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  • Title: Cymbeline: General Introduction
  • Author: Jennifer Forsyth
  • ISBN: 1-55058-300-X

    Copyright Jennifer Forsyth. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Jennifer Forsyth
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    General Introduction

    1In some regards, it is difficult to say what Cymbeline is "about." To some psychoanalytic critics, Cymbeline is part of a series of plays developing the concerns about reproduction, especially the fear of cuckoldry, with Cymbeline expressing a misogynistic desire for parthenogenesis. Some critics have been exploring the political ramifications of the tragicomic genre; some find in Cymbeline a story of Christian redemption; some have found a topical royalist play lauding James I, casting him as Cymbeline and emphasizing his desires for peace in Europe; and some examine Cymbeline for its place in the record of Britain's pre-colonial or postcolonial positioning. Some have extolled Imogen's warmth and humanity and virtue and strength compared to the men, reading Cymbeline as a feminist or proto-feminist document; others have seen, in Imogen's silencing in the final scene, in the explicitly violent and exploitative views directed at or expressed about her, and in her loss of the British throne, a story of female disempowerment. When faced with such diversity of interpretations, it is tempting to conclude that such ambiguity is not an accidental artifact but an intentional authorial objective.

    This confusion over the interpretation of what is one of Shakespeare's longest and most ambitious undertakings is perhaps only fitting given that in some ways, Cymbeline is about the bafflement of expectations. The play purports to be about Cymbeline, the king of Britain, but the story clearly follows his daughter, Imogen; it begins in Roman Britain but soon travels to (apparently early modern) Rome and the mountains of Wales; every character seems to believe that she or he is the moral center of the play, though none, even Imogen, can live up to the idealized characterizations to which they aspire; deceit and betrayal and love intermingle; a servant is more faithful than a husband; a hero and a villain are almost indistinguishable; a poison is actually a beneficial potion; prophecies are misread by a professional soothsayer; and Jupiter descends ex machina but fixes nothing.

    The thematic interests of the play also reinforce the pattern of ambiguity. The play's obsession with treason and disobedience recapitulates this indistinctness, as conflicting loyalties force not just some but almost all of the characters into committing treason. Cymbeline thinks that his daughter Imogen's marriage to the insufficiently highly-ranked Posthumus is essentially treasonous, saying "Thou'rt poison to my blood" (TLN 152), an opinion which Imogen later admits has some justice, agreeing that Posthumus "set up my disobedience 'gainst the King" (TLN 1762). In addition, the Queen is attempting to kill the King and Imogen, who is his heir; Posthumus attempts to have Imogen killed; Guiderius—the true heir—is accused of treason for killing Clotten, the Queen's son, who is himself committing treason in attempting to kill Guiderius; and of course Belarius' false conviction of treason occasions his truly treasonous action of kidnapping the princes. Civil disobedience, seen by absolutists as a kind of treason, also figures in the physician Cornelius' disobeying the Queen's orders to give her poison and in Pisanio's refusal to kill Imogen. In fact, Cymbeline's refusal (prompted by the Queen) to pay tribute to Rome and his decision to go to war against Rome can ultimately be construed as a dereliction of duty to those to whom he owes allegiance.

    Cymbeline is also a play characterized by the strange silences that surround some of the most puzzling or controversial elements. Constance Jordan identifies Cymbeline's planned marriage of his daughter to his step-son as potential incest according to early modern principles (35); furthermore, Imogen never uses the obvious defense that she cannot marry Clotten because she is already married to Posthumus. No mention is made of Posthumus' discovery that he had actually won the wager with the dishonest Iachimo or whether Iachimo will have to pay the ten thousand ducats he wagered in addition to returning the ring and bracelet. Cymbeline declines to explain why he has elected to pay tribute to Rome even though Britain defeated them in battle. Neither does he object anew to Posthumus' marrying Imogen upon discovering that Posthumus had attempted to kill Imogen. Such loose ends produce interpretive challenges for the attentive reader.

    5If the reversals and silences of the play often nonplus the modern audience, the characters are equally susceptible to the confusion. Listing all of the erroneous and questionable judgments the characters make would require this introduction to be almost as long as the play itself, but a list of the most prominent would begin with the following: Posthumus believes Iachimo's imputations regarding Imogen without so much as considering asking her for an explanation. Cymbeline not only has full confidence in his Queen's love while she is actually plotting to kill him and to install her son on the throne but also extends his trust in her to her political and military judgment as well, for when he has defied the Romans and needs to prepare for war, he worries that his normal advisors are missing: "Now for the counsel of my son and Queen" (TLN 2768), he says, and has to be reassured by a lord that all is in fact ready for the Romans' attack. Cornelius has reason to suspect that the Queen is murderous but decides that substituting a sleeping potion for her poison will sufficiently address of the problem. Imogen resists errors several times, or at least corrects them quickly. She at first listens to Iachimo's lies about Posthumus' supposed infidelity but soon refuses to listen further; later, however, she errs by jumping to the same conclusion herself. She mistakes the despised Clotten's body for her beloved husband's, which is at least partly understandable taking into account their reported physical similarities (and is more understandable in performance if the part was doubled by the same actor), but she then first illogically assumes that Pisanio has been in collusion with Clotten and is responsible for Posthumus' death but later tells Lucius, in her fictional account of how her "master" died, that he "here by mountaineers lies slain." "Mountaineers" are, as Ronald J. Boling points out, the Welsh, whether or not they live in the actual mountains; as virtually the only people in Wales she has met are Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus, who have been, as she knows, nothing but good to her, this false accusation is a silly and potentially dangerous mistake. Pisanio, in turn, who has been loyal to Imogen the entire time, preferring to undergo torture by Cymbeline (fortunately not carried out) rather than reveal her whereabouts, makes his own error in judgment in giving those same directions to Clotten, reckoning incorrectly that Imogen would be far enough away to be safe. This list is not intended to suggest that Cymbeline is particularly rife with error or inconsistency; rather, the subjects of error, knowledge, confusion, and deceit lie at the heart of the play, and are reflected in the inability to interpret the play unambiguously.


    Toward the end of his career, after years of fame as one of London's leading playwrights of history, tragedy, and comedy, William Shakespeare turned to a new genre, tragicomedy, during the period around 1608-1611. Most critics believe that Cymbeline was one of his earliest forays into the field of tragicomedy (also called "romance"). Like the term "tragicomedy," Cymbeline is a blend of elements, and critical responses to the play have been mixed as well. Audiences and critics have variously considered Cymbeline either one of Shakespeare's greatest works, drawing upon the best elements from his other plays to combine them in one ultimate drama, or an unsatisfying hodgepodge, cobbled together in a cynical bid for playgoers' money by appealing to a "greatest hits" mentality. The play mingles ancient and contemporary societies with total disregard for the resulting anachronism, jumbles moods together so incongruously that spectators may find themselves cynically analyzing their own emotional responses even as they laugh or cry, and presents a plot whose baroque intricacies are rivaled only by its implausibility. Still, even the most skeptical are willing to acknowledge that this "experimental" art form would lead to such acknowledged tragicomic masterpieces as The Winter's Tale and The Tempest. Ironically, modern popular and critical audiences often prefer genre-crossing works like Cymbeline to the "pure" forms rejected by earlier eras and appreciate the subtle, often satiric moods produced by such nuanced dramas more than the blatantly farcical or heartrending aspects of comedy and tragedy. For a period such as ours that celebrates experimental form, ambiguity, intertextuality, and, above all, sensational drama, Cymbeline offers rich territory for exploration.

    In its original printed form, Cymbeline was not classified as a tragicomedy. The editors of the 1623 First Folio placed it among the tragedies; later editors classified it with the comedies, with the histories, and with the anachronistic category of "romance." "Romance" has the benefit of highlighting the connection between plays like Cymbeline and the prose romances on which they were often based, but since people in the early modern period did not use this term to refer to dramas, "tragicomedy," which was used at the time as a generic label, more accurately describes Cymbeline.

    Extrapolating generic criteria from the taxonomy of the First Folio allows us to see how Cymbeline may have been difficult to categorize even for the editors of the Folio. Despite Cymbeline's essentially comic ending, which suggests the first category, "Comedies," Cymbeline is set in a very specific historical context, which is not true of any other comedy. Nor does it fit easily with the "Histories," though: every play in that category tells the story of a king of England since William the Conqueror, but Cymbeline's reign was around a millennium before that time. The two other plays besides Cymbeline named after legendary kings, King Lear and Macbeth, appear in "Tragedies" along with Cymbeline, but Cymbeline is the only play in this category without a tragic ending involving the death of its protagonist(s). Given the absence from the Folio of a "Tragicomedies" genre, the decision to place it with the tragedies offers as much logic as either of the other options.

    The fact that the genre of tragicomedy was not universally embraced may provide another hint as to why the editors of the First Folio did not simply employ it as a fourth category. The value of tragicomedy was hotly contested in both Italy, where Battista Guarini employed the term and defended the genre, and in England, where Sir Philip Sidney disparaged tragicomedies as "neither right tragedies nor right comedies . . . so as neither the admiration and commiseration, nor the right sportfulness, is by their mongrel tragicomedy obtained." Not everybody believed that seriousness and mirth needed to be separated, however: at some time probably slightly before Cymbeline was written, one contemporary English playwright, John Fletcher, wrote an impassioned defense of the genre. His first attempt at importing tragicomedy to the English stage in The Faithful Shepherdess was a spectacular failure, precipitating its publication as a literary text with an extended defense of his work and an allegation that the genre was simply too sophisticated for the common playgoer. The defense seems to have been more successful than the play, as the number of tragicomedies written for the English stage increased and became a significant portion of the dramas produced until the closing of the theaters by the Puritans in 1642.

    10Fletcher's comments on tragicomedy are worth repeating in the context of Cymbeline, particularly because Cymbeline and one of Fletcher's plays, Philaster, are so similar that it has been impossible to determine which came first. It has been a commonplace of literary criticism for the past century that Cymbeline and Fletcher's Philaster share a similar date of composition, along with similar themes, conventions, problems, and incidents. It is not possible to determine the direction of influence; but it is undeniable that Shakespeare was, at the very least, alert to the same kinds of influences that moved Fletcher, and possibly by Fletcher's plays and theoretical position.

    Regardless of who was the originator and who the copier, or who the hack and who the perfecting artist, Fletcher's defense of tragicomedy is important because it attempts to justify some of the aspects that critics most frequently condemn in Cymbeline: the mixed mood, the schism between the court and pastoral plots, and the deus ex machina. Fletcher says that a tragicomedy

    . . . is not so called in respect of mirth and killing, but in respect it wants deaths, which is enough to make it no tragedy, yet brings some near it, which is enough to make it no comedy, which must be a representation of familiar people, with such kind of trouble as no life be questioned; so that a god is as lawful in this as in a tragedy, and mean people as in a comedy.

    That is, in his view, tragicomedy does not simply alternate tragic and comic elements (creating Sidney's "mongrell" genre) but melds them more thoroughly, drawing characters from all walks of life to create a new mood that showcases suspense while still guaranteeing a happy resolution.

    For the first factor, it would be a challenge to find a play for which the description that "it brings some near" death is more true than of Cymbeline. Imogen takes the sleeping potion which makes Belarius and her brothers think she is dead; Imogen also believes Posthumus is dead (incorrectly, as it turns out, but nonetheless psychologically true for her at the time); Posthumus is almost hung; he nearly kills Imogen when he thinks she is a page and hits her; Clotten nearly kills Pisanio; Pisanio is supposed to kill Imogen; the Queen tries to kill Pisanio and/or Imogen with poison; the Queen also has plans to kill Cymbeline; Posthumus and Iachimo duel and Posthumus refrains from killing him during battle; Posthumus has another chance to kill Iachimo when Iachimo confesses how he has wronged Posthumus and especially Imogen, but Posthumus (and Cymbeline) spare him; Cymbeline nearly puts Belarius to death for returning from exile as a traitor and Guiderius for having killed Clotten; Imogen fears that she will die of hunger; the larger concern looms over the play of the impending war in which multitudes will die; Guiderius attacks Clotten in hot blood; and Cymbeline determines in cold blood to put the Roman prisoners of war to death instead of ransoming them. The specter of death hovers over the entire play; despite that, only two characters actually die, and both of those deaths occur off-stage, helping to diminish the immediacy of their deaths for the audience.

    In practice, "bring[ing] some near" death can create some peculiar moments when the audience is not perhaps sure what to feel, or, perhaps more accurately, whether the emotions they are feeling are appropriate. When Imogen discovers what she believes to be her husband's beheaded corpse, for instance, her grief is so poignant and genuine that even while it often moves people in the audience to tears, they may simultaneously be snickering guiltily at the dramatic irony that the dead man is actually the malevolent Clotten, which adds a hefty dose of the ludicrous to Imogen's plight. Critics have tended to reduce the emotional significance to a single effect and thus have hailed it either as one of the most poignantly touching scenes ever written or as a scene so howlingly funny that it can only be a satire. Either can be true, of course, partially depending on how it is played, but both can be true as well, and those feelings of emotional ambivalence in response to particular moments on stage may transfer over to ambivalent critical responses of the play's success.

    15For Fletcher's second element, the action in the pastoral plot, viewers today are probably less concerned with the realism of the shepherd's behavior than Fletcher was; ironically, based on his observation that the crowd was angry because they expected "a play of country-hired shepherds, in grey cloaks, with cur-tailed dogs in strings, sometimes laughing together, and sometimes killing one another" along with "Whitsun-ales, cream, wassel, and morris-dances," it becomes evident that this is not what he intended. In fact, he says that the pastoral element should be limited to "such improper ones [gifts] as nature is said to bestow, as singing and poetry; or such as experience may teach them, as the virtues of herbs and fountains, the ordinary course of the sun, moon and stars, and such like." This description also matches what Shakespeare portrays in the Welsh scenes of Cymbeline. Aside from the fact that Guiderius and Arviragus are hunters rather than shepherds or goatherds, Imogen's brothers adhere to Fletcher's idea of the pastoral: we are told they have the grace of singing; Arviragus can play at least one instrument, Belarius' "ingenuous instrument"; they know some about herbs, as Belarius and Arviragus demonstrate in their speeches while strewing Imogen's body with flowers; and Belarius's opening lines, which touch on the sun, the weather, and the heavens, characterize him as closely in touch with nature.

    Finally, Fletcher's remark that it is legal to put gods into tragicomedies provides further support to the idea that Cymbeline conforms well to contemporary definitions of tragicomedy, the more so because Jupiter's appearance in Act 5 is one of the least popular scenes with Cymbeline detractors. The mere fact that Fletcher assumed that people might object to a god's appearance does suggest that not everyone in the early modern period was any more eager to suspend disbelief over a god's appearance than twenty-first century audiences are. Fletcher's defense of tragicomedy cannot relieve the play of the burden of a deus ex machina, but it at least provides a rationale. Separately, Shakespeare and Fletcher helped to develop and popularize the new dramatic genre of tragicomedy; and eventually they would collaborate on Henry 8, The Two Noble Kinsmen, and the lost Cardenio.

    Sources, related texts, and analogues

    Shakespeare seems to have drawn upon, or to have been influenced by, a wide variety of kinds of texts when composing Cymbeline. Sources and analogues of note include Holinshed's Chronicle Histories, Plutarch, Ovid, Boccaccio's Decameron,Frederyke of Jennen, Westward for Smelts, and Thomas Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveller. The variety of the sources—not limited to a single genre but spanning multiple categories—feeds into Cymbeline's nature as a heterogeneous narrative.

    The first source is Raphael Holinshed's chronicles, which provide character names, details of historical background for England, and some of the political material. The names derived from Holinshed include Cymbeline (spelled variously, including "Kimbeline" and "Cunobellinus"); Guiderius and Arviragus; Guiderius' alias, Polidore; Posthumus; Clotten (also called Clotenis Claten); Belarius' alias, Morgan; probably at least the inspiration for Imogen (Innogen, the wife of Britain's legendary founder Brute); and possibly Iachimo, if, as has been suggested, his name is indeed related to "Iago." Cadwal, Arviragus's alias, also occurs in Holinshed, but it is a common name as well. The names appear to be significant primarily for their associations with Roman Britain around the time of Jesus' birth and with the Pax Romana.

    Besides the brief allusions in Holinshed to Cymbeline, his sons, Guiderius and Arviragus, and the question of Cymbeline's paying tribute to Rome, the chronicles are the primary location for the story of Hay and his two sons' defense of Scotland against an invading Danish army, inspiring the rallying of the troops by Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus in Act 5, Scene 2. The essential story (also discussed in the context of Cymbeline's date of composition) is retained by Shakespeare although he alters the names and nationalities. According to Holinshed, Hay, a husbandman, and his sons, were working nearby as the Scottish army was attacked by the Danes and beaten back on both wings. When Hay saw King Kenneth in the middle under assault, he led his sons on the attack. They stopped the fleeing Scots by blocking their escape route, "neere to the place of the battell, a long lane fensed on the sides with ditches and walles made of turfe, through the which the Scots which fled were beaten downe by the enimies on heapes" (Bullough 48), and then Hay and his sons offered their less-brave countrymen the choice of dying fighting the Danes or being slain by Hay and his sons in punishment for their cowardice. The troops rallied and won the day. The clear verbal echoes in "Close by the battle, ditched and walled with turf" (TLN 2942) and throughout the episode provide evidence of Shakespeare's utilization of this story. Given the fact that James was from Scotland and Queen Anne was from Denmark, recasting the two armies from Scottish and Danish to English and Roman is hardly surprising.

    20In January of 1607, James Hay, one of King James's Scottish favorites, commissioned Thomas Campion to write The Lord Hay's Masque to celebrate his wedding to the English lady Honora Denny. While the language, characters, and plot do not resemble those of Cymbeline, the epigram on the marriage—"The newly-wed bride shall, as is the hope, produce an Anglo-Scottish heir; the one whom he hereafter shall beget shall be British. So a new posterity, from two kingdoms sprung, shall ennoble its goodly forebears on both sides" (Lindley 20 and n. 220)—mirrors the sentiments of unity between two formerly warring countries and recalls the legend that Cymbeline's son was the first king of Scotland, establishing a legitimating line of descent to support James, whose desire to unite England and Scotland is well documented.

    In addition, Cymbeline partakes of numerous classical sources, most prominently in the trunk scene with Iachimo. Shakespeare explicitly evokes two rape scenes, Tarquin's rape of Lucrece (found in various early modern sources, based on Ovid's Fasti) and the story of Tereus' rape of Philomel, from Ovid's Metamorphoses. After a single sentence reinforcing the nighttime setting, Iachimo invokes the rape of Lucrece: "Our Tarquin thus / Did softly press the rushes ere he wakened / The chastity he wounded" (919-21), and the audience is prepared for the idea of Iachimo's assault. This intertextual association further reinforces the idea that husbands should beware of praising their wives too much to other men; in the beginning of Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece, Lucrece's husband Collatine inadvertently spurs Tarquin on by his praises of his wife's chastity and perfection. Iachimo's attack on Imogen is ocular rather than physical, but the consequences—the shaming of an innocent victim, and her (symbolic) death—continue to evoke Lucrece. A reference to a second rape, when Iachimo observes that Imogen is reading the story of the rape of Philomel and had set aside the story "where Philomel gave up," brackets the end of Iachimo's note-taking (953).

    When Iachimo later describes a tapestry of Cleopatra meeting Antony as one of the pieces of evidence to prove that he had been in Imogen's bedchamber, Shakespeare draws upon North's translation of Plutarch:

    It was hanged
    With tapestry of silk and silver; the story,
    Proud Cleopatra when she met her Roman
    And Sidnus swelled above the banks, or for
    The press of boats or pride -- a piece of work
    So bravely done, so rich, that it did strive
    In workmanship and value, which I wondered
    Could be so rarely and exactly wrought
    Since the true life on't was--. (TLN 1228-36)

    Some of the piquancy of the Cleopatra references does not require knowledge, or even awareness, of the source to understand that for Iachimo, a Roman, to mention Cleopatra's passionate meeting with "her Roman" (1230, emphasis added) in a description of Imogen's bedchamber might well increase Posthumus' jealousy. The story of Cleopatra and Antony contrasts with the carving of "Chaste Dian, bathing" (1246); the tapestry and the sculpture serve to illustrate the two competing narratives in play here, Iachimo's claim that Imogen, wallowing in sensuousness like Cleopatra, welcomed a Roman, and Posthumus' (quickly abandoned) narrative of Imogen as so chaste that

    Me of my lawful pleasure she restrained
    And prayed me oft forbearance, did it with
    A pudency so rosy the sweet view on't
    Might well have warmed old Saturn that I thought her
    As chaste as unsunned snow. (TLN 1347-50)

    It is interesting to note, with Danielle Clark, that the "pavilion, cloth of gold of tissue" (Antony and Cleopatra 2.2.199) under which Cleopatra lay evolved into "silk and silver" (1229) in Cymbeline, and that Cupids not only figure in North's Plutarch but Antony and Cleopatra as well as Cymbeline (330).

    25Other resonances from the Cleopatra story persist in Cymbeline. Despite Iachimo's implication, the Queen actually shares more ties with Cleopatra than Imogen does. The Queen and Cleopatra are both queens who fight against conquest and marginalization by the Roman Empire, representing its northwestern and southeastern limits, respectively; who live at the time of Augustus; and who share an interest in poison. The parallels between Cleopatra's Egypt and the Britain of Cymbeline bear relevance in the political stories of tribute and war.

    The wager-plot parallels a number of contemporary stories on the same theme. Although no translation of Boccaccio's Decameron is known to have appeared in English until John Florio's translation was printed in 1620, the story and certain verbal parallels between Cymbeline and Day 2, Novel 9 correspond more closely than the other analogues. For instance, when the Iachimo character in The Decameron returns from his failed attempt to win the wager, the description of his actions also fairly accurately describes Iachimo's actions:

    To make good his protestation, first he described the forme of the Chamber, the curious pictures hanging about it, in what manner the bed stood, and every circumstance else beside. Next he shewed the severall things, which he brought away thence with him, affirming that he had received them of her selfe. Bernardo confessed, that his description of the Chamber was true, and acknowledged moreover, that these other things did belong to his Wife. (Bullough 55)

    But it is the language of the husband's response which demonstrates the parallel even more powerfully: "But (quoth he) this may be gotten, by corrupting some servant of mine, both for intelligence of the Chamber, as also of the Ring, Purse, and what else is beside; all which suffice not to win the wager, without some other more apparent and pregnant token" (Bullough 56), which resembles Philario's comment, "It may be probable she lost it, or / Who knows if one her women, being corrupted, / Hath stolen it from her" (TLN 1288-90) and Posthumus's agreement, ". . . Render to me some corporal sign about her / More evident than this" (TLN 1293-94). Finally, the Iachimo character refers to the evidence of the "small round wart upon her left pappe, and some few little golden haires growing thereon," comparable to Iachimo's assertion that "under her breast / (Worthy her pressing) lies a mole, right proud / Of that most delicate lodging" (TLN 1311).

    Further close parallels exist in the scene where the servant is supposed to kill the wife. In The Decameron, the story-teller says,

    When the servant was come to Geneway, and had delivered his Letter and message, Genevra gave him most joyfull welcome, and on the morrow morning mounting on Horse-backe with the servant, rode merrily towards the Country house; divers things shee discoursed on by the way, till they descended into a deepe solitary valey, very thickly beset with high and huge spreading Trees, which the servant supposed to be a meete place, for the execution of his Masters command. . . .

    This is closer to the action of Cymbeline than that of the analogue Nosworthy favors as the closest source, Frederyke of Jennen. In Cymbeline, Imogen responds with what can be called "most joyfull welcome" to Pisanio's arrival with Posthumus' letter, and she travels on horseback into the country; in Frederyke of Jennen, the wife is "glad" to hear from her husband, but the message is oral and she travels with a lamb; her method of travel—on foot or on horseback—is not mentioned. Also, the sultan (most closely corresponding to Cymbeline) orders the Iachimo character to pay the wife goods worth 10,000 double ducats; 10,000 ducats is the same value given for the falsely-won ring in Cymbeline.

    30Nosworthy reprints Frederyke of Jennen (translated from a German wager-story, Historie von vier Kaufmännern) in an appendix to his edition (Arden 2). The basic story is quite similar to both The Decameron and Cymbeline: Johan of Florence, like Iachimo, tempts a husband, Ambrosius, into wagering on his wife's chastity. Johan is conveyed in a trunk into Ambrosius's wife's chamber, where he emerges, takes three items, and sees a personal mark on the wife. Upon learning that his wife was apparently unfaithful, Ambrosius orders a servant to kill his wife, but the servant (as in Pisanio's case) only pretends to do so. Ambrosius's wife dresses as a man, calling herself "Frederyke of Jennen." She eventually gains the confidence of the king, reveals both her identity and the deceit practiced by Johan, and is reconciled with her husband.

    The author of Frederyke of Jennen chose to make the result of the wager absolutely private: Johan takes Ambrosius aside, supposedly in order not to shame him while they decide the matter, and nobody else knows what the outcome is. In contrast, the presence of the conciliating Philario in Cymbeline (or of all the other merchants in The Decameron) demonstrates the thoroughness of Iachimo's deception by throwing into relief the fact that it is not simply Posthumus' judgment that is in doubt. Philario, who has been conservative in his speech and actions since Posthumus' arrival, helps prevent Posthumus from jumping to hasty conclusions through Iachimo's first several pieces of evidence, but at the end also accepts that Iachimo has indeed won the wager, helping to portray Posthumus' conclusion as logical.

    Cymbeline follows The Decameron in underlining the resourcefulness of the villain more than in Frederyke of Jennen. Unlike Iachimo and his counterpart in Boccaccio, Johan of Florence does not even attempt to seduce Ambrosius' wife since she appears so "womanly" that he knows without even asking that she would rebuff him, and when Johan desires to gain access to her bedchamber by being delivered in a trunk, he cannot think of how to get the trunk to the bedchamber and must ask an old woman because "the dyuell can not do that an olde woman can do" (Nosworthy 194). He may be the villain, but he is no Machiavellian mastermind. The old woman asks Ambrosius' wife to keep her jewels and plate in a trunk while the old woman goes on a pilgrimage. Johan thus has to stay in the trunk for three days, not three or four hours, and he gathers three items as proof (a purse, a girdle, and a ring) in addition to seeing a black wart on her arm which he concludes will win him the wager. In all stories, the intimate mark convinces the husband, as the other evidence cannot, that his wife has been unfaithful.

    While Johan of Florence is less inventive than Iachimo, Ambrosius's wife is more resourceful than Imogen. When Ambrosius's servant reveals his order to kill the wife, it is the wife, not the servant, who suggests the alternative of killing a lamb for its tongue and blood to serve as evidence of his obedience and who then decides to dress in man's clothing. In terms of finding employment as a man, Ambrosius's wife again goes farther than Imogen, working her way up, as Frederyke of Jennen, from falconer to protector of the land, discovering and eventually avenging the deception played upon her. Meanwhile, during those twelve years, she "governed the realm worshipfully, so that all the lords and knights loved him [sic] all and all the commons. And he [sic] reigned xii year with great honor, and daily getting more thereto" (qtd. in Nosworthy 199). Ambrosius's wife even defeats enemies in combat; but, like Imogen, she relinquishes her part readily, surrendering control of the king's lands at the conclusion of the tale when she reveals her true identity. The villain is executed at the wife's request, and "all his goodes giuen to Ambrose and his wyfe" (cited in Nosworthy 202), which runs almost completely counter to the ending of Cymbeline, where Iachimo is pardoned at Posthumus' request, and no mention is made of the goods aside from the ring and bracelet.

    Early editors proposed Westward for Smelts, another tale similar to Frederyke of Jennen, as a source, but editors since the 18th century have been unable to locate a reputed 1603 edition that would have made this version of the wager story available to Shakespeare as a source; only a 1620 version of Westward for Smelts is extant. Despite its late date, however, the story remains germane. The similarities between Cymbeline and Westward for Smelts are possibly even stronger than with the wager stories of The Decameron and Frederyke of Jennen and include many verbal echoes that indicate a closer relation, especially in the laying of the wager, in the scene between the wife and the servant ordered to kill her, and in the battle which provides the anagnorisis and denouement. The villain also, notably, is not killed but is ordered to "restore the money treble which he had wrongfully got from him; and so was to have a year's imprisonment." If Westward for Smelts is not a source, it is an important analogue.

    35One of the more mythical possible sources of Cymbeline is the fairy tale Snow White. A shared element in each is an evil stepmother who is also queen; a young woman who travels into the woods with a servant who has been ordered to kill the young woman and return with some physical sign of her death, but who ultimately spares her life; friendly and helpful people living in the wilderness who accept the young woman into their household, where she keeps house for them; and the death-like state the young woman falls into after consuming a poison prepared by the queen. Because no written versions exist for most common early modern folk tales, it is impossible to know what versions of Snow White may have been current in England that Shakespeare might have been familiar with. It is easy to assume that there would have been at least a version of the story, since a glance at a folk motif index reveals the quantity and variety of such stories, one of which might have inspired Shakespeare, at least in part. As they exist around the world, it seems credible that England must have had a variation which might have inspired Shakespeare.

    Contemporary prose narrative may also figure as a source or analogue. Several minor episodes and some characterization in Cymbeline may owe a debt to Thomas Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveler, first published in 1594. If this is the case, however, the characters resist easy equation. Jack Wilton, the narrator, is much like Iachimo in being a man willing to use deceit to provide for his own comfort. The character of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (based on the historical figure) is, like Posthumus, praised as a model of virtue. Both Surrey and Posthumus are described as grave, and both exalt their mistresses over all other women and are prepared to go to great lengths to defend that assertion. More specifically, thinking of the idealized woman prompts associations with the idea of the phoenix, though the context is substantially different in each case.

    An early episode with a chaste woman (chaste, at least, at the time of their first encounter) also prefigures the action between Iachimo, Imogen, and Posthumus with its attention to coining, false accusations of unchastity, sexual jealousy, and stolen rings. Falsely imprisoned for coining, Jack meets Diamante (suggestive of diamonds), who has been wrongfully imprisoned for adultery. Her accuser had shown Diamante's husband rings he had borrowed from a "light courtesan" which "he would feign to be taken from her [Diamante's] fingers" (253), provoking "an ungrounded jealous suspicion which her doting husband had conceived of her chastity" (252). Jack overcomes Diamante's chaste scruples using the same argument Iachimo tries with Imogen: "Her husband had abused her, and it was very necessary she should be revenged" (255). Iachimo's "Be revenged, / Or she that bore you was no queen, and you / Recoil from your great stock" (741-43) echoes and elaborates upon Nashe's line.

    Some light verbal echoes also suggest a connection. Having exchanged identities earlier, Jack travels under Surrey's name to Florence with Diamante, where Surrey finds them. Surrey merely asks that Jack not harm Surrey's reputation by publicly maintaining a courtesan. In his request for Jack to give up either his assumed title or his courtesan, he uses the word "ape" frequently: "though I am well pleased thou shouldest be the ape of my birthright (as what nobleman hath not his ape and his fool), yet that thou be an ape without a clog, not carry thy courtesan with thee" (260); Iachimo likewise associates apes with courtesans "It cannot be i'th' eye, for apes and monkeys / 'Twixt two such shes would chatter this way and / Condemn with mows the other"; Iachimo likewise verbally links apes with courtesans when he imagines Imogen and Posthumus' supposed whore being compared by "apes and monkeys," who would be able to recognize Imogen as superior (636-38). Both men also conjure the same stereotype of prostitutes in windows.

    Surrey then

    published a proud challenge in the Duke of Florence's court against all comers (whether Christians, Turks, Cannibals, Jews, or Saracens) in defence of his Geraldine's beauty. More mildly was it accepted in that she whom he defended was a town-born child of that city, or else the pride of the Italian would have prevented him ere he should have come to perform it. (261)

    40Iachimo's response to Posthumus' bragging recalls "the pride of the Italian" in this scene: "You must not so far prefer her 'fore ours of Italy" (379-80), he cautions Posthumus. Jack says that Surrey "would praise her beyond the moon and stars, and that so sweetly and ravishingly as I persuade myself he was more in love with his own curious forming fancy than her face; and truth it is, many become passionate lovers only to win praise to their wits" (254), which also resonates with Iachimo's skepticism of Posthumus' rhetorically skillful praise of love: "he began / His mistress' picture, which, by his tongue being made / And then a mind put in't, either our brags / Were cracked of kitchen trulls or his description / Proved us unspeaking sots" (3454-58).

    It is not only Iachimo, Posthumus, and Imogen who bring to mind The Unfortunate Traveler, however; Clotten also recalls a distinctive scene. Locked in a room by a bandit, Jack witnesses the rape of a chaste matron named Heraclide. "Backward he dragged her, even as a man backward would pluck a tree down by the twigs, and then like a traitor that is drawn to execution on a hurdle, he traileth her up and down the chamber by those tender untwisted braids...Her husband's dead body he made a pillow to his abomination...His boorish lust was glutted, his beastly desire satisfied" (278-79). Clotten's threats of rape and violence against Imogen recall this scene in its brutality and the husband's corpse being the locus of posthumus assault and humiliation: "With that suit upon my back will I ravish her: first kill him, and in her eyes. . . He on the ground, my speech of insultment ended on his dead body, and when my lust hath the court I'll knock her back, foot her home again" (2054-61).

    The aftermath of Heraclide's rape also provides a telling counterpoint to Imogen's seeming death and awakening. Clotten believes that the next time he sees Imogen he will rape her in the presence of Posthumus's corpse; in fact, the next time they are together, Imogen awakens next to Clotten's dead body, which juxtaposition serves as a reminder of his threats. Because Imogen believes Clotten's body to be Posthumus', the threat seems almost to be coming true. Also, just as the drugged Imogen appears to be a corpse and is first covered in flowers and then rises as though from the dead, Jack describes Heraclide arising after her rape as "a corpse rising from his hearse after he is carried to church" (279). Another association surfaces in the classical associations with each of the women; Nashe and Shakespeare both compare Heraclide and Imogen to Hecuba.

    Finally, Jack, like Posthumus, is nearly hung for a crime of which he was innocent, with emphasis on the physical means of death (halter and gallows), and both are saved by the testimony of exiled courtiers.

    Given the combination of chronicle history, classical allusion, Italian novella, folk tale, and English narrative that provide much of the literary context of Cymbeline, it is easy to see why Sir Philip Sidney characterized tragicomedy as a "mungrell" genre. To a formalist, of course the text resembles a Gordian knot that frustrates when it cannot be disentangled. To others, the threads seem braided felicitously, echoing, perhaps, the motif of the separate nations which James I hoped would be united under his ideal "Britain."



    Described in superlative terms by the two Gentlemen at the beginning of Act 1—traditionally, a position where the audience can rely on the exegesis to be accurate—Posthumus' behavior and judgment, first in accepting the wager and then in believing Iachimo's "evidence" that Imogen has been unfaithful, deserve scrutiny, especially in context of Iachimo's and Clotten's behavior. One gentleman of the court describes Posthumus to a stranger, pointing out Imogen's obvious valuation of Posthumus in choosing him as her husband despite his lower rank: "her own price / Proclaims how she esteemed him; and his virtue / By her election may be truly read / What kind of man he is" (TLN 60-62). In other words, she is willing to exchange herself, valuable both as the princess of Britain and as a woman of sterling qualities herself, for Posthumus only because he is of equal value. The only detractors of Posthumus early in the play are Cymbeline and his Queen, who find him unworthy of marrying a princess—a position that would have been considered understandable in early modern England, however much it appealed as a conventional plot element—and Clotten, whose insults are patently buffoonish and largely driven by competitive jealousy.

    Posthumus' characterization does not remain idealized for long, however. Shortly afterward, in Rome, Posthumus' excellence is again the subject of conversation, but this time, the villainous Iachimo is present to point out the logical flaws in their assessment. When Iachimo says that Posthumus "must be weighed rather by her value than by his own" (329-30), he turns it from the compliment that it appeared as originally into an insult to both Imogen and to Posthumus: if Posthumus' value does derive from Imogen's having chosen him, rather than demonstrating the merit of both, it in fact denigrates both since Imogen should not take "a beggar without less quality" (337)—as courtiers would no doubt acknowledge, Iachimo suggests, if they were not being servile flatterers.

    Posthumus' own behavior regarding the wager soon raises further doubts about how heroically we are meant to view his character. Given the conventions of early modern chastity plays, where women frequently welcome the chance to prove their loyalty as eagerly as the men wish to test it, it is not surprising that Posthumus accepts Iachimo's wager. Nevertheless, his motivations remain questionable. The convention, as represented in other wager stories, is for a confident husband to accept the wager because he truly believes in his wife's virtue and has no other motive. In Posthumus' case, however, the financial gain which would accompany his winning implies that part of his motivation is a desire to profit from Imogen's virtue. Any hope of economic advantage would be tempting because it would remove one of Cymbeline's primary objections to having Posthumus as a son-in-law, i.e., his lack of income, but in a skewed sense, as Constance Jordan mentions, this approaches making Posthumus a pander for his own wife—a role which would make him the most contemptible of men in the Jacobean period instead of the most admired. In many of the sources, such as Frederyke of Jennen, the husband is a successful merchant who does not need the winnings. At the same time, inasmuch as careful stewardship of money would have been recognized as a virtue, as presented in the Biblical parable of the talents, placing an advantageous bet could even be perceived as morally correct. And for Posthumus, money is one thing he doesn't have but desperately needs. When, just before Iachimo's entry, Philario asks what Posthumus is doing to win the king's approval, Posthumus replies that he has no plan other than to "abide the change of time, / Quake in the present winter's state and wish / That warmer days would come. In these feared hopes / I barely gratify your love; they failing, / I must die much your debtor" (1148-52). Even with the king's favor, he could barely repay Philario (which, although it must be counted as a figure of speech, contains an element of truth to it, too); without the king's approval, he has no strategy for ameliorating his situation.

    Iachimo's insistence on his own wealth makes his provocations all the more pointed. Iachimo illustrates how any perception of value can be manipulated when it becomes a matter of negotiation. Insulting Posthumus' ring at the same time as he attempts to place himself in a position to acquire it, Iachimo comments that he would "dare thereupon pawn the moiety of my estate to your ring, which in my opinion o'ervalues it something" (423-25). He first says that he would wager half of his estate against Posthumus' ring that he could seduce Imogen, even if that "overvalues" the ring; when that is unsuccessful, he pursues the topic, wishing that he "had put my estate and my neighbor's on th'approbation of what I have spoke!" (438-39). Iachimo clinches the deal by offering ten thousand ducats—which, whether in ancient or contemporary times, in Rome or in England, was a kingly sum. If Posthumus is a superior man who simply falls to temptation, he at least accepts the what logically is a very safe bet in the expectation of receiving a reward that could substantially improve his situation.

    In fact, if Iachimo weren't so immorally manipulative, the reader might have to acknowledge the justice of his claims. Posthumus does seem to be falling into the same pattern of behavior for which he is criticized in 1.5: precipitous, nationalistic aggression. Posthumus acknowledges that, the first time he nearly dueled over Imogen's virtue, he "was then a young traveler" (357-58) who preferred to ignore advice or rebel against it than to heed it (which casts doubts on First Gentleman's claims that Posthumus was always so wise that grave men saw him as "A child that guided dotards" (59)), but he proceeds to repeat his previous error of "vouching -- and upon warrant of bloody affirmation -- his to be more fair, virtuous, wise, chaste, constant, qualified, and less attemptable than any the rarest of our ladies in France" (371-75), except that this time he is in Italy. When Iachimo counters by insulting British women in general, he does so on the grounds that Posthumus cannot justly claim that Imogen is better than the rest of the women in the world without having seen or met them. Arguably, Posthumus' lack of tact in maintaining that Imogen is superior to all other women and that she is as valuable as his ring, which is worth "More than the world enjoys" (393), contributes to his victimization by Iachimo in the same way that Collatine's bragging about Lucrece leads to Tarquin's raping her.

    50Iachimo's response, "Either your unparagoned mistress is dead, or she's outprized by a trifle" (394-95), reflects the ambiguity inherent in the play and the skill with which Iachimo controls language. A "paragon" is an exemplar of virtue, but "unparagoned," which in context should mean "unequalled" or "unrivaled," could also denote that Imogen has been dethroned from her status as paragon—"un-paragoned." If Imogen is only as valuable as a ring, Iachimo points out, she is "outprized by a trifle" (395) -- again, ambiguously phrased, suggesting either that the ring is worth a "trifle" more than she is, or that the ring, which is simply a "trifle" in the sense of being an item of little importance, is nevertheless more valuable than Imogen. Once Iachimo has prompted Posthumus to (romantically, perhaps) equate Imogen and the ring by playing on his conventionally romantic behavior, it is a simple, logical step to getting Posthumus to place a monetary value on Imogen, and thus Posthumus makes the wager.

    Posthumus' second scene of questionable behavior occurs when Iachimo returns, supposedly with proof of her betrayal. As before, the perspective of another character, Philario, offers a more objective view when Posthumus eventually begins to succumb to Iachimo's rhetoric, but the fact that Posthumus requires such advice in order to consider the possibility that his wife is innocent places him, at least to many 21st-century readers, among the less-than-admirable; and the flimsiness of Iachimo's first pieces of evidence suggests that, despite living in a much more patriarchal and misogynistic society, Shakespeare's original audience could have experienced a similar attitude towards Posthumus' response.

    For his first attempt, Iachimo describes Imogen's bedchamber. When Iachimo gives details of Imogen's tapestry of Cleopatra, Posthumus replies, "This is true. / And this you might have heard of here, by me, / Or by some other" (1237-39), raising the question of how common a topic of discussion Imogen's bedchamber is. Because people in Shakespeare's time did not consider bedchambers to be as private a space as we do, and many people had access to the rooms of royalty, the temperate nature of Posthumus' response indicates that it was at best semi-private. He doesn't remember mentioning it to Iachimo, but neither does he have a clear memory of not mentioning it to him, as he should have if Imogen's bedchamber were a taboo subject; and since Posthumus hypothesizes that others have the information, logically, they must either have seen it themselves or have heard about it from someone like Posthumus who was familiar with it. In either case, no description of the contents of her room could be considered proof. More details draw an even stronger response from Posthumus: "This is a thing / Which you might from relation likewise reap, / Being, as it is, much spoke of" (1250-52).

    However, when Iachimo finally produces Imogen's bracelet and lies about Imogen's actions in giving it to him, Posthumus' belief in Imogen crumbles—and when it crumbles, he descends into the extremities of hatred for women, unable to believe in the fidelity of a single woman:

    Let there be no honor
    Where there is beauty; truth, where semblance; love,
    Where there's another man. The vows of women
    Of no more bondage be to where they are made
    Than they are to their virtues, which is nothing.
    Oh, above measure false! (TLN 1280-85)

    The potentially farcical aspect of Posthumus' vacillation in believing that Imogen is either the best woman in the world or the worst is played up by Philario's objection that the bracelet might have been lost or stolen and Posthumus' immediate resumption of his former stance. Far from being an exceptionally mature and sensible young man, he now appears to be credulous and unable to reason logically and consistently.

    55Either way, Posthumus continues to appear less than ideal when he summarily curses all women and orders Imogen's death; notwithstanding his apparent repentance later (when he still thinks that she is guilty but that he overreacted in ordering her murder), his valiant action in the battle, and his willingness to die, he still has not learned one of his lessons. His impassioned, violent outbursts continue to get the better of him, almost resulting in his truly killing Imogen. Only the fact that he forgives Iachimo rather than demanding vengeance offers hope that he is beginning to temper his passions with tolerance and patience, but at the end of the play, many critics remain unconvinced that Posthumus is, in fact, worthy of Imogen.


    The ambiguity pertaining to Posthumus' character is reiterated in that of Clotten, who superficially represents Posthumus' antithesis. In a few scenes, he is presented strictly as a stupid, cowardly clown. The insistence on his being a fool is continual; he is called "fool" or "foolish" on twelve different occasions, and if in the phrase, "Fortune put them into my hand" (2240-41), one might infer a glancing reference to the proverb "Fortune favors fools," another is implicit. But even though he may be a fool, he is one with a sword and with power, and is therefore dangerous. However, Clotten is not simply a fool. On a few occasions, he also voices conventional early modern views about women, class difference, and nationalistic pride, raising the question of whether Shakespeare is challenging the culturally accepted beliefs he recapitulates by putting them in the mouth of a fool. On one occasion, when Clotten berates Imogen for disobeying her father and for marrying beneath her, and accuses her of disgracing the crown by attempting to "foil / The precious note of it with a base slave" (1097-98), he echoes Cymbeline's accusation that she has made his throne "a seat for baseness" (77). The fact that Cymbeline and Clotten share the same perspective on Imogen's marriage to Posthumus dangerously aligns the King with a fool, even if the original audience might be somewhat sympathetic to the notion that a princess has a duty to her kingdom to marry well. Again, in 3.1, Clotten's speeches defying the Romans display a familiar breed of proud patriotism. Many recent critics have identified these speeches with a nationalism that, while viewed as appropriate under Elizabeth I, was becoming increasingly unpopular as James I promoted a more pacifistic agenda. Still, one might imagine the possibility that large portions of the audience would cheer Clotten's rebellion against English subordination to Roman rule.

    Around 3.5, Clotten's character alters. Instead of his previous belligerence, he accepts Lucius' hand and says, moderately, "Receive it friendly, but from this time forth / I wear it as your enemy" (TLN 1907-08), which essentially represents what Cymbeline has been telling Lucius. He also serves as a more intelligent political advisor to Cymbeline than previously represented, reassuring the King that the war Cymbeline has found necessary to enter into is, at least, a popular one: "'Tis all the better; / Your valiant Britons have their wishes in it" (1915-16). He continues to behave in a similar vein, as an intelligencer if not a truly intelligent man, serving his mother as a kind of spy when the King discovers Imogen's absence and immediately discovering the information that the King desires—though Clotten does not divulge the secret. While other characters continue to call him a fool regularly, events increasingly indicate that he might present a serious danger: the threats he articulates against Pisanio, Imogen, and Posthumus target their vulnerabilities, and he moves swiftly to carry out his revenge.

    Yet Clotten descends into clownishness again when he arrives in Wales. He has no greater success at navigating in the mountains than Imogen, and he relies on the symbolic power of Posthumus' clothes and on his mother's status as he postures before Guiderius. Clotten continues to be absurd as Guiderius throws Clotten's head into a stream, to "tell the fishes he's the Queen's son, Clotten" (TLN 2442). At the end, though, Belarius' directive to his sons to bury him honorably, for "Our foe was princely, / And though you took his life as being our foe, / Yet bury him as a prince" (TLN 2563-65), shows more sincere respect due to his rank than has been demonstrated during his life. Guiderius temporizes, noting that "Thersites' body is as good as Ajax' / When neither are alive" (2567-68). As a result, even in death, he continues to partake of attributes of both the fool and the prince.

    Imogen's inability to distinguish Clotten's corpse from Posthumus' epitomizes a parallel between the two men that endures throughout the play. In fact, the two men are never onstage together, and their parts may have been doubled, or played by the same actor. Clotten notes their similarities upon arriving in the mountains near Milford Haven: "The lines of my body are as well drawn as his, no less young, more strong, not beneath him in fortunes, beyond him in the advantage of the time, above him in birth, alike conversant in general services, and more remarkable in single oppositions" (2227-31). Certainly, to take Clotten's assessment of their similarities at face value would constitute insensitive reading, but Imogen herself is fooled by the physical similarities in her famous inverted blazon, categorizing, from foot to head, the parts of what she believes to be her husband's body but which is in fact Clotten's: "I know the shape of's leg; this is his hand, / His foot Mercurial, his Martial thigh, / The brawns of Hercules, but his Jovial face -- / Murder in heaven?" (2631-34). This misrecognition on Imogen's part is the more notable since physical recognition elsewhere plays such an important part in moving the plot, with Iachimo's reference to Imogen's mole as proof of her guilt and Guiderius' similar birthmark serving as proof of his identity later.

    60Beyond their physical attributes, Posthumus and Clotten share other qualities. Both are impulsive and somewhat prone to violence, as marked by Clotten's reported attack on Posthumus when Posthumus is going into exile, and as other actions attest, including Clotten's later aggression towards Guiderius as well as Posthumus' previous near duel in Orleans, his accepting the wager with Iachimo over a nearly identical cause, and his decision to order Imogen's death.

    Clotten and Posthumus express similar hostility and physical aggression toward Imogen. Clotten's desire is graphic in detail:

    With that suit upon my back will I ravish her -- first kill him, and in her eyes; there shall she see my valor, which will then be a torment to her contempt. He on the ground, my speech of insultment ended on his dead body, and when my lust hath dined (which, as I say, to vex her, I will execute in the clothes that she so praised), to the court I'll knock her back, foot her home again. She hath despised me rejoicingly, and I'll be merry in my revenge. (TLN 2054-62)

    Posthumus' violence is originally more distanced and abstract. His immediate impulse is to "write against" women (1369); even the letter commanding Pisanio to kill Imogen is not specific, saying only "let thine own hands take away her life" (1698) and referring later to a "strike," suggesting Pisanio's sword. But the lack of specifics in his order cannot conceal his intent to commit violence against Imogen or its similarity to Clotten's brutality. Unlike Clotten, however, who dies without enacting any violence against Imogen, Posthumus actually strikes Imogen before he discovers her true identity.

    Both men also make and lose wagers, Posthumus over the chastity wager with Iachimo, and Clotten first at bowls and later at cards. Clotten's discussion of his gambling is interleaved between scenes playing out Posthumus' wager, effectively juxtaposing the two. The two men parallel each other in their efforts to marry Imogen; Clotten goes even farther, apparently desiring to become Posthumus, wishing to appropriate not only his wife but his clothes and his servant as well. In fact, Clotten symbolically becomes Posthumus, as Clotten's death at the hands of Guiderius arguably functions as a quasi-scapegoating for Posthumus' treasonous attempt to kill Imogen, the only known heir to the throne. The closer they come to being the same, either through Clotten's endeavors to assume Posthumus' role or through Posthumus' descent to Clotten's level of brutality, the more the value systems by which they are judged are exposed as inadequate.

    The Queen and Imogen

    Unlike Posthumus and Clotten, Imogen has no foil. The only other female character of any regard, the Queen, while a powerful character within the scope of the play's politics and action, is a sketch of an evil queen/step-mother, as the similarities to the fairy tale Snow White suggest. The Queen's ambitions are superbly corrupt. She marries the king for his power, studies medicine in order to graduate to poisons, wishes to promote her son to ascend to the throne, and advises Cymbeline to stop paying tribute to Rome. Unfortunately, she is not very effective in her wickedness. Her feigned sympathy and concern for others fail to convince Imogen, Pisanio, Cornelius, or any of the courtiers; Cymbeline is the only one taken in by her. After a promising beginning as a villain, she does not even merit a dramatic on-stage death. Instead, she is taken by "a fever with the absence of her son" (TLN 2739) and dies offstage. Perhaps for an ambitious woman like the Queen, that is the worst failure of all, especially given the numerous parallels to the infamous Cleopatra. The Queen and Cleopatra both fight against conquest and marginalization by the Roman Empire, with their countries representing its northwestern and southeastern limits, respectively. Both live during the time of Augustus, seek power through advantageous romantic associations, and share an interest in poison—similarities which, in context, may point forth the ways in which women with political power are indicted as being too interested in the power of life and death, particularly through such "feminine" means as seduction and poison.

    65Aside from the Queen, Imogen's maids, Helen and Dorothy, are the only women present -- or at least the only living women. Imogen's mother, the first queen, is mentioned only cursorily (as being the source of the diamond ring she leaves to Imogen and as having wrought a "curious mantle" for Arviragus (3675-76)); and Posthumus' mother appears onstage as a ghost. Other women are evoked only hypothetically, as stereotypes, such as the "jay of Italy" (1720) that Imogen is convinced has seduced Posthumus, or as legendary females—Cleopatra, Lucrece, Philomel, and Dido. Given these associations, it is as though Imogen lives in the chronicles that provide the basis for the story. Appropriately, when Posthumus believes Imogen has betrayed him, he threatens to write about her and other women: "I'll write against them, / Detest them, curse them" (TLN 1369-70), but the only alternative the play presents to women being chronicled for evil is being chronicled for good—a fate not necessarily associated with the happy endings such women deserve but with abandonment, death, mutilation, metamorphosis, or some combination of those factors. In Imogen's case, all become true, on the symbolic if not literal level.

    Despite the fact that Imogen conforms to restrictive social conventions for women regarding marital status, sexuality, and submission to her husband, she supersedes these limitations to become a fully realized character whose humanity is much more appealing than the incredible virtues of an idealized Madonna figure. Imogen is chaste, and she is naive (or begins the play that way), but Shakespeare also reveals her development into a passionate, brave, loyal, intelligent, and humorous woman.

    Imogen's growth can be seen in the difference between her romantic, artificial excesses of love at the beginning, reminiscent of the early Juliet, and the more authentic, or at least unmediated, passion we see later as she encounters pain. At the beginning, her view of love is dramatic: it is a performance which she desires to stage, perhaps not only for Posthumus' benefit but for its conformity to romantic narrative conventions. In this her desires are frustrated by Posthumus' abbreviated departure. Posthumus, preparing to leave Britain and his new wife, simply says, "Should we be taking leave / As long a term as yet we have to live, / The loathness to depart would grow. Adieu" (TLN 126-28). Imogen takes issue with Posthumus' brevity, as though only the volume of words spoken could demonstrate the size of emotion felt: "Nay, stay a little: / Were you but riding forth to air yourself, / Such parting were too petty" (129-31).

    After Posthumus' departure, Imogen reveals more of the script she had envisioned for their parting. She presses Pisanio for every detail of Posthumus' actions, dwelling on the separate incidents of the departure, Posthumus' last words, and his kissing his handkerchief and waving it. "Senseless linen, happier therein than I" (272), Imogen comments, in the full throes of romantic rhetoric. After his first few answers, whose brevity clearly disappoints Imogen, Pisanio seems to attempt to accommodate Imogen. When she demands, "And that was all?" (273), Pisanio elaborates on the symbolism of Posthumus' sailing. He concedes that he watched until Posthumus was "as little as a crow, or less," happily fulfilling Imogen's expectations (281-84), and when Imogen complains that Pisanio did not stay as long as she would have, the comparison simply illuminates how much more she would have felt. If Pisanio watched until Posthumus was the size of a crow, she would watch until Posthumus was like the point of a needle, gnat-sized, and then invisible. The boundlessness of her love is symbolized in her speech, which is also limitless. Her love, while it rings true, carries the predictable clichés of young love:

    I did not take my leave of him but had
    Most pretty things to say. Ere I could tell him
    How I would think on him at certain hours
    Such thoughts and such; or I could make him swear
    The shes of Italy should not betray
    Mine interest and his honor; or have charged him
    At the sixth hour of morn, at noon, at midnight,
    T'encounter me with orisons, for then
    I am in heaven for him; or ere I could
    Give him that parting kiss which I had set
    Betwixt two charming words, comes in my father
    And like the tyrannous breathing of the North
    Shakes all our buds from growing. (TLN 294-306)

    The orthodox nature of her romantic notions is underscored by the way she lapses into summary: she had "most pretty things to say," she would tell him "such thoughts and such," and she had already scripted the "parting kiss which I had set / Betwixt two charming words" (294-304). That she is not the first to voice these thoughts, or that they were not spontaneous, does not make the emotion behind them untrue; it merely suggests that language such as this, suitable to some prose romance, shapes her expectations and is thus replicated by her.

    70By the time Imogen has actually experienced their separation and Iachimo's supposed trial of her constancy, her responses are already less planned, more spontaneous, with her thoughts flying as fast as she wishes to, faster than her words can match, in an exuberance which does not measure her emotion but outstrips it:

    Oh, for a horse with wings! Hearst thou, Pisanio?
    He is at Milford Haven. Read, and tell me
    How far 'tis thither. If one of mean affairs
    May plod it in a week, why may not I
    Glide thither in a day? Then, true Pisanio,
    Who longst like me to see thy lord, who longst --
    Oh, let me bate -- but not like me; yet longst,
    But in a fainter kind. Oh, not like me,
    For mine's beyond, beyond! (TLN 1516-24)

    Her insistence on the uniqueness of her position, while also typical of young love, is more endearing, not less, for being rhetorically artless, and her eagerness poignantly contrasts with the irony that Posthumus wants her to go to Milford Haven not to meet her but to kill her. Already her concept of love shows signs of growing more individual and less dramatic, but it still betrays numerous hallmarks of a romantic narrative, with the plotting of the excuse, her maid's feigned sickness, and the disguise as a franklin's housewife, all betokening another scene she is planning to perform.

    In the next scene with Imogen, where Pisanio confronts her with Posthumus' accusations, Imogen is forced to abandon her idea that love necessarily follows the plot of a romance of which she is the romantic heroine. Suddenly, new roles are required: she is the Biblical Susanna, innocent of the crimes Posthumus charges her with, and she considers acting the part of Lucrece to prove her loyalty. Imogen's ability adapt to a new reality and a new role nearly fails her in this scene, however. Instead of adopting a new explanation, such as Pisanio's accurate speculation that "It cannot be / But that my master is abused. Some villain -- / Aye, and singular in his art -- hath done you both / This cursed injury" (1801-04), Imogen clings to Iachimo's accusations that Posthumus is the victim of a predatory Roman courtesan. It is not until Pisanio literally provides her with a new role and a new identity that Imogen accepts her continued existence.

    Her willingness to forget so much of herself confirms that her unchanging love for Posthumus constitutes a central part of her identity. The rhetorical and narrative conventions of love are not necessary to love. In fact, her new disguise requires, in a way that her earlier roles do not, that she disguise her love for Posthumus. It is in this scene that Imogen relinquishes what had been the most fundamental element of her role as romantic heroine, her long and eloquent speeches, but only after she exhausts herself responding to Posthumus' accusation, running the gamut of emotions. After she finally listens to Pisanio's proposal that she "forget to be a woman" (1844), Imogen once again displays her adaptability, already assuming a masculine, laconic regard for language: "Nay, be brief. / I see into thy end, and am almost a man already" (1856-58). She has surrendered her roles as obedient daughter, infatuated lover, and princess, and now she relinquishes her femininity.

    Finally, Imogen ceases to equate talking about love with feeling love. Once she believes that Posthumus is dead, Lucius must compel Imogen (in her disguise as Fidele) to talk about her love for Posthumus. When she loses him, she loses herself and is "nothing; or, if not, nothing to be were better" (2696-97). Her words are briefer, no longer using the florid sentimentality characteristic of earlier scenes. She describes Posthumus simply: "He was a very valiant Briton, and a good" (2698). While she does imply that he was the best man in the world, she does so in fewer than eight full lines. By the time she is finally reunited with Posthumus, she is even less profligate with words, greeting him only with "Why did you throw your wedded lady from you? / Think that you are upon a rock, and now / Throw me again" (3352-54).

    75After being the central protagonist throughout the drama, Imogen does fall into the background during the final scene, where the male characters' multiple revelations pile on, one after another. While some critics feel that Imogen's relative backgrounding in the final scene is reminiscent of Isabella's ambiguous silence at the end of Measure for Measure, it is possible to understand Imogen's silence as elective, and as a sign of her increasing maturity. One might equally associate her quietness with Claudio's silence in Much Ado about Nothing upon his becoming betrothed to Hero for the first time: "Silence is the perfectest herald of joy. I were but little happy if I could say how much." Whereas at the beginning of the play, Imogen displays the excessive language suitable to the heroine of a romance, she develops into a well-rounded character whose ability to adapt through multiple crises charms the audience, and while her final speeches are shorter and sparser, they portray her as a woman who has learned one of the central lessons of the play: that words and reality do not necessarily accord. Given the power of language to deceive, to wound, and simply to fail to express the ineffable, Imogen's silence is less surprising. Perhaps Posthumus has the right idea when he says, "I'll speak to thee in silence" (3064).


    The play takes place in three different locations: Cymbeline's court is held in Roman Britain; the scenes of Posthumus' exile occur at Philario's house in Rome; and the scenes of Imogen's travels are from Wales, near Milford-Haven, where the battle scenes also happen. Traditionally, critics have also emphasized a temporal disjunction between Cymbeline's court, with its references to the Rome of Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar, and the Renaissance Italy of Philario and Iachimo. Certainly, Iachimo's character and his plot display more elements linked to early modern Italy than to ancient Rome. Iachimo's clever duplicity, the references to Roman courtesans, and the verbal associations with poisoning conform to xenophobic English stereotypes of their Italian contemporaries, while the emphasis on stoicism, nobility, military prowess, and references to great Roman philosophers and authors that one might find in other texts about ancient Rome are largely absent from the Italian wager plot.

    At the same time, aside from a few glancing references to ancient Britons such as Tenantius, the names of many of the British characters, which are taken from Holinshed, and the conflict with Emperor Augustus, nor does Cymbeline's court seem particularly ancient. Because the English court contains more references to ancient times than does the Roman setting, it may be perceived as relatively old, but the behavior of the English characters appears no more recognizably Augustan than that of the Italians. It is easy to imagine the actors representing both the English and the Italian characters wearing Jacobean costumes, as was customary, with little sense of discrepancy.

    The Welsh setting has no greater evidence to place it temporally. It differs from Cymbeline's court and from Rome by virtue of its rustic location and by Belarius' repudiation of the corruption of court, but it has more in common with the bucolic "green world" of As You Like It. Like the Forest of Arden, it is not without its dangers, but it can also provide a safe haven for the banished, and a position from which to critique the hypocrisy and lack of ethics at court.

    Sometimes, too, the settings reflect the magical properties of space in prose romances. Time and distance are elastic. Distances which should take days if not weeks to travel appear to be covered in hours. Imogen's expectations about her horseback voyage to Wales offer some insight into this inconsistent way of imagining distance:

    Oh, for a horse with wings! Hearst thou, Pisanio?
    He is at Milford Haven. Read, and tell me
    How far 'tis thither. If one of mean affairs
    May plod it in a week, why may not I
    Glide thither in a day? Then, true Pisanio,
    Who longst like me to see thy lord, who longst --
    Oh, let me bate -- but not like me; yet longst,
    But in a fainter kind. Oh, not like me,
    For mine's beyond, beyond! Say, and speak thick
    (Love's counselor should fill the bores of hearing
    To th' smothering of the sense) how far it is
    To this same blessed Milford. And by th' way
    Tell me how Wales was made so happy as
    T'inherit such a haven. But first of all,
    How we may steal from hence, and for the gap
    That we shall make in time from our hence-going
    And our return to excuse -- but first, how get hence.
    Why should excuse be born or ere begot?
    We'll talk of that hereafter. Prithee speak:
    How many score of miles may we well ride
    'Twixt hour and hour? (1516-36)

    80For Imogen, emotion translates fancifully into reality. In her eagerness to be reunited with Posthumus, time and space become as jumbled as her words, and the pragmatic questions of travel are subordinate to her desire, while the well-grounded Pisanio displays a firmer grasp on the realities of travel. Still, whether the world of the play agrees with Pisanio's rationality is another matter, as time and space are only two of the subjects which seem to support the marvelous over the probable. At the end of the play, for instance, the battle takes place near Milford-Haven in Wales, but Cymbeline suggests they march to Lud's-Town (London) for a feast—that is, a journey which would take considerably longer than an afternoon—an improbable feat without the flexible geography of the romance.

    The action through the first half of the play tends to reinforce the view of Britain as an isolated and unique location. Clotten asserts that "Britain's a world by itself" (1390-91), and the Queen develops that theme. Shakespeare is once again indebted to Holinshed for the substance of the Queen's declarations to Cymbeline (for Lucius' benefit) that

    The natural bravery of your isle, which stands
    As Neptune's park, ribbed and paled in
    With oaks unscalable and roaring waters,
    With sands that will not bear your enemies' boats
    But suck them up to th' top-mast (TLN 1397-1401)

    sets Britain apart. The Queen's isolationistic view of the realm portrays it as impenetrable, particularly to Roman attack. This view is notable for the historical half-truth it tells: Julius Caesar had been unsuccessful in his initial attempt at conquering the island due to such environmental factors, but if he had been unsuccessful the second time, Cymbeline would not have been under the obligation of paying tribute to Augustus to begin with. Imogen, on the other hand, recognizes that Britain is geographically discrete, but instead of emphasizing the military advantages of its natural fortifications in an attempt to exclude the world, she describes it as a locus of germination from which she might naturally travel, as a swan would: "I'th' world's volume / Our Britain seems as of it but not in't: / In a great pool, a swan's nest. Prithee think / There's livers out of Britain" (1824-27).

    The key to understanding Cymbeline's puzzling agreement to resume paying tribute to Rome even after defeating their army may lie in this distinction between the Queen's isolationism and Imogen's more outward-looking perspective. Considering the Elizabethan hostilities between England and Spain, culminating in the defeat of the Spanish Armada off the Irish coast in 1588—an event with numerous parallels to Julius Caesar's unsuccessful first attempt at invasion—Shakespeare's audiences might have thought of Spain rather than Rome when hearing the Queen's nationalistic comments. However, under the Jacobean Peace established by James I, English sympathies may have been more divided on the subject of isolationism than previously. James had signed the Treaty of London (1604) with Spain, which ultimately allowed greater security for both nations' mercantile, maritime, and colonial interests, and a general return to "peace and prosperity." Even though some may have felt that James, like Cymbeline, was providing unnecessary concessions to a foreign power to whom they should owe nothing, on the whole, the resolution achieved its aims, and, by perhaps glancing at this debate, Cymbeline may serve as a mild bit of Jacobean propaganda as well.


    Although scholars of the period can rarely pinpoint the precise time a play was written, all of the significant factors used to determine the dating of Shakespeare's plays agree that Cymbeline is a late play, written approximately in the period 1608-1611. Attempts to date any Shakespeare play must keep in mind that composition may occur over an extended period of time, be set aside temporarily for the author to work on other projects, or include periods of significant revision. Nevertheless, recent consensus places Cymbeline's composition between 1608 and 1611 based on multiple factors. In terms of subjective criteria, similarities in style, theme, and content suggest that the tragicomedies (Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest) were written in close proximity to each other. However, as might be expected from works by the same author, Cymbeline also shows numerous similarities to works from all previous stages in Shakespeare's career as well, such as Two Gentlemen of Verona, an early play; Twelfth Night, generally considered to be a comedy from the height of Shakespeare's powers; and the late tragedy Antony and Cleopatra. Extrinsic and stylistic traits also confirm the general time frame.

    85The primary extrinsic piece of evidence for the date of Cymbeline is Simon Forman's diary entry recording his memories of a performance. While the entry has no specific date, Forman's death on September 8, 1611 does set an absolute last possible date for the first performance. The other play entries in Forman's diary (on Macbeth, The Winter's Tale, and a play of uncertain authorship about Richard II) were dated in the spring of 1611, implying that he saw Cymbeline around the same time. The earliest composition date, sometimes placed at 1606, is suggested by the possibility that Shakespeare's historical research in Holinshed's Chronicles for Macbeth (dated at 1605 or 1606) resulted in the inspiration for at least some of the plot (Nosworthy xv). Others believe that composition more probably began at the point in 1609 or 1610 when a serious outbreak of plague subsided enough to allow public performances, and the King's Men began performing at Blackfriars (Warren 64). Marvin Butler points out that the average successful play might have stayed in the company's repertoire for around two years, so if Forman saw Cymbeline in 1611, it was probably written at some time in the previous two years (4).

    Roger Warren also claims a date of 1610 as the most likely period of composition based on connections to events that year and on a literary association. The first of the significant events occurs at court. Warren cites Geoffrey Bullough's theory that, as a member of the royally-sponsored King's Men, Shakespeare might well have been asked to write a piece to be performed at the investiture of James's son Henry as Prince of Wales, which occurred amidst festivities spanning the week between May 31 and June 6 of 1610. In addition, James Hay, a descendant of the men recorded in Holinshed as responsible for inspiring the "two boys, an old man" anecdote (discussed further in the Sources section), was dubbed Knight of the Bath during the same time span. Warren supports this association, though he also suggests that Shakespeare might have been inspired to write the scene with Hay's forebears rather than having written the scene specifically for the occasion. If so, this would place the date of composition after June 4, the date of Hay's knighting (65). Finally, even if the reference to Hay's ancestors had been written for the occasion, it could have been a later addition to make a play from the King's Men's repertoire more suitable for a specific court performance.

    While the apparent concreteness of specific dates surrounding the investiture is appealing, the King's Men may or may not have performed at Hay's knighting, and the plot and characters of Cymbeline do not immediately suggest themselves as thematically appropriate for the occasion. Furthermore, Hay, one of the most influential courtiers during James's reign, was far from a newcomer at court; Shakespeare's use of the tale may have had less to do with the date of the knighting and more to do with flattering a man who, whether he had just been made Knight of the Bath or not, was a friend of the king's. If Cymbeline was an occasional play, another significant date for Hay around the same time (though on the early side) which could also be a candidate for a theatrical performance would be when James created him baron for life (though with limited rights) on June 21, 1606.

    An occasional masquer himself, as in Ben Jonson's Haddington's Masque, Hay has been called "the trend-setter in conspicuous consumption at the Jacobean court" (Brown 546), and Hay was not adverse to sponsoring performances of drama himself as parts of the sumptuous entertainments for which he was known (Schreiber 10), raising the possibility of him being a patron rather than an honoree. For instance, after months of negotiations with her father, Hay finally married the English lady Honora Denny amid lavish entertainment reckoned at over £2000 (Brown 570); one of the pieces of entertainment was a masque Hay had commissioned Thomas Campion to pen. The Lord Hay's Masque was performed on Twelfth Night, 1607. Campion presents the kind of pastoral setting popular at court, with Flora, Zephyrus, Night, and Hesperus descending, and knights rising encased in trees from beneath hills. The language, characters, and plot do not resemble the action in Cymbeline. The epigram on the marriage, however, is reminiscent of the symbolism many modern critics have located in Cymbeline: "Haeredum (ut spes est) pariet nova nupta Scot' Anglum; / Quem gignet post hac ille, Britannus erit, / Sic nova posteritas ex regnis orta duobus / Utrinque egregios nobilitabit avos." ("The newly-wed bride shall, as is the hope, produce an Anglo-Scottish heir; the one whom he hereafter shall beget shall be British. So a new posterity, from two kingdoms sprung, shall ennoble its goodly forebears on both sides" (Lindley 20 and n. p. 222). This recalls the legend that Cymbeline's son was the first king of Scotland, establishing a legitimating line of descent to support James, whose desire to unite England and Scotland is well documented. Even transposed onto the need to reconcile Britain and Rome, with the attendant shifts in ideological implications, the reflected ideal of bringing nations together cannot be escaped.

    Even aside from James Hay, as Bullough notes, others in the Hay family were attracting attention around the same time. James Hay had a cousin, George, also a courtier of James I, who was knighted in 1609, and another relative, Francis, Earl of Errol, who "in 1608 was imprisoned at Dumbarton for religious contumacy" (12) and freed in May of 1611. It would seem that the descendants of Hay were much in the courtly eye during the period generally ascribed to the writing of Cymbeline.

    90The other date Warren offers to support a composition date of 1610 is Arbella Stuart's marriage. In July Arbella Stuart, a close claimant to the throne and therefore a potential threat to James, secretly married William Seymour, who also had a more distant claim to the throne. When James discovered the marriage, he imprisoned both for marrying without his consent. In Warren's analysis, Imogen's marriage to Posthumus would have been seen as a "tactless" reminder of this scandal (65). Besides the parallel of Arbella marrying in spite of her sovereign's forbidding it, the main parallel between Arbella and Imogen is that Arbella, like Imogen, dressed as a man in order to escape. This episode occurred in June of 1610. However, any reference to Arbella Stuart's escapades was apparently not considered too tactless to be allowed on stage in 1611 when Forman saw it.

    Finally, Warren also cites the literary evidence of parallels in a Thomas Heywood play, The Golden Age, as evidence that Cymbeline was written before late 1610 because The Golden Age also contains instances of Heywood borrowing from other plays by Shakespeare, including Othello and Titus Andronicus, which may make it likely that Heywood borrowed from Cymbeline as well. The date of The Golden Age remains in some doubt, however, for while Warren argues that it was composed in 1610 and published in 1611 (65-67), Butler dissents, pointing out that The Golden Age was entered in the Stationer's Register in late 1611, but "there had already been two sequels, The Silver Age and The Bronze Age" (5). Two plays in a year would certainly be feasible, so Warren's suggestion remains tenable.

    The intrinsic stylistic evidence also supports a date of composition in the proposed range. Pause patterns, stressed syllables, feminine endings, and vocabulary tests all place Cymbeline as one of Shakespeare's later plays, with the most stylistic links to other late plays, such as Winter's Tale, Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, The Tempest, and The Two Noble Kinsmen (Jackson, "Pause Patterns" 39; Jackson, "Another Metrical Index" 454; Brainerd, "Chronology" 228, e.g.). The only firm conclusion that is possible is that Cymbeline was composed sometime before 1611, most probably after 1608. The years of 1609-1610 remain the most persuasive for Cymbeline's first appearance on the Jacobean stage, but pinning the play's date more firmly relies on possibility rather than provability.

    Theater and performance

    Assuming the date range of 1608-1611 is accurate for Cymbeline, it presumably fell into that category of plays which were performed in Blackfriars in the winter and the Globe in the summer. Unfortunately, while the only contemporary eyewitness to a Cymbeline performance, Simon Forman, specifies that Macbeth and The Winter's Tale were performed at the Globe, Simon Forman's entry is silent on the site of Cymbeline's performance. This may suggest that he saw Cymbeline at the same theater as Macbeth and The Winter's Tale and that he omitted the theatre name because it would have been redundant; however, it is also possible that, as some have argued, he saw Cymbeline at Blackfriars, or else he would have mentioned it with the others. Most modern editors assume that Shakespeare had one theater or the other in mind when writing Cymbeline, either the familiar large Globe theater with its open roof, or the "new" indoors Blackfriars theater. (Blackfriars had in fact been used as a venue for boys' companies. After a hiatus of some time, the King's Men had acquired the rights to perform there in 1608, but an outbreak of the plague prevented its opening before the end of 1609 or early 1610.)

    Because Cymbeline appears to have been around the time the King's Men acquired the right to use Blackfriars for performance, it is tempting to look to Cymbeline for a flagship text that would, virtuosically, exploit the capacities of the new theater—its intimate space, the variable lighting, the improved acoustics for musical performances, and the proximity of the high-paying customers in contrast to the lower-paying customers who were relegated to the back—but there is little indication that Shakespeare tried to exploit every advantage of this kind of space in Cymbeline, especially in comparison to the more innovative The Tempest. However, this does not necessarily mean that Cymbeline was written for the Globe, or that it was not performed at Blackfriars: perhaps Shakespeare only gradually discovered the capabilities of the new space, or perhaps the sharers had already created the plan of alternating between having plays alternate between summer performances at the Globe and winter performances at Blackfriars, and too much adaptation to the special properties of the Blackfriars theater might well prevent a play's success at the Globe.

    95Some critics find in the "experimental" quality of Cymbeline the suggestion that Shakespeare was trying to adapt his composition practices to the coterie audience they assume would have been present at Blackfriars. "Hark, Hark, the Lark" and its musical accompaniment, along with Guiderius' and Arviragus' song may represent the kind of musical interlude or performance often believed to be not only better suited to the smaller, indoor playing space at Blackfriars but also to have been expected by private audiences: the boys' companies which had previously performed at Blackfriars and other private playhouses were descendants of boys' choirs, and the boys' companies evidently performed music before and after the play, and also during intermissions between acts.

    On the other hand, some indications also show that music and dancing were performed after at least some plays at the Globe. A poem by John Davies from 1593 associates the end of a play with "the daunce and song" (qtd. in Gurr 57), and Thomas Platter, visiting from Switzerland, recorded that when a 1599 performance of Julius Caesar finished, "they danced marvellously and gracefully together as their custom is" (qtd. on 54). In fact, almost all of Shakespeare's plays, for the Globe as well as for Blackfriars, contain songs. The increased prominence of music in later plays may have more to do with the talents of the recently-acquired actors (Robert Armin, for example) than with audience expectations or the acoustical advantages of the theaters in which they were performed. While more subtle music would have been better suited to Blackfriars, common sense suggests that a play which could be performed in either of two theaters would be a better investment than a play which was only suitable for one.

    Scholars who have studied early modern references to the Globe Theater for the building of the replica Shakespeare's Globe in London have uncovered a number of practices of the Globe which may influence the way in which we imagine Cymbeline's earliest performances. One simple example of such an issue is whether the stage would have been covered by rushes, as some evidence suggests the Globe stage might have been: Iachimo's comment that "Our Tarquin thus / Did softly press the rushes ere he wakened / The chastity he wounded" (919-21) would carry even greater immediacy if the theater's floor were actually strewn with rushes, for instance (Ronayne 130; Gurr, "Staging" 166-67); another would be the painted cloths that the King's Men might routinely have used to represent arras or tapestry, as referred to in Iachimo's highly detailed inventory of Imogen's chamber (150, 162-63).

    Simon Blatherwick, writing about archaeological work on the Bankside, discusses the nature of the land on which the Globe was built, describing the area as "an area of channels and marshy, alluvial clays and silts." He further notes that "The surrounding area has been constantly subject to inundation from the Thames and reclamation from the Roman occupation of Southwark (AD c.43-410) onwards" (69). Additionally, ditches bordered the plot on which the Globe stood to the north and south, which Blatherwick associates with Jonson's description of the Globe as "Flancked with a Ditch and forc'd out of a Marish" (73). Blatherwick takes a 1606 order to replace some wood on the wharf to suggest that "the theatre may have been constructed on a piled wharf" (73). In general, the physical situation of the Globe is reminiscent of Imogen's lines regarding Britain, that "I'th' world's volume / Our Britain seems as of it but not in't: / In a great pool, a swan's nest" (TLN 1824-26). The round, grassy and reedy mound of a swan's nest might well resemble the essentially round, thatched Globe, and for the early modern audience, who are likely to have connected "world" with "Globe," the comment that Britain was of the world (read: Globe) but not init may have been another of Shakespeare's self-referential comments on the theater itself. Of course, these specific allusions would be lost if the play were performed at Blackfriars, but the lines would continue to make sense.

    The decoration of the heavens is another area in which Cymbeline might make reference to specific attributes of the theater in which it was performed. Andrew Gurr points out that although Shakespeare occasionally invoked gods in his earlier plays, none of the gods descends until Jupiter in Cymbeline and Juno in The Tempest. He also mentions that boy companies frequently employed such "spectacle," concluding that "Shakespeare seems to have avoided using descents at least partly out of his own reluctance to exploit the Globe for static 'spectacles'" (166). He does not raise the possibility that Shakespeare did not use the descent machinery until Cymbeline and The Tempest because it was not available to him, if Blackfriars was the first time the King's Men had access to such a mechanism. Keenan and Davidson also cite Jupiter's descent in Cymbeline as evidence that the Globe had a trapdoor in the Heavens which opened to permit the descent, and suggest the probability that Sicilius Leonatus' command to Jupiter to "Peep through thy marble mansion" (3121) could indicate some symbolic or representational depiction on the ceiling of the Heavens. Again, they do not investigate the possibility that, if true, this line could refer to Blackfriars' Heavens rather than the Globe's—or, if the plays were performed at each theater, it could apply to either.

    100After Simon Forman's diary entry and the discussion of Cymbeline's early performances at the Blackfriars and/or at the Globe, the record of Cymbeline's performance history remains blank until January 1, 1634, when the Master of the Revels recorded that the King's Players performed it and it was "well liked" by Charles I, which brief statement tells us almost nothing except that it was considered suitable for holiday entertainment at court. No further Cymbeline performances are known until the Restoration, when Shakespeare's play as printed in the Folio gave way to adaptations such as Thomas D'Urfey's The Injured Princess, or the Fatal Wager (1673) throughout the eighteenth century. Shakespeare's Cymbeline is not known to have been performed again until 1746, and then was modified by Garrick again in 1761 for performances in which he played Posthumus.

    Barbara L. Eaton theorizes that the male-centered politics and traditions of Restoration and post-Restoration theater prevented Cymbeline from achieving its potential until Sarah Siddons played Imogen in 1787; before then, the productions favored Posthumus over Imogen. In Siddons's performance, however, Posthumus was played by her brother, John Kemble, who was a junior actor at the time, thus reversing the typical theatrical view of the play as a star-vehicle for the male role. For perhaps the first time--certainly for the first time since the Restoration began, Eaton suggests--the star of the play, as acknowledged by contemporary reports, was Imogen, not Posthumus.

    This breakthrough did not persist continuously throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but the trend for male actors shifted away from a desire to star as Posthumus and toward a desire to play Iachimo. The increasing emphasis on the villain, in Eaton's opinion, "mov[ed] romance closer to the realm of nineteenth-century melodrama" ("Shakespeare's Imogen" 28). In the well-known production of 1843, the popular actress Helena Faucit played Imogen opposite William Charles Macready's Iachimo, thereby delivering a performance with at least some balance between leads, though Faucit was charged with being not beautiful enough. This accusation may have been aggravated by her having followed Siddons in refusing to portray Imogen as conforming to the contemporary ideal of the innocent, passive, and weak woman; Faucit, like Siddons, created an Imogen who was vulnerable yet capable of great strength (28). Then, in a significant late Victorian performance of Cymbeline, Henry Irving played Iachimo, and Ellen Terry, a star who was almost fifty at the time, performed a spirited, exuberant young Imogen in 1896, demonstrating that even in the Victorian period an actress could gain acclaim not by mirroring the ideal woman of the time but by running counter to it and portraying a more active Imogen, full of "self-reliance," Eaton notes.

    Many twentieth-century productions seem to have been characterized more by the ways in which they confront the difficulties engendered by the unusual mélange of times, locations, and fantastic and realistic story elements than by unusual portrayals of the lead roles. In modern productions, many directors have turned to various framing techniques to strengthen continuity throughout the play, as Pam Holland Seeman alludes to. The numerous small parts, which makes doubling desirable, also carry the potential for increased continuity. First Gentleman, Second Lord, Cornelius, Philario, the Soothsayer, and Jupiter have all been doubled, either by a single actor or by just a few, to create a knowledgeable narrator with a choric function. The means the director employs for conducting the narration has obvious repercussions for the production, as a "storyteller" narrator contributes to a fairy-tale atmosphere and emphasizes the play's constructed nature. With the greater number of productions in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, providing notable performances not only at Stratford-upon-Avon and in London but in such diverse arenas as Ashland (Oregon), Seattle, and New York as well, the presence or absence of a framing narrative marks only one of a number of ways of classifying productions. Choices regarding setting, period, and genre, to name a few, determine others; but all modern productions offer the challenge of presenting a little-known but engaging narrative in a manner which will captivate and provoke.