Cymbeline (Vol. 36)
For further information on the critical and stage history of Cymbeline, see SC, Volumes 4 and 15.
Traditional scholarship on Cymbeline has treated such questions as the genre of the play, its relation to other Shakespeare plays, its historical background, and what many critics consider to be its inconsistent structure. While twentieth-century criticism continues to address these themes, modern scholars have also focused on issues such as the relation of language to drama, the influence of myth and psychology on Shakespeare's works, and the role of women and their relationships to various male figures.
Increasing attention has been given to the character of Imogen. Some critics, such as E. A. M. Colman, have studied Imogen's portrayal as it is revealed through her language and the language of those around her. Colman has examined the syntax in Cymbeline, concluding that although Imogen is portrayed as a clearsighted character, her speech reveals that she is unaware of the constraints placed upon her by her father, family, and society. Refuting earlier criticism castigating Shakespeare's dialogue as faulty, Maurice Hunt has argued that Shakespeare carefully crafted the dialogue to accompany the dramatic structure of the play. Coburn Freer has also analyzed the play's language, contrasting the characters of Imogen and Iachimo by comparing their speeches. While Iachimo is "the master of [his] speeches," using words to confirm his self-regard and the opinions he has of others, Imogen's speeches help her discover her own ideals and find her role in society.
Imogen's relationships with Cymbeline and other male characters is a theme often studied in current scholarship on Cymbeline. Charles K. Hofling, for example, has explored Shakespeare's own background and assesses its influence on the main characters of the play and their interrelationships. Building on the earlier psychohistorical work, he suggests that the relationship and final reconciliation of Cymbeline and Imogen reflects Shakespeare's own relationships with his mother and daughter. Other scholars have focused more explicitly on the father-daughter relationship between the characters of Imogen and Cymbeline. John P. Cutts has argued that Cymbeline, while appearing to be dominated by his wife, is actually in control of the plot and characters of the play and acts vicariously through Imogen, whose behavior and values end up mimicking his.
The father-daughter relationship in Cymbeline has also been explored in terms of another theme undertaken by modern scholarship, that of the discrepancy between man's inner nature and outward appearance. Joan Hartwig has contended that Cymbeline's position as king serves to force people into unnatural behavior. Thus Posthumus' behavior contradicts favorable reports of him, and Cloten becomes a parody of Posthumus in speech and physical characteristics. Imogen, as the king's daughter, becomes a pawn who has a deeper understanding than any of the other characters, but must behave in ways that conform to the inverted world Cymbeline has created. Many modern critics have addressed similar themes, concluding that the dramatic structure, language, and characterization of the play are more complex than earlier criticism allowed.
Joan Hartwig (essay date 1972)
SOURCE: "Cymbeline: 'A Speaking Such as Sense Cannot Untie'," in Shakespeare's Tragicomic Vision, Louisiana State University Press, 1972, pp. 61-103.
[In the essay below, Hartwig contends that while Cymbeline is characteristic of Shakespeare's tragicomedies, it has an unprecedented complexity stemming from shifting perspectives and the juxtaposition of reality and illusion.]
To move from Pericles to Cymbeline is to move from majestic simplicity to bewildering complexity. Cymbeline has three basic plot lines, but each of these has many subsidiary plots and their interweaving is more intricate than the two plot lines in Pericles. First, there is the suit for the hand of Imogen, which includes Iachimo's "wager" and Cloten's "revenge" as well as Posthumus' banishment and return. A second plot concerns the lost sons of Cymbeline and their abductor-guardian Belarius; and the third is the separation and reunion of Britain and Rome. Furthermore, the chorus of Pericles, so artlessly open in the figure of Gower, becomes more integrated into the dramatic action in Cymbeline, although the choral speeches remain artificially obvious. For example, the Gentlemen of the opening scene supply the necessary background of Posthumus' lineage, the marriage of Imogen and Posthumus, and the earlier loss of the king's...
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Cymbeline And Imogen
Charles K. Hofling (essay date 1965)
SOURCE: "Notes on Shakespeare's Cymbeline," in Shakespeare Studies, Vol. 1, 1965, pp. 118-36.
[In the following excerpt, Hofling explores "the psychological relationship of Cymbeline to its author" and notes important similarities between Shakespeare 's personal relationships (such as that with his daughter Susanna) and the play.
Cymbeline has been called "Shakespeare's most recapitulatory play." It is of interest to note certain of the echoes of the great tragedies in Cymbeline. This interest is heightened by the recognition that at least one such echo is obviously conscious and deliberate, a circumstance which raises the likelihood that a number of others were introduced in the same manner. King Lear and, to a slightly lesser extent, Othello are the plays of which the echoes appear to be the clearest and most significant. Not only is a father-daughter relationship of great importance in Cymbeline, as in Lear, but there is considerable correspondence in details of the situation. Cymbeline, like Lear, is an early British king; like Lear he is quick-tempered; like Lear, he trusts the wicked and rejects the loyal. Imogen, like Cordelia, is the third child of her father; like Cordelia, she is warm-hearted and sincere; she loves her father, but will not permit him to dominate her to the loss of her...
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Joan Carr (essay date 1978)
SOURCE: "Cymbeline and the Validity of Myth," in Studies in Philology, Vol. LXXV, No. 3, July, 1978, pp. 316-30.
[In the following essay, Carr maintains that Shakespeare sought to explore the effects of myth on the human pysche in Cymbeline through his allusions to stories of death and resurrection.]
The complex plot of Cymbeline incorporates a large number of situations paralleled in myths and folk tales, often with bizarre twists that suggest Shakespeare is composing a playful, sophisticated scherzo on archetypal themes. However, the theatrical experimentation in this play is not merely playful or self-indulgent. Cymbeline is a probing, often rueful questioning of the mythic habit of thought and of its ability to make sense of the human condition. Its fully psychologized, warmly human heroine is forced to live and act in a capricious fairytale world so that her flesh-and-blood reactions may serve as a skeptical probing of the consoling power of myth.
For example, the motif of beheading is perhaps the most grotesque of the play's many variations on the resurrection myth. In a scene which piles up macabre incidents, the reawakened Imogen, whose drugged body has been mourned as dead by her long-lost brothers, embraces the headless body of the brutal Cloten, mistaking it for that of her husband....
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Language And Imagery
E.A.M. Colman (essay date 1974)
SOURCE: "The Language of Sexual Revulsion," in The Dramatic Use of Bawdy in Shakespeare, Longman Group Limited, 1974, pp. 112-42.
[In this excerpt, Colman suggests that the dark bawdiness of Cymbeline places it in the tradition of Othello, King Lear, and Timon, of Athens, rather than with the other Shakespearean romances,]
From most critical viewpoints, Cymbeline fits tidily into the place that chronology gives it, among Shakespeare's last plays. Recent editors have hazarded guesses of 1608 or 1609 as its most probable time of composition,22 and it has long been regarded as a companion piece to its close successor or contemporary, The Winter's Tale, Like both The Winter's Tale and Pericles, it has a plot that belongs in the romance genre, and many of its underlying concerns—loyalty, chastity, separation, remorse, reconciliation—are shared with The Tempest also. So far as its use of bawdy is concerned, however, Cymbeline belies this grouping. Its affinities are with Othello, Lear and Timon, plays in which the sexual elements are rarely funny and often sinister. Perhaps the dark implications of Cymbeline's bawdy can best be brought out by a survey of its functions for each of the three characters to whom most of it belongs—Iachimo, Posthumus and...
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Baxter, John. "Cymbeline and the Measures of Chastity." In The Elizabethan Theatre XII, pp. 135-55. Toronto: P. D. Meany, 1993.
Maintains that while Shakespeare wrote Cymbeline in the romance genre, he used tragic elements for his dramatic purpose, particularly to reveal his view of marital chastity.
Colley, John Scott. "Disguise and New Guise in Cymbeline." In Shakespeare Studies: An Annual Gathering of Research, Criticism, and Reviews, Vol. VII, edited by J. Leeds Barroll, 1974, pp. 233-52.
Suggests that the plot development of Cymbeline was more easily understood in Elizabethan times, when audiences viewed costuming and the use of guises as important tools of characterization.
Cutts, John P. "Cymbeline." In Rich and Strange: A Study of Shakespeare's Last Plays. Washington State University Press, 1968, pp. 26-50.
Asserts that the characters in Cymbeline live in a dream world made up of artificial relationships, such as that between Cymbeline and Imogen.
Evans, Bertrand. "A Lasting Storm: The Planetary Romances." In Shakespeare's Comedies, pp. 220-315. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960.
Argues that Cymbeline is Shakespeare's finest play, considering its manipulation of dramatic devices and complex hierarchy of discrepancies.
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