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'THE Tragedie of Cymbeline' was first printed in the folio collection of 1623. The play is very carefully divided into acts and scenes-an arrangement which is sometimes wanting in other plays of the folio edition.
We have in previous chapters given extracts from "a book of plays and notes thereof, for common policy," kept by Dr. Symon Forman, in 1610 and 1611. notes, which were discovered and first printed by Mr. Collier, contain not only an account of some play of Richard II., at which the writer was present, but distinctly give the plots of Shakspere's 'Winter's Tale,' 'Macbeth,' and 'Cymbeline.' We shall take the liberty of reprinting from Mr. Collier's 'New Particulars' Forman's account of the plot of 'Cymbeline :'
"Remember, also, the story of Cymbeline, King of England, in Lucius' time: how Lucius came from Octavius Cæsar for tribute, and, being denied, after sent Lucius with a great army of soldiers, who landed at Milford Haven, and after were vanquished by Cymbeline, and Lucius taken prisoner, and all by means of three outlaws, of the which two of them were the sons of Cymbeline, stolen from him when they were but two years old, by an old man whom Cymbeline had banished; and he kept them as his own sons twenty years with him in a cave. And how one of them slew Cloten, that was the Queen's son, going to Milford Haven to seek the love of Imogen the King's daughter, whom he had banished also for loving his daughter.
"And how the Italian that came from her love conveyed himself in a chest, and said it was a chest of plate sent from her love and others to be presented to the King. And in the deepest of the night, she being asleep, he opened the chest and came forth of it, and viewed her in her bed, and the marks of her body, and took away her bracelet, and after accused her of adultery to her love, &c. And, in the end, how he came with the Romans into England, and was taken prisoner, and after revealed to Imogen, who had turned herself into man's
apparel, and fled to meet her love at Milford Haven; and chanced to fall on the cave in the woods where her two brothers were: and how
by eating a sleeping dram they thought she had been dead, and laid her in the woods, and the body of Cloten by her, in her love's apparel that he left behind him, and how she was found by Lucius," &c.
"This," Mr. Collier adds, "is curious; principally because it gives the impression of the plot upon the mind of the spectator, at about the time when the play was first produced.” can scarcely yield our implicit assent to this. Forman's note-book is evidence that the play existed in 1610 or 1611; but it is not evidence that it was first produced in 1610 or 1611. Mr. Collier, in his 'Annals of the Stage,' gives us the following entry from the books of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels :-"On Wednesday night the first of January, 1633, Cymbeline' was acted at Court by the King's players. Well liked by the King." Here is a proof that for more than twenty years after Forman saw it 'Cymbeline' was still acted, and still popular. By parity of reasoning it might have been acted, and might have been popular, before Forman saw it.
Coleridge, in his classification of 1819, places Cymbeline,' as he supposes it to have been originally produced, in the first epoch, to which he assigns 'Pericles:' "In the same epoch I place 'The Winter's Tale' and 'Cymbeline,' differing from the Pericles by the entire rifaccimento of it, when Shakspere's celebrity as poet, and his interest no less than his influence as manager, enabled him to bring forward the laid-by labours of his youth." Tieck, whilst he considers it “the last work of the great poet, which may have been written about 1614 or 1615," adds, "it is also not impossible that this varied-woven romantic history had inspired the poet in his youth to attempt it for the stage." Tieck assigns no reason for believing that the play
as we have received it is of so late a date | thrusting forward such a quantity of inci-
dents into the fifth act as to have rendered
The one is perfectly in keeping with all that precedes and all that follows; the other is | entirely out of harmony with its associations. "To fair Fidele's grassy tomb" is the dirge of Collins over Fidele; "Fear no more the heat o' the sun" is Fidele's proper funeral song by her bold brothers. It is this marvellous power of going out of himself that renders it so difficult to say that Shakspere is at any time inferior to himself. If it were not for this exercise of power, even in the smallest characters, we might think that Cloten was of the immature Shakspere. But then he has made Cloten his own, by one or two magical touches, so as to leave no doubt that, if he was at first a somewhat hasty sketch, he is now a finished portrait. "The snatches in his voice and burst of speaking" identify him as the "very Cloten" that none other but Shakspere could have painted.
"Mr. Pope," says Steevens, "supposed the story of this play to have been borrowed from a novel of Boccace; but he was mistaken, as an imitation of it is found in an old story-book entitled 'Westward for Smelts.'" This is unquestionably one of Steevens' random assertions. Malone has
printed the tale, and has expressed his opinion, in opposition to that of Steevens, that the general scheme of Cymbeline is founded on Boccaccio's novel (9th story of the second day of the Decameron). Mrs. Lennox has given, in her 'Shakspear Illustrated,' a paraphrase of Boccaccio's story; which she has mixed up with more irreverent impertinence towards Shakspere than can be perhaps found elsewhere in the English language, except in Dr. Johnson's judgment upon this play, which sounds very like "prisoner at the bar." It might have been supposed that the odour of Mrs. Lennox's criticisms upon Shakspere had been dissipated long before the close of the last century; but, nevertheless, Mr. Dunlop, in his 'History of Fiction,' published in 1816, makes the opinions of Mrs. Lennox his own: incidents of the novel have been very closely adhered to by Shakspere, but, as has been remarked by an acute and elegant critic (Mrs. Lennox), the scenes and characters have been most injudiciously altered, and the
manners of a tradesman's wife, and two intoxicated Italian merchants, have been bestowed on a great princess, a British hero, and a noble Roman." Mr. Dunlop, however, has given a neat abridgment of the tale; and in this matter it will be sufficient to refer the general reader to his work, and the Italian student to Boccaccio.
Shakspere found his historical materials in Holinshed; and he has adhered to them as far as is consistent with the progress of a romantic story.
Criticism, even of that school to which we now yield our obedience-the school which has cast off the shackles of the unities, and judges of the romantic drama by its own laws-has not looked very enthusiastically upon 'Cymbeline' as a dramatic whole. To the exquisite character of Imogen, taken apart, full justice has been done. Richardson, not often a very profound critic, has seized upon the leading points with great correctness, and has carried them out with elegance, if not with force. Nothing can be more just, for example, than this observation: "The sense of misfortune, rather than the sense of injury, rules the disposition of Imogen."* Mrs. Jameson, again, has analysed the character with her usual acuteness and delicacy of perception: "Others of Shakspere's characters are, as dramatic and poetic conceptions, more striking, more brilliant, more powerful; but of all his women, considered as individuals rather than as heroines, Imogen is the most perfect."+ But the relation of Imogen, as the centre of a dramatic circle, has scarcely, we think, been adequately pointed out. We pass over what Dr. Johnson says, in a tone of criticism which belongs as much to the age as to the man, about "the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct, the confusion of the names and manners of different times, and the impossibility of the events in any system of life." When Johnson wrote this, he reposed upon an implicit belief in his own canons of criticismthe opinions upon which Thomas Warton has explained his own depreciation of Ariosto and Spenser: "We, who live in the days of * Essays on Shakspeare's Dramatic Characters.' ↑ Characteristics of Women,' vol. ii. p. 50.
writing by rule, are apt to try every com- He goes on to say,-"Even that (the name position by those laws which we have been of 'Cymbeline') has its advantages in pretaught to think the sole criterion of ex- paring the audience for the chaos of time, cellence. Critical taste is universally diffused, place, and costume, by throwing the date and we require the same order and design | back into a fabulous king's reign." We do which every modern performance is expected not understand that Coleridge meant to say to have, in poems where they never were that the play of 'Cymbeline' had neither regarded or intended." Warton was a man co-ordination of characters nor a prominent of too high taste not in some degree to object; but we do apprehend that the name despise this "criterion of excellence;" but was symbolical, in his belief, of the main he did not dare to avow the heresy in his features of the play-the chaos of time, own day. We have outlived all this. The place, and costume. For he proceeds, im"critical taste" to which Warton alludes mediately, to remark, in reference to the belongs only to the history of criticism. judgment displayed by our truly dramatic But, even amongst those upon whom we have poet in the management of his first scenes, been accustomed to rely as infallible guides, "With the single exception of Cymbeline,' it does appear to us that 'Cymbeline' has they place before us at one glance both the been, in some degree, considered a departure past and the future in some effect, which from the great law of unity-not of time, implies the continuance and full agency of nor of place, but of feeling-which Shakspere its cause.' ""* We venture to believe that has unquestionably prescribed to himself. Cymbeline' does not form an exception to Neither Tieck nor Schlegel, according to the usual course pursued by Shakspere in their usual custom, attempt to show that any the management of his first scenes; and predominant idea runs through 'Cymbeline.' that the first scenes of 'Cymbeline' do place They each speak of it as a succession of before us the past and the future in a way splendid scenes, and high poetry; and, in- which we think very strikingly discloses what deed, it cannot be denied that these attri- he intended to be the leading idea of his butes of this drama most forcibly seize upon drama. the mind, somewhat, perhaps, to the exclusion of its real action. We venture to express our opinion that one predominant idea does exist; although Coleridge, even more distinctly than the German critics, if we apprehend him rightly, inferred the contrary:—“In the Twelfth Night,' Midsummer Night's Dream,' 'As You Like It,' and 'Winter's Tale,' the total effect is produced by a co-ordination of the characters as in a wreath of flowers. But in 'Coriolanus,' 'Lear,'' Romeo and Juliet,' 'Hamlet,' 'Othello,' &c., the effect arises from the subordination of all to one, either as the prominent person, or the principal object." Coleridge is speaking of the great significancy of the names of Shakspere's plays. The consonancy of the names with the leading ideas of each drama is exemplified in this passage. He then adds-"Cymbeline' is the only exception;" that is, the name of 'Cymbeline' neither expresses the co-ordination of the characters, nor the principal object.
The dialogue of the "two Gentlemen" in the opening scene makes us perfectly acquainted with the relations in which Posthumus and Imogen stand to each other, and to those around them. "She's wedded, her husband banish'd." We have next the character of the banished husband, and of the unworthy suitor who is the cause of his banishment; as well as the story of the king's two lost sons. This is essentially the foundation of the past and future of the action. Brief indeed is this scene, but it well prepares us for the parting of Posthumus and Imogen. The course of their affections is turned awry by the wills of others. The angry king at once proclaims himself to us as one not cruel, but weak; he has before been described as "touch'd at very heart." It is only in the intensity of her affection for Posthumus that Imogen opposes her own will to the impatient violence of her father, and the more crafty decision of her step*Literary Remains,' vol. ii. p. 207.
mother. But she is surrounded with a third evil,
"A father cruel, and a step-dame false,
A foolish suitor to a wedded lady." Worse, however, even than these, her honour is to be assailed, her character vilified, by a subtle stranger; who, perhaps more in sport than in malice, has resolved to win a paltry wager by the sacrifice of her happiness and that of her husband. What has she to oppose to all this complication of violence and cunning? Her perfect purity—her entire simplicity-her freedom from everything that is selfish-the strength only of her affections. The scene between Iachimo and Imogen is a contest of innocence with guile, most profoundly affecting, in spite of the few coarsenesses that were perhaps unavoidable, and which were not considered offensive in Shakspere's day. The supreme beauty of Imogen's character soars triumphantly out of the impure mist which is around her; and not the least part of that beauty is her ready forgiveness of her assailant, briefly and flutteringly expressed, however, when he relies upon the possibility of deceiving her through her affections:
This is the First Act; and, if we mistake not the object of Shakspere, these opening scenes exhibit one of the most confiding and gentle of human beings, assailed on every side by a determination of purpose, whether in the shape of violence, wickedness, or folly, against which, under ordinary circumstances, innocence may be supposed to be an insufficient shield. But the very helplessness of Imogen is her protection. In the exquisite Second Scene of the Second Act, the perfect purity of Imogen, as interpreted by Shakspere, has converted what would have been a most dangerous situation in the hands of another poet-Fletcher, for example-into one of the most refined delicacy:
""T is her breathing that Perfumes the chamber thus."
The immediate danger is passed; but there is a new danger approaching. The will of her unhappy husband, deceived into madness, is to be added to the evils which she has
already received from violence and selfishness. Posthumus, intending to destroy her, writes, "Take notice that I am in Cambria, at Milford-Haven; what your own love will out of this advise you, follow." She does follow her own love;-she has no other guide but the strength of her affections; that strength makes her hardy and fearless of consequences. It is the one duty, as well as the one pleasure, of her existence. How is that affection requited? Pisanio places in her hand, when they have reached the deepest solitude of the mountains, that letter by which he is commanded to take away her life. One passing thought of herself—one faint reproach of her husband,—and she submits to the fate which is prepared for
"Come, fellow, be thou honest:
Do thou thy master's bidding: When thou see'st him,
A little witness my obedience: Look! I draw the sword myself: take it; and hit The innocent mansion of my love, my heart." But her truth and innocence have already subdued the will of the sworn servant of her husband. He comforts her, but he necessarily leaves her in the wilderness. The spells of evil wills are still around her:
"My noble mistress,
Here is a box: I had it from the queen."
Perhaps there is nothing in Shakspere more beautifully managed,-more touching in its romance, more essentially true to nature,— than the scene between Imogen and her unknown brothers. The gentleness, the grace, the "grief and patience," of the helpless Fidele, producing at once the deepest reverence and affection in the bold and daring mountaineers, still carry forward the character of Imogen under the same aspects. Belarius has beautifully described the brothers:
"They are as gentle
As zephyrs, blowing below the violet,