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CYMBELINE, king of Britain.
sons to Cymbeline, disguised under the names
of Polydore and Cadwal, supposed sons to ARVIRAGUS, Morgan.
Queen, wife to Cymbeline.
Dutchman, a Spaniard, Musicians, Officers, Captains,
SCENE: Britain; Rome.
Dramatis Persone. This was first added by Rowe.
Posthumus. This is regularly accented Posthumus.
CYMBELINE was first printed in the Folio of 1623, where it occurs as the last of the ‘Tragedies,' closing the volume. The acts and scenes are marked, but there is no list of the persons. The drama seems from the first to have fallen into a relative neglect, from which, in spite of the incomparable charm of certain portions, it has never decisively emerged. It was not, like the kindred Tempest and Winter's Tale, performed at the royal wedding festivities of 1613. With the exception of a single court performance in 1633, there is hardly one recorded allusion to it before the Restoration, and it survived that event only to become the subject of an infamous travesty by Thomas Huffey, who (less scrupulous than Iachimo) dared to sully the purity of Imogen. In our own century it has captivated readers rather than audiences. Its beautiful extravagance commended it to the Romantic school, and it helped to furnish forth the plot of Coleridge's Zapolya (1817).
The downward limit of the composition of Cymbeline is fixed with approximate certainty by the record of a performance of it at the Globe in Dr. Simon Forman's Book of Plaies and Notes thereof for common Policie. The half-dozen manuscript pages thus ambitiously entitled contain, as
has been previously noticed, epitomes of three Shakespearean dramas witnessed by him. The performance of Cymbeline is not dated, but the others all fall in 1610-11, and there is little doubt that the diary was begun, as well as ended, in these few months, the last of his life. He died in August 1611. Cymbeline was probably a new play when Forman
All the remaining evidence either confirms, or is consistent with, this view. Fletcher's beautiful Philaster betrays the impression made upon him by this the most Fletcherian of Shakespeare's plays in numerous detailed touches, and particularly in the character and fortunes of the maiden page, Euphrasia ; but it cannot be shown to be earlier than 1610-II. Malone characteristically held that Cymbeline must have been contemporary with Lear and Macbeth on the ground that all three are founded on Holinshed ; and Mr. Fleay has applied this argument, with little mitigation of its nakedness, to prove that the quasihistorical portion was written in 1606, some three years before it was turned to account as a framework for the Romance of Imogen. The answer to this is, that the story of Cymbeline's wars with Rome might serve to furnish forth a History or the background of a romantic comedy, but is entirely devoid of the elements of tragic conflict. To suppose even this portion of the play to be contemporary with Macbeth and Lear is to save the continuity of Shakespeare's reading at the cost of the continuity of his art.
Several striking parallels of expression, it is true, connect Cymbeline with Macbeth ; but these happen to occur not in the political portion, but in the romance--in the bed-chamber scene, where the sleep betrayed by Iachimo might naturally call up reminiscences of the equally 'innocent’sleep 'murder'd'