Shakespeare’s dark fairy tale is also a great adventure story. Royal princes stolen in their infancy. Unbridled jealousy. Magic potions. Second chances. Shakespeare takes a princess named Imogen on a hazardous journey out of the treacherous court of King Cymbeline along unknown and dangerous paths. The kindness of strangers, Imogen’s courage, and the strength of her love lead her toward reconciliation with her lost husband and family.
Approximate Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes (includes intermission)
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Team Shakespeare Student Matinees of Cymbeline are sponsored by Kraft Foods and Nuveen Investments.
Cymbeline is presented in the Jentes Family Auditorium.
Once upon a time in ancient Britain, King Cymbeline had two sons stolen in infancy from the castle. Now his last child, Princess Imogen, marries her beloved childhood companion, Posthumus, in secret rather than be forced to wed Cloten, son of her wicked stepmother-queen. Banished, Posthumus seeks refuge in Italy, where he meets Iachimo. Iachimo scoffs at the young man’s absolute certainty in his wife’s fidelity, and the two enter into a man’s wager. Iachimo heads straight to Britain to win the bet, but when Imogen rejects his advances, he gains secret access to her bedchamber to gather intimate details that will “prove” her infidelity. And Posthumus is convinced.
Pisanio, a loyal servant to Posthumus and his bride, receives from the evil queen an herbal potion intended to kill the servant or Imogen—or both. Now a letter from Posthumus arrives, ordering Pisanio to travel with Imogen to Milford-Haven, ostensibly to reunite her there with her husband, but instead to be murdered at his servant’s hands. Pisanio defies his master’s orders and arms the princess with a boy’s disguise and the “restorative” potions of the Queen.
Imogen wanders alone through the hills of Wales, where famished and exhausted, she comes upon a cave—inhabited by Belarius, a nobleman long ago banished from Cymbeline’s court, and with him the king’s two sons, whom he kidnapped as he fled. In this remote wilderness, Belarius has secretly raised the princes as his own sons. The three return home from hunting to discover Imogen, disguised as a boy called “Fidele,” whom they soon grow to love as their only friend.
King Cymbeline, heeding the advice of his Queen and Cloten, refuses to pay tribute to Rome, and war is declared. Now Cloten, in order to take revenge upon the young couple himself, disguises himself in Posthumus’s clothes and heads to Milford-Haven to pursue them there. Along the way, he meets up with Belarius and the two boys and, having goaded Guiderius on, is slain by him. Belarius and the boys return home to discover Fidele’s body: heartsick, Imogen has taken Pisanio’s drug and fallen into a death-like sleep. The grieving brothers lay “Fidele’s” body beside Cloten’s, clothed in Posthumus’s garments. Awaking from her drugged stupor, Imogen mistakes Cloten’s headless body for her husband. The Roman ambassador to Britain comes upon the grief-stricken page and takes “Fidele” into his service. Guiderius and Arviragus convince their reluctant father to enter the war on Britain’s behalf.
Posthumus returns to Britain and, believing Imogen dead, has nothing to live for. Dressed as a peasant, he enters into battle and, with Belarius and the two brothers, rescues Cymbeline and routs the Romans. Seeking death, Posthumus disguises himself as a Roman and is taken captive by the English, but the ghosts of his family appear in a vision and beg Jupiter for help. Posthumus is brought before the King, and a series of revelations bewilders the King and surprises all.
– Contributed by the CST Education Department
A Scholar's Perspective by Stuart Sherman
Stuart Sherman views Shakespeare's late play as a creative re-envisioning of earlier plays' characters and stories.
A Scholar's Perspective by David Bevington
David Bevington discusses the parent-child relationships in Cymbeline and Shakespeare's return to the theme of jealousy.
Cymbeline, like so many of Shakespeare's plays, is drawn from multiple sources. Here, Shakespeare draws from Holinshed's history of England, and one of Boccaccio's tales from the Decameron.
Shakespeare's Late Romance Plays
Late in Shakespeare's career, he turned to a new kind of storytelling in what has come to be known as his "Romance" plays: Cymbeline, Pericles, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest. Following his great tragedies, these plays offer a redemptive look at a world still plagued with troubles.
The earliest record of Cymbeline on stage appears in 1611. Since then, its history in performance has included a number of rewrites, including The Injured Princess or The Fatal Wager later in the seventeenth century and one entitled Cymbeline Refinished—by George Bernard Shaw.
Scholars, Authors and Artists on Shakespeare's Cymbeline
From Samuel Johnson and George Bernard Shaw to actor Roger Rees who played Posthumus at the RSC, people through the centuries have weighed in on Cymbeline—and with very different points of view.
A portal to the world of Shakespeare, these selected internet sites lead further into the exploration of Shakespeare in performance, his life and times, the original texts, and much more.