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...
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Cymbeline deals with a concept as familiar to modern audiences as it was to Shakespeare's audiences: nationalism. The play is set in the ancient, pre-Christian past, a time when the Roman Empire was flourishing and England, or Britain, was an island country comprised of numerous feudal territories with distinctly tribal loyalties. During the reign of Julius Caesar, Roman soldiers occupied England but eventually withdrew when England's isolation and the constant vigilance necessary to contain Celtic barbarities became to much of a drain on Roman resources. Rome still considered England a colony and demanded tribute, a kind of monetary tax, and King Cymbeline's refusal to pay that tribute is the central issue of Shakespeare's play. Shakespeare, though, wrote Cymbeline in the early seventeenth century, a time when England was beginning to emerge as an empire in its own right, an empire rivaling that of Rome. It was an era that saw the beginning of English colonization and the flourishing of English arts and literature; these developments contributed to feelings of pride in the English, pride in their nation (nationalism). Shakespeare's play gives the impression that Cymbeline rules a united nation, a political reality that did not come into existence until the late fifteenth century. In the early seventeenth century, England greatly respected the legacy of Roman civilization and saw itself as the next great empire, an attitude Shakespeare reflects in his...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Bergeron, David M. "Cymbeline: Shakespeare's Last Roman Play." Shakespeare Quarterly 31, no. 1 (1980): 31-41. Bergeron examines Shakespeare's understanding of Roman history and discusses Shakespeare's sources for the characters in Cymbeline.
"Sexuality in Cymbeline." Essays in Literature 10, no. 2(1983): 159-68. Bergeron argues that since sexuality assures regeneration, it is often celebrated in the comic world. Bergeron discusses the implications of Cloten's and Jachimo's failure to find sexual fulfillment.
Bryant, Peter. "The Cave Scenes in Cymbeline: A Critical Note." Standpunte 23, no. 5 (1970): 14-22. Bryant discusses how Guiderius and Arviragus demonstrate their true nobility despite their homely surroundings and unsophicticated upbringings.
Colley, John Scott. "Disguise and New Guise in Cymbeline." Shakespeare Studies 1 (1974): 233-52. Colley examines how the characters' various disguises reveal their inner qualities. He discusses Cloten, Imogen, and Posthumus.
Hunt Maurice. "Shakespeare's Empirical Romance: Cymbeline and Modern Knowledge." Texas Studies in Literature and Language 22, no. 3 (1980): 322-42. Hunt argues that Cymbeline, Imogen, and Posthumus gain knowledge through their suffering.
Kay, Carol McGinnis. "Generic Sleight-of-Hand in Cymbeline." South Atlantic Review 46, no. 4 (1981): 34-40. Kay examines the...
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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.
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