April Books 18) Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare

This write-up is a couple of days later than I expected it would be – I misplaced my MP3 player on Saturday, having just started listening to the final scene, and only found it last night, after two days of agonising cold turkey. Anyway, I know how it ends now.

Cymbeline is rather odd. Although it is traditionally listed as one of the Tragedies, it actually has a happy ending: the evil queen and her wicked son are dead, lost children restored, estranged spouses reunited. It’s also odd that the title character is not particularly prominent in the plot: this is really the story of Cymbeline’s daughter, Imogen, and her husband Postumus. (Even Julius Cæsar, killed off in the third act, looms over the rest of the play and reappears as a ghost.)

Another odd thing about Cymbeline is the music. Two of the most famous Shakespeare songs are here – “Hark, hark, the lark” and “Fear no more the heat of the sun” – and Act 5 Scene 1 is a musical extravaganza of Postumus’s visionary dreams which almost foreshadows Gene Kelly. (Well, not really, but if you know both Cymbeline and Singin’ in the Rain or An American in Paris, I hope you can see my point.) There’s the occasional song elsewhere in the canon, but this is surely the Bard’s most serious musical effort.

The music must make it challenging to stage, but apart from that it is a perfectly decent story. There is a glorious moment when Imogen discovers a headless corpse dressed in her husband Postumus’s clothes, and assumes the worst; but it is in fact the body of the evil Cloten, slain by Imogen’s own long-lost brother. Compared to the best known plays, there are not many memorable lines, which I guess explains its relative obscurity.

Arkangel don’t really make the most of the material. Jack Shepherd is subdued in the title role, Sophie Thompson (Emma’s sister, Eric’s daughter) is rather drippy as Imogen, and I can’t even remember who plays Postumus. The show is thoroughly stolen by Stephen Mangan as the Hooray Henry evil princeling Cloten, and I was sorry when his head was chopped off in the fourth act. Stephen “Marvin” Moore was also good as the exiled family retainer Belarius.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love’s Labour’s Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night’s Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All’s Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter’s Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)

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1 Response to April Books 18) Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare

  1. drasecretcampus says:

    Why “of all places”? It’s a very vivid place – and that was where she had been based.

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