Cymbeline speech study: the wake-up call

Over the last week or so, I’ve been discussing some of the major speeches from Cymbeline. I started off with Act Two’s Iachimo-in-the-Box speech. Last weekend, I touched upon Posthumus’ full-scene, single-speech rant against women. Today, let’s move from the men to the main woman of the piece: Innogen.

In Act Four, Scene Two, the brothers have pulled what they think is the dead body of “Fidele” (actually Innogen dressed as a boy) from the cave. Belarius has put the newly decapitated body of Cloten (dressed like Posthumus) next to “Fidele,” and he and the boys have gone to dig graves. Innogen is not dead, however, and she wakes:

Yes, sir, to Milford Haven. Which is the way?
I thank you. By yond bush? Pray, how far thither?
‘Ods pittikins, can it be six mile yet?
I have gone all night. Faith, I’ll lie down and sleep.
 [She sees Cloten’s headless body.]
But soft! No bedfellow? O gods and goddesses!
These flowers are like the pleasures of the world,
This bloody man the care on ’t. I hope I dream,
For so I thought I was a cave-keeper
And cook to honest creatures. But ’tis not so.
’Twas but a bolt of nothing, shot at nothing,
Which the brain makes of fumes. Our very eyes
Are sometimes like our judgments, blind. Good faith,
I tremble still with fear; but if there be
Yet left in heaven as small a drop of pity
As a wren’s eye, feared gods, a part of it!
The dream’s here still. Even when I wake it is
Without me as within me, not imagined, felt.
A headless man? The garments of Posthumus?
I know the shape of ’s leg. This is his hand,
His foot Mercurial, his Martial thigh,
The brawns of Hercules; but his Jovial face—
Murder in heaven! How? ’Tis gone. Pisanio,
All curses madded Hecuba gave the Greeks,
And mine to boot, be darted on thee! Thou,
Conspired with that irregulous devil Cloten,
Hath here cut off my lord. To write and read
Be henceforth treacherous. Damned Pisanio
Hath with his forgèd letters—damned Pisanio—
From this most bravest vessel of the world
Struck the maintop. O Posthumus, alas,
Where is thy head? Where’s that? Ay me, where’s that?
Pisanio might have killed thee at the heart
And left this head on. How should this be? Pisanio?
’Tis he and Cloten. Malice and lucre in them
Have laid this woe here. O, ’tis pregnant, pregnant!
The drug he gave me, which he said was precious
And cordial to me, have I not found it
Murd’rous to th’ senses? That confirms it home.
This is Pisanio’s deed, and Cloten. O,
Give color to my pale cheek with thy blood,
That we the horrider may seem to those
Which chance to find us. O my lord! My lord!
  • IV.ii.291-332

The speech begins with what seems like gibberish, but what should recall to the audience Juliet’s awakening in the tomb at the end of her play. She’s disoriented, pulling phrases and senses of reality from memories and dreams:


/ / ~ / ~ / ~ | / ~ ~ /

Yes, sir, to Milford Haven. Which is the way?
~ / ~ / ~ / / / / / ~

I thank you. By yond bush? Pray, how far thither?
/ / ~ / / ~ ~ / / /

Ods pittikins, can it be six mile yet?
-~- / ~ / / ~ ~ / ~ /

I have gone all night. Faith, I’ll lie down and sleep.

Not any of those first four lines is regular: spondees, trochees, caesuras, elisions, longer lines. There is no sense of normality here. It’s almost as if this is a pre-drug flashback. And it doesn’t get any better:


~ / ~ / / ~ ~ / ~ / ~ /

But soft! No bedfellow? O gods and goddesses!
~ -/- ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

These flowers are like the pleasures of the world,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ | ~ / ~ /

This bloody man the care on ’t. I hope I dream,
~ / ~ / / ~ ~ / / ~

For so I thought I was a cave-keeper
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ | ~ / ~ /

And cook to honest creatures. But ’tis not so.

The meter’s a mess. Starting with a line with six feet, that next line feels as if she’s dealing with information or sensory overload–a self-interruption, a question, an exclamation. The next line with its references to flowers and pleasures is an attempt at regaining some power over the situation; only the elision of “flowers” from two syllables to one belies her discomfort and failing attempt at agency. The next line is iambic, but the caesura enforces another six-foot line. She hopes she’s dreaming, but she seems to subconsciously know better: the next line has an iamb sandwiched between two trochees, so that the effect is a pair of stressed syllables on either side of a pair of unstressed, all with a feminine ending to boot. The next line makes another effort to regulate, but again, the caesura enforces a six-foot line.

With the next line she sounds less like Juliet, and more like a distaff Mercutio, talking of the “nothing” of dreams. These thoughts may be nothing but fumes; but in her numbness–almost mechanically iambic–mind, not ever her eyes can be trusted:


~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

’Twas but a bolt of nothing, shot at nothing,
/ ~ / / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Which the brain makes of fumes. Our very eyes
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / / /

Are sometimes like our judgments, blind. Good faith,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

I tremble still with fear; but if there be
~ / ~ -/- ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

Yet left in heaven as small a drop of pity
/ ~ / / / / ~ / ~ /

As a wren’s eye, feared gods, a part of it!

She says that sometimes we’re blind. Oh, she has no idea. Despite the line-ending spondee of “Good faith,” her meter is very regular. This shocked numbness is all too human. It’s only when she begins to speak of heaven (elided to a single syllable) and the “feared gods” that the rhythm and almost self-preserving shock falls apart.

With the next two lines, however, the dream returns and so does her numbness:


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

The dream’s here still. Even when I wake it is
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Without me as within me, not imagined, felt.
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

A headless man? The garments of Posthumus?
~ / ~ / ~ / / ~ ~ /

I know the shape of ’s leg. This is his hand,
~ / ~ / ~/ ~ / ~ /

His foot Mercurial, his Martial thigh,
~ / ~ / ~ / | / ~ / -~- /

The brawns of Hercules; but his Jovial face—
/ ~ ~ -/- | / ~ / ~ /-~-

Murder in heaven! How? ’Tis gone. Pisanio,

In this section, she talks of the dream, but it’s reality. A waking nightmare filling her head with too many thoughts, creating a six-foot line. She finds herself with a headless man, but what I find fascinating here is the perfect iambs of a line that you’d think would be massively disturbed. And that there’s neither a caesura nor any other iambic variation in the remainder of the line that reintroduces the name of her husband. Weird, since those opening lines to the whole speech show who her meter can be disrupted. Why the regularity? Does the recognition of the body, or at least its garments, send her back into shock? Regardless, the remainder of the section is mostly regular, with only the occasional trochee, caesura and elision.

The next section, where she concludes that Pisanio has colluded with Cloten is similarly seemingly regular:


/ ~ ~ -/- | / ~ / ~ /-~-

Murder in heaven! How? ’Tis gone. Pisanio,
~ / ~ / ~ / -~- / ~ /

All curses madded Hecuba gave the Greeks,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

And mine to boot, be darted on thee! Thou,
~ / ~ / -~- / -~- / ~ / ~

Conspired with that irregulous devil Cloten,
~ / / / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Hath here cut off my lord. To write and read
~ / ~ / ~ / | / ~ / ~/

Be henceforth treacherous. Damned Pisanio
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~/

Hath with his forgèd letters—damned Pisanio—
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

From this most bravest vessel of the world
/ ~ / / | / ~ / ~ | ~ / c+6

Struck the maintop. O Posthumus, alas,

Now, that line that pushes us into this section of the speech ends with “Pisanio.” You could say it in four syllables, two iambs, but I’m going to argue that we’re talking an elided, feminine-ending three-syllable pronunciation (pi-SAN-yo as opposed to pi-SA-ni-OH), given the elisions in the lines that surround it. She continues to elide words until she says “Cloten”…she’s rushing without caesuras, even–rushing to judgment. After this point, the elisions disappear, then in two consecutive lines, she ends again with “Pisanio.” In these cases, however, I’d argue for the four-syllable elongated pronunciation. Yes, I’m fully aware that this would make these lines six feet long. But I think that’s the point. This section of the speech ends with a caesura-enforced six-foot line, and there are two more in the next major section of the speech. The meter stays mostly iambic here. There are a couple of caesuras, but not major deviations rhythmically. Is this shock? A realization, leaving too many thoughts in her head, too many syllables in her mouth? I’m not sure.

Regardless, it pushes the speech into a less regular section:


/ ~ ~ / / / ~ / / /

Where is thy head? Where’s that? Ay me, where’s that?
~ /-~- / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Pisanio might have killed thee at the heart
~ / ~ / ~ | / ~ ~ / ~ /-~-

And left this head on. How should this be? Pisanio?
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / / ~ ~ /

’Tis he and Cloten. Malice and lucre in them
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

Have laid this woe here. O, ’tis pregnant, pregnant!
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / -~-

The drug he gave me, which he said was precious
~ / ~ / ~ | ~ / ~ / ~

And cordial to me, have I not found it
/ ~ / / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Murd’rous to th’ senses? That confirms it home.
/ ~ ~ /-~- / ~ / ~ /

This is Pisanio’s deed, and Cloten. O,

Nine lines, and while most seem solid blank verse, every line has some variation (though minor) to the meter: two spondees; elision; caesura-enforced six feet with a trochee; trochee in another six-foot line; feminine ending; elided feminine ending; caesura and feminine ending; trochee and spondee; elision. As she comes to her conclusion against Pisanio, the speech drives forward metrically (that last elision is of Pisanio’s name), but it just seems–subtly–off.

The final three lines, as she comes up with her own plan of action, are again fairly regular:


~ / ~ / ~ / / ~ ~ /

Give color to my pale cheek with thy blood,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

That we the horrider may seem to those
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Which chance to find us. O my lord! My lord!

I find the speech fascinating. There’s more happening to Innogen in this speech than to Iachimo and Posthumus in their speeches, and yet, she has fewer metrical variations.

And I’m not sure why.

There seems to be more going on in the speech literally than metrically. The open confusion. The weirdly poetic description of Cloten’s blood (“these flowers”). The equating of dreams with fumes and nothing. Her wonderfully foreshadowing statement of human blindness, just before she recognizes her husband’s leg, hand foot and thigh–when it’s really Cloten. Her referencing of the mad Hecuba in perfectly “sane” iambic pentameter. The ironic invocation of writing and reading when the main dramatic changes in both husband’s and wife’s narrative come about because of written and read correspondence. The ironic 52-car pile-up near the end of the speech: Cloten and Pisanio in cahoots, Pisanio doing it for money, Pisanio knowing the drug was poison, and the disguising of herself in what she thinks is Posthumus’ blood–when it’s really Cloten’s (AND with “Cloten” as some bizarre grammatical antecedent to the pronoun “thy”).

But the scansion seems to belie all this. Is it shock the actor is supposed to play? Or does Shakespeare keep the poetry relatively regular as a “gift” to the actor (in much the same way as Posthumus’ speech has that big pause after that super-long sentence); is this so the actor can concentrate on conveying all that irony?

That feels too easy, though, a cop-out to say this (especially when she’s not aware of the irony, which is why it’s–well–ironic).

But what else could it be?

Anyone out there got a lifeline you can toss me?

Comment?