I’ve had a lull in my Shakespeare. I’ve been finding it hard to read anything just lately. I usually read several books at a time, but nothing is just burning me up on the inside. All that being said, I finished Cymbeline last evening. This is a play about a celtic king during the time of the Roman occupation of most of the world including Britain.
According to most of the reviews and articles I’ve read, Cymbeline is a problem play. This is given to plays that were mostly written toward the later part of the Bard’s career and that don’t fit a mould. This play is sometimes listed as a tragedy, but sometimes as a comedy. It has both elements although it ends without a main protagonist’s death and with an acceptance of a wedding.
I’m not going to give a synopsis of the plot. Instead, I’m going to discuss some aspects of the play that are a bit different from most Shakespearean plays. First, there is a sequence where a character driven by envy steals into Imogen’s room. There he is very voyeuristic. He is like a sleep perv who undresses the woman and studies her body for his evil purposes. Later, near the end of the play, we have an overly dramatic, overly acted scene with Jupiter who descends from the sky throwing lightning bolts. These seem a little out-of-place in Shakespeare’s plays.
There are some similarities between other plays however. Cymbeline is very much like Othello in that we have a jealous character trying to ruin the main lover’s life to the point of death for Imogen and the main lover. This envious character is in no way as evil as Iago, but he does a fairly good job. Imogen dresses up like a man to find her lover. This is seen in many, many comedies, but not so much in the tragedies. There is the testing of the virginal innocence. This is seen in many plays. Othello is one where the virginal (although not a virgin) character of Desdemona is accused of falsehood. We see the testing of the virginal character of Mira in Pericles, Prince of Tyre. This play follows along with this.
Although the literature I read on this play said that throughout history, it has been one of many artists favorites. I can take or leave Cymbeline. I’m glad I read it, but unlike Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Timon of Athens, and Coriolanus, Cymbeline is not one of the obscure gems.
On to a different Shakespeare and another problem play, The Merchant of Venice.