Vision is detached from the rest of the scene.

153. Hanging is the word; cf. V. 5. 422; 'the watch- word, the motto.'

156. shot, bill -- "reckoning" (157).

157. The First Gaoler is evidently related to the Grave-diggers in Hamlet, and possibly to the Porter in Macbeth.

164. drawn of, relieved of.

167. debitor and creditor, account-book.

180-182. A mixture of Macbeth, I. 7. 7, "we'ld jump the life to come" (i.e. hazard, risk), and Hamlet, III. 1. 79, 80:
"The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns."
184. wink, shut the eyes.

191, 192. I am called to be made free, i.e. with the "freedom" of death; he expects to be executed.

197. prone, eager for the next world.

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

Notes on Shakespeare...

Richard Shakespeare, Shakespeare's paternal grandfather, was a farmer in the small village of Snitterfield, located four miles from Stratford. Records show that Richard worked on several different farms which he leased from various landowners. Coincidentally, Richard leased land from Robert Arden, Shakespeare's maternal grandfather. Read on...

Shakespeare acquired substantial wealth thanks to his acting and writing abilities, and his shares in London theatres. The going rate was £10 per play at the turn of the sixteenth century. So how much money did Shakespeare make? Read on...

Henry Bolingbroke, the eldest son of John of Gaunt and the grandson of King Edward III, was born on April 3, 1367. Henry usurped the throne from the ineffectual King Richard II in 1399, and thus became King Henry IV, the first of the three kings of the House of Lancaster. Read on...

Known to the Elizabethans as ague, Malaria was a common malady spread by the mosquitoes in the marshy Thames. The swampy theatre district of Southwark was always at risk. King James I had it; so too did Shakespeare's friend, Michael Drayton. Read on...

Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most captivating and complex figures in history. In 1152, Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet (later to become Henry II). Their son, John, was born in 1167 and is the title character of Shakespeare's history play.

 Shakespeare's Treatment of Love in the Plays
 Shakespeare's Dramatic Use of Songs
 Shakespeare Quotations on Love
 Shakespeare Wedding Readings
 Shakespeare on Sleep