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Cymbeline also known as Cymbeline, King of Britain or The Tragedy of Cymbeline, is a play by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

, based on legends concerning the early Celtic British King Cunobelinus
Cunobeline or Cunobelinus was a historical king in pre-Roman Britain, known from passing mentions by classical historians Suetonius and Dio Cassius, and from his many inscribed coins...

. Although listed as a tragedy in the First Folio
First Folio
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio....

, modern critics often classify Cymbeline as a romance
Shakespeare's late romances
The late romances, often simply called the romances, are a grouping of what many scholars believe to be William Shakespeare's later plays, including Pericles, Prince of Tyre; Cymbeline; The Winter's Tale; and The Tempest. The Two Noble Kinsmen is sometimes included in this grouping...

. Like Othello
The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1603, and based on the Italian short story "Un Capitano Moro" by Cinthio, a disciple of Boccaccio, first published in 1565...

and The Winter's Tale
The Winter's Tale
The Winter's Tale is a play by William Shakespeare, originally published in the First Folio of 1623. Although it was grouped among the comedies, some modern editors have relabelled the play as one of Shakespeare's late romances. Some critics, among them W. W...

, it deals with the themes of innocence and jealousy. While the precise date of composition remains unknown, the play was certainly produced as early as 1611.


The plot of Cymbeline is loosely based on a tale by Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth was a cleric and one of the major figures in the development of British historiography and the popularity of tales of King Arthur...

 about the real-life British monarch Cunobelinus
Cunobeline or Cunobelinus was a historical king in pre-Roman Britain, known from passing mentions by classical historians Suetonius and Dio Cassius, and from his many inscribed coins...

. Shakespeare, however, freely adapts the legend and adds entirely original sub-plots. Iachimo's wager and subsequent hiding-place inside a chest in order to gather details of Imogen's room derive from story II.9 of Giovanni Boccaccio
Giovanni Boccaccio
Giovanni Boccaccio was an Italian author and poet, a friend, student, and correspondent of Petrarch, an important Renaissance humanist and the author of a number of notable works including the Decameron, On Famous Women, and his poetry in the Italian vernacular...

's Decameron.

Date and text

The first recorded production of Cymbeline, as noted by Simon Forman
Simon Forman
Simon Forman was arguably the most popular Elizabethan astrologer, occultist and herbalist active in London during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and James I of England. His reputation, however, was severely tarnished after his death when he was implicated in the plot to kill Sir Thomas Overbury...

, was in April 1611. It was first published in the First Folio
First Folio
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio....

in 1623. However, when Cymbeline was actually written cannot be precisely dated.
The Yale edition suggests a collaborator had a hand in the authorship, and some scenes (e.g. Act III scene 7 and Act V scene 2) may strike the reader as particularly un-Shakespearean when compared with others. The play shares notable similarities in language, situation and plot with Beaumont and Fletcher
Beaumont and Fletcher
Beaumont and Fletcher were the English dramatists Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, who collaborated in their writing during the reign of James I ....

's tragicomedy Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding
Philaster (play)
Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding is an early Jacobean era stage play, a tragicomedy written by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. One of the duo's earliest successes, the play helped to establish the trend for tragicomedy that was a powerful influence in early Stuart era drama.-Date and...

, (c.1609–10). Both plays concern themselves with a princess who, after disobeying her father in order to marry a lowly lover, is wrongly accused of infidelity and thus ordered to be murdered, before escaping and having her faithfulness proven. Furthermore, both were written for the same theatre company and audience. Some scholars believe this supports a dating of approximately 1609, though it is not clear which play preceded the other.

Some have taken the convoluted plot as evidence of the play's parodic origins. In Act V Scene IV, "Jupiter descends in thunder and lightning, sitting upon an eagle: he throws a thunderbolt." After stating that Posthumus' fortunes will improve, Jupiter returns to heaven on his eagle.

Though once held in very high regard Cymbeline has lost favour over the past century. Some have held that Shakespeare, by frivolously spinning absurd tales, merely wrote it to amuse himself. William Hazlitt
William Hazlitt
William Hazlitt was an English writer, remembered for his humanistic essays and literary criticism, and as a grammarian and philosopher. He is now considered one of the great critics and essayists of the English language, placed in the company of Samuel Johnson and George Orwell. Yet his work is...

 and John Keats
John Keats
John Keats was an English Romantic poet. Along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, he was one of the key figures in the second generation of the Romantic movement, despite the fact that his work had been in publication for only four years before his death.Although his poems were not...

, however, number it among their favourite plays. It is sometimes referred to as a "problem play", because its central character confronts a specific moral or social concern.

The editors of the Oxford and Norton Shakespeare believe the name of Imogen is a misspelling of Innogen—they draw several comparisons between Cymbeline and Much Ado About Nothing
Much Ado About Nothing
Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy written by William Shakespeare about two pairs of lovers, Benedick and Beatrice, and Claudio and Hero....

, in which a ghost character
Ghost character
In playwriting, a ghost character is a character who is mentioned as appearing on stage but neither says nor does anything but enter, and possibly exit. They are generally interpreted as editing mistakes, indicative of unresolved revisions to the text...

 named Innogen was supposed to be Leonato's wife (Posthumus being also known as "Leonatus", the Latin form of the Italian name in the other play). Stanley Wells
Stanley Wells
Stanley William Wells, CBE, is a Shakespeare scholar and Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.Wells took his first degree at University College, London, and was awarded an honorary DLitt by the University of Warwick in 2008...

 and Michael Dobson point out that Holinshed's Chronicles, which Shakespeare used as a source, mention an Innogen, and that Forman's eyewitness account of the April 1611 performance refers to "Innogen" throughout. In spite of these arguments, most editions of the play have continued to use the name Imogen.


CYMBELINE, King of Britain

QUEEN, Wife to Cymbeline

CLOTEN, Son to the Queen by a former husband

IMOGEN / INNOGEN, Daughter to Cymbeline by a former queen

POSTHUMUS LEONATUS, a gentleman, husband to Imogen

BELARIUS, a banished lord, disguised under the name of Morgan

GUIDERIUS & ARVIRAGUS, Sons to Cymbeline, disguised under the names of Polydore and Cadwal, supposed sons to Morgan

PHILARIO, Friend to Posthumus

IACHIMO / JACHIMO / GIACOMO, Friend to Philario

HELEN, a lady attending Imogen
CAIUS LUCIUS, General of the Roman forces

PISANIO, Servant to Posthumus

CORNELIUS, A physician

A Roman captain

Two British captains

A French gentleman, Friend to Philario

Two lords of Cymbeline's court

Two gentlemen of the same

Two gaolers

Lords, ladies, Roman senators, tribunes, a Dutch gentleman, a Spanish gentleman, a soothsayer, musicians, officers, captains, soldiers, messengers, and other attendants


Imogen (Shakespeare)
Imogen was the daughter of King Cymbeline, in Shakespeare's play, Cymbeline. She was described by William Hazlitt as "perhaps the most tender and the most artless" of all Shakespeare's women.-Name:...

 (or Innogen), daughter of the British king Cymbeline, is in love with Posthumus Leonatus, a man raised in her father's court who, though an orphan of ignoble birth, is described as possessing exceeding personal merit and martial skill. The two have secretly married, exchanging jewellery as tokens: a ring from Imogen, a bracelet from Posthumus. Cymbeline has discovered the affair and banishes Posthumus for his presumption, for Imogen is currently Cymbeline's only child and so her husband is heir to the British throne. Cymbeline did have two sons before Imogen, Guiderius
Guiderius is a legendary British king according Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae and related texts. He can probably be identified as deriving from the historical Togodumnus....

 and Arviragus, but they were stolen twenty years ago as infants by Belarius, a courtier banished as a traitor for supposedly conspiring with the Romans. Cymbeline is a vassal king of Caesar Augustus, and Caius Lucius, a Roman ambassador, is on his way to demand the tribute that Cymbeline, under the influence of his wife the Queen, has stopped paying. The Queen is conspiring to have Cloten, her cloddish and arrogant son by an earlier marriage, married to Imogen. The Queen also is plotting to murder both Imogen and Cymbeline to secure Cloten's kingship, and to that end has procured what she believes to be deadly poison from the court doctor Cornelius; Cornelius, however, suspects the Queen's malice and switches the "poison" with a drug that will cause the imbiber's body to mimic death for a while before reviving. Imogen meanwhile secludes herself in her chambers, resisting entreaties that she come forth and marry Cloten.

Posthumus flees to Italy to the house of his friend Philario/Filario, where he meets Iachimo/Giacomo. Posthumus waxes at length on Imogen's beauty and chastity, and Iachimo challenges him to a bet that he, Iachimo, can seduce Imogen and bring Posthumus proof of her adultery. If he wins, Iachimo will get Imogen's ring from Posthumus's finger. If Posthumus wins, not only must Iachimo pay him but also consent to a sword duel so that Posthumus may avenge his and Imogen's affronted honour. Iachimo heads to Britain where he aggressively attempts to seduce the faithful Imogen, who sends him packing. Iachimo then hides in a chest in Imogen's bedchamber and, when the princess falls asleep, emerges to steal from her Posthumus's bracelet. He also examines the room and Imogen's naked body for further proof. Returning to Italy, Iachimo convinces Posthumus that he has successfully seduced Imogen. In his wrath, Posthumus sends two letters to Britain: one to Imogen, telling her to meet him at Milford Haven
Milford Haven
Milford Haven is a town and community in Pembrokeshire, Wales. It is situated on the north side of the Milford Haven Waterway, a natural harbour used as a port since the Middle Ages. The town was founded in 1790 on the north side of the Waterway, from which it takes its name...

, on the west coast of Wales; the other to Pisanio, Posthumus's servant left behind at court, ordering him to murder Imogen at the Haven. On the way the anguished Pisanio instead shows his letter to Imogen, revealing Posthumus's plot. He has Imogen disguise herself as a boy and continue to Milford Haven to seek employment. He also gives her the Queen's "poison," believing it will alleviate nausea from distemper and motion sickness. Imogen adopts the name "Fidele," meaning "faithful."

Back at court, Lucius receives Cymbeline's refusal of tribute, and warns him of Augustus's wrath. Meanwhile Cloten, incensed at Imogen's assertion that she values Posthumus's worst clothing over Cloten himself, learns of the "meeting" between the princess and her paramour at Milford Haven. Dressing himself in Posthumus's clothes, he determines to go to Wales and kill Posthumus while Imogen looks on, after which he will rape her on Posthumus's corpse before dragging her back to court for marriage.

Imogen's long journey to Milford Haven takes her into the Welsh mountains, where she becomes weak from hunger, but she luckily stumbles upon a cave and inside finds food. The cave is home to Belarius and his "sons" Polydore and Cadwal, whom he raised into great woodsmen. These young men are in fact Guiderius and Arviragus, who themselves do not know their origin, but are nevertheless possessed of royal passion and heartiness. The three men enter their cave and find "Fidele," and the young men are captivated by "his" beauty. Leaving "Fidele" to eat, the men are met outside the cave by Cloten, who insults them. After a brief fight, Guiderius kills Cloten and cuts off his head. Recognizing the face, Belarius worries that Cloten's death will bring Cymbeline's wrath upon them. Meanwhile Imogen, feeling ill, takes the "poison," and when the men enter they find her "dead." They bewail "Fidele's" fate and, after placing Cloten's body beside her, solemnly depart. They also determine to fight for Britain in the inevitable battle with Roman forces. Imogen awakes to find Cloten's headless body, and takes it for Posthumus due to the clothes. She flees to Milford Haven, where "Fidele's" beauty earns "him" the affection of Lucius, who takes "him" on as a page. Meanwhile a guilt-ridden Posthumus arrives with the Roman army and dresses himself as a poor soldier, hoping to die on the battlefield.

The battle goes badly at first for the Britons, but four unknown men—Belarius, Guiderius, Arviragus, and Posthumus in their disguises—turn the tide, rallying Cymbeline's troops into a rout of the Romans. Posthumus, still alive, gives himself up to Cymbeline as a Roman soldier, hoping to win his sought-for death by execution. He is put in chains and jailed, after which he falls asleep. The ghosts of his father (Sicilius Leonatus) and mother, who both died at Posthumus's birth, and his brothers, who died in battle, appear around Posthumus's sleeping body and complain to Jupiter of his grim fate. Jupiter himself then appears in thunder and glory on an eagle to chide the ghosts for their lack of faith. Before the god and spirits depart they leave a tablet on Posthumus's chest explaining in obscure prophecy how destiny will grant happiness to Posthumus and Britain. Posthumus awakens, believing he has dreamed the ghosts and god, but wonders what the tablet could mean. A jailer then summons him to appear before Cymbeline.

Posthumus stands in the ranks of prisoners with "Fidele," Lucius, and Iachimo, all condemned to be executed. Cornelius arrives from the court with a message that the Queen has died, and that on her deathbed she unrepentantly confessed to her murderous conspiracies. Both troubled and relieved at this news, Cymbeline prepares to carry out his sentence on the prisoners, but pauses when he sees "Fidele." Finding the "boy" both beautiful and somehow familiar, the king resolves not only to spare "Fidele's" life but also to grant "him" a favour. Imogen has noticed her ring on Iachimo's finger and demands to know from where the Italian got the jewel. A penitent Iachimo tells of his bet, how he could not seduce Imogen and yet tricked Posthumus into thinking he had. Posthumus then comes forward to corroborate Iachimo's story, revealing his identity and acknowledging his guilt and wrong in desiring Imogen dead. Ecstatic, Imogen throws herself at Posthumus, who still takes her for a boy and knocks her down. Pisanio then rushes forward to explain that the boy is Imogen in disguise; as the servant tries to help her up she pushes him away, under the impression that he worked with the Queen to poison her. Pisanio insists on his innocence, and Cornelius reveals how the poison was all along non-fatal. Belarius then speaks, noting how all this makes sense of the disappearance of "Fidele's" "corpse." Insisting that those who swore against him did so falsely, Belarius reveals Guiderius's and Arviragus's identities. With her brothers restored to their place in the line of inheritance, Imogen is now free to marry Posthumus. An elated Cymbeline pardons Belarius and all the prisoners. Posthumus produces Jupiter's tablet, still confused about its meaning, and Lucius calls forth his soothsayer Philharmonus, who deciphers the prophecy as a description of recent events, the unfolding of which has ensured happiness for all. Cymbeline decides to pay the tribute to Augustus as a gesture of peace between Britain and Rome, and invites everyone to a great feast.


Following the performance mentioned by Forman, the play was revived at court for Charles I
Charles I of England
Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. Charles engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England, attempting to obtain royal revenue whilst Parliament sought to curb his Royal prerogative which Charles...

 and Henrietta Maria
Henrietta Maria of France
Henrietta Maria of France ; was the Queen consort of England, Scotland and Ireland as the wife of King Charles I...

 in 1634. In the Restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

 era, Thomas D'Urfey
Thomas d'Urfey
Thomas D'Urfey was an English writer and wit. He composed plays, songs, and poetry, in addition to writing jokes. He was an important innovator and contributor in the evolution of the Ballad opera....

 staged an adaptation of Cymbeline, titled The Injur'd Princess, or The Fatal Wager. John Rich
John Rich (producer)
John Rich was an important director and theatre manager in 18th century London. He opened the New Theatre at Lincoln's Inn Fields and then the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden and began putting on ever more lavish productions...

 staged the play with his company at Lincoln's Inn Fields
Lincoln's Inn Fields
Lincoln's Inn Fields is the largest public square in London, UK. It was laid out in the 1630s under the initiative of the speculative builder and contractor William Newton, "the first in a long series of entrepreneurs who took a hand in developing London", as Sir Nikolaus Pevsner observes...

; the performance was not long-remembered, as Rich's company was less famous for its work with Shakespeare than for its pantomimes and spectacles. Theophilus Cibber
Theophilus Cibber
Theophilus Cibber was an English actor, playwright, author, and son of the actor-manager Colley Cibber.He began acting at an early age, and followed his father into theatrical management. In 1727, Alexander Pope satirized Theophilus Cibber in his Dunciad as a youth who "thrusts his person full...

 revived Shakespeare's text in 1758. In November 1761, David Garrick
David Garrick
David Garrick was an English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer who influenced nearly all aspects of theatrical practice throughout the 18th century and was a pupil and friend of Dr Samuel Johnson...

 returned to a more-or-less original text, with good success: Posthumus became one of his star roles. Garrick rearranged some scenes; in particular, he shortened Imogen's burial scene and the entire fifth act, omitting the dream of Posthumus. The production was highly praised.

The play entered the Romantic era with John Philip Kemble
John Philip Kemble
John Philip Kemble was an English actor. He was born into a theatrical family as the eldest son of Roger Kemble, actor-manager of a touring troupe. His elder sister Sarah Siddons achieved fame with him on the stage of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane...

's company in 1801. Kemble's productions made use of lavish spectacle and scenery; one critic noted that during the bedroom scene, the bed was so large that Jachimo all but needed a ladder to view Imogen in her sleep. Kemble added a dance to Cloten's comic wooing of Imogen. In 1827, his brother Charles
Charles Kemble
Charles Kemble was a British actor.-Life:The youngest son of Roger Kemble, and younger brother of John Philip Kemble, Stephen Kemble and Sarah Siddons, he was born at Brecon, South Wales. Like John Philip, he was educated at Douai...

 mounted an antiquarian production at Covent Garden; it featured costumes designed after the descriptions of the ancient British by such writers as Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 and Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus was a Greek historian who flourished between 60 and 30 BC. According to Diodorus' own work, he was born at Agyrium in Sicily . With one exception, antiquity affords no further information about Diodorus' life and doings beyond what is to be found in his own work, Bibliotheca...


William Charles Macready
William Charles Macready
-Life:He was born in London, and educated at Rugby.It was his intention to go up to Oxford, but in 1809 the embarrassed affairs of his father, the lessee of several provincial theatres, called him to share the responsibilities of theatrical management. On 7 June 1810 he made a successful first...

 mounted the play several times between 1837 and 1842. At the Theatre Royal, Marylebone
Marylebone is an affluent inner-city area of central London, located within the City of Westminster. It is sometimes written as St. Marylebone or Mary-le-bone....

, an epicene
Breeches role
A breeches role is a role in which an actress appears in male clothing .In opera it also refers to any male character that is sung and acted by a female singer...

 production was staged with Mary Warner, Fanny Vining, Anna Cora Mowatt
Anna Cora Mowatt
Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie was an author, playwright, public reader, and actress.- Childhood :Anna Cora Ogden was born in Bordeaux, France, March 5, 1819. She was the tenth of fourteen children. Her father was Samuel Gouveneur Ogden , an American merchant...

, and Edward Loomis Davenport
Edward Loomis Davenport
Edward Loomis Davenport was an American actor.Born in Boston, he made his first appearance on the stage in Providence, Rhode Island in support of Junius Brutus Booth. Afterwards he went to England, where he supported Mrs. Anna Cora Mowatt , William Charles Macready and others...


In 1864, as part of the celebrations of Shakespeare's birth, Samuel Phelps
Samuel Phelps
Samuel Phelps was an English actor and theatre manager...

 performed the title role at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is a West End theatre in Covent Garden, in the City of Westminster, a borough of London. The building faces Catherine Street and backs onto Drury Lane. The building standing today is the most recent in a line of four theatres at the same location dating back to 1663,...

. Helen Faucit returned to the stage for this performance.

The play was also one of Ellen Terry
Ellen Terry
Dame Ellen Terry, GBE was an English stage actress who became the leading Shakespearean actress in Britain. Among the members of her famous family is her great nephew, John Gielgud....

's last performances with Henry Irving
Henry Irving
Sir Henry Irving , born John Henry Brodribb, was an English stage actor in the Victorian era, known as an actor-manager because he took complete responsibility for season after season at the Lyceum Theatre, establishing himself and his company as...

 at the Lyceum in 1896. Terry's performance was widely praised, though Irving was judged an indifferent Iachimo. Like Garrick, Irving removed the dream of Posthumus; he also curtailed Iachimo's remorse and attempted to render Cloten's character consistent. A review in the Athenaeum
Athenaeum (magazine)
The Athenaeum was a literary magazine published in London from 1828 to 1921. It had a reputation for publishing the very best writers of the age....

compared this trimmed version to pastoral
The adjective pastoral refers to the lifestyle of pastoralists, such as shepherds herding livestock around open areas of land according to seasons and the changing availability of water and pasturage. It also refers to a genre in literature, art or music that depicts such shepherd life in an...

 comedies such as As You Like It
As You Like It
As You Like It is a pastoral comedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in 1599 or early 1600 and first published in the folio of 1623. The play's first performance is uncertain, though a performance at Wilton House in 1603 has been suggested as a possibility...

. The set design, overseen by Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Lawrence Alma-Tadema, OM, RA was a Dutch painter.Born in Dronrijp, the Netherlands, and trained at the Royal Academy of Antwerp, Belgium, he settled in England in 1870 and spent the rest of his life there...

, was lavish and advertised as historically accurate, though the reviewer for the time complained of such anachronisms as gold crowns and printed books as props.

Similarly lavish but less successful was Margaret Mather
Margaret Mather
Margaret Mather was a Canadian actress.She was born in poverty in Tilbury, Ontario as Margaret Finlayson, daughter of John Finlayson, a farmer and mechanic, and Ann Mather...

's production in New York in 1897. The sets and publicity cost $40,000, but Mather was judged too emotional and undisciplined to succeed in a fairly cerebral role.

Barry Vincent Jackson
Barry Vincent Jackson
Sir Barry Vincent Jackson, , was a distinguished theatre director and the founder of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.-Life and career:He was the son of George Jackson of Birmingham and was educated privately....

 staged a modern-dress production for the Birmingham Rep
Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Birmingham Repertory Theatre is a theatre and theatre company based on Centenary Square in Birmingham, England...

 in 1923, two years before his influential modern-dress Hamlet
The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601...

. Walter Nugent Monck
Walter Nugent Monck
Walter Nugent Monck was an English theatre director and founder of Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich.He was born in Welshampton, Shropshire in 1877. The child of the curate of Welshampton, he was educated in Liverpool and at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1895, he abandoned his study of the violin in...

 brought his Maddermarket Theatre
Maddermarket Theatre
The Maddermarket Theatre is a British theatre located in St. John's Alley in Norwich, Norfolk, England. It was founded in 1921 by Nugent Monck.-Early history and conversion:...

 production to Stratford in 1946, inaugurating the post-war tradition of the play.

London saw two productions in the 1956 season. Michael Benthall
Michael Benthall
Michael Pickersgill Benthall was an English theatre director.As an undergraduate at Oxford University, Michael Benthall met Robert Helpmann, who had been fulfilling an invitation to dance at there...

 directed the less successful production, at the Old Vic
Old Vic
The Old Vic is a theatre located just south-east of Waterloo Station in London on the corner of The Cut and Waterloo Road. Established in 1818 as the Royal Coburg Theatre, it was taken over by Emma Cons in 1880 when it was known formally as the Royal Victoria Hall. In 1898, a niece of Cons, Lilian...

. The set design by Audrey Cruddas
Audrey Cruddas
Audrey Cruddas was an English costume and scene designer, painter and potter. Born in Johannesburg she moved to England with her parents when she was an infant. After leaving school she studied art at St. John's Wood School of Art, Royal Academy Schools and Bram Shaw School of Drawing and...

 was notably minimal, with only a few essential props. She relied instead on a variety of lighting effects to reinforce mood; actors seemed to come out of darkness and return to darkness. Barbara Jefford
Barbara Jefford
Barbara Jefford, OBE is a British Shakespearean actress best known for her theatrical performances with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Old Vic and the National Theatre, and her role as Molly Bloom in the 1967 film of James Joyce's Ulysses.-Early life:Jefford was born Mary Barbara Jefford in...

 was criticised as too cold and formal for Imogen; Leon Gluckman played Posthumus, Derek Godfrey
Derek Godfrey
Derek Godfrey was a British actor who appeared in several films and BBC television dramatizations during the 1960s and 1970s....

 Iachimo, and Derek Francis
Derek Francis
Derek Francis was an English comedy and character actor.He was a regular in the Carry On film players, appearing in six of the films in the 1960s and 1970s. He appeared in Roger Corman's last film of his Edgar Allan Poe series The Tomb of Ligeia...

 Cymbeline. Following Victorian practice, Benthall drastically shortened the last act.
By contrast, Peter Hall's production at the Shakespeare Memorial
Royal Shakespeare Theatre
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre is a 1,040+ seat thrust stage theatre owned by the Royal Shakespeare Company dedicated to the British playwright and poet William Shakespeare. It is located in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon - Shakespeare's birthplace - in the English Midlands, beside the River Avon...

 presented nearly the entire play, including the long-neglected dream scene (although a golden eagle designed for Jupiter turned out too heavy for the stage machinery and was not used). Hall presented the play as a distant fairy tale, with stylised performances. The production received favourable reviews, both for Hall's conception and, especially, for Peggy Ashcroft
Peggy Ashcroft
Dame Peggy Ashcroft, DBE was an English actress.-Early years:Born as Edith Margaret Emily Ashcroft in Croydon, Ashcroft attended the Woodford School, Croydon and the Central School of Speech and Drama...

's Imogen. Richard Johnson
Richard Johnson (actor)
Richard Johnson is an English actor, writer and producer, who starred in several British films of the 1960s and has also had a distinguished stage career. He most recently appeared in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.-Life and career:...

 played Posthumus, and Robert Harris Cymbeline. Iachimo was played by Geoffrey Keen
Geoffrey Keen
Geoffrey Keen was an English actor who appeared in supporting roles in many famous films.-Early life:Keen was born in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, England, the son of stage actor Malcolm Keen. He was educated at Bristol Grammar School. He then joined the Little Repertory Theatre in Bristol for whom...

, whose father Malcolm
Malcolm Keen
Malcolm Keen was an English film and television actor.Born in Bristol, Keen was an early collaborator with the director Alfred Hitchcock, starring in his silent films The Mountain Eagle, The Lodger and The Manxman.Keen was the father of actor Geoffrey Keen, and the two both played Iachimo in...

 had played Jachimo with Ashcroft at the Old Vic in 1932.

Hall's approach attempted to unify the play's diversity by means of a fairy-tale topos
Literary topos
Topos , in Latin locus , referred in the context of classical Greek rhetoric to a standardised method of constructing or treating an argument. See topos in classical rhetoric...

. The next major Royal Shakespeare Company
Royal Shakespeare Company
The Royal Shakespeare Company is a major British theatre company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. The company employs 700 staff and produces around 20 productions a year from its home in Stratford-upon-Avon and plays regularly in London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and on tour across...

 production, in 1962, went in the opposite direction. Working on a set draped with heavy white sheets, director William Gaskill
William Gaskill
William 'Bill' Gaskill is a British theatre director.He worked alongside Laurence Olivier as a founding director of the National Theatre from its time at the Old Vic in 1963...

 employed Brechtian
Bertolt Brecht
Bertolt Brecht was a German poet, playwright, and theatre director.An influential theatre practitioner of the 20th century, Brecht made equally significant contributions to dramaturgy and theatrical production, the latter particularly through the seismic impact of the tours undertaken by the...

 alienation effect
Alienation effect
The distancing effect, commonly mistranslated as the alienation effect , is a performing arts concept coined by playwright Bertolt Brecht "which prevents the audience from losing itself passively and completely in the character created by the actor, and which consequently leads the audience to be a...

s, to mixed critical reviews. Bernard Levin
Bernard Levin
Henry Bernard Levin CBE was an English journalist, author and broadcaster, described by The Times as "the most famous journalist of his day". The son of a poor Jewish family in London, he won a scholarship to the independent school Christ's Hospital and went on to the London School of Economics,...

 complained that the bare set deprived the play of necessary scenic splendor. The acting, however, was widely praised. Vanessa Redgrave
Vanessa Redgrave
Vanessa Redgrave, CBE is an English actress of stage, screen and television, as well as a political activist.She rose to prominence in 1961 playing Rosalind in As You Like It with the Royal Shakespeare Company and has since made more than 35 appearances on London's West End and Broadway, winning...

 as Imogen was often compared favourably to Ashcroft; Eric Porter
Eric Porter
Eric Richard Porter was an English actor of stage, film and television.-Early life:Porter was born in Shepherd's Bush, London, to Richard John Porter and Phoebe Elizabeth Spall...

 was a success as Jachimo, as was Clive Swift
Clive Swift
Clive Walter Swift is an English character comedy actor and songwriter. He is best known for his role as character Richard Bucket in the British television series Keeping Up Appearances. He is less known for his role as character Roy in the British television series The Old Guys...

 as Cloten. Patrick Allen
Patrick Allen
John Keith Patrick Allen was a British film, television and voice actor.-Life and career:Allen was born in Nyasaland , where his father was a tobacco farmer. After his parents returned to Britain, he was evacuated to Canada during World War II where he remained to finish his education at McGill...

 was Posthumus, and Tom Fleming played the title role.

A decade later, John Barton
John Barton (director)
John Bernard Adie Barton CBE is a theatrical director. He is the son of Sir Harold Montagu and Lady Joyce Barton. He married Anne Righter, a university lecturer, in 1968....

's 1974 production for the RSC (with assistance from Clifford Williams) featured Sebastian Shaw
Sebastian Shaw (actor)
Sebastian Lewis Shaw was an English actor, director, novelist, playwright and poet. During his 65-year career, Shaw appeared in dozens of stage performances and more than 40 film and television productions....

 in the title role, Tim Pigott-Smith
Tim Pigott-Smith
Tim Pigott-Smith is an English film and television actor.-Early life:Pigott-Smith was born in Rugby, Warwickshire, the son of Margaret Muriel and Harry Thomas Pigott-Smith, who was a journalist. He was educated at Wyggeston Boys' School, Leicester, King Edward VI School Stratford-upon-Avon, and...

 as Posthumus, Ian Richardson
Ian Richardson
Ian William Richardson CBE was a Scottish actor best known for his portrayal of the Machiavellian Tory politician Francis Urquhart in the BBC's House of Cards trilogy. He was also a leading Shakespearean stage actor....

 as Jachimo, and Susan Fleetwood
Susan Fleetwood
Susan Maureen Fleetwood was a British stage, film and television actress, best known as a star of the classical theatre companies of England. She received popular acclaim in the television series Chandler & Co and The Buddha of Suburbia.-Personal life:Fleetwood was born in St...

 as Imogen. Charles Keating
Charles Keating (actor)
Charles Keating is a British actor of stage, screen, and television, and narrator of audiobooks.Of Irish Catholic extraction, Keating was born on October 22, 1941 in London, England, the son of Charles James Keating and Margaret Shevlin...

 was Cloten. As with contemporary productions of Pericles, this one used a narrator (Cornelius) to signal changes in mood and treatment to the audience. Robert Speaight
Robert Speaight
Robert Speaight was a British actor and writer, and the brother of George Speaight the puppeteer.He was an early performer in radio plays. He came to prominence as Becket in the first production of T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. He went on to Shakespearean roles, and to direct.He also...

 disliked the set design, which he called too minimal, but he approved the acting.

In 1980, David Jones revived the play for the RSC; the production was in general a disappointment, although Judi Dench
Judi Dench
Dame Judith Olivia "Judi" Dench, CH, DBE, FRSA is an English film, stage and television actress.Dench made her professional debut in 1957 with the Old Vic Company. Over the following few years she played in several of William Shakespeare's plays in such roles as Ophelia in Hamlet, Juliet in Romeo...

 as Imogen received reviews that rivalled Ashcroft's. Ben Kingsley
Ben Kingsley
Sir Ben Kingsley, CBE is a British actor. He has won an Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards in his career. He is known for starring as Mohandas Gandhi in the film Gandhi in 1982, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor...

 played Jachimo; Roger Rees
Roger Rees
Roger Rees is a Welsh actor. He is best known to American audiences for playing the characters Robin Colcord on the American television sitcom show Cheers and Lord John Marbury on the American television drama The West Wing...

 was Posthumus. In 1987, Bill Alexander directed the play in The Other Place (later transferring to the Pit in London's Barbican Centre) with Harriet Walter playing Imogen, David Bradley as Cymbeline and Nicholas Farrell as Posthumus.

At the Stratford Festival
Stratford Festival of Canada
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival is an internationally recognized annual celebration of theatre running from April to November in the Canadian city of Stratford, Ontario...

, the play was directed in 1970 by Jean Gascon
Jean Gascon
Jean Gascon, was a Canadian opera director, actor, and administrator.From 1968 to 1974, he was the artistic director of the Stratford Festival of Canada.-Honours:...

 and in 1987 by Robin Phillips
Robin Phillips
Robin Phillips is an English actor and director.Phillips was born in Haslemere, Surrey, the son of EllenAnne and James William Phillips. He trained at the Bristol Old Vic and worked as an actor and director for many years in the United Kingdom, finishing as Artistic Director at the Greenwich...

. The latter production, which was marked by much-approved scenic complexity, featured Colm Feore
Colm Feore
Colm Feore is an American-born Canadian stage, film and television actor.-Early life:Feore was born in Boston, Massachusetts to Irish parents who lived in Ireland for several years during Feore's early life. The family subsequently moved to Windsor, Ontario, where Feore grew up.After graduating...

 as Jachimo, and Martha Burns
Martha Burns
Martha Burns is an award-winning Canadian actress known for her stage work and youth outreach in Ontario and her leading role as Ellen Fanshaw in the TV dramedy series Slings and Arrows.Burns was born 1958 in Winnipeg, Manitoba...

 as Imogen. The play was again at Stratford in 2005, directed by David Latham. A large medieval tapestry unified the fairly simple stage design and underscored Latham's fairy-tale inspired direction.

At the new Globe Theatre
Globe Theatre
The Globe Theatre was a theatre in London associated with William Shakespeare. It was built in 1599 by Shakespeare's playing company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, and was destroyed by fire on 29 June 1613...

 in 2001, a cast of six (including Abigail Thaw
Abigail Thaw
Abigail Thaw is a British actress. She was born in London to actor John Thaw and his first wife, Sally Alexander. Her stepmother is actress Sheila Hancock...

, Mark Rylance
Mark Rylance
Mark Rylance is an English actor, theatre director and playwright.As an actor, Rylance found success on stage and screen. For his work in theatre he has won Olivier and Tony Awards among others, and a BAFTA TV Award...

, and Richard Hope
Richard Hope (actor)
Richard Hope is a British actor.-Career:Born in Kettering and brought up in Norfolk, Mr. Hope attended Oakham School in Rutland from 1967–1971 and trained at the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain from 1972 - 1976. He is a member of the National Youth Theatre Association and an Associate...

) used extensive doubling for the play. The cast wore identical costumes even when in disguise, allowing for particular comic effects related to doubling (as when Cloten attempts to disguise himself as Posthumus.)

The play is rarely performed, and has thus far never been filmed. Elijah Moshinsky directed the 1983 made-for-television
BBC Television Shakespeare
The BBC Television Shakespeare was a set of television adaptations of the plays of William Shakespeare, produced by the BBC between 1978 and 1985.-Origins:...

 videotaped production, ignoring the ancient British period setting in favour of a more timeless and snow-laden atmosphere inspired by Rembrandt and his contemporary Dutch painters
Dutch Golden Age
The Golden Age was a period in Dutch history, roughly spanning the 17th century, in which Dutch trade, science, military and art were among the most acclaimed in the world. The first half is characterised by the Eighty Years' War till 1648...

. Richard Johnson
Richard Johnson (actor)
Richard Johnson is an English actor, writer and producer, who starred in several British films of the 1960s and has also had a distinguished stage career. He most recently appeared in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.-Life and career:...

, Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren
Dame Helen Mirren, DBE is an English actor. She has won an Academy Award for Best Actress, four SAG Awards, four BAFTAs, three Golden Globes, four Emmy Awards, and two Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Awards.-Early life and family:...

, and Robert Lindsay
Robert Lindsay (actor)
Robert Lindsay is an English actor who is best known for his television work, especially his roles of Wolfie Smith in Citizen Smith, Michael Murray in G.B.H., Captain Sir Edward Pellew in Hornblower and Ben Harper in My Family which has been on television screens since 2000.-Early life:Lindsay was...

 play Cymbeline, Imogen, and Jachimo, respectively, with Michael Pennington
Michael Pennington
Michael Vivian Fyfe Pennington is a British director and actor who, together with director Michael Bogdanov, founded the English Shakespeare Company...

 as Posthumus.

Despite a lack of cinematic adaptations, there have been some well-received major theatrical productions including 1998's Public Theatre production in New York City directed by Andrei Serban
Andrei Serban
Andrei Șerban is a Romanian-born American theater director. A major name in twentieth-century theater, he is renowned for his innovative and iconoclastic interpretations and stagings...

. Cymbeline was also performed in Cambridge
The city of Cambridge is a university town and the administrative centre of the county of Cambridgeshire, England. It lies in East Anglia about north of London. Cambridge is at the heart of the high-technology centre known as Silicon Fen – a play on Silicon Valley and the fens surrounding the...

 in October 2007 in a production directed by Sir Trevor Nunn, who sought to re-capture the essence of the play as a story narrative, and in November 2007 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

Cheek by Jowl
Cheek by Jowl
Cheek By Jowl is a theatre company founded by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod in 1981. The company has performed across the world and, with their 1986 production of Twelfth Night, were the first to bring a Shakespearean play to The Swan....

's 2007 production, directed by Declan Donnellan, featured an Olivier Award winning performance by Tom Hiddleston
Tom Hiddleston
Thomas William "Tom" Hiddleston is an English actor. He is perhaps best known for playing Loki in the 2011 Marvel Studios film Thor.-Early life and education:...

. The next London production of the play will be at the Tabard Theatre
Tabard Theatre
The Tabard Theatre is an intimate, 80 seat theatre located in Chiswick in the London Borough of Hounslow. Close to Turnham Green Underground station, it is situated above the Tabard public house which was built in 1880 by the architect Norman Shaw for the Bedford Park Estate...

 in late June and early July of 2011. Ian Barritt
Ian Barritt
Ian Barritt is a British actor.His television credits include: Elizabeth R, The Tomorrow People, Secret Army, Blake's 7, Minder, Only Fools and Horses, Lovejoy, Between The Lines, The Bill, A Touch of Frost, Foyle's War, Life on Mars, Midsomer Murders and Doctor Who.-External links:...

 will play the title role.

In May 2011, the play was performed by students from Aberystwyth University's Theatre, Film and Television Studies Department as part of the "Schools' Shakespeare Project" module, directed by the department's leading director, Mr. Richard Cheshire.

The next high-profile US performance is set for early 2011, at the Shakespeare Theatre Company
Shakespeare Theatre Company
The Shakespeare Theatre Company is a regional theatre company located in Washington, D.C. Their self professed mission "is to present classic theatre of scope and size in an imaginative, skillful and accessible American style that honors the playwrights’ language and intentions while viewing their...

 of Washington, DC,

Adaptations and cultural references

The play was adapted by Thomas d'Urfey
Thomas d'Urfey
Thomas D'Urfey was an English writer and wit. He composed plays, songs, and poetry, in addition to writing jokes. He was an important innovator and contributor in the evolution of the Ballad opera....

 as The Injured Princess, or, the Fatal Wager; this version was produced at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is a West End theatre in Covent Garden, in the City of Westminster, a borough of London. The building faces Catherine Street and backs onto Drury Lane. The building standing today is the most recent in a line of four theatres at the same location dating back to 1663,...

, presumably by the united King's Company
King's Company
The King's Company was one of two enterprises granted the rights to mount theatrical productions in London at the start of the English Restoration. It existed from 1660 to 1682.-History:...

 and Duke's Company
Duke's Company
The Duke's Company was one of the two theatre companies that were chartered by King Charles II at the start of the English Restoration era, when the London theatres re-opened after their eighteen-year closure during the English Civil War and the Interregnum.The Duke's Company had the patronage of...

, in 1682. The play changes some names and details, and adds a subplot, typical of the Restoration, in which a virtuous waiting-woman escapes the traps laid by Cloten. D'Urfey also changes Pisanio's character so that he at once believes in Imogen's (Eugenia, in D'Urfey's play) guilt. For his part, D'Urfey's Posthumus is ready to accept that his wife might have been untrue, as she is young and beautiful. Some details of this alteration survived in productions at least until the middle of the century.

William Hawkins revised the play again in 1759. His was among the last of the heavy revisions designed to bring the play in line with Aristotelean unities. He cut the Queen, reduced the action to two places (the court and a forest in Wales). The dirge "With fairest flowers..." was set to music by Thomas Arne.

Nearer the end of the century, Henry Brooke wrote an adaptation which was apparently never staged. His version eliminates the brothers altogether as part of a notable enhancement of Posthumus' role in the play.

George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

, who criticised the play perhaps more harshly than he did any of Shakespeare's other works, took aim at what he saw as the defects of the final act in his 1937 Cymbeline Refinished; as early as 1896, he had complained about the absurdities of the play to Ellen Terry, then preparing to act Imogen.

Probably the most famous verses in the play come from the funeral song of Act IV, Scene 2, which begins:
Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

These last two lines appear to have inspired T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot
Thomas Stearns "T. S." Eliot OM was a playwright, literary critic, and arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century. Although he was born an American he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39.The poem that made his...

; in "Lines to a Yorkshire Terrier" (in Five-Finger Exercises), he writes:
Pollicle dogs and cats all must
Jellicle cats and dogs all must
Like undertakers, come to dust.

The first two lines of the song appear in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. The lines, which turn Mrs. Dalloway's thoughts to the trauma of the First World War, are at once an elegiac dirge and a profoundly dignified declaration of endurance. The song provides a major organizational motif for the novel.

At the end of Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Joshua Sondheim is an American composer and lyricist for stage and film. He is the winner of an Academy Award, multiple Tony Awards including the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre, multiple Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize and the Laurence Olivier Award...

's The Frogs
The Frogs (musical)
The Frogs is a musical "freely adapted" by Stephen Sondheim and Burt Shevelove from The Frogs, an Ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, originally performed in Yale University's gymnasium's swimming pool in 1974....

, William Shakespeare is competing against George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

 for the title of best playwright, deciding which of them is to be brought back from the dead in order to improve the world. Shakespeare sings the funeral song of Act IV, Scene 2, when asked about his view of death (the song is titled "Fear No More").

The last two lines of the Act IV-scene 2 funeral song may also have inspired the lines W. H. Auden
W. H. Auden
Wystan Hugh Auden , who published as W. H. Auden, was an Anglo-American poet,The first definition of "Anglo-American" in the OED is: "Of, belonging to, or involving both England and America." See also the definition "English in origin or birth, American by settlement or citizenship" in See also...

, the librettist for Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress
The Rake's Progress
The Rake's Progress is an opera in three acts and an epilogue by Igor Stravinsky. The libretto, written by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, is based loosely on the eight paintings and engravings A Rake's Progress of William Hogarth, which Stravinsky had seen on May 2, 1947, in a Chicago...

, puts into the mouth of Anne Truelove at the end of the opera: "Every wearied body must late or soon return to dust".

External links

  • Cymbeline – searchable, indexed e-text
  • Cymbeline – Full text at M.I.T.
  • Cymbeline – Scene-indexed play
  • Cymbeline – HTML version.
  • Cymbeline – Scene-indexed and searchable version of the text.
  • Cymbeline – plain text from Project Gutenberg
    Project Gutenberg
    Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to "encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks". Founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books...

  • Cymbeline – different plain text edition