C

Cymbeline

Cymbeline, which takes places in ancient Britain, is filled with hidden identities, extraordinary schemes, and violent acts. Long ago, the two sons of King Cymbeline were abducted, leaving Cymbeline with a daughter, Imogen. Cymbeline's stepson, Cloten, is now his heir, and Cymbeline expects Imogen to marry him. She secretly marries Posthumus Leonatus instead.

Banished from court, Posthumus makes a foolish bet on Imogen's chastity, which leads to false evidence that she has betrayed him. He plots to have her killed, and starts by sending her on a journey. Meanwhile, still angry about Imogen's marriage, Cloten plans to find and rape her.

Imogen—now disguised as a boy, "Fidele"—unwittingly encounters her brothers, who have grown up in a mountain cave unaware of their princely origins. The brothers kill Cloten, but Imogen, horrified, believes they have slain Posthumus.

Cymbeline, meanwhile, refuses to pay a tribute to the Romans, who invade Britain. After the Romans are repelled in battle, Cymbeline agrees to the tribute, his sons are restored, and Imogen and Posthumus are reconciled.

Early printed texts

Cymbeline was first published in the 1623 First Folio and that text serves as the source for all subsequent editions of the play.

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opening of Cymbeline in the First Folio
Item Title: 
Works. 1623] Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies : published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22273 Fo.1 no.68
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1623

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opening of Cymbeline in the Second Folio
Item Title: 
Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, and tragedies. : Published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22274 Fo.2 no.07
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1632

Picturing Cymbeline

As part of an NEH-funded project, the Folger digitized thousands of 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century images representing Shakespeare’s plays. Some of these images show actors in character, while others show the plays as if they were real-life events—telling the difference isn't always easy. A selection of images related to Cymbeline is shown below, with links to our digital image collection.

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Drawing by H.J. Ford of Posthumous and Imogen (late 19th century)

Posthumous and Imogen (late 19th century)

Item Title: 
Cymbeline, Posthumus and Imogen [graphic] / Henry Justice Ford.
Item Call Number: 
ART Box F699 no.2 (size L)
Item Creator: 
Ford, H. J. (Henry Justice), 1860-1941, artist.
Item Date: 
[late 19th century]

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Julia Marlowe as Imogen (1894)
Julia Marlowe as Imogen (1894)
Item Title: 
Julia Marlowe Taber [as Imogen in Shakespeare's Cymbeline] [graphic] / copyright 1894 by B.J. Falk.
Item Call Number: 
ART File M349.5 no.19 PHOTO (size XS)
Item Creator: 
Falk, B. J. (Benjamin J.), 1853-1925, photographer.
Item Date: 
N[ew] Y[ork : s.n.], c1894.

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Engraving by R.H. Cromek of Iachimo spying on Imogen (Act 2, scene 2; 1804)

Iachimo spying on Imogen (Act 2, scene 2; 1804)

Item Title: 
Cymbeline, act II, sc. II ... Jachimo -- How bravely thou becoms't thy bed [graphic] / [Henry] Fuseli R.A., del. ; R.H. Cromek, sc.
Item Call Number: 
ART File S528c3 no.6 (size XS)
Item Creator: 
Cromek, R. H. (Robert Hartley), 1770-1812, printmaker.
Item Date: 
London [England] : pub. by F. & C. Rivington, 1804.

More images of Cymbeline can be seen in our digital image collection. (Because of how they were cataloged, some images from other plays might appear in the image searches linked here, so always check the sidebar to see if the image is described as part of a larger group.)