Sharp Monica

An honest voice in Italian paradise.

Shakespeare Report: Last Thoughts on Cymbeline

I’m glad I persisted to uncover at least a portion of its treasures.
Photo by Anastasia Anastasia on Unsplash

I finished the vintage print copy of Cymbeline last night right before I fell asleep. Quite a note to go out on!

Never mind the appearance of Jupiter as an actual deus ex machina with his eagle, shimmering before Posthumus in jail, aka gaol. Because Shakespeare likes to sew things up in a tidy manner, all the characters who died in the play stayed dead, for the most part, especially the evil ones (the Queen and Clotus). False identities fell away (the Lord Belarius aka Morgan, and the princes Guiderius aka Polydore and Arviragus aka Cadwal, and Imogen herself, aka Fidele for a time, reverting also back to the state of Maid). Cymbeline and Caius Lucius end as allies, “so through Lud’s town [London] march.” Posthumus is thankfully not at all dead, and as in A Winter’s Tale, everyone is happily reunited in the end. And they’re all glad that the dead people stayed dead. Why is Cymbeline a tragedy, again? Seems like everything ended really well for everyone the audience cared about.

I did take a few notes of phrases that particularly tickled. Starting with, and mentioned last week, the Queen’s haughty O! Content thee!

Whoreson – they say this often in Outlander; nice to know it has historical provenance

Sayest thou? – Come again?

Please you, madam. – I am just going to start saying this to my eight-year-old daughter Eleanor. Along with ‘Od’s pittikins! and Have done!

“with blue of heaven’s own tinct” – no one can turn a phrase with neologisms and meter like our man Will

“swift, swift, you dragons of the night” – this image repeats in the works; we saw it also in the fairy spell of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The cloyed will / that satiate yet unsatisfied desire, that tub / Both fill’d and running, ravening the fist lamb, Longs after for the garbage. – Iachimo. Hat tip to the Bard for perfectly explaining this human phenomenon.

Britain is / A world by itself, and we will nothing pay / For wearing our own noses. – Clotus, and that about covers it!

That drug-damned Italy hath out-crafted him

Men’s vows are women’s traitors

Our very eyes / Are sometimes like our judgments, blind.

Thus may poor fools believe false teachers – These four are all Imogen, and she’s got some great lines!

Forebear sharp speeches to her / so tender of rebukes that words are strokes / and strokes death to her – We’ve all known people like this, no?

What? Are you packing, sirrah? – At times. Shakespeare presages Chris Rock.

Golden lads and girls all must / as chimney sweepers, come to dust. – Etymology alert! A “golden lad” is an archaic English term for a dandelion, and I love the sentiment too. In fact, love everything about the line, the unpack and the deeper meaning, and I am far from alone in this. Together with The ground that gave them first as them again / Their pleasures here are part, so is their pain. No one can outdo Shakespeare on musings on mortality, death, tempus fugit. Time and again he returns to these themes with a sharp perception and a kind heart.

Some falls are means the happier to arise. – Preach, Lucius, from a timeless Rome.

Fortune brings in some boats that are not steer’d. – Pisano, and this one is also lovely.

I can see how Cymbeline rose and then faded from popularity. Its surface values seemed perfectly in sync with Victorian and Edwardian Britain, Imogen the pure and intelligent daughter, put upon and much-maligned, but redeemed by play’s end. The casual combination of the Roman Empire, Tudor England, Wales, and Italy surely thrilled audiences. There’s a real rush in mixing it all up like this, and with the randomly selected international names with a Latin and Italian flair, it resembles somewhat The Matrix movies. Now I am wondering if the Wachowskis did use this play as a partial base for their screenplays.

It’s a complicated tangle though. No wonder theaters don’t often produce it, and high school drama departments stay away. I still cannot believe I was unable to find a production of it to watch with this insane script. I mean, even the relatively recent Ethan Hawke production is impossible to find. I don’t understand it.

All that being said, it sounds like Cymbeline has drifted far away enough from popular imagination that it is ripe for a reboot, and a feminist one at that. Imogen merits a new look and perhaps a little more kindness toward her character (looking at you, Harriet Walter), in the same way that modern productions re-envision the exit of Ophelia from Hamlet (not death by suicide, but otherwise). If anyone here knows a theater producing Shakespeare, I would be happy to pitch this.

O late-stage Shakespeare, with your fevered dreams and mix and match, thanks for this wonder. You made this reader stop on it for thrice as along as planned. I’m glad I persisted to uncover at least a portion of its treasures. I will be back …

Next up – The Tempest!

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