"Those that I reverence, those I fear, the wise:
At fools I laugh, not fear them."
I read Cymbeline for a few reasons.
- I'm trying to read ALL THE SHAKESPEARE, so, you know, why not Cymbeline?
- Last Friday was 'The Ides of March' and I was going to post this the day before (not on the ACTUAL day, because Harry Potter) but then I didn't finish reading it in time and now it's now, and
- When I went to that Shakespeare exhibition that one time, I read a quote from Cymbeline that made me think it was totally related to Stephen King's Dark Tower series, and I've wanted to read it to investigate ever since.
I realise that third reason is slightly... A mix of highbrow and lowbrow, shall we say, but hey- I'm a Stephen King-ologist, and any connections I find, I really should investigate. As it turns out, I don't think there is much of a connection- both mention 'Lud' as a place, but in Cymbeline it pretty much just refers to London, whereas in The Dark Tower, it's a place where the machines have either failed or gone crazy, and it's all gone to shit.
Sometimes, though, things that you go into looking for one thing, can end up giving you something else. In Cymbeline, I didn't find the seedlings of a Stephen King idea, but I did find a Shakespeare play that, because it's one that no one talks about, felt like my very own discovery of awesomeness. Which, when we're talking about Shakespeare, means that I'm like a literary archeologist who has just unearthed a lost Shakespeare play that... Just happens to be in a big ole book with some plays that have been discovered. Hm. There's no getting around this really, is there?
Anyway! Back to the point. According to Wikipedia, "Though once held in very high regard, Cymbeline has lost favour over the past century", and to be honest, I can't really see why. It's got all the things you'd look for in a Shakespeare play- there's cross dressing, mistaken identity, sword fights, lovers who can't be together, an evil Queen (SO EVIL), a moron, a lusty Italian, attempted murder, ACTUAL murder, so much he-said-she-said that it's insane, and an ending that's maybe the smoothest (and quickest) wrapping up of any story ever. It's in the First Folio as a tragedy, but it's got a lot of the hallmarks of the best comedies, and it also feels a bit historical. It's got everything!
To give you a teeny summary of the story, Cymbeline is the King of England, whose daughter Innogen has just married Posthumus Leonatus (his mother died in childbirth, so... I guess that's where the name comes from?), a good guy but not fitting for someone who will be Queen one day since her brothers disappeared when they were tiny (ooh, I wonder if that'll come up sometime in the play...). Additionally, Cymbeline is married to an EVIL lady, and they both want her son to marry Innogen, but unfortunately he's an idiot. But a really really good Shakespearean idiot. Even the servants know he's an idiot! Observe:
"That such a crafty devil as his mother
Should yield the world this ass: a woman that
Bears all down with her brain, and this her son
Cannot take two from twenty, for his heart,
And leave eighteen."
And, I mean, he's not only bad at maths, he's also a terrible all-round person, and we really really don't want Innogen to marry him. At the start of the play, though, Posthumus is banished from England and Innogen is confined to, well, her room in the palace, and it's all very terrible and middle-of-Romeo-and-Juliet-like. And it makes you really really want to read on, let me tell you!
This stuff is SHAKESPEARE, so I won't bore you with how it's all well written and blah blah blah. I would say that I enjoyed it a lot more than, say, Antony and Cleopatra, which is a much more famous play, and I'm sure it would be even better on stage- there's kind of this whole battle that has absolutely no impact when you're reading it, but would probably be really cool on stage, (or the screen- IMDb tells me there was a TV movie with Helen Mirren as Innogen, so that's clearly spectacular) but a lot of Cymbeline is about the talking, and the pining, and the very very stupid man they want Innogen to marry.
I think the bottom line is, I enjoyed Cymbeline a lot more than I was expecting to for a more-or-less unknown Shakespeare play, and now I feel indignant about its neglect. I'm sure, positive in fact, that Shakespeare scholars and readers and, you know, just people who are smarter than me have their reasons for thinking that Cymbeline is kind of not-that-worthy of recognition, but in terms of pure enjoyment and entertainment, I think it's kind of great. Was this what Shakespeare was aiming for when he wrote it? I'd say probably.