Ovid, Pettie, and the Mythic Foundation of Cymbeline - Essay

William Shakespeare

Ovid, Pettie, and the Mythic Foundation of Cymbeline

(Shakespearean Criticism)

Carmine Di Biase, Jacksonville State University


When Shakespeare wrote Cymbeline he drew from a large, incongruous group of relatively modern sources, ranging from Boccaccio to Holinshed.1 The works of Ovid, however, continued to exert a powerful, though perhaps less obvious, shaping force on the poetic vision of the later Shakespeare. Jonathan Bate's comprehensive new study, which very likely will be definitive, confirms what previous studies have suggested: namely, that Shakespeare's handling of myth, which is "highly self-conscious" in the early poems, becomes, in the later plays, more subtle and more evocative.2 In his discussions of the late romances, Bate stresses The Winter's Tale and The Tempest; Cymbeline is discussed only briefly, perhaps because so much has been said already about the mythic qualities of this play (pp. 215-70). Its unusual "fecundity of classical, and especially mythological, reference" was noted long ago by G. Wilson Knight.3 More recently, David Armitage and Joan Carr have shown how the myth of Orpheus informs some of the play's major movements; and Ann Thompson, in a similar vein, has treated the thematic importance of the story of Tereus and Procne, Imogen's bedtime reading.4 What all of these studies show, however, is that when Shakespeare evokes a myth in the romances, he is not merely displaying his learning or adorning his plot. Rather, at this mature stage the "decorative spangling" of the early poems, as Armitage puts it, has developed into "concealed fertile allusion," for myth is now "more integral to the poetic fiber of the plays" (p. 125).

Indeed, so integral is myth to the poetic fiber of Cymbeline that, as I hope to show, its very plot may be a deeply concealed Ovidian allusion. My purpose in the following study, then, is threefold: first, to show that when Shakespeare wrote Cymbeline he intended to evoke Ovid's story of Cephalus and Procris; second, to suggest that he used not only the version in the Metamorphoses5 but also the one in George Pettie's Petite Pallace (1576);6 and third, to explain why the Shakespeare of Cymbeline might have been drawn to this most tragic Ovidian story. For the pursuit of sources, as Bullough says, "should be the first stage in an investigation of Shakespeare's methods of composition" (p. 342).


Let us examine first the similarities between Ovid's story and Cymbeline.7 In both works we have a chaste young wife whose husband subjects her to a test of loyalty that involves a bribe. Peculiar to these two works is that the tempter is nearly thwarted by the first sight of the unsuspecting young wife. Here is Cephalus describing the moment:

A thousand meanes wherewith
To come to Procris speach had I devisde: and
  scarce at last
Obteinde I it. Assoone as I mine eie upon hir
My wits were ravisht in such wise that nigh I
 had forgot
The purposde triall of hir troth. Right much a
  doe God wot
I had to holde mine owne, that I the truth
  bewrayed not.

In Cymbeline, according to the terms of the wager, it is not Posthumus but Iachimo who will administer the test; but the effect that the first sight of Imogen has on her tempter is the same, as he reveals in the following aside:

All of her that is out of door most rich!
If she be furnish'd with a mind so rare,
She is above th' Arabian bird, and I
Have lost the wager. Boldness be my friend;
Arm me audacity from head to foot,
Or like the Parthian I shall flying fight—
Rather, directly fly.

Both Iachimo and Cephalus must brace themselves in order to go through with their plans, and both achieve dubious successes. Cephalus succeeds in tempting Procris only after exaggerating the bribe to an absurd degree: At last by profering endlesse welth, and heaping gifts on gifts, / In overlading her with wordes I drove hir to hir shifts (VII.957-8). Similarly, Iachimo, who soon realizes that Imogen's chastity is unassailable, must resort to the trick of the chest to achieve his end.

The result in both works is that the husband, convinced that his wife is disloyal, goes into a rage that forces a critical separation. The wronged wife is compelled to flee the city and take refuge in the countryside, where she will stay until her husband reforms his jealous nature. This separation creates a divided setting which both poets use in the same way. The jealous and malicious husband is associated with a court or city that has become morally corrupt, while the wronged wife is associated with a countryside that is morally pure. Such symbolic use of setting is of course typical of pastoral romance. But if Cymbeline is a pastoral romance it is a very unusual one, for there are no sheep and no shepherds, and its countryside is mountainous and harsh, even primitive.8 In short, it seems much more suggestive of the territory of Diana, to which Ovid's Procris must flee. And Imogen's flight, considered in the light of Ovid's story, proves remarkably similar in its particulars to the flight of Procris.

When the enraged Cephalus reveals himself to Procris and pronounces her disloyal, she sees only one course of action to take. As Cephalus tells us:

She made none answere to my words, but being
  stricken dum
And with the sorrow of hir heart alonly
Forsaketh hir entangling house, and naughtie
  husband quight:
And hating all the sort of men by reason of the
That I had wrought hir, straide abrode among
  the Mountaines hie,
And exercisde Dianas feates.

Unlike Procris, Imogen is led to believe, by Pisanio, that she is being escorted to the countryside to meet her husband. Pisanio, however, who has been ordered by Posthumus to put her to death, reveals all to her and spares her life. She is loath to blame Posthumus—Some jay of Italy / (Whose mother was her painting) hath betray'd him (11.49-50)—but she knows that he has become a deadly menace and that she must flee. Her father must be avoided as well, for it was Cymbeline who created the problem in the first place by banishing Posthumus, and it is Cymbeline who is now encouraging Cloten in his suit. Indeed, the king's judgment has so failed him that, on the advice of his sinister queen and Cloten, he is about to engage his kingdom in a bloody war against the Romans. When Pisanio begins to suggest that Imogen might safely return home, she interrupts with an outburst that recalls the reaction of Procris: No court, no father, nor more ado / With that harsh, noble, simple nothing, / That Cloten, whose lovesuit hath been to me / As fearful as a siege (III.iv.131-4). Like Procris, then, Imogen too must flee a naughtie husband, an entangling house, and all the sort of men.

And like Procris, who, among the Mountaines hie, finds refuge in Diana's territory, so Imogen finds refuge in the Welsh mountains. Both are searching for a place where the qualities commonly attributed to Diana, qualities they already possess, may be confirmed. That Procris is chaste is nearly certain even before her flight, given the difficulty that Cephalus has in tempting her; in any case, she never transgresses in deed, only in thought. Similarly, Imogen is characterized as chaste long before her flight. Several emphatic references associate her closely with Diana. When lachimo tries to tempt her into adultery, for instance, he suggests that Posthumus has made her Live like Diana's priest, betwixt cold sheets (I.vi.133); later, while in the sleeping Imogen's bed chamber, he notices that the chimney piece consists of a sculpture of Chaste Dian bathing (II.iv.80-2). Cloten, though coarse and boorish, is yet moved enough by Imogen to call her waiting women Diana's rangers (II.iii.74). And Posthumus himself, recalling his youth, says, my mother seem'd/ The Dian of that time; so doth my wife/ The nonpareil of this (II.v.6-8). These references9 seem to characterize Imogen so that her flight will more readily evoke that of Procris. Both women are chaste and otherwise virtuous; but both women, because they have been accused, must test and confirm their virtue for themselves, in the exacting territory of Diana.

Procris, who actually meets and hunts with Diana, is granted two gifts by the deity: a swift hound and a javelin. This gesture, which will prove fateful in the end, confirms that Procris is a worthy disciple. In Cymbeline Diana does not actually appear, but her presence is nevertheless there—in the form of the harsh, though unspoiled countryside—and it serves the very same purpose of confirming the mortal heroine's virtue. That Imogen is chaste is confirmed perhaps when the attempts of Cloten and lachimo fail. Her virtue, however, consists not only of chastity. Two other qualities commonly associated with Diana, physical strength and courage, are borne out in Imogen by the rigors of her journey to the cave: I have tir'd myself: and for two nights together / Have made the ground my bed. I should be sick, / But that my resolution helps me (III.vii.2-4). And when she happens upon this humble dwelling, this savage hold, as she calls it, she stops there willingly, reminding herself that Plenty and peace breeds cowards; hardness ever / Of hardiness is mother (11.21-2).

Moreover, the people she meets there, Belarius and the two princes, possess the same qualities, and have a history that might itself bring the flight of Procris to mind. Belarius, another victim of Cymbeline's faulty judgment, has also been forced to flee the court. He has abducted the two princes and, depriving the corrupt king of his heirs, has brought them up in the purity of this primitive setting. We will fear no poison, he says to them, which attends / In place of greater state (III.iv.77-8). And when we first see Belarius and the princes they are preparing to go on a hunt (III.iii.10), preparing to exercise, that is, as Cephalus says of Procris, one of Dianas feates. The identities of these four characters, then, of Imogen, Belarius, and the two princes, seem to be informed by the identity of Procris. As for Diana, while she does not appear in person, as she does in Ovid, her presence is strongly implied by the virgin Welsh mountains. Diana, no longer anthropomorphic, has become the landscape of this play.

If we doubt that Shakespeare had her in mind at all when he created this setting and its characters, we might pause for a moment to compare what happens here with what happens in another tragic Ovidian story, that of Actaeon, in which Diana figures most prominently. The gruesome manner in which Actaeon is killed hardly needs recalling. While spying Diana at her bath he is spotted by her and transformed into a stag, so that in the end he is dismembered, limb by limb, by his own hounds (III.245-304). In Cymbeline, as Schork notes, Iachimo is associated with Actaeon when he notices, in the sleeping Imogen's bed-chamber, a sculpture of Imogen's Diana at her bath (pp. 212-13).10 This invasion of Imogen's privacy is ultimately what causes his downfall, both as a soldier and as a man. But what seems not to have been noticed is that in this play there is another Actaeon: Cloten, whose arrival in the countryside constitutes a similar invasion. It is of course an invasion of the home of Belarius and the princes; but it is also an invasion of Imogen's new home. Cloten appears there as an impostor, wearing the clothes of Posthumus, fully intent on ravishing Imogen with that suit upon my back (III.v. 137). This is nothing short of a second, more menacing invasion of her sleeping chamber, for, we will recall, she has made the ground her bed. It is no surprise, therefore, that Cloten should be swiftly beheaded by Guiderius.11

This evocation of the Actaeon myth, however, is momentary, and as the plot of Cymbeline unfolds it continues to follow the contours of the story of Cephalus and Procris. Procris' sojourn with Diana is temporary, lasting only long enough to force her husband's change of heart. Her absence alone makes Cephalus so remorseful that he pardons her for having been tempted by his bribe; he even admits to her that he would have been unable to resist such a bribe himself. This act of humility makes their reconciliation possible, and afterwards they live together happily for many years (VII.970-8). Posthumus, too, pardons a wife who, as far as he knows, has been unfaithful to him. Like the rueful Cephalus he shifts the blame onto himself. Then, addressing the gods, he says they should rather have ta'en vengeance on him than on Imogen, whose supposed unfaithfulness he now calls a little fault (V.i.8-12). This thought is "truly remarkable," says Knight, "considering Shakespeare's usual attitude" (p. 179). It is remarkable indeed, but also understandable, if we consider that the actions and motives of Posthumus may well be informed by those of Ovid's Cephalus; that the moral order of this play, especially at its critical moments, is less Elizabethan than it is Ovidian.

Now unlike Cymbeline Ovid's story ends tragically. Procris gives the hound and javelin, Diana's gifts, to Cephalus as tokens of her renewed love for him. The javelin, however, eventually proves fatal, for many years later Cephalus, while on a hunt, mistakes Procris for an animal and kills her with this weapon. Why Shakespeare wanted his romance to evoke a tragic story will be discussed below, but for the moment let us continue our comparison. For as the beginning and middle of Cymbeline recall the beginning and middle of Ovid's story, so do the play's latter movements recall certain key particulars of Ovid's tragic ending.

Cephalus, when tired and hot from hunting, expresses his gratitude aloud to a breeze, a "gentle Aire" that brings relief to his "wearie limmes":

And (well I beart in thought)
Come Aire, I wonted was to sing. Come ease the
  paine of me
Within my bosom lodge thy selfe most welcome
 unto me,
And as thou heretofore art wont, abate my
 burning heat.
By chaunce (such was my destinie) proceeding
 to repeate
Mo words of daliance like to these, I used for to
Great pleasure doe I take in thee: for thou from
  day to day
Doste both refresh and nourish me. Thou makest
  me delight
In woods and solitarie grounds. Now would to
  God I might
Receive continuali at my mouth this pleasant
  breath of thine.
                                  (VII. 1054-64)

An unnamed man overhears him and runs to tell Procris that he is with another woman. This piece of hearsay compels Procris to go to the woods and spy on Cephalus, and there she quickly meets her fate. Dying in his arms, still thinking that Aire is a woman, she begs Cephalus: To nestle in thy bed and mine let never Aire obtaine (VII. 1109). And after Cephalus tells her that Aire is merely a breeze, Procris can die with better cheare (VII. 1116). Notice, however, how Cephalus' cooling breeze, his gentle Aire, which he wanted to receive continuall at my mouth, becomes in this final scene the dying breath of Procris:

Howbeit as long as that she coud
See ought, she stared in my face, and gasping
  still on me,
Even in my mouth she breathed forth hir
  wretched ghost.
                                  (VII. 1113-15)

The imagery of these final passages, sensuous and delicate, is carried from one scene to the next in a beautifully suggestive way. If Shakespeare had this story in mind when he wrote Cymbeline, it would be no surprise to discover that these passages had influenced one or two of his own. And indeed, the imagery of these passages seems to have influenced the cryptic oracle that Posthumus receives in his dream.

It begins, When as a lion's welp shall, to himself unknown, without seeking find, and be embrac'd by a piece of tender air … (V.iv. 138-40). The lion's welp of course is Posthumus Leonatus, but the piece of tender air, as the soothsayer says, is Imogen, Cymbeline's virtuous daughter, / Which we call mollis aer, and mollis aer / We term it mulier; [to Posthumus] which mulier / divine / Is this most constant wife, who, even now, / Answering the letter of the oracle, / Unknown to you, unsought, were clipt about / With this most tender air (V.v.446-52). Through the soothsayer's fanciful exercise in Latin etymology, the tender air becomes Imogen. This oracle, then, in a comical way, seems to evoke Ovid's transformation of the gentle Aire into the dying breath of Procris,12 and in so doing it flouts the tragic potential of the myth to which it alludes.13

Complementing this similarity of imagery is a similarity of plot. In both works the men find their women without seeking, as the soothsayer says, and then embrace or are clipt about by them. Cephalus, we have seen, mistakes Procris for an animal, strikes her with the javelin, and then, upon, recognizing her, embraces her so that she may die in his arms. These final, poignant movements of Ovid's story seem to be subtly evoked in the last scene of Cymbeline. Posthumus mistakes Imogen for a page, strikes her so that she falls, and then, when her identity is revealed, is so moved by her embrace that he utters his most poetic line: Hang there like a fruit, my soul, / Till the tree die! (V.v.228-9, 263-5). Like the soothsayer's interpretation of the oracle, however, this sequence of events, particularly the striking of Imogen, is comical in a muted way. And as before, it seems that Shakespeare's motive here is to evoke the myth and then flout its tragic potential.

After this point, the play's comic resolutions must begin to occur. These of course have no place in the plot of Ovid's tragic story. Again, this matter will be discussed below. At this point, however, it is appropriate to examine how George Pettie's version of Ovid's story might have gone into the making of Cymbeline.14


Was it only in the Metamorphoses that Shakespeare read this story? We should bear in mind Andre Morize's suggestion that, "when we have found a source, we should not think that it is the only source—the only possible one."15 George Pettie's English version of this story resembles Ovid's in only the most basic ways,16 for Pettie's long euphuistic flourishes deprive the original of much of the descriptive detail that must have attracted Shakespeare. Nevertheless, there is reason to believe that Shakespeare was drawn to this earlier Elizabethan's story.

Perhaps the strongest link between Cymbeline and Pettie's story is that in both works we have very similar reasons for the departure of the husband. Posthumus is banished because he has married Imogen against the wishes of her father, who wants to marry her to Cloten in order to please the duplicitous queen. Cymbeline knows, of course, that Posthumus is the son of Sicilius Leonatus, a titled military leader who had fought nobly against the Romans; indeed, the king has raised Posthumus himself, given him, as one gentleman says, all the learning that his time / Could make him the receiver of, which he took, /As we do air, fast as 'twas minist'red (I.i.43-5). And yet when we first see the king, he greets Posthumus thus:

Thou basest thing, avoid hence, from my sight!
If after this command thou fraught the court
With thy unworthiness, thou diest. Away!
Thou'rt poison to my blood.

Now in Ovid, Procris' father is mentioned only briefly, in one line—Hir father and our mutuall love did make us man and wife, says Cephalus (VII.896)—and then is forgotten for the rest of the story. Pettie introduces both parents into his version. There is no evil stepmother here; Procris' mother is her real mother, and rather benevolent at that. But Procris' father, like Imogen's father, considers her lover of low birth, not ritch inough for sutch a wife, even arranges to have him sent away to Turkey (p. 190). As in Cymbeline, this judgment is a poor one, for, like Posthumus, Pettie's Cephalus is an exemplary courtier, a Gentleman of great qualities (p. 186). We should also note that his banishment causes Procris to die a false death, and that she revives when her reunion with him is made possible (p. 191). These features, which are present in Cymbeline, are not found in Ovid's story.

There are two additional, more particular, similarities between Shakespeare's play and Pettie's story. The first is especially conspicuous. In these two works, both writers seem to have borrowed the very same scene from a second Ovidian story. Pisanio, charged by Imogen with the duty of seeing Posthumus off—You shall at least/ Go see my lord aboard (I.i.177-8)—gives her a moving account of her husband's departure:

for so long
As he could make me with his eye or ear
Distinguish him from others, he did keep
The deck, with glove, or hat, or handkerchief
Still waving, as the fits and stirs of's mind
could best express how slow his soul sail'd on,
How swift his ship.

But Imogen, dissatisfied with this account, takes up the image that Pisanio introduces—that is, the image of Posthumus gradually disappearing as he sails into the distance—and reproaches the loyal servant. Thou shouldst have made him /As little as a crow, or less, she tells him, ere left / To after-eye him (11.14-16). This imagery is then developed into what is perhaps Imogen's most eloquent expression of her love for her husband:

I would have broke mine eye-strings, crack'd
  them, but
To look upon him, till the diminution
Of space had pointed him sharp as my needle;
Nay, follow'd him till he had melted from
The smallness of a gnat to air, and then
Have turn'd mine eye and wept.

This passage, as Steevens noted long ago, seems to have been inspired by a passage in Ovid's story of Ceyx and Alcyone. Although Alcyone actually watches her husband sail away, the similarities between the two passages are striking indeed:

Shee lifting up her watrye eyes behilld her
  husband stand
Uppon the hatches, making signes by beckening
  with his hand:
And shee made signes to him ageine. And after
that the land

Was farre removed from the shippe, and that the
  sight began
Too bee unable too discerne the face of any
As long as ere shee could shee lookt uppon the
  rowing keele,
And when shee could no longer tyme for
  distance ken it weele,
Shee looked still uppon the sayles that flasked
  with the wynd
Uppon the maast. And when shee could the
  sayles no longer fynd
Shee gate her too her empty bed with sad and
  sorye hart,
And layd her downe. The chamber did renew a
  fresh her smart,
And of her bed did bring too mynd the deere
  departed part.

Aside from the imagery of this departure scene, the two works have nothing else of importance in common. But it is interesting to note that Pettie almost certainly borrowed the very same scene when he wrote "Cephalus and Procris."17 Here is Procris watching Cephalus sail away:

[She] got to her chaumber window, and there
  heavily behelde
the Ship wherin hee was sorowfully sayling
  away. Yea shee bent
her eyes with such force to behold it, that shee
  saw the ship
farther by a mile then any els could possibly ken
  it. But when it
was cleane out of her sight, she sayd: Now
  farewell my sweete
Cephalus, farewell my joy, farewell my life.
                                         (p. 190)

Is it not possible that Shakespeare, hearing in Pettie's story an echo of a beautiful scene from the Metamorphoses, was prompted to go back to Ovid, or perhaps to Golding, and retrieve it? Or was it the scene in Ovid or Golding that reminded Shakespeare of Pettie's "Cephalus and Procris"? Of course, we may never know, but the coincidence is certainly provocative.

There is one more similarity to note between Cymbeline and Pettie's story. When Procris yields to the bribe of the disguised Cephalus, she is thoroughly blamed, even by the narrator, and is likened to Danaë, an unsuccessful mythical virgin known for having been seduced by Zeus, who came to her in the form of a golden shower. Here is the narrator describing the yielding Procris:

The Gentlewoman heering those desperate words,
  and seeing
that ritch sight, moved somewhat with pittie, but
  more with
pencion, beegan to yeeld to his desyre, & with
  Danae to holde
up her lappe to receive the golden showre. O
  god golde, what
canst thou not do?
                                        (p. 201)

In Cymbeline there are no references to the story of Danaë, 18 but this passage does bear a certain affinity to a passage in the play. Notice the verbal echoes in the following aside by Cloten, who is planning to bribe one of Imogen's waiting women:

I know her women are about her; what
If I do line one of their hands? 'Tis gold
Which buys admittance (oft it doth), yea, and
Diana's rangers false themselves, yield up
Their deer to the stand o' th' stealer; and 'tis
Which makes the true man kill'd and saves the
Nay, sometime hangs both thief and true man.
Can it not do, and undo?

If there are echoes here of the passage from Pettie's story they are faint to be sure, but Pettie's rhetorical question does seem to reappear in Cloten's aside, and perhaps with a characteristically Shakespearean improvement. Bullough, perhaps suspecting some relationship between Cymbeline and this story, noted that Cloten is playing "the stock Ovidian lover" in this aside (p. 29). However, it seems that when Shakespeare wrote it he had Pettie's euphuistic phrases, not the verses of Ovid or Golding, ringing in his ears.19


The similarities discussed above suggest that the story of Cephalus and Procris, mainly as we find it in the Metamorphoses, forms the mythic foundation of this play; so that the "bumps and hollows of the story being told," as Frye says of the romances in general, "follow the contours of the myth beneath." This method of composition, Frye adds, "enables the poet to recapture something of the pure and primitive identity of myth" (p. 61). But the bumps and hollows of Cymbeline, as we have seen, follow the contours of Ovid's story only to a certain point. Beyond that point, the play must go its own way. Cymbeline must be reconciled with Belarius and reunited with his sons, and Posthumus and Imogen must consummate their marriage.

Why, then, might the contours of a tragic story have interested the Shakespeare who wrote Cymbeline? Here again we can turn to Frye. "Tragedy," he says, "is really implicit or uncompleted comedy," for it grew out of a ritual pattern that included not only the struggle and death, but also the rebirth, of the "God-Man," or hero.20 What this suggests, he adds, is "that comedy contains a potential tragedy within itself (p. 65). The role of the God-Man in Cymbeline is played, not by one, but by two characters, Posthumus and Imogen, hero and heroine. Part of Posthumus dies along with Cloten, his impostor; for Cloten is "a grotesque projection," as Carr puts it, "and yet not all that much of an exaggeration, of the very worst elements in Posthumus' nature" (p. 320). Imogen, on the other hand, is thought for a time—by Belarius, Arviragus, Guiderius and Posthumus—to be dead in actuality. The gravity of this interval is real; otherwise Shakespeare would not have given her one of the most poetic and moving eulogies in all of literature. After shedding their disguises both Imogen and Posthumus emerge from their ordeals reborn: Imogen with a renewed faith in her own virtue, and Posthumus (whose name here takes on a literal meaning) with a new largeness of heart and clarity of vision. As in The Winter's Tale, therefore, which contains the tragic elements of Pandosto, Cymbeline contains the tragedy of Cephalus and Procris.

We might reexamine here the relationship between Cymbeline and one of Shakespeare's own tragedies, Othello. The parallel plots and analogous characters (Iago and Iachimo, Othello and Posthumus, Desdemona and Imogen) are common knowledge. Our attention, rather, should be on the Ovidian elements of these two plays. Bate argues persuasively that, like Cymbeline, Othello evokes the sea imagery of Ovid's story of Ceyx and Alcyone (pp. 184-6). But Othello evokes the story of Cephalus and Procris too. Bullough noted that in this play might be found traces of Pettie's version: the "jealousy-theme, the Venetian setting, the reluctant father and the Turkish connection."21 And Bate, however, who agrees that Pettie is probably a source, shows that when Shakespeare wrote Desdemona's death scene he very likely drew directly from Ovid. The "clear focus on a pale figure, a kiss and a look," he says, "makes us think of the death of Desdemona" (p. 187)—or, as I have suggested, of the near or metaphorical death of Imogen. These shared mythic elements make the relationship between the two plays much closer; they suggest moreover, that Cymbeline at once evokes and contains the tragedy of Othello.

What makes Cymbeline one of Shakespeare's most allusive plays is not the fact that many modern sources went into its making. Rather, at this late stage in his development, Shakespeare came to appreciate, perhaps as he had never done before, the enduring suggestive power of ancient stories, of myths. For in these stories, and particularly in those of Ovid, his favorite ancient, he must have seen the shapes—the primal shapes—of all the others that had come down to him through the centuries. And so it is, perhaps, that at the bottom of Cymbeline, like a layer of ancient narrative bedrock, lies the story of Cephalus and Procris, lending shape and meaning to the story that Shakespeare wanted to tell.


1 Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, Vol. VIII, Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, 1975) and Columbia University Press (New York, 1975), pp. 3-37.

2 Jonathan Bate, Shakespeare and Ovid, Clarendon Press (Oxford, 1993), p. 20.

3 G. Wilson Knight, The Crown of Life, Methuen (London, 1947), p. 183.

4 David Armitage, "The Dismemberment of Orpheus: Mythic Elements in Shakespeare's Romances," Shakespeare Survey, 39 (1987), pp. 123-33. Joan Carr, "Cymbeline and the Validity of Myth," Studies in Philology, 75 (1978), pp. 316-30. Ann Thompson, "Philomel in 'Titus Andronicus' and 'Cymbeline,'" Shakespeare Survey, 31 (1978), pp. 23-32. See also

5 According to T.W. Baldwin, Shakespeare "habitually read" Ovid in both the original and in Golding's translation. See his William Shakespeare's Small Latine & Lesse Greeke, Vol. II., University of Illinois Press (Urbana, 1944), p. 430. All references to the Metamorphoses will be from Shakespeare's Ovid Being Arthur Golding's Translation of the Metamorphoses, ed. W.H.D. Rouse, W.W. Norton & Co. (New York, 1966).

6 George Pettie, A Pettie Pallace of Pettie His Pleasure, ed. Herbert Hartman, Oxford University Press (London, 1938).

7 All references to Shakespeare are from The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans, et al., Houghton Mifflin (Boston, 1974).

8 See Peggy Muñoz Simonds, "The Iconography of Primitivism in Cymbeline," Renaissance Drama, XVI (1985), pp. 95-120. See also

9 One more reference appears towards the end of the play, when Iachimo, who is now defending Posthumus to Cymbeline, asserts that Posthumus spoke of Imogen as Dian had hot dreams, / And she alone were cold (V.v.180-181). But this reference too harks back to a time before Imogen's flight.

10 See also

11 We might note here, as well, that unlike the hounds, who of course judge Actaeon by his exterior, Guiderius, who has the instincts of the prince that he is, judges Cloten despite his exterior. Knowes't me not by my clothes? he asks Guiderius, who replies, No, nor thy tailor, rascal, / Who is thy grandfather: he made those clothes, / Which (as it seems) make thee (IV.ii.81-3). And unlike the dismemberment of Actaeon, that of Cloten is comical. This moment is one of several in this play when Shakespeare can be seen writing over his source, or rather subduing it, in order to contain the tragic outcome that it threatens. The strategy becomes critical towards the end of the play, as the concluding section of this study will show.

12 As part of his argument that the vision scene is indeed Shakespeare's, Knight shows how this "strange equation of Imogen with a 'piece of tender air'" is, because of its imagery, integral to the rest of the play (p. 197-201). See also Judiana Lawrence has noted that when he wrote this scene Shakespeare very likely drew from Greene's James the Fourth, but in Greene there is no air imagery. See her "Natural Bonds and Artistic Coherence in the Ending of Cymbeline," Shakespeare Quarterly, 35 (1984), p. 451. As to the soothsayer's etymology of mollis aer, H.R.D. Anders noted long ago that it has "some connexion (direct or indirect)" to a very similar passage in Caxton's Game and Playe of the Chesse. See his Shakespeare's Books, George Reiner (Berlin, 1904), rpt. AMS Press, Inc. (New York, 1965), pp. 81-2.

13 E.H.W. Meyerstein wondered why Shakespeare chose Jupiter as the voice of the oracle: "I hope I am not pedantic in observing that one would have expected 'Diana,' the goddess of Troynovant." Times Literary Supplement, (June 15, 1922), p. 396. I would suggest that Shakespeare chose Jupiter because the Diana of the Cephalus and Procris myth threatens a tragic outcome and must be thwarted by the hand of a greater god.

14 Thomas Edwards' verse version of this story appeared in 1595. Shakespeare might have known it, too, but this much diluted version bears no signs that it might have influenced the composition of Cymbeline. It is reprinted in Elizabeth Story Donno's Elizabethan Minor Epics, Columbia University Press (New York, 1963), pp. 155-79.

15 Andre Morize, Problems and Methods of Literary History, Ginn and Company (Boston, 1922 and 1950), rpt. by Biblo and Tannen (New York, 1969), p. 88.

16 For Pettie's use of Ovid, see Douglas Bush's "The Petite Pallace of Pettie His Pleasure," JEGP, 28 (1928), p. 163.

17 See my "Another Ovidian Source for Pettie's 'Cephalus and Procris,'" Notes and Queries, 238 [40 n.s.] (June, 1993), pp. 163-5.

18 Shakespeare, says Frye, "seems to have used sources in English wherever he could, not because he could not read other languages, but because he was constantly listening for phrases." A Natural Perspective, Columbia University Press (New York, 1965), pp. 22-3. It is not likely that Shakespeare was ignorant of Pettie's collection. When he wrote The Winter's Tale he might, as Bullough notes, have had in mind Pettie's version of the Pygmalion story (pp. 134-5). George Cheatham has pointed out that a passage from the Petite Pallace might have been in Shakespeare's mind when he wrote The Taming of the Shrew. See his "Shakespeare and The Taming of the Shrew, The Explicator, 42 (1984), p. 12. With regard to Cymbeline, we may also note that in the Petite Pallace Shakespeare would have found a version of the Tereus and Procne story, which Imogen reads in bed. That Shakespeare was heavily influenced by euphuistic fiction has been convincingly argued by Ludwig Borinski. "Apart from the Latin classics," he says, "we may distinguish four literary traditions which became important in Shakespeare's development: Senecan tragedy, the tradition of the Fall of Princes, the euphuistic novel, and the Arcadian novel with its background of Greek romance. Clearly the euphuistic novel is the most important of all four." "The Origin of the Euphuistic Novel and Its Significance for Shakespeare," Studies in Honor of T W. Baldwin, ed. Don Cameron Allen. University of Illinois Press (Urbana, 1958), p. 52.

19 Shakespeare, however, probably knew the story. He seems to allude to it in Antony and Cleopatra: I'll set thee in a shower of gold (II.v.45).

20 Northrop Frye, "The Argument of Comedy," English Institute Essays, 1948, ed. D.A. Robertson, Jr., Columbia University Press (New York, 1949), p. 64.

21 Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. Vol. VII., Routledge and Kegan Paul (London, 1973), rpt. Columbia University Press (New York, 1975), p. 206.

Source: "Ovid, Pettie, and the Mythic Foundation of Cymbeline" in Cahiers Élisabéthains, No. 46, October, 1994, pp. 59-70.