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  • Title: Cymbeline: Sources and Analogues
  • Author: Jennifer Forsyth
  • Textual editors: James D. Mardock, Eric Rasmussen
  • Coordinating editor: Michael Best

  • Copyright Jennifer Forsyth. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Jennifer Forsyth
    Not Peer Reviewed

    Cymbeline: Sources and Analogues

    1. Excerpt fromTom-a-Lincoln, by Richard Johnson (1631)

    [Although the excerpt below is based upon the 6th edition (1631), the work's first part (containing the textual analogue) was registered to Richard Johnson in 1599—that is, well before Cymbeline—and Shakespeare may have been familiar with this work, or he may simply have been familiar with these conventional tropes, often employed in similar tales.

    The similarities between the two texts are numerous and sometimes quite specific in detail, but significant differences and inversions counterbalance them. Essential elements which correspond between the two tales include a murderous female queen or empress who meets a clever doctor at dawn, looking for poison to kill a virtuous young woman who is the prospective bride of her son, only to have the doctor substitute a sleeping potion; a forbidden marriage between a ruler's child and one of lower parentage; a confrontation in the forest between a man and an innocent woman who is to be killed; and a parent going mad upon discovering the absence of a child.

    However, inversions and variations occur as well. For instance, the empress in Tom-a-Lincoln does not want her son to marry Dulcippa (the analogue of Imogen), whereas that is precisely what the Queen in Cymbeline schemes to bring about; the sexes of the ruler's heir and the spouse of inferior birth are reversed; the doctor in Tom-a-Lincoln deliberately gives Dulcippa the sleeping potion; and the king rather than the queen or empress in Tom-a-Lincoln becomes frantic when his child is found to be missing. Taken in toto, and in conjunction with the differences between the dramatic and the literary romance genres, these recombinations work to create significantly different effects.]

    "Sacred Dulcippa," quoth he, "in beauty brighter than glittering Cynthia{goddess of the moon} when with her beams she beautifies the vales of heaven. Thou art that Cynthia that with thy brightness dost light my cloudy thoughts, which have many days been overcast with stormy showers of love. Shine with thy beams of mercy on my mind, and let thy light conduct me from the dark and obscure labyrinth of love. If tears could speak, then should my tongue keep silence; therefore, let my sighs be messengers of true love. And though in words I am not able to deliver the true meaning of my desires, yet let my cause beg pity at your hands. Otherwise, your denial drowns my soul in a bottomless sea of sorrow. One of these two, most beauteous lady, do I desire: either to give life with a cheerful smile, or death with a fatal frown."

    Valentine having no sooner ended his love's oration but{than} she, with a scarlet countenance, returned him this joyful answer: "Most noble prince, thy words within my heart hath{have} knit a Gordian knot which no earthly wight{being} may untie, for it is knit with faithful love and tears distilling from a constant mind. My heart, which never yet was subject to anyone, do I freely yield up into thy bosom, where it for evermore shall rest till the fatal sisters{the three mythical Fates} cut our lives asunder." And, in speaking these words, they kissed each other as the first earnest of their loves.

    With that, the empress came through the gallery, who, espying their secret conference, presently nursed in her secret hate which she intended to practice against the guiltless lady, thinking it a scandal to her son's birth to match in marriage with one of so base a parentage. Therefore, purposing to cross their loves with dismal{sinister} stratagems and dreary{bloody} tragedies, she departed to her chamber, where she cloaked her treacheries up in silence and pondered in her heart how she might end their loves and finish Dulcippa's life. In this tragical imagination remained she all that night, hammering{turning over; constructing} in her head a thousand several practices{schemes}.

    But no sooner was the dewy earth comforted with the hot beams of Apollo's fire but this thirsting empress arose from her careful{troubled} bed, penning herself closely within her chamber like one that made no conscience{had no scruples} for to kill. She in all haste sent for a doctor of physic--not to give physic to restore health but poison for untimely death--who being no sooner come into her presence but presently she locked her chamber door and with an angry countenance, staring him in the face, she breathed this horror into his harmless{innocent} ears: "Doctor, thou knowest how oft in secret matters I have used thy help, wherein as yet I never saw thy faith falsified, but now amongst the rest, I am to require thy aid in an earnest business so secret which if thou dost but tell it to the whispering winds, it is sufficient to spread it through the whole world, whereby my practices may be discovered and I be made a noted reproach{negative example} to all hearers."

    "Madam," quoth the doctor, whose heart harbored no thought of bloody deeds, "what needs all these circumstances where duty doth command my true obedience? Desist not, therefore, gentle empress, to make me privy to your thoughts," for little did he think her mind could harbor so vile a thought.

    But, having conjured{made him swear} most strongly his secrecy, she spake to him as followeth: "Doctor, the love—nay, rather, raging lust--which I have spied of late betwixt my unnatural son and proud{ambitious} Dulcippa may in short time, as thou knowest, bring a sudden alteration of our state, considering that he, being born a prince and descended from a royal race, should match in marriage with a base and ignoble maiden, daughter but to a mean{lowly} gentleman. Therefore, if I should suffer{allow} this secret love to go forward and seek not to prevent it, the emperor might condemn me of falsehood and judge me an agent in this unlawful love, which to avoid, I have a practice{scheme} in my head, and in thy hand it lies to procure thy prince's happiness and country's good. Dulcippa's father, as thou knowest, dwells about three miles from my palace, unto whose house I will this day send Dulcippa about such business as I think best, where thou shalt be appointed, and none but thou, to conduct her thither, where in a thick and bushy grove which standeth directly in the midway, thou shalt give her the cup of death, and so rid my heart from suspicious thoughts."

    This bloody practice being pronounced by the empress caused such a terror to enter into the doctor's mind that he trembled forth this sorrowful complaint: "O you immortal powers of heaven, you guider of my hapless fortunes, why have you thus ordained me to be the bloody murderer of a chaste and virtuous lady and the true pattern of sobriety, whose untimeless{untimely} overthrow, if I should but once conspire, Diana's nymphs would turn their wonted natures and stain their hands with my accursed blood? Therefore, most glorious empress, cease your determination, for my heart will not suffer my hand to commit so foul a villainy."

    "And wilt not thou do it then?" replied the empress with a mind fraught with rage and blood. "I do protest," quoth she, "by heaven's bright majesty, except{unless} thou dost consent to accomplish my intent, thy head shall warrant{guarantee} this my secrecy. Stand not on terms; my resolute attempt is clean impatient of objections."

    The doctor, hearing her resolution and that nothing but Dulcippa's death might satisfy her wrath, he consented to her request and purposed{intended} cunningly to dissemble with the bloody queen, who believed that he would perform what she so much desired. So departing out of her chamber, she went to the guiltless lady, sending her on this fatal message, who, like to hapless Bellerophon{mythical Greek hero}, was ready to carry an embassage{message} of her own death. But in the meantime, the doctor harbored in his breast a world of bitter woes to think how vilely this virtuous lady was betrayed, and, considering in his mind how that he was forced by constraint to perform this tragedy, therefore he purposed not to give her a cup of poison but a sleeping drink to cast her into a trance, which she should as a cup of death receive, as well to try her virtuous constancy as to rid himself from so heinous a crime.

    But now return we to Dulcippa, who, being sped of her message, went with the doctor, walking on the way, where all the talk which they had was of the liberal praise of Prince Valentine, who remained in court, little mistrusting what had happened to his beloved lady, and she likewise ignorant of the hurt that was pretended{intended} against her life. But, being both alone together in the wood, where nothing was heard but chirping birds which with their voices seemed to mourn at the lady's misfortune, but now the doctor, breaking off their former talk, took occasion to speak as followeth: "Man, of all other creatures, most virtuous lady, is most miserable, for nature hath ordained to every bird a pleasant tune to bemoan their mishaps: the nightingale doth complain her rape and lost virginity within the desert groves; the swan doth likewise sing a doleful heavy tune a while before she dies, as though heaven had inspired her with some foreknowledge of things to come. You, madam, now must sing your swan-like song, for the pretty birds, I see, do droop their hanging heads and mourn to think that you must die. Marvel not, madam; the angry queen will have it so. Accursed am I in being constrained to be the bloody instrument{tool} of so tyrannous a fact; accursed am I that have ordained{prepared} that cup which must by poison stanch the thirst of the bloody empress; and most accursed am I that cannot withstand the angry fates which have appointed me to offer outrage{violence} unto virtue."

    And in speaking these words, he delivered the cup into the lady's hands, who, like a lamb that was led to the slaughter, used silence for her excuse. Many times lift{lifted} she up her eyes toward the sacred throne of heaven as though the gods had sent down vengeance upon her guiltless soul, and at last breathed forth these sorrowful lamentations: "Never," quoth she, "shall virtue stoop to vice. Never shall death affright my soul, nor never poison quench that lasting love which my true heart doth bear to princely Valentine, whose spirit, I hope, shall meet me in the joyful fields of Elysium, to call those ghosts that died for faithful love to bear me witness of my faith and loyalty."

    And so taking the cup, she said, "Come, come, thou most blessed cup, wherein is contained that happy drink which gives rest to troubled minds. And thou most blessed wood, bear witness that I mix this baneful drink with tears distilling from my bleeding heart. These lips of mine that had wont to kiss Prince Valentine shall now most willingly kiss this ground that must receive my corpse. The author of my death I'll bless, for she honors me in that I die for my sweet Valentine's sake. And now, Doctor, to thee, being the instrument of this my death, I do bequeath all earthly happiness, and herewithal{with that}, I drink to Valentine's good fortune." So drinking off the sleeping potion, she was presently cast into a trance which she, poor lady, supposed death. The doctor, greatly admiring at her virtuous mind, erected her body against an aged oak, where he left her sleeping, and with all speed returned to the hateful queen and told her that he had performed her majesty's command, who gave him many thanks and promised to requite his secrecy with a large recompense.

    But now speak we again of Prince Valentine, who had intelligence{news of} how the only comfort of his heart had ended her life by poison's violence, for which cause he leaves the court and converted his rich attire to ruthful{sorrowful} robes, his costly colored garments to a homely russet coat, and so traveling to the solitary woods, he vowed to spend the rest of his days in a shepherd's life. His royal scepter was turned into a simple sheep-hook, and all his pleasure was to keep his sheep from the teeth of the ravenous wolves.

    Three times had glittering Phoebe{goddess of the moon} renewed her horned wings and decked the elements with her smiling countenance; three months were past; three moons had likewise run their wonted{usual} compass{course} before the Grecian emperor missed his princely son, whose want{absence} was no sooner bruited{sounded} through the court but he echoed forth this horror to himself: "What cursed planet thus indirectly rules my hapless course? Or what uncouth{strange}, dreary{sad} fate hath bereaved me of my princely son? Jove, send down thy burning thunderbolts and strike them dead that be procurers of his want{absence}. But if, sweet Venus, he be dead for love, hover his ghost before mine eyes that he may discover{reveal} the cause of his inflictions. But contrariwise, if his life be finished by the fury of some murderous mind, then let my exclamations pierce to the justful{righteous} majesty of heaven that never sun may shine upon his hated head which is the cause of my Valentine's decay{death}, or that{or allow that} the angry Furies{avenging deities} may lend me their burning whips, incessantly to scourge their purple souls till my son's wrongs be sufficiently revenged." Thus, or in such a like frantic{frenzied; mad} humor ran he up and down his palace till reason pacified his outrageous thoughts and by persuasion of his lords he was brought into his quiet bed.