OK, if I thought Coriolanus was a strange play–and I did–two months later, I’m left sitting here wondering “what the heck was I thinking?” Compared to Cymbeline, that Roman play is a straightforward play of political power.
Now, this is a strange play…
Well, first of all, there’s a partial fairy-tale vibe to it…almost like All’s Well That Ends Well…I mean, after all, you’e got your evil stepmother queen, and long lost brothers. But then, it’s also a love story, but one that–once again, like Much Ado About Nothing and Othello–has a pretty damned insecure male half of the pairing. We get some pretty weak villainy (like–again–Much Ado), so there’s this slightly melodramatic aspect as well. There are battles and rescues. Drugs and potions. Secrets from the past. A comical suitor. But then we also get a decapitation. Ghosts. A visitation from a Roman god. An aging monarch for whom he and we must have doubts about his succession. And a revealing ending (this one goes to eleven).
It has–plot-wise–just about everything.
You’d think that would make this a popular play. Not so much. And maybe it’s that “everything for everyone” aspect that makes it fulfilling for no one.
There are things I really like about this play, many mentioned above. In the past few plays, we’ve been seeing what felt like the death of the soliloquy…it was like an endangered species. Not so here. There are many scenes here that give us a inner life to these characters (and a bunch of opportunities to play directly to the audience).
And then, at the center of the play is Imogen.
At the center. The plot follows her. She has more lines than anyone else. She dominates the play.
Yet, the play is named after her father. I don’t get it.
So, on the surface, there’s so much to like. Just under the surface, however, there doesn’t seem to be much to love.
In a deeper dive on this one, I want to look at the play from a more production/dramaturgical point-of-view, while still exploring literary aspects like:
- Imogen (and Innogen)
- intertextual links to other plays
If any of you have any other subjects you’d like to see get discussed in regards to Cymbeline, let me know in the comment thread below.