Cymbeline speech study: the rant

A couple of days back, I broke down the Iachimo-in-the-Box speech from Act Two, Scene Two of Cymbeline. Today, let’s take a look at another speech, pretty much a direct result of that first speech: the Act Two, Scene Five’s single-scene soliloquizing rant by Posthumus.

He believes Innogen has been unfaithful, and he goes off:

POSTHUMUS
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 nonpareil 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 have a 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.
  • II.v.1-31

Unlike the last speech, this one is not so well-structured. But the scansion certainly gives us clues, or rather supports what we should have already assumed from the words themselves: Posthumus is a tortured man. If you include feminine endings as a deviation from the iambic pentameter, only two of the first eight lines is regular; the rest is a out-of-sorts mess:


/ / / / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

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 nonpareil of this. O, vengeance, vengeance!

The sixth line isn’t even pentameter–it has a caesura-induced sixth foot. In this section, he questions his own paternity, then shifts anger from mother to wife.

The next five lines–in which he questions Innogen’s actions and how they contrast with what he had thought of her–aren’t much better; only one is regular iambic pentameter…and the third line is bizarre–three iambs, followed by a pyrrhic (two unstressed) and a spondee (two stressed), with a feminine ending. It starts off normally enough:


/ ~ ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

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!

A trochee-headed first line, followed by the only iambic pentameter line in the batch. Is the false calm there tied to this concept of “lawful pleasure”? And just what the hell is that? His ownership of his wife’s body for his own marital pleasure? And he says that she has restrained and then put him off…are we to interpret this to mean that their marriage had yet to be consummated? Remember, we toyed with the same theory concerning Othello and Desdemona. Does the lack of consummation make the belief of infidelity even more tortuous? Is that why he uses “pudency” when “modesty would just as easily fit the meter of that line: “pudency” from the same etymology as “pudendum”…sex is on his mind. The next three lines, filled with mixed visual and taste metaphors (sweet view) and well as the dichotomy of heat (warmed old Saturn) and cold (unsunned snow) are filled with S sounds. Is this possibly a subtle reference to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, where the female was the original sinner? Regardless, in this last half of the section, the meter goes all to hell.

It’s interesting, then, that when he imagines Iachimo mounting Innogen, Posthumus’ rhythm actually calms:


~ / -~- / ~ / -~- / ~ /

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

Two regular lines followed by an irregular one (as he goes Iago’s route by equating sex with beasts), but once he imagines the orgasmic cry (the spondee at the head of that last line), then his meter (much like Iachimo’s during the latter part of the trunk-scene speech) further regulates for the next few lines:


/ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

Cried “O!” and mounted; found no opposition
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

But what he looked for should oppose and she
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / / /

Should from encounter guard. Could I find out

Fairly regular. But then, starting with the iamb-spondee “Could I find out,” Posthumus gets on a roll: a nine-line prosecution of the female sex:


/ / ~ / ~ / ~ / / /

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 have a name, nay, that hell knows,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Why, hers, in part or all, but rather all.

Lots of elisions there (“be it” “flattering” “covetings”), but fairly straightforward meter until he hits “lust and rank thoughts”…and that line is a trochee followed by two spondees. THAT sticks out. That bothers him; it’s only when he lists less lustful sins that he can get back into an iambic rhythm. Until, of course, he gets to “hell.”

Interestingly, the next line is only two feet long.

So why the long pause? And where does it go? I would argue the pause comes before the line, and is–more than anything–a chance for the actor to catch his breath (Shakespeare is nothing if not an actor’s playwright). Maybe even to calm himself down, as while the second line of this last section kicks off with a trochee, the rest is fairly solid iambic pentameter:


~ -/- ~ /

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.

Note I said iambic pentameter, not blank verse. We get a rhyme in the third-to- and second-to-last lines of the speech. We’ve seen couplets end speeches, scenes and plays. So that’s no surprise. And you could end the sentence and scene with “will”…so why add the last line?

I think there’s something psychological at work here. I don’t think he’s willing (no pun) to allow the speech and–more importantly–thought to end with a word that also means sexual desire. Not when he can append one last line denouncing them as worse than devils’ plague.

It’s a last parting shot. By a man who is pushed to his wit’s (and love’s) end.

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