| Tales from Shakespeare|
|by Charles and Mary Lamb|
|First published in 1807, these simple retellings of the plots of Shakespeare's plays have delighted generations of children, while serving as an excellent introduction to the dramas of our greatest playwright. Shakespeare's own language is used as much as possible to accustom children to the English of the Elizabethan age and so make easier their transition to the reading of the plays themselves. Numerous black and white illustrations by Louis Rhead complement the text. Ages 10-14 |
URING the time of Augustus Caesar, Emperor of Rome, there
reigned in England (which was then called Britain) a king whose
name was Cymbeline.
Cymbeline's first wife died when his three children (two sons and
a daughter) were very young. Imogen, the eldest of these
children, was brought up in her father's court; but by a strange
chance the two sons of Cymbeline were stolen out of their nursery
when the eldest was but three years of age and the youngest quite
an infant; and Cymbeline could never discover what was become of
them or by whom they were conveyed away.
Cymbeline was twice married. His second wife was a wicked,
plotting woman, and a cruel stepmother to Imogen, Cymbeline's
daughter by his first wife.
The queen, though she hated Imogen, yet wished her to marry a son
of her own by a former husband (she also having been twice
married), for by this means she hoped upon the death of Cymbeline
to place the crown of Britain upon the head of her son Cloten;
for she knew that, if the king's sons were not found, the
Princess Imogen must be the king's heir. But this design was
prevented by Imogen herself, who married without the consent or
even knowledge of her father or the queen.
Posthumus (for that was the name of Imogen's husband) was the
best scholar and most accomplished gentleman of that age. His
father died fighting in the wars for Cymbeline, and soon after
his birth his mother died also for grief at the loss of her
Cymbeline, pitying the helpless state of this orphan, took
 Posthumus (Cymbeline having given him that name because he was
born after his father's death), and educated him in his own
Imogen and Posthumus were both taught by the same masters, and
were playfellows from their infancy; they loved each other
tenderly when they were children, and, their affection continuing
to increase with their years, when they grew up they privately
The disappointed queen soon learned this secret, for she kept
spies constantly in watch upon the actions of her stepdaughter,
and she immediately told the king of the marriage of Imogen with
Nothing could exceed the wrath of Cymbeline when he heard that
his daughter had been so forgetful of her high dignity as to
marry a subject. He commanded Posthumus to leave Britain and
banished him from his native country forever.
The queen, who pretended to pity Imogen for the grief she
suffered at losing her husband, offered to procure them a private
meeting before Posthumus set out on his journey to Rome, which
place he had chosen for his residence in his banishment. This
seeming kindness she showed the better to succeed in her future
designs in regard to her son Cloten, for she meant to persuade
Imogen, when her husband was gone, that her marriage was not
lawful, being contracted without the consent of the king.
Imogen and Posthumus took a most affectionate leave of each
other. Imogen gave her husband a diamond ring which had been her
mother's, and Posthumus promised never to part with the ring; and
he fastened a bracelet on the arm of his wife, which he begged
she would preserve with great care, as a token of his love; they
then bade each other farewell, with many vows of everlasting love
Imogen remained a solitary and dejected lady in her father's
court, and Posthumus arrived at Rome, the place he had chosen for
Posthumus fell into company at Rome with some gay young
 men of
different nations, who were talking freely of ladies, each one
praising the ladies of his own country and his own mistress.
Posthumus, who had ever his own dear lady in his mind, affirmed
that his wife, the fair Imogen, was the most virtuous, wise, and
constant lady in the world.
One of those gentlemen, whose name was Iachimo, being offended
that a lady of Britain should be so praised above the Roman
ladies, his country-women, provoked Posthumus by seeming to doubt
the constancy of his so highly praised wife; and at length, after
much altercation, Posthumus consented to a proposal of Iachimo's
that he (Iachimo) should go to Britain and endeavor to gain the
love of the married Imogen. They then laid a wager that if
Iachimo did not succeed in this wicked design he was to forfeit a
large sum of money; but if he could win Imogen's
 favor, and
prevail upon her to give him the bracelet which Posthumus had so
earnestly desired she would keep as a token of his love, then the
wager was to terminate with Posthumus giving to Iachimo the ring
which was Imogen's love present when she parted with her husband.
Such firm faith had Posthumus in the fidelity of Imogen that he
thought he ran no hazard in this trial of her honor.
Iachimo, on his arrival in Britain, gained admittance and a
courteous welcome from Imogen, as a friend of her husband; but
when he began to make professions of love to her she repulsed him
with disdain, and he soon found that he could have no hope of
succeeding in his dishonorable design.
The desire Iachimo had to win the wager made him now have
recourse to a stratagem to impose upon Posthumus, and for this
purpose he bribed some of Imogen's attendants and was by them
conveyed into her bedchamber, concealed in a large trunk, where
he remained shut up till Imogen was retired to rest and had
fallen asleep; and then, getting out of the trunk, he examined
the chamber with great attention, and wrote down everything he
saw there, and particularly noticed a mole which he observed upon
Imogen's neck, and then softly unloosing the bracelet from her
arm, which Posthumus had given to her, he retired into the chest
again; and the next day he set off for Rome with great
expedition, and boasted to Posthumus that Imogen had given him
the bracelet, and likewise permitted him to pass a night in her
chamber. And in this manner Iachimo told his false tale: "Her
bedchamber," said he, "was hung with tapestry of silk and silver,
the story was the proud Cleopatra when she met her Anthony, a
piece of work most bravely wrought."
"This is true," said Posthumus; "but this you might have heard
spoken of without seeing."
"Then the chimney," said Iachimo, "is south of the chamber, and
the chimneypiece is Diana bathing; never saw I figures livelier
 "This is a thing you might have likewise heard," said
Posthumus; "for it is much talked of."
Iachimo as accurately described the roof of the chamber; and
added, "I had almost forgot her andirons; they were two winking
Cupids made of silver, each on one foot standing." He then took
out the bracelet, and said: "Know you this jewel, sir? She gave
me this. She took it from her arm. I see her yet; her pretty
action did outsell her gift, and yet enriched it, too. She gave
it me, and said, she prized it once." He last of all described
the mole he had observed upon her neck.
Posthumus, who had heard the whole of this artful recital in an
agony of doubt, now broke out into the most passionate
exclamations against Imogen. He delivered up the diamond ring to
Iachimo which he had agreed to forfeit to him if he obtained the
bracelet from Imogen.
Posthumus then in a jealous rage wrote to Pisanio, a gentleman of
Britain, who was one of Imogen's attendants, and had long been a
faithful friend to Posthumus; and after telling him what proof he
had of his wife's disloyalty, he desired Pisanio would take
Imogen to Milford Haven, a seaport of Wales, and there kill her.
And at the same time he wrote a deceitful letter to Imogen,
desiring her to go with Pisanio, for that, finding he could live
no longer without seeing her, though he was forbidden upon pain
of death to return to Britain, he would come to Milford Haven, at
which place he begged she would meet him. She, good, unsuspecting
lady, who loved her husband above all things, and desired more
than her life to see him, hastened her departure with Pisanio,
and the same night she received the letter she set out.
When their journey was nearly at an end, Pisanio, who, though
faithful to Posthumus, was not faithful to serve him in an evil
deed, disclosed to Imogen the cruel order he had received.
Imogen, who, instead of meeting a loving and beloved husband,
found herself doomed by that husband to suffer death, was
afflicted beyond measure.
 Pisanio persuaded her to take comfort and wait with patient
fortitude for the time when Posthumus should see and repent his
injustice. In the mean time, as she refused in her distress to
return to her father's court, he advised her to dress herself in
boy's clothes for more security in traveling; to which advice she
agreed, and thought in that disguise she would go over to Rome
and see her husband, whom, though he had used her so barbarously,
she could not forget to love.
When Pisanio had provided her with her new apparel he left her to
her uncertain fortune, being obliged to return to court; but
before he departed he gave her a vial of cordial, which he said
the queen had given him as a sovereign remedy in all disorders.
The queen, who hated Pisanio because he was a friend to Imogen
and Posthumus, gave him this vial, which she supposed contained
poison, she having ordered her physician to give her some poison,
to try its effects (as she said) upon animals; but the physician,
knowing her malicious disposition, would not trust her with real
poison, but gave her a drug which would do no other mischief than
causing a person to sleep with every appearance of death for a
few hours. This mixture, which Pisanio thought a choice cordial,
he gave to Imogen, desiring her, if she found herself ill upon
the road, to take it; and so, with blessings and prayers for her
safety and happy deliverance from her undeserved troubles, he
Providence strangely directed Imogen's steps to the dwelling of
her two brothers who had been stolen away in their infancy.
Bellarius, who stole them away, was a lord in the court of
Cymbeline, and, having been falsely accused to the king of
treason and banished from the court, in revenge he stole away the
two sons of Cymbeline and brought them up in a forest, where he
lived concealed in a cave. He stole them through revenge, but he
soon loved them as tenderly as if they had been his own children,
educated them carefully, and they grew up fine youths, their
princely spirits leading them to bold and daring actions; and as
they subsisted by hunting, they were active and hardy,
 and were
always pressing their supposed father to let them seek their
fortune in the wars.
At the cave where these youths dwelt it was Imogen's fortune to
arrive. She had lost her way in a large forest through which .her
road lay to Milford Haven (from which she meant to embark for
Rome); and being unable to find any place where she could
purchase food, she was, with weariness and hunger, almost dying;
for it is not merely putting on a man's apparel that will enable
a young lady, tenderly brought up, to bear the fatigue of
wandering about lonely forests like a man. Seeing this cave, she
entered, hoping to find some one within of whom she could procure
food. She found the cave empty, but, looking about, she
discovered some cold meat, and her hunger was so pressing that
she could not wait for an invitation, but sat down and began to
"Ah," said she, talking to herself, "I see a man's life is a
 tedious one. How tired am I! For two nights together I have made
the ground my bed. My resolution helps me, or I should be sick.
When Pisanio showed me Milford Haven from the mountain-top, how
near it seemed!" Then the thoughts of her husband and his cruel
mandate came across her, and she said, "My dear Posthumus, thou
art a false one!"
The two brothers of Imogen, who had been hunting with their
reputed father, Bellarius, were by this time returned home.
Bellarius had given them the names of Polydore and Cadwal, and
they knew no better, but supposed that Bellarius was their
father; but the real names of these princes were Guiderius and
Bellarius entered the cave first, and, seeing Imogen, stopped
them, saying: "Come not in yet. It eats our victuals, or I
should think it was a fairy."
"What is the matter, sir?" said the young men.
"By Jupiter!" said Bellarius, again, "there is an angel in the
cave, or if not, an earthly paragon." So beautiful did Imogen
look in her boy's apparel.
She, hearing the sound of voices, came forth from the cave and
addressed them in these words: "Good masters, do not harm me.
Before I entered your cave I had thought to have begged or bought
what I have eaten. Indeed, I have stolen nothing, nor would I,
though I had found gold strewed on the floor. Here is money for
my meat, which I would have left on the board when I had made my
meal, and parted with prayers for the provider."
IMOGEN: "GOOD MASTERS, DO NOT HARM ME"
They refused her money with great earnestness.
"I see you are angry with me," said the timid Imogen; "but, sirs,
if you kill me for my fault, know that I should have died if I
had not made it."
"Whither are you bound," asked Bellarius, "and what is your
"Fidele is my name," answered Imogen. "I have a kinsman who is
bound for Italy; he embarked at Milford Haven, to
 whom being
going, almost spent with hunger, I am fallen into this offense."
"Prithee, fair youth," said old Bellarius, "do not think us
churls, nor measure our good minds by this rude place we live in.
You are well encountered; it is almost night. You shall have
better cheer before you depart, and thanks to stay and eat it.
Boys, bid him welcome."
The gentle youths, her brothers, then welcomed Imogen to their
cave with many kind expressions, saying they would love her (or,
as they said, him) as a brother; and they entered the cave, where
(they having killed venison when they were hunting) Imogen
delighted them with her neat housewifery, assisting them in
preparing their supper; for, though it is not the custom now for
young women of high birth to understand cookery, it was then, and
Imogen excelled in this useful art; and, as her brothers prettily
expressed it, Fidele cut their roots in characters, and sauced
their broth, as if Juno had been sick and Fidele were her dieter.
"And then," said Polydore to his brother, "how angel-like he
They also remarked to each other that though Fidele smiled so
sweetly, yet so sad a melancholy did overcloud his lovely face,
as if grief and patience had together taken possession of him.
For these her gentle qualities (or perhaps it was their near
relationship, though they knew it not) Imogen (or, as the boys
called her, Fidele) became the doting-piece of her brothers, and
she scarcely less loved them, thinking that but for the memory of
her dear Posthumus she could live and die in the cave with these
wild forest youths; and she gladly consented to stay with them
till she was enough rested from the fatigue of traveling to
pursue her way to Milford Haven.
When the venison they had taken was all eaten and they were going
out to hunt for more, Fidele could not accompany them because she
was unwell. Sorrow, no doubt, for her husband's
 cruel usage, as well as the fatigue of wandering in the forest,
was the cause of her illness.
They then bid her farewell, and went to their hunt, praising all
the way the noble parts and graceful demeanor of the youth
Imogen was no sooner left alone than she recollected the cordial
Pisanio had given her, and drank it off, and presently fell into
a sound and deathlike sleep.
When Bellarius and her brothers returned from hunting, Polydore
went first into the cave, and, supposing her asleep, pulled off
his heavy shoes, that he might tread softly and not awake her (so
did true gentleness spring up in the minds of these princely
foresters); but he soon discovered that she could not be awakened
by any noise, and concluded her to be dead, and Polydore lamented
over her with dear and brotherly regret, as if they had never
from their infancy been parted.
Bellarius also proposed to carry her out into the forest, and
there celebrate her funeral with songs and solemn dirges, as was
then the custom.
Imogen's two brothers then carried her to a shady covert, and
there, laying her gently on the grass, they sang repose to her
departed spirit, and, covering her over with leaves and flowers,
"While summer lasts and I live here, Fidele, I will daily strew
thy grave. The pale primrose, that flower most like thy face; the
bluebell, like thy clear veins; and the leaf of eglantine, which
is not sweeter than was thy breath—all these will I strew over
thee. Yea, and the furred moss in winter, when there are no
flowers to cover thy sweet corse."
When they had finished her funeral obsequies they departed, very
Imogen had not been long left alone when, the effect of the
sleepy drug going off, she awaked, and easily shaking off the
slight covering of leaves and flowers they had thrown over her,
she arose, and, imagining she had been dreaming, she said:
 "I thought I was a cave-keeper and cook to honest creatures. How
came I here covered with flowers?"
Not being able to find her way back to the cave, and seeing
nothing of her new companions, she concluded it was certainly all
a dream; and once more Imogen set out on her weary pilgrimage,
hoping at last she should find her way to Milford Haven, and
thence get a passage in some ship bound for Italy; for all her
thoughts were still with her husband, Posthumus, whom she
intended to seek in the disguise of a page.
But great events were happening at this time, of which Imogen
knew nothing; for a war had suddenly broken out between the Roman
Emperor Augustus Caesar and Cymbeline, the King of Britain; and a
Roman army had landed to invade Britain, and was advanced into
the very forest over which Imogen was journeying. With this army
Though Posthumus came over to Britain with the Roman army, he did
not mean to fight on their side against his own countrymen, but
intended to join the army of Britain and fight in the cause of
his king who had banished him.
He still believed Imogen false to him; yet the death of her he
had so fondly loved, and by his own orders, too (Pisanio having
written him a letter to say he had obeyed his command, and that
Imogen was dead), sat heavy on his heart, and therefore he
returned to Britain, desiring either to be slain in battle or to
be put to death by Cymbeline for returning home from banishment.
Imogen, before she reached Milford Haven, fell into the hands of
the Roman army, and, her presence and deportment recommending
her, she was made a page to Lucius, the Roman general.
Cymbeline's army now advanced to meet the enemy, and when they
entered this forest Polydore and Cadwal joined the king's army.
The young men were eager to engage in acts of valor, though they
little thought they were going to fight for their own royal
father; and old Bellarius went with them to the battle.
 He had long since repented of the injury he had done to Cymbeline
in carrying away his sons; and, having been a warrior in his
youth, he gladly joined the army to fight for the king he had so
And now a great battle commenced between the two armies, and the
Britons would have been defeated, and Cymbeline himself killed,
but for the extraordinary valor of Posthumus and Bellarius and
the two sons of Cymbeline. They rescued the king and saved his
life, and so entirely turned the fortune of the day that the
Britons gained the victory.
When the battle was over, Posthumus, who had not found the death
he sought for, surrendered himself up to one of the officers of
Cymbeline, willing to suffer the death which was to be his
punishment if he returned from banishment.
Imogen and the master she served were taken prisoners and brought
before Cymbeline, as was also her old enemy, Iachimo, who was an
officer in the Roman army. And when these prisoners were before
the king, Posthumus was brought in to receive his sentence of
death; and at this strange juncture of time Bellarius with
Polydore and Cadwal were also brought before Cymbeline, to
receive the rewards due to the great services they had by their
valor done for the king. Pisanio, being one of the king's
attendants, was likewise present.
Therefore there were now standing in the king's presence (but
with very different hopes and fears) Posthumus and Imogen, with
her new master the Roman general; the faithful servant Pisanio
and the false friend Iachimo; and likewise the two lost sons of
Cymbeline, with Bellarius, who had stolen them away.
The Roman general was the first who spoke; the rest stood silent
before the king, though there was many a beating heart among
Imogen saw Posthumus, and knew him, though he was in the disguise
of a peasant; but he did not know her in her male attire. And she
knew Iachimo, and she saw a ring on his finger which she
perceived to be her own, but she did not know him as yet to
been the author of all her troubles; and she stood before her own
father a prisoner of war.
Pisanio knew Imogen, for it was he who had dressed her in the
garb of a boy. "It is my mistress," thought he. "Since she is
living, let the time run on to good or bad." Bellarius knew her,
too, and softly said to Cadwal, "Is not this boy revived from
"One sand," replied Cadwal, "does not more resemble another than
that sweet, rosy lad is like the dead Fidele."
"The same dead thing alive," said Polydore.
"Peace, peace," said Bellarius. "If it were he, I am sure he
would have spoken to us."
"But we saw him dead," again whispered Polydore.
"Be silent," replied Bellarius.
Posthumus waited in silence to hear the welcome sentence of his
own death; and he resolved not to disclose to the king that he
had saved his life in the battle, lest that should move Cymbeline
to pardon him.
Lucius, the Roman general, who had taken Imogen under his
protection as his page, was the first (as has been before said)
who spoke to the king. He was a man of high courage and noble
this was his speech to the king:
"I hear you take no ransom for your prisoners, but doom them all
to death. I am a Roman, and with a Roman heart will suffer,
death. But there is one thing for which I would entreat." Then
bringing Imogen before the king, he said: "This boy is a Briton
born. Let him be ransomed. He is my page. Never master had a page
so kind, so duteous, so diligent on all occasions, so true, so
nurselike. He hath done no Briton wrong, though he hath served a
Roman. Save him, if you spare no one beside."
Cymbeline looked earnestly on his daughter Imogen. He knew her
not in that disguise; but it seemed that all-powerful Nature
spake in his heart, for he said: "I have surely seen him; his
face appears familiar to me. I know not why or wherefore I
live, boy, but I give you your life; and ask of me what boon you
will and I will grant it you. Yea, even though it be the life of
the noblest prisoner I have."
"I humbly thank your Highness," said Imogen.
What was then called granting a boon was the same as a promise to
give any one thing, whatever it might be, that the person on
whom that favor was conferred chose to ask for.
They all were attentive to hear what thing the page would ask
for; and Lucius, her master, said to her:
"I do not beg my life, good lad, but I know that is what you will
"No, no, alas!" said Imogen. "I have other work in hand, good
master. Your life I cannot ask for."
This seeming want of gratitude in the boy astonished the Roman
Imogen then, fixing her eye on Iachimo, demanded no other boon
than this: that Iachimo should be made to confess whence he had
the ring he wore on his finger.
Cymbeline granted her this boon, and threatened Iachimo with the
torture if he did not confess how he came by the diamond ring on
Iachimo then made a full acknowledgment of all his villainy, in
telling, as has been before related, the whole story of his wager
with Posthumus and how he had succeeded in imposing upon his
What Posthumus felt at hearing this proof of the innocence of his
lady cannot be expressed. He instantly came forward and confessed
to Cymbeline the cruel sentence which he had enjoined Pisanio to
execute upon the princess, exclaiming, wildly:
"O Imogen, my queen, my life, my wife! O Imogen, Imogen, Imogen!"
Imogen could not see her beloved husband in this distress without
discovering herself, to the unutterable joy of Posthumus, who was
thus relieved from a weight of guilt and woe, and restored to the
good graces of the dear lady he had so cruelly treated.
 Cymbeline, almost as much overwhelmed as he with joy, at finding
his lost daughter so strangely recovered, received her to her
former place in his fatherly affection, and not only gave her
husband Posthumus his life, but consented to acknowledge him for
Bellarius chose this time of joy and reconciliation to make his
confession. He presented Polydore and Cadwal to the king, telling
him they were his two lost sons, Guiderius and Arviragus.
Cymbeline forgave old Bellarius; for who could think of
punishments at a season of such universal happiness? To find his
daughter living, and his lost sons in the persons of his young
deliverers, that he had seen so bravely fight in his defense, was
unlooked-for joy indeed!
Imogen was now at leisure to perform good services for her late
master, the Roman general, Lucius, whose life the king, her
father, readily granted at her request; and by the mediation of
the same Lucius a peace was concluded between the Romans and the
Britons which was kept inviolate many years.
How Cymbeline's wicked queen, through despair of bringing her
projects to pass, and touched with remorse of conscience,
sickened and died, having first lived to see her foolish son
Cloten slain in a quarrel which he had provoked, are events too
tragical to interrupt this happy conclusion by more than merely
touching upon. It is sufficient that all were made happy who were
deserving; and even the treacherous Iachimo, in consideration of
his villainy having missed its final aim, was dismissed without
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