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A scene from Cymbeline

Introduction to the play

Cymbeline tells the story of a British king, Cymbeline, and his three children, presented as though they are in a fairy tale. The secret marriage of Cymbeline’s daughter, Imogen, triggers much of the action, which includes villainous slander, homicidal jealousy, cross-gender disguise, a deathlike trance, and the appearance of Jupiter in a vision.

Kidnapped in infancy, Cymbeline’s two sons are raised in a Welsh cave. As young men, they rescue a starving stranger (Imogen in disguise); kill Cymbeline’s stepson; and fight with almost superhuman valor against the Roman army. The king, meanwhile, takes on a Roman invasion rather than pay a tribute. He too is a familiar figure—a father who loses his children and miraculously finds them years later; a king who defeats an army and grants pardon to all.

Cymbeline displays unusually powerful emotions with a tremendous charge. Like some of Shakespeare’s other late work—especially The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest—it is an improbable story lifted into a nearly mythic realm.

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Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of Cymbeline

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

Hark, hark, the lark at heaven’s gate sings,
      And Phoebus gins arise

Act 2, scene 3, lines 20–21

Fear no more the heat o’ th’ sun,
      Nor the furious winter’s rages

Act 4, scene 2, lines 331–332

Cymbeline in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to Cymbeline. Find more in our digital image collection

Julia Marlowe Taber as Imogen
Act 2, scene 2: "O, sleep thou ape of death, lie dull upon her!" By S. Begg.
Posthumus and Imogen. By Henry Justice Ford.
Act 3, scene 4: Imogen Entering the Cave of Belarius

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare


Learn more about the play, its language, and its history from the experts behind our edition.

About Shakespeare’s Cymbeline
An introduction to the plot, themes, and characters in the play

Reading Shakespeare’s Language
A guide for understanding Shakespeare’s words, sentences, and wordplay

An Introduction to This Text
A description of the publishing history of the play and our editors’ approach to this edition

Shakespeare and his world

Learn more about Shakespeare, his theater, and his plays from the experts behind our editions.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

Shakespeare’s Theater
An essay about what theaters were like during Shakespeare’s career

The Publication of Shakespeare’s Plays
An essay about how Shakespeare’s plays were published

Related blog posts and podcasts

Teaching Cymbeline

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.