Cymbeline (1590-1)

Cymbeline is one of eighteen plays that were not published until its inclusion in the first folio play derived largely from Raphael Hollinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland & Ireland (2nd edition 1589). Classified or catalogued as the last of the Shakespeare tragedies it features a brave Scot who with his two sons defeats a Danish invasion. The inclusion of “the wager” is again taken from Boccacio’s Decameron or possibly from another Genoan version which in the Dutch translation was called “Frederycke Jennen”. The wicked stepmother motif is probably derived from the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty”, while the imprisoned damsel derives from Rapunzel. However, a former Elizabethan play (The Rare Triumphs of Love & Fortune) might have been another eclectic source. We know the earliest recorded performance of the play was at the Globe from Simon Forman’s record in his “Booke of Plaies” which approximates it to sometime in April 1611. To account for the story of Guiderius the playwright might have consulted Mirror for Magistrates (1578), and for the wager involving Giacomo and Imogen Boccacio’s Decameron which had not been translated until 1628. Historically, this play has an indirect tribute to the family of James Ist and of course to Queen Elizabeth Ist although harking back to the historical British King (Cunobellinus who died 42 AD) the chief of the Catuvellauni tribe who founded the city of Colchester. The son of Cymbeline was the legendary rebel leader Caractacus who organised resistance to the Roman invasion of Britain. As a fugitive he was eventually betrayed by the mercenary Queen of the Brigantes (Cartimandua) in N. Yorkshire. This means that according to Hollinshed the play is set around the same time as the birth of Christ although it also features anomalous scenes from 16th century Italy. In actual fact it was King Cymbeline’s son Guiderius who refused to pay tribute to Rome alongside the Pax Romana which provoked the Roman Invasion. By many academics the play was thought to have been written sometime around 1609-10 and transcribed by the scribe Ralph Crane who was also responsible for “The Merrie Wives of Windsor and “A Winter’s Tale”. He makes several changes of name for example Iachomo becomes Giacomo, Filario becomes Philario, and Innogen becomes Imogen. This is substantiated by Simon Forman who wrote of seeing a performance of the play in April 1611 at the Globe Theatre with the name of the princess being Innogen. Nevertheless, an earlier date should not be ruled out for several reasons. An anonymous play entitled “The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune”, recorded to have been played before the Queen might have been the original source for Cymbeline. Another entitled “History of Love and Fortune” was played at Windsor on the 30th December 1582 could have been the same. More recently some similarities have been found in a Greek romance by Thomas Underdowne entitled “Aethiopica” (1569) and that of Tatius’s romance “Clitophon & Leucippe” translated into English in 1597. Although no definitive evidence exists for its date of composition, the Oxfordian view is that the Earl of Oxford was the most probable author and had finished the play by 1578. In particular the narrative of Posthumus appears to parallel Oxford’s visit to Italy.

Some academics have assumed, rightly or wrongly that the play was issued to commemorate the investiture of Henry, Prince of Wales in 1610 but it may well have been written and already performed some time before that. It has all the romantic, magical and dramatic overtones of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, The Winter’s Tale, and Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Consequently it is usually agreed or argued among academics that it was a late play. However, it coincides with the period in Edward de Vere’s life when his son died and much later his wife, Anne Cecil passed away.

The links to my publications “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”, a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry, “Pathenogenesis” are as follows:


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