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Group Readings > Cymbeline, Act 1 April 25

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message 1: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2752 comments Mod
Dear Shakespeare's Fans....discuss Act 1 Cymbaline here....


message 2: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2752 comments Mod
I always wonder why using a character from another time is so handy for Shakespeare...Cymbeline or Cymbaline is from this King...?

message 3: by Lucinda (last edited Apr 24, 2018 11:10AM) (new)

Lucinda Elliot (lucindaelliot) | 583 comments Hello, Candy.
Interesting links about the king of the Ancient Britons.
I suppose, being able to speak more openly about kingship and bad government, and mistaken policy decisions, without fear of being charged with treason, must surely be the main reason in an age of minimal free speech?
The play is called 'Cymbeline' , but we see very little of the king, much less than King Lear.
If Posthumous is the hero of the play, we dont really see all that much of him, in the first half of the play, anyway. I only saw it acted once when Martin was kind enough to lend me the BBC version, and for some reason I remember the second half far less well than the first.
Well, I read in the introduction of my very old Arden edition from the library - circa 1969, would you believe - that the editior considers Posthumous to be one of Shakespeare's dullest heroes, and I tend to agree. If he didn't do or express outrageous things, he'd have very little personality.
Other characters say he is wholly admirab le ,and Imogen seems to worship the ground he walks on, so it is clear that jealousy has made him act wholly out of character.
I read a more modern synopsis of the play a few years ago, where the author (male) says to modern minds Posthumous' bet about his new wife's faithfulness and his order for his servant to kill her for his humiliation are 'disgusting' and I have to agree. Apparently, he has been defended robustly, though, as acting within the laws of chivalry, which is intriguing (I assume he acts outside them when he orders her murder).
It's a strange play. I suppose it is a less polished version of 'A Winter's Tale'?
Shakespeare seems to have gone in for at leas t three male leads with an obsession about betrayal, Claudio, Leontes, and Posthumous.
One of the soucrces, is of course, Boccaccio, as in 'All's Well That End's Well'. They share fairy tale elements which are combined in the plays with more realistic characterisation. I suppose that's true of 'A Winter's Tale' too. The introduction of my Arden edition comments that Cymebline is meant to be a flat, unreal character, and it's unfair to compare him to the tragic Lear, as that is a tragedy,with realistic characterisaition.
In my edition, there's some very witty remarks on the infatuation of the nineteenth century critics with Imogen. The editor argues that it is a mistake to see the play as being wholly about the redemption of Imogen's reputation in Posthumous' eyes .

message 4: by Christopher (last edited Apr 24, 2018 08:01AM) (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 5 comments The main plot of Cymbeline is an old and well-known story, retold time and again throughout the ages. Shakespeare no doubt had heard the tale, in many forms, of a man wagering that his lover is virtuous only to be made the fool. It seems that Shakespeare liked best the rendition of this timeless story told in Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron (second day, ninth novel), written in 1353.

So the 'wager' plot comes from Boccaccio, which, if I recall, is more brutal.

This is an amateur reading of the source story:

eta: Here is a link to the Gutenberg text:

message 5: by Lucinda (new)

Lucinda Elliot (lucindaelliot) | 583 comments Hello, Christopher, half of my post hasn't come out. I put in some stuff about Boccaccio and legend too, and it came out truncated. Goodreads seems to have a big glitch.
Good links.

message 6: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2752 comments Mod
I hope there isn't a glitch. I will reach out to support and find out what is going on.

In the is wonderful to see you here.

And I hope others will join in!!!! I sent out a "broadcast message" and hopefully it will inspire others to join us...or follow along

We don't bite! Or not too hard a bite at any rate....


message 7: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2752 comments Mod
Oh! Look what word popped out at me!

"A child that guided dotards; to his mistress" it just me or does this sort of feel like a comedy?

I laughed out loud at this line...

"As many inches as you have oceans. Puppies!"

Is this ADHD...he sees puppies and flies off...or is it absurdist humour? So funny!

'In philosophy, "the Absurd" refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any.' Wiki

message 8: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2752 comments Mod
I think some of the banter is really great...

"First Lord
Sir, as I told you always, her beauty and her brain
go not together: she's a good sign, but I have seen
small reflection of her wit.
Second Lord
[Aside] She shines not upon fools, lest the
reflection should hurt her.
Come, I'll to my chamber. Would there had been some
hurt done!
Second Lord
[Aside] I wish not so; unless it had been the fall
of an ass, which is no great hurt."

message 9: by Lucinda (new)

Lucinda Elliot (lucindaelliot) | 583 comments It has made me laugh out loud in places, Candy. Dark comedy, I suppose.
The 'Second Lords' functionseems to be to point out what a fool Cloten is, while the First Lord toadies for all he is worth.

message 10: by Gabriel (new)

Gabriel | 180 comments What interests me about this play is where it may fit in Shakespeare's political landscape. Having written lots of plays about England and Lear about ancient Britain, this late play is, I think, the only one where Britain and Rome are brought together. Posthumus's origins seem some sort of mixture of Roman and anti-Roman:
First Gentleman: I cannot delve him to the root. His father
was called Sicilius, who did join his honour
against the Romans with Cassibelan
but had his titles by Tenantius...
The notes in my edition say that Cassibelan and Tenantius were the kings overcome by the invading Romans, after which Britain was occupied by and had to pay tribute to Rome, which seems to be the situation of Britain in the setting of the play.

message 11: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2752 comments Mod
Good, I'm glad I'm not the only one Laughing Lucinda.

Gabriel, fabulous info there...and I think you are on to something...would there be an apt metaphor of use? Is there the possibility a change of empire or overtaking at this time in England? What could it be an analogy of in England?

message 12: by Tim (new)

Tim Horwood | 17 comments Audio of Shakespeare Cymbeline Acts 1-2


Cymbeline-Boris Karloff
Cloten-Paul Daneman
Posthumus Leonatus-John Fraser
Belarius-Walter Hudd
Guiderius-John Dane
Arviragus-Robin Palmer
Philario-Wallas Eaton
Iachimo-Alan Dobie
Caius Lucius-James Cairncross
Pisanio-Stephen Moore
French Gentleman-Harold Lang
Cornelius-Eric House
Soothsayer-Eric Jones
Tribune-Wallas Eaton
1st British Captain-Eric House
2nd British Captain-Douglas Muir
1st Jailer-Harold Lang
2nd Jailer-Richard Dare
1st Senator-Eric House
2nd Senator-Richard Dare
1st Gentleman-Douglas Muir
2nd Gentleman-Eric Jones
Sicillius-Eric House
Messenger-Richard Dare
Jupiter-Derek Godfrey
Roman Captain-Wallas Eaton
1st Lord-Richard Dare
2nd Lord-Douglas Muir
1st Brother-Wallas Eaton
2nd Brother-Eric Jones
Queen-Pamela Brown
Imogen-Clair Bloom
Lady-Judith Sooth
Mother to Posthumus-Judith Sooth

Acts 3-5

message 13: by Lucinda (last edited Apr 28, 2018 09:19AM) (new)

Lucinda Elliot (lucindaelliot) | 583 comments Just off the top of my head (I don't believe I've read up on this bit of history since school), there was a Roman invasion of England in around 55 BC un der Julius Caesar, and the country became a sort of tributory, with Roman influence and having to pay taxes, but as I understand it, not directly occupied, until Claudiius launched an invasion. There was a failed invasion under Caligula, I think shortly before he was assasinated, and I believe this play may be set duirng this time. He was distracted by troubles at home. Britain was, after all, right on the edge of the Roman Empire.
Ha, Ha, this is off topic - but the Romans imported stinging nettles and those big 'Roman' snails here as part of their diet - as the US was never invaded by the Romans, do you not have them over there?
Fancy Boris Karloff playing Cymbeline, Tim. Claire Bloom as Imogen is a long way down on the credit list!
Well, Scene III Act 1 seems to me very standard Shakespeare, reminding me of the parting of Romeo and Juliet after their wedding night, and showing the Queen's duplicity (another fairy tale character, the Queen). Cymbeline rants at Imogen and would even lock her up, but the Queen is a better schemer, and urges a more subtle approach.
Imogen says of Posthumous: 'I chose an eagle, and did avoid a puttock.' Then there is the bathetic skirmish offstage where Cloten attacks Posthumous, who doesn't have the heart to damage him much, being too distraught over his parting from Imogen.
Then we have the comic scene with Cloten' s idiocies exposed, and a scene which - unusually for Shakespeare - seems superfluous to me, with Imogen talking to the devoted Pisanio (unfortunate name!) about his parting with Posthumous.
It is only then, in Scene V, that we get down to some drama.
What intrigues me in this, is that it seems that Posthumous has been over sensitive on the subject of 'his lady's' faithfulness before, as the Frenchman first saw him fighting about this topic in Orleans. But it isn't clear whether this involved Imogen, or not? I think it was meant to be some years before. However, the editor remarks that 'this play does't lend itself kindly to time analysis'.

message 14: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) I have a really off-the-wall group of volumes of the Complete Works, which was published in conjunction with the Scott, Foreman & Co. and the New York Shakespeare Festival. The Forword to each play was written by Joseph Papp, founder & director of the NY Shakespeare Festival (now Shakespeare in the Park).

For each play, besides the Foreword, there is an Introduction and several supplementary readings: the history of each play in performance, a chapter on Shakespeare's sources, and a bibliography for additional readings about the play.

In the Introduction to Cymbeline (which I am still reading), there are some very interesting comments about Posthumus being threatened by his wife's sexuality, which is portrayed as "appropriately sensual and spiritual." In other words, (god love him) S is confronting the hypocrisy of men and their misogynistic ways. As soon as Posthumus is confronted with his wife as a sexual person, he has no problem believing she would deceive him. It says this play is a tragicomedy.

In one of the Shakespeare Festival performances, Posthumus was played by Christopher Walken. I would have loved to have seen that!

message 15: by Lucinda (last edited Apr 27, 2018 01:56AM) (new)

Lucinda Elliot (lucindaelliot) | 583 comments Janice, I'll play the usurper of Candy's role as moderator, and say, lovely to have you in on this, with your invaluable insights. Now, that is an approach which hadn't occurred to me. I have always disliked the way in Shakespeare, a woman's whole worth and 'honour' is equated with her physical virtue by male characters, and have said 'Well, he could not choose but reflect the ideology of his age' , but maybe he was questioning this patriarchal obssession?
He must have seen how uncontrolled jealousy leads to madness and violence (of course, in King Lear, we have females enacting that role in Goneril and Reagan).
Even in the 1969 Arden edition I have, the editor comments on Posthumous' 'deep sexual anxiety'. This is very apparent in his outburst at the end of Act II. That had me laughing out loud. But I am anticipating...

message 16: by Jim (new)

Jim | 42 comments I thought "the wager" in scene four was fairly ridiculous. I might be over-interpreting this, but one thing that made the plot point tolerable, and even amusing, was Philario letting Posthumus and Iachimo know that he thinks they're idiots.

" Gentlemen, enough of this. It came in too suddenly; let it die as it was born, and I pray you be better acquainted."

message 17: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2752 comments Mod
Excellent comments. Your book, Janice, sounds very helpful and thoughtful.

Never fear jumping in Lucinda!

I'm not at scene 4 yet...Ji,...I'll take a look now...

message 18: by Sydney (new)

Sydney (sydneytinker) I'm chiming in a few days late but wanted to ping and say I'll catch up and contribute if my schedule allows.

message 19: by JamesD (new)

JamesD | 549 comments Candy wrote: "I think some of the banter is really great...

"First Lord
Sir, as I told you always, her beauty and her brain
go not together: she's a good sign, but I have seen
small reflection of her wit.

I agree there's humor in this play. When I read the list of characters and saw the names Cloten and Postumous, I immediately thought of Shakespeare with his tongue firmly in his cheek.
The banter in your example Candy seems to be showing Cloten to be a clot and Imogene to be a cut above the rest.

message 20: by JamesD (last edited Apr 29, 2018 04:34PM) (new)

JamesD | 549 comments Cymbeline's an uncommon name and I thought it to be a female name until I started reading the play. I knew nothing at all about the play until I started reading it today; so, all is being revealed!

I do know that there is a fanciful 'fake' history of the foundation of the culture of Britain, the medieval tome Historia Regnum Britanniae by Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Monmouth purports that that a certain Brutus of Troy came to Albion, as Britain was then called, and got to be its leader and founding father and changed its name to something like his own; Brutun or Britain. His fictitious wife by the way was known as Innogen, i.e. Imogene.

But there was a historical Cymbeline, apparently, who was a Romanised leader in southern Britain prior to the Roman final invasion. No one knows what his wife's name was though.

message 21: by JamesD (last edited Apr 29, 2018 04:48PM) (new)

JamesD | 549 comments Two themes have in the first scenes popped up immediately for me;
independent minded smart woman who goes against convention. This was a theme in All's Well that ends Well, as I remember.
The other theme that I see is that portrayed by the Posthumous character who is described to be of splendid character and who should succeed by his great merit except that the status quo says no go.
Shakespeare must support this concept of success through merit and not birth; his own life an example. But he also complicates this simple idea in the play by giving Posthumous a dose of hubris. Yes that damn wager is really Posty's weak point! But will it be the focus of the whole play? I wonder. Act one is quite long.

message 22: by JamesD (new)

JamesD | 549 comments Having recently read Macbeth I was struck by one of Iachimo's early lines at the beginning of his assault on Imogene. He says:
".....and can we not partition make with spectacles so precious
twixt fair and fowl". Fair and fowl was a warning line repeated in Macbeth in the first act. Here, well before she knows it Imogene won't need to be warned anymore. Iachimo becomes very obvious, and yet in the end Imogene falls for the unabashed flattery.

I like the line where Iachimo, smoke screening, is describing to Imogene what a great guy Posthumous is:
"He sits among men like a descended god."
(reminds me of how I have felt when I was the only stoned person in the room.

message 23: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2752 comments Mod
Great observation James and welcome to the discussion!

message 24: by Lucinda (new)

Lucinda Elliot (lucindaelliot) | 583 comments Interesting, indeed, James and James D.
Iachimo's moviation seems unexplained. Does he just do what he does out of a pure sense of mischief? He puts himself to a ridiculous amount of effort just to humiliate Posthumous. Even if he found Posthumous' boastful atttiude about Imogen anoyhing, it seems to be bizarre.
But his behaviour cannot be explained as that of non violent psychopaths, as mentioned in that tome of yesteryear 'The Mask of Sanity' , who tell pointless lies out of motiveless malice, and stir up trouble for no reason , even if it makes a lot of trouble for themeslves -because they don't seem to be able to admit to what they have done, whereas he does, at the end of the play.
But then I never really undestood Parolles' motivation in 'All's Well That Ends Well' either (another antagonist who stirs up trouble between new husband and wife, though in that case, there was enough conflict already).
Edmund' s motivation in 'King Lear' is given plainly, so why didn't Shakespeare bother with this character?
In the scene with Imogen, first there is a sneaking attempt at seduction, with talk of Posthumous' supposed unfaithfulness:
'Had I this cheek
To bathe my lip upon: This hand, whose touch
(Whose every touch ) would force the feeler's soul
To th'oath of loyalty....'
'Be reveng'd,
Or she that bore you was no queen...'
This failing, as James says, his flattery is cloying:
'Blessed live you long!
A lady to the worthiest sir that ever
Coun try called his: and you , his mistress, only
For the most worthiest fit... "
and then the bit James quotes about him being like a 'descended god'.

message 25: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2752 comments Mod
Oooohhhh....a classic sterotypical female murderer...poison! Poison is such an intense way to murder someone so specific....

Exeunt Ladies

Now, master doctor, have you brought those drugs?
Pleaseth your highness, ay: here they are, madam:
Presenting a small box

But I beseech your grace, without offence,--
My conscience bids me ask--wherefore you have
Commanded of me those most poisonous compounds,
Which are the movers of a languishing death;
But though slow, deadly?
I wonder, doctor,
Thou ask'st me such a question. Have I not been
Thy pupil long? Hast thou not learn'd me how
To make perfumes? distil? preserve? yea, so
That our great king himself doth woo me oft
For my confections? Having thus far proceeded,--
Unless thou think'st me devilish--is't not meet
That I did amplify my judgment in
Other conclusions? I will try the forces
Of these thy compounds on such creatures as
We count not worth the hanging, but none human,
To try the vigour of them and apply
Allayments to their act, and by them gather
Their several virtues and effects.
Your highness
Shall from this practise but make hard your heart:
Besides, the seeing these effects will be
Both noisome and infectious.

And then Cornelius ponderes...

[Aside] I do not like her. She doth think she has
Strange lingering poisons: I do know her spirit,
And will not trust one of her malice with
A drug of such damn'd nature. Those she has
Will stupefy and dull the sense awhile;
Which first, perchance, she'll prove on
cats and dogs,
Then afterward up higher: but there is
No danger in what show of death it makes,
More than the locking-up the spirits a time,
To be more fresh, reviving. She is fool'd
With a most false effect; and I the truer,
So to be false with her.

message 26: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2752 comments Mod is a cultural sexist stereotype that poisoners are is some lit on it..

"Contrary to popular belief, the majority of convicted poisoners are men, overwhelmingly so when the victim is a woman. When the victim is a man, the poisoner is equally likely to be male or female. As with other methods of murder, perpetrators rarely cross racial lines when they decide to send a victim to an early grave, meaning African Americans tend to be poisoned by other African Americans, Caucasians by other Caucasians. etc. On average, a homicidal poisoner is 5 to 10 years younger than his/her victim.

Career-wise, homicidal poisoners are over-represented in the medical (doctor, nurse, laboratory professional) or care-taking professions (wife, mother, nursing home attendant), where they have easy access to both the means to kill and a bevy of vulnerable victims. Of course, the vast majority of poisoners knock off someone s/he knows, such as a child, spouse, friend of acquaintance."

message 27: by Lucinda (new)

Lucinda Elliot (lucindaelliot) | 583 comments Interesting points, Candy, particularly about the stereotype of the poisoner being female.
I suppose the queen here is a sort of Wicked Witch Evil Stepmother archtype, as in traditional fairy tales? The introduction to my very old edition suggests that she is straight out of a fairy story.
Well, there are a lot of female stereotypes going about in this story. According to Posthumous, if Imogen isn't the Pure Wife, then she is a Brazen Strumpet...

message 28: by Jim (new)

Jim | 42 comments There's a lot of not particularly explained awful behaviour (the Queen, Iachomo, Posthumous' buying into the wager, Cymbeline's not the warmest dad...). I wonder what was going on in Shakespeare's life at the time...surrounded by monsters? And dreaming of a world full of Imogens (or Innogens in my version)?

message 29: by JamesD (new)

JamesD | 549 comments Lucinda wrote: "Interesting points, Candy, particularly about the stereotype of the poisoner being female.
I suppose the queen here is a sort of Wicked Witch Evil Stepmother archtype, as in traditional fairy tales..."

So yes the wicked stepmother queen is a real English Christmas Pantomime hiss-boo! character. I can just see the groundlings at the Elizabethan Globe theatre, venting at this character when she appears on the stage.
So I'm thinking this is more of a satire of the upper classes in Shakespeare's time than a Historyof Cymbeline's time or even a full fledged comedy of any time. I mean Shakespeare nearly always finds funny to out somewhere.
So, as a satire (if you accept this interpretation) I think that all the aristos, royals and upper class lads and lasses are going to be given a bollocking (send up) - as in the first chapter King Cymbeline is unreasonable and cruel (not a wise king for sure), his nameless wife is not only nasty she is also not too clever (i.e. not so smart to share so much information with Cornelius). Clotonus and continental aristo friends of Posthumous are cast as dumb and or dodgy. Posthumous himself really shows himself up by taking on the wager.
On the other hand all the servants and working associates of the royals and aristos are almost above reproach they are so steadfast, loyal, honest and smart as well as being moral like Cornelius who won't let the queen get away with her poisonous plan.
And that poison plan I feel is a device by Shakespeare for someone to at some time in the play to appear to be dead but not really be dead (and one person is going to know the truth).
Must get on to Act 2 - bu there is so much in introductory Act 1.
Oh, and I think that Shakespeare is going to show up and deride most of the female stereotypes alluded to so far in the play. I imagine there will be more.

message 30: by Lucinda (new)

Lucinda Elliot (lucindaelliot) | 583 comments Fascinating comments, James. A really stirring interpretation.

message 31: by JamesD (last edited May 08, 2018 04:39AM) (new)

JamesD | 549 comments Looking at the play how I've experienced it from reading Act 1.
About wager amongst lord and rich folk. In England there a structures called 'follies' (from the french feminine word for crazy). For anyone that doesn't know these are odd whimsical buildings built by rich people because they could. These building are all over the country, mostly in the countryside. But at least one of these follies was built because of a wager between two lord types.
The story goes Lord So and So told Lord What's His Name that he could see the top of the church tower in Hastings from his drawing room window 10 miles away. Lord What His Name bet him that he couldn't. ( I don't know how much was bet or if it was a gentelmen's no money bet).
Lord So and So realised ( or knew already) that he couldn't actually see the church tower from his drawing room so he ordered the construction of a conical tower in a field a few miles away, in line with Hastings, that poked up over the trees. From the distance of the drawing room this was meant to look like a church tower off in the distance.
I don't know if he won his bet or not when Lord What's His Name came to visit. Nevertheless, 150 years later that conical tower is still standing in a cow pasture - I have seen it.
My point is that betting amongst rich folk goes back a long way and can get crazy. The bet between Posthumous and Iachimo is mad considering the distances involved - 1200 miles from Rome to somewhere in Britain in 1st BC is one heck of a trot! Even in Shakespeare's time this was a major journey. And as both parties have signed documents regarding the bet, there must be substantial money and property to be won. Rather ludicrous to say the least. Shakespeare must be making a point that this sort of behavior is stupid and out of date even in the time that the wager is set?
Lucinda, that you found my previous interpretation stirring; I hope that nevertheless you were not shaken. (Thank you 007)

message 32: by Lucinda (new)

Lucinda Elliot (lucindaelliot) | 583 comments James, Ha, Ha, was that a favourite phrase of Ian Fleming? One never knows what the unconscious churns out. I was looking for a change from 'stimulating' or 'intriguing' and that one does ring rather oddly. ..
But your idea that the 'lower classes' are more honourable than their masters is an interpretation is something I find really appealling (unlike Bond).
Yes, there are 'follies' all about in the grounds of stately homes, and some in Kew Gardens (which was once the grounds of a royal palace), and I see what you mean about decadance.
The journeys involved in this wager are insane, in an age when travel inland was on tracks rather than roads. The time scale in this play does not, as the editor of my old Arden edition comments, bear close investigation.
But more of Pisanio's journey and lightning return in Act II.

message 33: by JamesD (last edited May 09, 2018 01:51AM) (new)

JamesD | 549 comments Lucinda wrote: "James, Ha, Ha, was that a favourite phrase of Ian Fleming? One never knows what the unconscious churns out. I was looking for a change from 'stimulating' or 'intriguing' and that one does ring rath..."

I believe the line was James Bond saying how he liked his martini as "Shaken, not stirred"
Regarding the distances in the play traveled for the winning of a wager, they purposefully add to the ludicrousness of the upper class twits petty exertions. We're a week behind now. Best crack on with Act 2 and then to three!
I'm enjoying this play and I'm seeing it as a crowd pleaser, plenty to chuckle about and yet there's a edge to it.
Are you based in or from England yourself Lucinda?

message 34: by Lucinda (new)

Lucinda Elliot (lucindaelliot) | 583 comments Aha, James, about shaken not stirred. Typical piece of Fleming snobbery. Yes, I'm English indeed (though part Irish and now living in Mid Wales).

message 35: by JamesD (new)

JamesD | 549 comments But anyway, isn't this play having a go at snobbery and privilege?
I'm in Sheffield but get out to Borth near Aberystwyth occasionally.
Moving on - I'm commenting on Act 2 now.

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