February 24th, 2008

First Thoughts on Cymbeline

1. Is it Imogen or Innogen? And if Iachimo should be pronounced Giacomo, why don't we call Iago, Jago?  

2. In Imogen Shakespeare makes virtue not only lovable but interesting and engaging- a rare achievement. The Victorians thought she was wonderful.

3.Shakespeare's women are normally steadfast and his men flighty. Posthumus- like Leontes- is a man unworthy of his wife, who- gratifyingly- goes through a great deal of hardship before he gets her back.

4. Cymbeline is not so much a religious play as one shot through and through with religious sensibility, or- to be more specific- with Christian hope. The action turns upon a mock death and resurrection and the final scene gives us a judgement day in which the secrets of all hearts are revealed, wrongs righted, the impenitent punished, the penitent  forgiven, enemies reconciled, war ended  and- most movingly- the lost reunited with those they love.

5. Cloten is funny. And it's difficult if not impossible to hate a character who makes us laugh. His death- however well-deserved- is shocking. It's a little as if Oberon had offed Bottom.  I was going to say that severed heads are out of place in Shakespearian comedy and then I remembered there's one in Measure for Measure too.

6. The late romances are the most thoroughly entertaining of Shakespeare's plays. They're like pantomimes- only with poetry and feeling. Cymbeline competes with Pericles as to which has the sillier story. Actually, who cares? Think of them as dreams. 

7. "Fear no more" is the loveliest lyric in the English language.