Cymbeline, Act V

The model for Belarius? Horatius Cocles (Wikipedia Commons)
The model for Belarius? Horatius Cocles (Wikipedia Commons)

William Shakespeare:
The Tragedie of Cymbeline
Act V in five scenes

Before we cut to the chase, Shakespeare presents us with a stupendous battle between the Britons and Romans. Unhistorical though it is, we may imagine this as happening in the 30s of the 1st century CE, when Cunobelinus was indeed a mighty king of Britain. The place isn’t specified, but it’s implied that this notional battle is near Milford Haven. Though it was well known as a deep-water harbour — George Owen, a local man, called it “the most famous port of Christendom” in 1603 — in choosing this port Shakespeare may have had in mind Henry Tudor: the future Henry VII, who landed here in 1485, mustering more troops on his way to Bosworth Field before taking the crown from Richard III. The outcome here, however, is rather different.

This is a complex plot, made more so because we have several individuals who are not as they seem. Shall I list them all?

Continue reading “Cymbeline, Act V”

Cymbeline, Act IV

skyline
Rocky tor on Preseli Hills skyline  (author’s photo)

William Shakespeare
The Tragedie of Cymbeline
Act IV in four scenes

I’ll say this for Will: he knows how to lead you to sometimes expect the expected but then takes an unexpected turn which, in retrospect, you could also have expected. For example, in Act IV a certain villain gets their hoped-for come-uppance, but not in the manner that we might have imagined — and while that comes as a bit of a shock it is entirely appropriate.

The action is still switching between Cymbeline’s court (in London, one assumes, as Lud’s-town gets a couple of mentions) and the cave where Belarius and his two young wards, Guiderius and Arviragus, reside under assumed names — on a mountain near Milford Haven, which I’ve suggested could be the Preseli Hills (highest point: 1760 feet). Cloten has arrived hotfoot on the trail of Imogen, following directions reluctantly given by Pisanio, and while in Posthumus’ garb is still fixated on her insult comparing him to underpants, working himself up mightily to fulfil his bloodthirsty boasts. Continue reading “Cymbeline, Act IV”

Cymbeline, Act III

Hoopoe
Hoopoe: clipart courtesy Florida Center for Instructional Technology http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/

William Shakespeare
The Tragedie of Cymbeline
Act III in seven scenes

The story so far
Imogen’s story is that of the Calumniated or Slandered Wife, whereby she is wrongly accused of being unfaithful to her husband. This results from Shakespeare’s use of the folktale motif of the Wager on the Wife’s Chastity, linked to the theme of the supposed lover — here played by Iachimo — hidden in a chest in the heroine’s bedchamber. The tale Imogen was reading before retiring to bed was from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and concerned the Thracian tyrant Tereus. His Athenian wife Procne asks Tereus to allow her to see her own sister Philomela. Tereus, seized with lust, rapes Philomela, and cuts out her tongue to stop her reporting his violence. However, Philomela weaves a tapestry which reveals the rape and sends it to her sister. Procne metes out a bloody revenge on her unfaithful husband before she and Philomel turn into birds, Procne becoming a swallow and Philomel a nightingale. Tereus also transforms into a bird, the hoopoe, which laments with a distinctive cry while wearing a distinctive crest to mark it out. Continue reading “Cymbeline, Act III”