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Catalog of the Shakespeare Art Collection  --  Watercolors of Shakespearean Characters 
~ Bastards, Frauds & Tellers of the Truth  ~

shakespeare, shakespeare’s plays, william shakespeare, shakespearean, shakespeare in art, analysis of shakespeare’s writing, cymbeline, imogen, art on shakespeare, hannah tompkins, artist hannah tompkins, shakespeare art collection, profiles of shakespearean characters, shakespeare in paintings, cloten, posthumus, cloten the clod, pisanio, lucius, romans, britons, iachimo, shakespeare art museum

by Hannah Tompkins

Imogen Watercolor by Hannah Tompkins


Some allowance should be made for Imogen for she is young, inexperienced and in love: a combination that accounts for some of youth's impetuous behavior. She is besides, the only daughter and heir to the king and probably accustomed to having her way.

Driven by passion, she-defies her father and secretly marries Posthumus, the man she loves, how e'er he be untitled. Her steadfast fidelity to her newly-wed husband is commendable, even considering that it was a matter that concerned her personally. The king, a typical paternal tyrant is in a green wrath. He intended her to marry his step-son, Cloten the clod.

Posthumus is banished and goes to Rome, wearing the diamond ring Imogen gave him on parting. There he takes up with one treacherous Iachimo, whose slander against women makes no exceptions. Posthumus lays the ring on a wager to back his trust in Imogen's virtue and Iachimo goes off to Briton to put it to the test. On his return, Posthumus is convinced by his lies and forfeits the ring.

In a jealous rage he orders his faithful servant to take her to Wales and kill her. Imogen, believing she is to meet him there goes along willingly, but once there, Pisanio reveals the plot and releases her.

Disguised as a boy she takes to the hills where she becomes housekeeper to her two brothers (unknown to her) and their guardian. Falling into a death-like sleep from a potion, they lay her in burial next to the headless body of Cloten (slain by the brother) whom she mistakes for Posthumus when she wakes. Just then, Lucius, the Roman general appears and taking pity on her, takes her into his service promising to be like a father to her.

The briefing of this part of the plot is offered to suggest the traumatic distraction Imogen was suffering in the kind of emotional crisis that welcomes friendly support. The general shows just such compassion and keeps to his commitment,

Subsequently, the Romans are defeated by the Britons in battle and the prisoners are condemned to execution by Cymbeline.

In war or peace, the General's humanity is consistent. He says:
"Consider, sir, the chance of war: the day was yours by accident; had it gone with us,
We should not, when the blood was cool, have threaten'd
Our prisoners with the sword.
A Roman with a Roman's heart can suffer."
He is resigned to the sentence, but proves his generosity by making an eloquent plea for Imogen's life. (Act V sc. v.)

The king recognizes something familiar about the 'page',(as a father, he's not too bright,) but his immediate liking of her prompts him to say:
"And ask of Cymbeline what boon thou wilt,
Fitting my bounty and thy state, I'll give it;
Yea, though thou do demand a prisoner,
The noblest ta'en."
It is assumed, out of gratitude, she will plead for Lucius, but she does a complete turn-about. It is no surprise for the hint of this frailty comes earlier in Act II sc.iii, when, provoked by Cloten's annoyances she snaps
"You put me to forget a lady's manners,
By the very truth of it, I care not for you,
And am so near the lack of charity--
To accuse myself."
It is with the same 'lack of charity' that she answers the general:
"No, no, alack..
Your life good master, must shuffle for itself."
And with this she makes her request to the king. The choice is explained for among the Roman prisoners she has spotted Iachimo, wearing her diamond ring.
"My boon is that this gentleman may render
Of whom he had this ring."
This is what she weighs against saving the life of the man who had been kind and protective to her in her hour of need. The callous indifference is a real jolt. It's this fair-weather friending that makes her a fraud, marring her image of 'divine perfection' by a streak of calculating selfishness. I'm not condemning it, for it is an ingrown part of every nature, but it should be accepted for what it is and not disguised as something else.

Copyright © 1982 Hannah Tompkins. All rights reserved.


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