Today we’re going to take a look at Imogen’s monologue from Act 3, Scene 4 of Cymbeline by William Shakespeare. A great monologue for the actor looking to play high stakes, high emotion, and play dangerously. Let’s take a look.
Meet Imogen, the sole surviving child of King Cymebline of Britain. Before the play begins, Imogen has married her boo, Posthumus. Cymbeline catches wind of this and swiftly banishes him to Italy. They are both pretty upset about this, and rightly so.
Cymbeline wants her to marry someone of royal blood, and so his wife, the Queen comes up with a dastardly plan for Clotten, her bastard child, to woo Imogen, marry her, kill her and Cymbeline and take the throne for herself?
Clotten makes unwanted advances on Imogen who rightfully protests them furiously, and hides herself away from him in her chamber.
Meanwhile in Italy Posthumus meets with his friend Iachamo, and he and Iachamo make a bet that Iachamo can seduce Imogen and sleep with her. If Iachamo is right he gets Posthumus’ wedding bracelet and if he isn’t he has to fight Posthumus in a duel and pay for the privilege of certain death! Sounds like a fair trade to me.
So Iachomo goes back to Britain and hides away in Imogen’s chamber waiting for her to fall asleep. Once she does, he steals her bracelet, takes notes of the mole on her breast and flees back to Italy with his “proof”.
Posthumus is furious to find this out and sets out to enact his revenge, get ready for this, on Imogen, not Posthumus but Imogen. Seems fair. Anyway he writes two letters. One to Imogen telling her to meet him in Wales, and another to Pisanio, his servant, ordering him to chaperone her and kill her on the way there.
And so Pisanio tells her to disguise herself as a man and travel with him to Wales where they will meet with Posthumus. And so off they go and the next time we see them they’re well into their journey when Pisanio decides to show Imogen the letter telling him to kill her. Imogen is highly disturbed by this but in an act of passion tells Pisanio to do it. Going so far as to draw his sword and hand it to him. She says this…
Why, I must die,
And if I do not by thy hand, thou art
No servant of thy master’s. Against self-slaughter
There is a prohibition so divine
That cravens my weak hand. Come, here’s my heart.
Something’s afore’t. Soft, soft, we’ll no defence,
Obedient as the scabbard. What is here?
She pulls letters from her bodice
The scriptures of the loyal Leonatus,
All turned to heresy? Away, away,
She throws the letters away
Corrupters of my faith, you shall no more
Be stomachers to my heart. Thus may poor fools
Believe false teachers. Though those that are betrayed
Do feel the treason sharply, yet the traitor
Stands in worse case of woe. And thou, Posthumus,
That didst set up my disobedience ’gainst the King
My father, and makes me put into contempt the suits
Of princely fellows, shalt hereafter find
It is no act of common passage but
A strain of rareness; and I grieve myself
To think, when thou shalt be disedged by her
That now thou tirest on, how thy memory
Will then be panged by me. Prithee dispatch,
The lamb entreats the butcher. Where’s thy knife?
Thou art too slow to do thy master’s bidding
When I desire it too.
Leonatus: An officer of Alexander the Great
Stomachers: A part of a dress that covers a corset.
Hereafter: From now on.
Prithee: Please/Do this/Go on
Well, I have to die,
And if you don’t kill me, you are not loyal to your master.
There are such strong holy laws against suicide that my hands are being weak.
Come on then, here’s my heart. Wait there’s something in front of it. Wait, wait, I want no armor,
I’ll take a sword as willingly as a scabbard.
What’s in here?
She pulls the papers from her garment
The holy words of the loyal soldier Leonatus which were actually blasphemous?
She throws the papers away
Go away! Words that have destroyed my faith will not protect my heart any longer.
Foolish people believe lying teachers with ease. Even though those that are betrayed feel the pain of the betrayal sharply, those that commit it are even worse off.
And you, Posthumus, who made me go against my fathers wishes and look down on good men shall soon learn that no one dares to try these things for a reason; And it saddens me to think about how when you’re inevitably dumped by your new girlfriend that your memories will be flooded by me.
Go on, kill me. The lamb is begging the butcher to kill it. Where is your sword?
You’re too slow to carry out your orders even when I tell you to.
Notes on Performance
This is a fantastic monologue for those wanting to explore high stakes so lean into that. This is a larger than life situation so don’t hold back. Give it everything you’ve got.
Secondly keep in mind the idea that even though you know as the actor how this is going to play out, never allow that to sneak into your performance. There always has to be a level of surprise in any work that you do and this is a great example of that. Imogen doesn’t know if she’s going to die or not when she goes into this speech so don’t let the audience know what will happen.
And lastly, and this is the fun part, decide whether you believe that your Imogen really believes what she is saying. Does she really want Pasanio to kill her? Or is this an act of defiance to his wishes given how unjustly she’s been treated?