Cymbeline

Content Group

Overview
Cymbeline: Imogen at the Cave

Critics, scholars, and directors have mostly found the character of this play hard to define and interpret. Because of its fanciful plot it has been bracketed with other late plays as a "romance" but many details have precedents in the earlier plays: rejected by her father, an innocent wife is mistakenly repudiated by a jealous husband after malicious accusations, but seems to rise from the dead after adventures while disguised as a boy. However, it is also a history play, dealing with further events in the reign of the dominant Octavius of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, now dignified as Caesar Augustus, but whose armies were defeated by rebels at the opposite end of his empire from Egypt, led by Cymbeline, an historical king in pre-Roman Britain. Most people find the loyal and brave Imogen very appealing (see Miss Kemble, Ellen Terry, and Julia Marlowe in the role) but many of the male roles involve gross misconduct (see Edwin Booth as Posthumus, Thomas Mead as Iachimo, and Anthony Ward as Iachimo). The complexities of the plot seem designed to create the endless reversals of the last scene which baffle the participants but flatter the audience's superior knowledge. The elusiveness of final truth convinces the King to declare universal peace: "Pardon's the word to all" (5.5.422)—a sentiment amply appropriate to a reign synchronous with the birth of Christ, which is perhaps the clue to the basic theme of this eccentric tragicomedy. Modern audiences are drawn to its unpredictability.

Images
Cymbeline, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1997
Cymbeline, 1997: Royal Shakespeare Company
Cymbeline, Atlanta Shakespeare Company, 2005.
Edward Gordon Craig as Arviragus in Cymbeline, Lyceum Theatre, 1896.
Cymbeline: Julia Marlowe as Imogen
Regent's Park Open-Air Theatre: Cymbeline Production
Slideshows
Commentary
Essay Title Author
"Cymbeline" as Resolution of a Tragic Cycle Hugh Richmond
Bibliography

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Cymbeline at Talkin' Broadway.

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Except where otherwise specified, all written commentary is © 2016, Hugh Macrae Richmond