|Hark, hark, the lark at heaven's gate sings,|
And Phoebus gins arise
Act 2, scene 3, lines 20–21
Fear no more the heat o' th' sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages
Act 4, scene 2, lines 331–332
Cymbeline tells the story of a British king, Cymbeline, and his three children, presented as though they are in a fairy tale. The secret marriage of Cymbeline's daughter, Imogen, triggers much of the action, which includes villainous slander, homicidal jealousy, cross-gender disguise, a deathlike trance, and the appearance of Jupiter in a vision.
Kidnapped in infancy, Cymbeline's two sons are raised in a Welsh cave. As young men, they rescue a starving stranger (Imogen in disguise); kill Cymbeline’s stepson; and fight with almost superhuman valor against the Roman army. The king, meanwhile, takes on a Roman invasion rather than pay a tribute. He too is a familiar figure—a father who loses his children and miraculously finds them years later; a king who defeats an army and grants pardon to all.
Cymbeline displays unusually powerful emotions with a tremendous charge. Like some of Shakespeare's other late work—especially The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest—it is an improbable story lifted into a nearly mythic realm.
Shakespeare is thought to have written Cymbeline in 1609–10; an observer saw it performed in 1611. The play was published in the 1623 First Folio. Sources for Cymbeline include Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles (1587), The Mirror for Magistrates, Boccaccio’s Decameron, and The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune.
Adapted from the Folger Library Shakespeare edition, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 2003 Folger Shakespeare Library
Richard Danson Brown and David Johnson. Shakespeare 1609: Cymbeline and the Sonnets. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.
Ros King. Cymbeline: Constructions of Britain. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005.
Jodi Mikalachki. The Legacy of Boadicea: Gender and Nation in Early Modern England. London; New York: Routledge, 1998.
Jennifer Richards and James Knowles, ed. Shakespeare's Late Plays: New Readings. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.
Shakespeare. Cymbeline. Scenery, for the play of Cymbeline. As acted, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Seasons, 1843-4
Inside the Collection
Folios from the Collection: Cymbeline
UNIT: Using Music to Explore Shakespeare's Plays
Lesson Plan: Enter the Evil Stepmother (and Subtext!)
Lesson Plan: Romans in Britain, or Classical Colonialism