.....Alas, poor princess,
Thou divine Imogen, what thou endur'st.--
Betwixt a father by thy stepdame govern'd:
A mother hourly coining plots; a wooer
More hateful than the foul expulsion is
Of thy dear husband ... The heavens hold firm
The walls of thy dear honour; keep unshak'd
That temple, thy fair mind; that thou mayest stand
To enjoy thy banish'd lord and this great land.
So, here's my attempt at explaining the plot of this play. Be forewarned...it gets a little complicated.
Cymbeline is the king of Britain. His two oldest sons were stolen away in their infancy, leaving him with Imogen, his only daughter, as his sole heir. He wants her to marry Cloten, the son of his second wife, who's now the queen. (And a very conniving one at that.) Instead, Imogen marries Posthumous Leonatus, a noble Roman soldier. Before the marriage is consummated, the king banishes Posthumous from Britain. Before Posthumous leaves, he gives Imogen a bracelet as a token of his love and she gives him a ring, promising to be faithful to him.
Back in Rome, Posthumous brags about his beautiful and virtuous wife, so much so that his friend, Iachimo, bets him that he can easily seduce her. Posthumous agrees to the bet and off Iachimo goes to Britain to woo Imogen. But the princess refuses his advances. (Just as she's been refusing Cloten's.) Not wanting to lose his bet, Iachimo sneaks into Imogen's rooms at night and steals the bracelet from her arm as proof of her infidelity. When he sees the bracelet, Posthumous believes Iachimo's lies, gets all mad, and sends a letter to his servant, Pisano, ordering him to kill his wife. Pisano helps Imogen escape to Wales instead. There, she disguises herself as a boy named Fidele. While in disguise, she meets her two older brothers who don't know who she is....or that they are actually Cymbeline's sons. (It's another miraculous Shakespearean coincidence!)
Meanwhile, Cloten comes to Wales determined to kill Posthumous, have his way with Imogen, and then bring her back to Britain. Happily, he fails. Imogen never encounters him, but she does drink a potion which causes everyone around her to think she's dead even though she's not. Complicated, right? While all of this is happening, Rome prepares to invade Britain over unpaid tributes. This leads to war, which everyone participates in. In the end, Imogen's two brothers and her husband help Cymbeline defeat the Romans; Cloten is killed; Jupiter makes a brief appearance; Cymbeline and his two sons are brought back together; Iachimo is captured and admits his deceit; and Imogen's honor is restored and she and her penitent husband are reunited at last. Whew. What a play!
Despite it's convoluted plot, I actually ended up liking this one. And if they ever perform it on a stage near me, I'm definitely going. And congrats if you actually made it to the end of this post!