Bill Kerwin's Reviews > Cymbeline

Cymbeline by William Shakespeare
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's review
Feb 21, 2016

really liked it
bookshelves: 16th-17th-c-brit, stuart-drama
Read from February 07 to 23, 2012

I've read this play three times, and I've found that the longer the time that has elapsed since I last read it, the better I imagine it to be. In theory, it's a great play: the political situation, involving the tribute an emerging British nation must pay to a "Roman" empire has interesting Jacobean parallels in continental politics involving a "Roman" Church; the theological implications, the way Shakespeare finds a place for compassion in the merciless world of Lear's gods and flies, is instructive and attractive; and the cavalier manner in which the bard treats stage conventions--from the anonymous two lords in the first scene who only exist to present the necessary exposition to the eventual appearance of a literal "deus ex machina" in the person of Jupiter--shows a master of form thumbing his nose at his own expertise for his particular metaphysical purposes.

Sure, this all sounds great in retrospect, but the characters themselves are petty and cold and and when they are fresh in my mind they--with the exception of Imogen--fail to move me. Iachimo ("little Iago") is too pathetic and irresolute in his villainy, Posthumous Leonatus is too easily persuaded of his love's infidelity and too abruptly murderous in his intentions, and even Imogen is much, much too ready to forgive. Also, the play is so full of misunderstandings that it takes one of the longest final scenes in Shakespeare merely to straighten out all the loose ends.

And yet. . . Cymbeline is full of marvels and immortal poetry (including a "dirge" that is one of the finest lyrics in the English language) and it is graced with a heroine--Imogen--who is as admirable, lovable and brave as any the poet has created.
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02/20 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Traveller (new)

Traveller This is a Shakespeare that seems to have gone under the radar for me. Boo, I suppose that means I should at least go through the motions of adding it to my gargantuan list... :P

Nice review - but then, your reviews all seem nice. :)

message 2: by [Name Redacted] (last edited Feb 21, 2016 03:38PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

[Name Redacted] This is one of those plays that is best seen performed. Some of them can be fully enjoyed read, but I never really "got" this particular play until i saw it performed at the Met. Thought that was helped by the fact that Phylicia Rashad and John Cullum were in it... XP

message 3: by Alan (new)

Alan Saw a great production at BU's Huntington T (the Altman days)--tied it all together. (Tends to break apart.)

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