Cymbeline Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Evaluation

Cymbeline, together with The Winter’s Tale (pr. c. 1610-1611, pb. 1623) and The Tempest (pr. 1611, pb. 1623), belongs to William Shakespeare’s final period of writing. These last three plays are marked by their mood of calmness, maturity, and benevolent cheerfulness; a kind of autumnal spirit prevails. This is not to say that Cymbeline lacks villains, traumatic events, or scenes of violence—the play contains all these elements—but that the tone is serene in spite of them. Cymbeline may be classified as a tragicomedy to distinguish it from such more dazzling predecessors among Shakespeare’s comedies as Love’s Labour’s Lost (pr. c. 1594-1595, pb. 1598) and Twelfth Night: Or, What You Will (pr. c. 1600-1602, pb. 1623), which have roguish heroes and heroines, dialogues filled with witty and sparkling repartee, and plots abounding in mischievous scheming and complications. The main characters in Cymbeline, by contrast, are remarkable for their virtue rather than for their cleverness, wit, or capacity for mischief; Posthumus is a model of earnestness and fidelity, and Imogen is the picture of purity and wifely devotion. The text is memorable not for the brilliance and sparkle of its dialogue, but for its moving poetry. Much of the plot consists of the trials and sufferings of the good characters, brought on by the scheming of the bad ones. However, the play ends as comedy must, with the...

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