Cymbeline is in his tent, surrounded by Belarius, Guiderius, Arviragus and Pisanio. He calls Belarius and the two sons the "preservers of my throne" (line 2) and regrets that the "poor soldier" who fought so well (Posthumus) cannot be found. Pisanio says that a thorough search has been done but in vain.
In response to Cymbeline's question, Belarius says that they were born in Cambria (Wales), that they are gentlemen, and that they are honest. Cymbeline creates them knights and promises other rewards.
Cornelius enters and announces that the Queen has died in madness. Before she died, she confessed that she never loved Cymbeline, but married him for his royal position; that she killed Imogen with poison; and that she had intended to poison Cymbeline slowly with a mineral, winning him over to the idea of naming Cloten as his heir. But when Cloten vanished, she grew desperate and died. Cymbeline says that his senses were not at fault, since she was beautiful and flattered him well, and neither was his heart, which "thought her like her seeming" (line 65), but he repents his folly in choosing her.
Lucius, Iachimo, the Soothsayer, and other Roman prisoners are brought in. Posthumus and the still-disguised Imogen/Fidele follow. Cymbeline tells Lucius that the relatives of the British soldiers who died in battle have asked him to kill the Roman prisoners. Lucius says that the Britons only won the battle by accident, and that if the Romans had won, they would not have threatened British prisoners with the sword. But if they are to die, they will bear it "with a Roman's heart" (line 81). He asks only that his page (Imogen) be ransomed, as he is a Briton who has done no Briton harm. Cymbeline says the boy's face looks familiar, and grants his life and any favor he might ask - even the life of the noblest prisoner. Lucius tells Imogen/Fidele that he need not beg for his (Lucius's) life. Imogen tells him that she did not intend to: Lucius's life "must shuffle for itself" as she has seen something "Bitter to me as death" (lines 103-4). She is, of course, looking at Posthumus. Lucius is hurt.
Cymbeline asks Imogen/Fidele again what he would like, as he loves him more and more. Imogen offers to tell him in private. While they talk aside, Belarius and the sons remark on the resemblance between this lad and Fidele. Pisanio, in an aside, is certain that he is Imogen.
Cymbeline calls Iachimo forward and asks Imogen/Fidele to speak his demand to him; he also orders Iachimo to answer honestly, on pain of torture. Imogen asks as her promised favor that Iachimo tell from whom he got the ring. Iachimo admits that he got it "by villainy" (line 142); it had belonged to the noble Posthumus, whom Cymbeline banished. As Iachimo begins to tell that part of his story involving Imogen, he almost faints, saying his heart "drops blood." Iachimo describes how Posthumus praised Cymbeline's daughter above all other women for her chastity, how Posthumus agreed on the wager, and how by trickery he gathered his 'evidence' of Imogen's adultery.
Posthumus is anguished that he fell for Iachimo's lies. He comes forward, identifying himself to Cymbeline as the one who had Imogen killed and ranting about his guilt. Imogen interrupts him, and he, thinking that she scorns his feelings, hits her. She falls to the ground.
Pisanio is shocked, telling Posthumus that he never killed Imogen until now. As Pisanio tends to Imogen, Imogen casts him off, saying that he gave her poison. Pisanio protests that he believed the potion to be a precious medicine. Cornelius points out that the Queen confessed to him that she gave the potion to Pisanio for Imogen believing it to be poison, whereas it was only a medicine to temporarily shut down the signs of life. Imogen reveals that she took it, and Belarius realizes that Imogen was never really dead. Imogen asks Posthumus why he threw her from him, and embraces him.
Cymbeline now recognizes his daughter, and she kneels for his blessing. Belarius tells his sons that he does not blame them for loving Imogen, since they are her brothers. Cymbeline tells Imogen that the Queen is dead and Cloten gone. Pisanio explains that he gave Cloten a forged letter, seemingly from Posthumus, which guided him to the mountains near Milford to seek Imogen. He planned to violate Imogen's honor, though Pisanio knows nothing more.
Guiderius explains that he killed Cloten. Cymbeline is stunned. He hopes Guiderius can tell him this is not so, since is reluctant to punish Guiderius, in view of his good deeds in the battle. Guiderius refuses to deny it, and justifies his action on the grounds of Cloten's unprincely behavior. Cymbeline regretfully says that Guiderius must die, by law.
Belarius intervenes, saying that the boys have merited more from Cymbeline than ever Cloten did. He warns the boys that he must tell a story that will be dangerous to him, though helpful to them. Belarius reveals that he is the man who was banished as a traitor by Cymbeline. Cymbeline orders Belarius to be taken away, but Belarius regains control of the situation with a cheeky joke, asking the King first to pay him for bringing up his sons. Belarius explains that he is not the boys' father, as they believe; they are Cymbeline's sons. He was wrongfully banished; he had the boys' nurse, Euriphile, steal them for him, and married her in payment. Now, he gives them back to Cymbeline, saying that he received his punishment before he stole them, in the form of his banishment. He offers as proof a mantle in which Arviragus was wrapped, and which was made by their mother. Cymbeline recalls that Guiderius had a mole on his neck, and Belarius shows that the older boy still has it.
Cymbeline rejoices that he has as if given birth to three (the sons and the returned Belarius). He tells Imogen that she has unluckily lost a kingdom, as she is no longer the heir. But Imogen protests that she has gained two worlds, meaning her brothers. Imogen and her brothers reveal to Cymbeline that they have met before (in Wales) and loved each other at first sight.
Cymbeline, in wonder, wants to hear the rest of the story, but first intends that they will go to the temple to give thanks. He greets Belarius as his brother and gives the order for the prisoners to be allowed to share the celebrations. Imogen promises Lucius that she will yet do him service.
Cymbeline's thoughts turn to the poor soldier who fought so well alongside Belarius and the boys, at which Posthumus identifies himself as this soldier. He asks Iachimo to confirm that it was he who, dressed as the poor soldier, disarmed Iachimo. Iachimo kneels before Posthumus and begs him to take his life. He gives Posthumus the ring and bracelet of "the truest princess" (line 417). Posthumus spares Iachimo's life, saying that he does not do him a favor in so doing (because Iachimo will have to live with his guilt), and tells him to "deal with others better" (line 421).
Inspired by Posthumus, Cymbeline gives a blanket pardon to all.
Grateful to Posthumus's help in the battle, the sons welcome him as their brother. Posthumus calls for the Soothsayer to explain the cryptic prophecy he found after his sleep. The prophecy ends with a prediction of peace and prosperity for Britain through the descendants of the royal sons.
In an afterthought, Cymbeline tells Lucius that though the Britons won the battle, he will resume the tribute to Rome, from which he was dissuaded by the wicked Queen. The Soothsayer claims his prophecy (told to Lucius) about the eagle soaring from south to west, vanishing in the beams of the sun, was accurate, since it meant that Caesar (the eagle) would unite with Cymbeline (the sun).
Cymbeline declares peace and orders the Roman and British flags to be carried through London together. They all go to the temple of Jupiter to celebrate.
This is a scene of revelations, each of which resolves one of the plotlines of the play. As such, it is a scene in which truth triumphs over falsehood and appearance is stripped away, leaving reality visible.
Iachimo chooses to reveal his story, which resolves the main plotline of Posthumus's false accusation of Imogen, very slowly, heightening the tension and confirming his ascendancy as the most dramatically painted character of the play.
After Iachimo's confession, the revelations come hot on each others' heels, creating an atmosphere of wonder and magic.
Though the resolutions of the intellect happen through these revelations, the resolutions of the heart come with forgiveness. Everyone who has been wronged forgives his or her wronger. The most touching example is Imogen's unquestioning forgiveness of her husband Posthumus. The fact that Posthumus strikes her even as they are reunited makes him seem unworthy of her forgiveness, but this has the effect of exalting her love to the status of divine grace (the sense that God loves even the unworthy sinner). The least convincing act of forgiveness is, ironically, Posthumus's to Iachimo. Posthumus says that he is only leaving Iachimo alive because that way he will suffer more. Once again, Posthumus compares poorly to his wife.
Posthumus' words as Imogen embraces him, "Hang there like fruit, my soul, / Till the tree die," are moving, though whether they are moving enough to regain the audience's sympathy after all he has done, is a question worthy of debate. Especially difficult to stomach is his striking Imogen when she tries to declare her true identity. Granted, he does not know it is her at the time, but given that he is supposedly penitent about his past treatment of her, it seems an ill omen that leads us to wonder how deep his reformation runs.
Cymbeline's comment that he thought the Queen to be "like her seeming" reveals his characteristic lack of emotional instinct and inability to distinguish outer appearance from reality-the same quality that led him to banish honest men and put his trust in wicked and stupid people.
Cymbeline's promise to resume the tribute to Rome after the Britons won a bloody victory fighting for this very cause is an anti-climax which has caused some critics to wonder if Shakespeare was laughing at his characters or at his audience. However, it may be a patriotic attempt to save face for the British in spite of the chronicler Holinshed's citation of Latin sources claiming that Rome was ultimately victorious, and the fact that the Roman occupation of Britain persisted for many decades after Cymbeline's reign. Shakespeare shows a battle in which the Britons prevailed, rather than the entire war, which the Romans won; then he shows Cymbeline choosing to resume the tribute to Rome out of generosity rather than through subjugation. It's one way of making out that the Britons won, when they actually lost.
Cymbeline: Novel Summary: Act 5 Scene 5