Shakespeare's Cymbeline

2021-02-15 @Literature

Cymbeline is another of those over-pretentious plays of the latter cycle. You could argue for it’s complexity, that it delivers too much. And like other similarly ‘problematic’ plays, ie Troilus and Cressida and Pericles, it caters to an acquired palate.

As for me, like these other plays I speak of, Cymbeline falls easily among my favourites.

It’s one of those sombre tragi-comedies with a pseudo-historical element: the reign of Cunobelius (here Cymbeline), early King of (Celtic) Britain of around 9-40AD still under the influence of the Roman Empire of Augustus.

Cymbeline was said to be knighted and apprenticed by Augustus, yet a rift has arisen between the two nations as Britain refused to continue to pay the yearly tribute to Rome that was historically agreed upon during Julius Caesar’s involvement. Britain emphasizes it’s growing independence and that, well, Augustus Caesar is not Julius.

The plot also involves a Lord long banished from the Kingdom, for twenty years now the inhabitant of the wilderness (somewhere in the mountainous Wales) along with two young lads unaware of their noble blood ties.

Of course, not being a formal history play, Shakespeare manipulates events, shifts narratives, switches characters, introduces anachronistic aspects, as far as borrowing from the progressive (for the times) Italian scene of Boccaccio, and otherwise invents.

There is much to digest in the bombardment of parallel narratives, diversions, convoluted plot devices and props. But proceeding at a modest rhythm, the incredible dimension lends to a phenomenal impression, especially when appreciating each scene as an independent unit.

The characters are astonishingly many, including some who acquire multiple identities under different names. Thus the ‘transformation’/impersonation technique is here in full force, as with the myriads of other Shakespearean (and Elizabethan) dramas.

What are some of the underlying themes? Jealousy. Deception. Revenge. Hatred. Abuse of power. Intrigue. Repentance. War. Dichotomy between the Court and the rural lifestyles.

Much of the narrative involves unrealistic coincidences and hyperboles. Certain plot devices can seam wildly fantastical, but such was the nature of much Renaissance theatre in general. It’s not to be misconceived with the 20th-century realism. You must appeal to your imagination.

Among the other remarkable elements:

The techniques employed in this play are too many. In a certain way it unfolds like the Swiss army knife of Elizabethan theatre. While not for everyone who expects a more grounded story, it should entertain the appreciators of poesy and dramatic extravagance.

Questions, comments? Connect.