Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Great Britain. Island of which Cymbeline is the king during the reign of Roman emperor Augustus Caesar and which is nominally governed by Rome, thanks to the earlier military incursions of Julius Caesar, whose name is invoked in the verse. Shakespeare deliberately refers to Cymbeline’s realm as “Britain” rather than “England,” which he uses routinely in his medieval history plays. Clearly, Cymbeline’s primitive Britain resembles the pre-Roman Britain of Shakespeare’s earlier King Lear (1606); however, the insistent use of “Britain” may be due, in part, to Shakespeare’s efforts to stress the unity of Great Britain to please his patron, King James I. Whereas Lear portrays disasters ensuing from dividing the kingdom, Cymbeline stresses the importance of the unity of Britain, affirming its sovereignty by a surprising British victory over Rome’s legions as a result of unexpected help given by three warriors from the mountains of Wales.
Lud’s Town. Ancient name of London, which is presumably the site of Cymbeline’s court. The name “Lud’s town” evokes the archaic period in which the play is set, as well as the ancient origin of England’s chief city, supposedly founded as a fortress by King Lud. In the play’s first three acts, the court is tainted by intrigue and favoritism, mainly resulting from the queen’s plotting and the petulant behavior of her spoiled son, Cloten, although the courtiers are mostly decent people who mock Cloten behind his back. While the court seems provincial in contrast to Imperial Rome, its inequalities and injustices...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bergeron, David M. “Cymbeline: Shakespeare’s Last Roman Play.” Shakespeare Quarterly 31, no. 1 (Spring, 1980): 31-41. Traces the historical and political factors at work in the play.
Frye, Northrop. A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance. New York: Columbia University Press, 1965. Frye puts the play in the context of other late romances. The most interesting commentary available on the role of Imogen and on the visions experienced by Posthumus toward the end of the play.
Hieatt, A. Kent. “Cymbeline and the Intrusion of Lyric.” In Unfolded Tales: Essays on Renaissance Romance, edited by George M. Logan and Gordon Teskey. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989. Hieatt displays Cymbeline’s relationship to Edmund Spenser’s sonnet sequence “The Ruins of Rome” and other treatments of the theme of historical inheritance in the frame of lyricism. A major reinterpretation of the play and a valuable commentary.
Miola, Robert S. Shakespeare’s Rome. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Places Cymbeline in the context of Shakespeare’s Roman plays. Emphasizes how Shakespeare’s portrait of Britain has an ambiguous relationship to the Roman imperial legacy.
Parker, Patricia. “Romance and Empire: Anachronistic Cymbeline.” In Unfolded Tales: Essays on Renaissance Romance, edited by George M. Logan and Gordon Teskey. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989. Speculates on what has always been one of the most vexing issues surrounding Cymbeline, the fact that half of it seems set in ancient Roman times and the other half in the Italian Renaissance of Shakespeare’s lifetime. Parker also traces the influence on the play of Vergil’s Aeneid (29-19 b.c.e.), particularly as regards the roles of oracles, prophecy, and kingship.