Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

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*Great Britain

*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

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 clearly present a strong contrast to the Welsh mountains and the hardy, kidnapped princes who have become self-reliant mountaineers.


*Rome. Capital of the ancient Roman Empire. The language of the play emphasizes the “Italian” character of the city and links it with the intrigues of Renaissance Italy of Shakespeare’s time through the scheming figure of Iachimo (or Giacomo). When the action moves to Rome during Posthumus’s exile, a proper staging should use the city to project an atmosphere of cosmopolitan cynicism provoking Posthumus to make his wager on the invincible chastity of Imogen. By contrast with scenes of gossip and intrigue in Rome, later scenes showing the courage of Roman soldiers in Britain establish the aura of Rome as a powerful adversary, whose military defeat by the Britons seems miraculous.

Imogen’s bedroom

Imogen’s bedroom. Sexually charged setting of the crucial scene in Iachimo’s plot to destroy Imogen’s reputation. As Imogen prepares for bed, her bedroom assumes an erotic aura intensified by the emergence of the concealed Iachimo and his voyeuristic inspection of her, which suggests a symbolic rape, as allusions in the verse to the stories of Lucrece and Philomela are intended to suggest.

Belarius’s cave

Belarius’s cave (beh-LAY-ree-uhs). Hideaway of the banished nobleman Belarius in the mountains of Wales. The cave and its environs are a rugged wilderness setting that contrasts sharply with cosmopolitan Rome and the injustices of the court’s atmosphere. Clearly, the two princes who have grown up in the Welsh mountains have not been spoiled by the royal favoritism which has corrupted Cloten, as Polydore’s easy defeat of Cloten illustrates. The mountainous setting not only stimulates the young men’s courage and prowess, it also is conducive to poetry, as the dirge they sing at the supposed death of Fidele (the disguised Imogen) illustrates.

*Milford Haven

*Milford Haven. Welsh seaport that is introduced somewhat anachronistically as the chief port of arrival and departure for both the Britons and Romans and is the goal of Imogen’s flight. In Shakespeare’s earlier work, the port is associated with the successful expedition of Henry Tudor to defeat Richard III , which is virtually a providential event. Shakespeare’s invocation of such favorable associations here underscores the nationalist tone...

(The entire section is 2,477 words.)