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The shift in scene to Italy gives the play a much-needed jolt of life, since it allows for the appearance of Iachimo, one of Cymbeline's most entertaining characters. (Posthumus's place of exile is also significant for its utter ahistoricity--we have gone from Roman Britain to Renaissance Italy: Thus, the play's fairy-tale rules are established early; we already know ourselves to be in a sort of Never-Never-Land, once upon a time.) To a large extent, Iachimo embodies the characteristics of the stereotypical Italian villain of Elizabethan tragedies, and his name and behavior hearken back to Iago in Othello--but he makes a more sympathetic figure than the stock villain and a less powerful specimen of evil than Othello's nemesis. His behavior is wicked but not terribly so, as we shall see later on--and he never loses his sense of fun, displaying a zest for life that contrasts with Posthumus's stodgy ways. The wager that the two make in this scene seems to stem less from Iachimo's desire to do evil, than from his genuine (if misplaced) belief that no woman could possibly resist him. It may also have its roots in envy, since when Iachimo and Philario first come in, the text suggests that Philario has just been praising Posthumus, and Iachimo may have overheard him. This praise of Posthumus reappears throughout the play as a sort of refrain--two gentlemen, in the first scene, also comment on Posthumus's great worth--and one of Cymbeline's shortcomings as a play is that Imogen's husband never seems to merit the high praise he receives.
I just finished Cymbeline in quest to read all Bard's plays by next April. Entertaining play, lots of twists, and I have a theory. In case you're interested, check it out on my blog of the play:
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