Thursday, April 18, 2019

A Classic Play...

For several years now, I've been working my way through Shakespeare's plays, trying to read each and every one. (Boy are there a lot of them!) I'm getting close; I only have seven more to go. And one of those is Cymbeline. Which is why I picked it to read for Karen's Back to the Classics Challenge. It's not one of Shakespeare's plays that I was very familiar with, but after reading it, I think they should change the name of the play to Imogen, because I felt like it was more her story than her father's.

.....Alas, poor princess,
Thou divine Imogen, what thou endur'st.--
Betwixt a father by thy stepdame govern'd:
A mother hourly coining plots; a wooer
More hateful than the foul expulsion is
Of thy dear husband ... The heavens hold firm
The walls of thy dear honour; keep unshak'd
That temple, thy fair mind; that thou mayest stand
To enjoy thy banish'd lord and this great land.

So, here's my attempt at explaining the plot of this play. Be forewarned...it gets a little complicated. 

Cymbeline is the king of Britain. His two oldest sons were stolen away in their infancy, leaving him with Imogen, his only daughter, as his sole heir. He wants her to marry Cloten, the son of his second wife, who's now the queen. (And a very conniving one at that.) Instead, Imogen marries Posthumous Leonatus, a noble Roman soldier. Before the marriage is consummated, the king banishes Posthumous from Britain. Before Posthumous leaves, he gives Imogen a bracelet as a token of his love and she gives him a ring, promising to be faithful to him. 

Back in Rome, Posthumous brags about his beautiful and virtuous wife, so much so that his friend, Iachimo, bets him that he can easily seduce her. Posthumous agrees to the bet and off Iachimo goes to Britain to woo Imogen. But the princess refuses his advances. (Just as she's been refusing Cloten's.) Not wanting to lose his bet, Iachimo sneaks into Imogen's rooms at night and steals the bracelet from her arm as proof of her infidelity. When he sees the bracelet, Posthumous believes Iachimo's lies, gets all mad, and sends a letter to his servant, Pisano, ordering him to kill his wife. Pisano helps Imogen escape to Wales instead. There, she disguises herself as a boy named Fidele. While in disguise, she meets her two older brothers who don't know who she is....or that they are actually Cymbeline's sons. (It's another miraculous Shakespearean coincidence!)

Meanwhile, Cloten comes to Wales determined to kill Posthumous, have his way with Imogen, and then bring her back to Britain. Happily, he fails. Imogen never encounters him, but she does drink a potion which causes everyone around her to think she's dead even though she's not. Complicated, right? While all of this is happening, Rome prepares to invade Britain over unpaid tributes. This leads to war, which everyone participates in. In the end, Imogen's two brothers and her husband help Cymbeline defeat the Romans; Cloten is killed; Jupiter makes a brief appearance; Cymbeline and his two sons are brought back together; Iachimo is captured and admits his deceit; and Imogen's honor is restored and she and her penitent husband are reunited at last. Whew. What a play! 

Despite it's convoluted plot, I actually ended up liking this one. And if they ever perform it on a stage near me, I'm definitely going. And congrats if you actually made it to the end of this post!

Happy Reading!



24 comments:

  1. I love Shakespeare. In college one of my courses required reading all of the plays with the exception of Titus Andronicus. Every so often I return to my CHUNKY Complete Works of Shakespeare for the pleasure of the language, but I don't think I've read Cymbeline since that long ago course. Thanks for the reminder. :)

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    1. What I love about reading Shakespeare's plays is seeing how many famous sayings originated with him. Like "the game's afoot". :)

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  2. I know I read this one, when I did my own complete Shakespeare reading, but I don't remember anything about it, and your synopsis didn't even ring any bells. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it as I really should revisit it myself.

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    1. It was so unexpected I just had fun reading it. But I don't know if I'll remember much about it a year from now.

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  3. Oh,my,oh my, what a plot! Good luck to those poor theatre directors. Maybe that's why it's not so popular...

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  4. I think this would be fun to see performed! The plots stick in my head better that way and the language, which often doesn't make sense on the page does when I see it on the stage. :D

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    1. I agree. I never remember the story as well unless I've seen it acted out! :D

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  5. I've only read a few of Shakespeare's plays, but this sounds really entertaining. And I agree. I'd love to see this performed.

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    1. It would be fun to see this one onstage. :)

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  6. Hi Lark, Really great that you are making your way through Shakespeare's plays. I have Julius Caesar on my Classics Challenge list and I have bought the No Fear Shakespeare edition with Shakespeare's words on one side and the modern English on the other. Poor Imogen! And though she reconciled with her husband he was planning to kill her. I'm thinking that Pisano who saved Imogen is the man she should have married.

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  7. I have only read Romeo and Juliet for school. I've watched a few film adaptations of his plays though. I'll have to keep this one in mind. :)

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    1. Reading his plays is never as good as seeing them onstage.

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  8. I read a lot of Shakespeare's plays years ago but I don't think I've ever read this one. I'm glad you liked it and I hope you get to see it on stage one day. :)

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    1. Thanks, Helen. I hope I get to see it one day, too. :)

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  9. It's been ages since I last read a Shakespeare play. How impressive that you've read so many! I enjoyed learning about Cymbeline. :)

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    1. Maybe someday I'll actually read them all. :D

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  10. That is a lot going on, and if that were ever being performed near me I would dEFINITELY want to go, with a story like that!!

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    1. It was kind of awesomely complicated. :)

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  11. I did Hamlet at school and enjoyed it. I've read Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and Othello. I've seen a stage play of Macbeth which was set in space and pretty weird.

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    1. I saw a weird version of Macbeth once, too. It was set in the 1930s, and they projected dancing couples and big red blobs onto the screen behind the actors throughout the play, which we totally didn't get.

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  12. I read this for one of my college Shakespeare classes, and found it annoyingly complicated... almost as if Shakespeare had borrowed the plot devices from his most popular plays and cobbled them all together. I have to admit to liking The Winter's Tale far more than Cymbeline, of the three "last plays." (And I love The Tempest, the third of that triumvarate.) But I remember thinking the language in Cymbeline was beautiful, though I've not reread it or seen it on stage as I have many of his other plays. It might, indeed, work better on stage than on the page.

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    1. The Winter's Tale is definitely a better plotted story line, because you're right. This one gets a little crazy and convoluted. And I got to see The Tempest on stage a few years ago and really loved it. :)

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