Posthumus Monologue (Act 2, Scene 5)
Today we’re going to take a look at one of Posthumus Monologues from Act 2, Scene 5 of Cymbeline by William Shakespeare. Now there is a lot about this monologue that has not aged well, so as you explore it keep that in mind. This is not the monologue of a character who we would be rooting for in this day and age. It is, however, an extremely high stakes monologue filled with emotional highs and lows, and a good chance for the actor to explore performing a monologue that they may not exactly agree with. Let’s take a look…
So this play takes place in Ancient Britain, during the Roman occupation. Cymbeline is the King of Britain, and about 20 years ago two of his sons were stolen from him by someone called Belarius, leaving him with one child, his daughter Imogen. Cymbeline discovers that Imogen has married her lover Posthumus in secret and banishes Posthumus, because he feels that Imgoen being his only heir, must produce an heir of her own of full royal blood. Meanwhile the Queen is conspiring to have her son from a previous marriage, Clotten, marry Imogen, and to then poison her and King Cymbeline taking the throne for herself. She goes to the court doctor to procure what she thinks is poison, but is in fact a harmless sleeping potion switched out by the doctor who is suspicious of her. She passes the potion onto Imogen and Posthumus’ servant under the guise of medicine. Imogen, heartbroken, hides herself away in her chambers, and away from Clotten aggressive advances.
So Posthumus has been banished to Italy. While there he meets Iachamo. Iachamo bets Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen and bring him back proof. If he wins he gets Posthumus wedding bracelet and if he loses he has to pay Posthumus and fight him in a duel. And so he goes to Britain where he aggressively tries to seduce Imogen who strongly shuts him down, and sends him packing. So Iachamo hides in a chest in Imogen’s chamber and waits for her to sleep. Once she’s sleeping he comes out, takes the bracelet and takes notes of the mole on Imogen’s chest as proof that he won the bet. Returning to Rome he manages to convince Posthumus that he won the bet, and Posthumus has this to say about women…
Is there no way for men to be, but women
Must be half-workers? We are all bastards,
And that most venerable man which I
Did call my father was I know not where
When I was stamped. Some coiner with his tools
Made me a counterfeit; yet my mother seemed
The Dian of that time, so doth my wife
The non-pareil of this. O vengeance, vengeance!
Me of my lawful pleasure she restrained
And prayed me oft forbearance; did it with
A pudency so rosy, the sweet view on’t
Might well have warmed old Saturn, that I thought her
As chaste as unsunned snow. O, all the devils!
This yellow Iachimo, in an hour, was’t not?
Or less, at first? Perchance he spoke not, but
Like a full-acorned boar, a German one,
Cried ‘O!’ and mounted; found no opposition
But what he looked for should oppose, and she
Should from encounter guard. Could I find out
The woman’s part in me– for there’s no motion
That tends to vice in man but I affirm
It is the woman’s part: be it lying, note it,
The woman’s; flattering, hers; deceiving, hers;
Lust and rank thoughts, hers, hers; revenges, hers;
Ambitions, covetings, change of prides, disdain,
Nice-longing, slanders, mutability,
All faults that name– nay, that hell knows– why hers
In part or all, but rather all, for even to vice
They are not constant but are changing still,
One vice but of a minute old for one
Not half so old as that. I’ll write against them,
Detest them, curse them. Yet ’tis greater skill
In a true hate to pray they have their will.
The very devils cannot plague them better.
Is there no way for men to exist but for women to work half as hard?
We’re all illegitimate, and my ‘respectable’ father was who-knows-where when I was conceived.
I am a counterfeit made by a forger.
My mother seemed like a virgin goddess back then and my wife appears equally the same now!
Oh revenge, revenge! My perfectly normal urges she gently turned down and asked me to show restraint!
She would do it with such sweet prudence that even the Gods couldn’t resist her. I thought she was as pure as fresh snow.
Oh what the hell! Ugly Iachamo; within an hour wasn’t it?
Or even less? When they first saw each other. Maybe he didn’t even speak and he just roared like a bear and mounted her.
He found no opposition except for the opposition he wanted, not the sort she should have used to stop him.
If only I could find the womanly part of me. If it’s lying that’s the womanly part.
If it’s flattering, it’s hers
If it’s lying, it’s hers
If it’s sex crazed it’s hers
It’s hers if it wants revenge
Ambitious, Jealous, Changing clothes, disagreeable, delusional, slanderous, indecisive, every sin without a name, no wait all the sins in hell! They’re all hers! Women aren’t even faithful to their vices! Changing vices every other minute. I’ll write about women, hate women and curse women. But it’s an even better revenge to pray that they get what they want.
Even the devil can’t make their lives harder than that.
Notes on Performance
As always it’s always a good idea to try and read the play before embarking on understanding a monologue fully. So try and find a copy of the play or take a look at our play breakdown here!
The other thing to keep in mind is that there is a bit of a confidence trick you need to pull on yourself here. As the actor you know that Posthumus’ assumptions are false but you need to be able to convince your character brain that Imogen has been unfaithful!
Lastly you can really allow yourself to be a little gross here. There’s no need to make Posthumus sympathetic here because to a modern audience he really isn’t. So don’t hold back!
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