Thursday, April 12, 2007


I just finished reading Cymbeline by William Shakespeare. I am going to just give a brief review of it, but as the play is rather convoluted, I'm not sure how true that will be. I will note now that while reading this play I listened to the dramatized play on CD that was produced by Arkangel.

Cymbline takes place in Britain and Rome during the time of Caesar. It is about King Cymbeline and how his daughter, Princess Imogen, marries a commoner by the name of Posthumus Leonatus without the King's knowing. When the king finds out, he banishes Posthumus to Rome. The Queen feigns sympathy to Imogen, and promises to appeal to the King for her. The Queen, Imogen's evil stepmother, has personal motivations that involve getting rid of Imogen so her son Cloten can take the throne. Later in the story Posthumus comes to believe that Imogen has been untrue, and convinces his servant to murder her. After lots of confusion and misunderstanding, the whole thing is resolved and Posthumus and Imogen are reunited, and there is general harmony and good will toward all.

That is really only the overriding plot of the play; there are at least three subplots that at first examination seem incongruous. As I alluded to above, there are lots of evil things instigated by the Queen, but also there are Imogen's two older brothers who were kidnapped when they were very young by a Lord who was betrayed by the King, and not told that they were princes until the end of the story. They are later reunited with their family, and are fully reinstated as rightful heirs to the throne. And of course, there is a war between Rome and Britain.

Throughout the play there are many magical elements such as magic potions that make people seem as though they are dead, and an appearance by the god Jupiter (remember this takes place in Caesar's day.) My favorite scene is where the dead family of Posthumus appear as ghosts and sing of his fortune and fate. They beg the god Jupiter for his life, and afterward, when he wakes from this 'dream' he finds a 'book' that in prophetic language his tells him his fate (amazing poetry.) The appearance of the ghosts is entirely sung, and the poetry made me feel like I was seeing though the veils that separates us from the spirit realm.

It is very difficult to give a concise plot summery of the play (as one can probably discern from my writing) and I had a hard time finding any criticism about it. If you have never heard of this play before, that is really not surprising; this play has fallen hugely out of favor during the last century, but I would argue that this is in part because of it's complexities, and also that the tastes of modern audiences desire a more clear and concise plot. To the play's credit Alfred, Lord Tennyson said it was his favorite, and John Keats also admired it as one of his favorites. I encourage those who have read Shakespeare's more well known works, to try reading this play. It is much more complex than a simple overview writing about it such as this can really express. I also highly recommend listening to the play on CD while reading it. It is not possible to watch it on film, so much of the nuances that a dramatic cast can reveal are only possible through listening to it.

No comments: