The Shakespeare Sisterhood: Imogen
To Imogen has been awarded, almost without a dissenting voice, the high distinction of being the most admirable of her immortal company -- a woman in whom all perfections meet in rare
harmony -- who never cloys, never disappoints.
Of all Shakspeare's wives -- and he delighted in shaping models
of conjugal fidelity -- she is the master-piece; chaste, ardent, brave, devoted, and beautiful, she is indeed "best of wives, most delightful of women." The secret charm of Imogen's character is that
she comes within the range of popular sympathy more successfully
than her equally excellent married sisters: we never recognize
Juliet as a wife -- in fact, she never assumes that position; at the
best, we offer but cold tribute of admiration to the classic virtues
of Hermione and the Roman Portia; Desdemona we pity, tenderly, though with a degree of half-conscious contempt. But our
sweet princess of Britain commands our exalted respect, while she
elicits a sympathy which can never degenerate into commiseration.
With all her softness, her "fear and niceness" -- a "lady so tender of rebukes that words are strokes, and strokes death to
her" -- she is not, like Desdemona, passive under injustice, even to painful self-humiliation; or, like Hermione, statuesquely heroic.
Her dignity is never more proudly asserted than in her very subjection to her husband's will, even when he is no longer entitled to
An excellent exemplification of this trait of her character is afforded by the scene in which Pisanio detains her, when midway on
her rapturous journey to meet her banished lord, to confess that Posthumus has ordered him to kill her, on an accusation of infidelity.
She receives the astounding intelligence, at first, with all the indignation natural to a woman whose purity is equalled by her
False to his bed! What is it to be false?
Yet her despair, her shocking disappointment in one who, to her fond eyes, had "sat 'mongst men like a descended god," even
a half malicious desire to die, in order that her husband's remorse
may be complete when he discovers his mistake, influence her to
pray for death at Pisanio's hands:
To lie in watch there, and to think on him?
To weep 'twixt clock and clock? if sleep charge nature,
To break it with a fearful dream of him,
And cry myself awake? That's false to his bed,
Come, fellow, be thou honest:
Do thou thy master's bidding. When thou see'st him,
A little witness my obedience. Look!
I draw the sword myself! take it; and hit
The innocent mansion of my love, my heart!
Fear not; 'tis empty of all things, but grief.
Thy master is not there, who was, indeed,
The riches of it. Do his bidding; strike!
How to cite this article:
Palmer, Henrietta L. The Stratford gallery, or, The Shakespeare sisterhood. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1859. Shakespeare Online. 20 Oct. 2009. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/characters/sisterhoodimogen.html >.
Elements of Shakespearean Comedy
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Sources for Cymbeline
More on Imogen
Introduction to Guiderius and Arviragus
Introduction to Cloten
Introduction to Cymbeline
Introduction to Posthumus
Introduction to Iachimo
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