cymbelineIf you thought Pericles was convoluted, just check out Cymbeline. This is old Bill’s “kitchen sink” play.  It’s got everything.

Star-crossed lovers – as in many of the comedies and tragedies (Much Ado about Nothing, Romeo and Juliet), our hero and heroine (Imogen and Posthumus) are in love but prevented from being together. Imogen is the daughter of King Cymbeline, and Posthumus is a gentlemen, but not a royal and so when they secretly marry, Posthumus is banished.

History – as in Henry V, Richard II, and King Lear, Shakespeare turns to Holinshed’s Chronicles for the tale of Kymbeline, a Briton king allegedly living during the time of the Roman occupation, c. 33BCE.

Villains – not just one, but two! First, King Cymbeline’s evil queen who kills herself at the end (shades of Hamlet or Lady Macbeth), who wants Imogen to marry her stupid son Cloten, and a slimy liar named Iachomo who convinces Posthumus that Imogen is cheating on him (just like Iago did in Othello).

Magic potions – ripped from the pages of Romeo and Juliet, a fluid that is believed to be poisonous, but only makes the victim sleep.

Cross dressing – a little borrowing from Twelfth Night or As You Like It has Imogen disguised as a boy named Fidele.

Switched at birth – as in A Comedy of Errors, we have two sons of the King who don’t know they’re royals living with a guy named Belarius.

Ghosts – dead relatives (see also Hamlet) appear to Posthumus and encourage him to do the right thing.

Gods – this time it’s Jupiter rather than Diana (Pericles) who appears to protect the hero.

Ceasar – rather than Egypt (Antony and Cleopatra) warring with Rome, it’s Briton’s King Cymbeline who’s doing battle with Ceasar.

A masque – King James I was fond of masques, so they appear in several of Shakespeare’s later works (Pericles, A Winter’s Tale) and there’s one here as well.

Presumed death and repentance – when Posthumus believes Imogen to be dead he is full of remorse at spurning her (Much Ado about Nothing comes to mind), and of course, the lovers are united in the end.

In addition to all that, we have the heroine sleeping with a dead body, the faithful servant who’s supposed to kill someone but spares them, various mistaken identities and general mayhem.  It takes nearly a quarter of an hour to untangle who’s dead, who’s alive, and who’s related to whom in the final scene.  The only thing missing in this play is pirates!


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