Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What I'm reading right now . . .

This week I decided to get back into reading (instead of watching TV and movies on DVD most of the time). I used to read a lot but over the past few years I've found that when I got home from a day of teaching in Korea I wanted mindless and escapist forms of entertainment. Sometimes reading is good for that, but often if you're tired watching something is a lot easier to do.

Anyways,I've missed reading literature, so I picked up my Riverside Shakespeare and started flipping through the table of contents . . .

I noticed a play I hadn't read during the insanity that was my Shakespeare course in university (we read one play each week--on top of all of my other reading) called, Cymbeline.

From wikipedia.com,

"Cymbeline is a play by William Shakespeare, based on an early Celtic British King. Although listed as a tragedy in the First Folio, modern critics often classify it as a romance. Like Othello, Measure for Measure, and The Winter's Tale, it deals with the themes of innocence and jealousy. While its date of composition is unknown, the play is known to have been produced as early as 1611."

The introductory essay to the play actually says it's also considered a 'tragicomedy' . . . anyways . . .

Synopsis (from wikipedia.com)

Posthumus, a man of low birth but exceeding personal merit, has secretly married his childhood friend Imogen, daughter of King Cymbeline. Cymbeline, upon finding out, banishes Posthumus from the kingdom. His faithful servant Pisanio, however, remains.

Postumus and Imogen

Iachimo (or "Little Iago"), a soldier in the Roman army, makes a bet with Posthumus that he can tempt Imogen to commit adultery. Iachimo sneaks into her bedchamber and examines her while she sleeps. Then he tells Posthumus he has won the bet, offering as proof details of Imogen's bedchamber and naked body. Posthumus orders his faithful servant Pisanio to murder the falsely besmirched Imogen. Pisanio warns her instead, then helps her fake her death (as Hero does in Much Ado About Nothing), helps her to disguise herself as a boy (as do Rosalind, Portia and Viola, in As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice, and Twelfth Night, respectively), and sends her to Milford Haven on the West Coast of Britain. There she befriends "Polydore" and "Cadwell," who, unbeknownst to her, are really Guiderius and Arviragus, her own brothers.

Twenty years before the action of the play, two British noblemen swore false oaths charging that Belarius had conspired with the ancient Romans, which led Cymbeline to banish him. Belarius kidnapped Cymbeline's young sons in retaliation, to hinder him from having heirs to the throne. The sons were raised by the nurse Euriphile, whom they called mother and took her for such.

Imogen Discovered in the Cave of Belarius

At the play's resolution, virtually the entire cast comes forth one at a time to add a piece to the puzzle. Cornelius, the court doctor, arrives to dazzle everyone with news that the Queen, Imogen's stepmother, is dead, reporting that with her last breath she confessed her wicked deeds: she never loved old Cymbeline, she unsuccessfully attempted to have Imogen poisoned by Pisanio (without Pisanio's knowledge), and she was ambitious to poison Cymbeline so Cloten, her own son, could assume the throne.

Cymbeline concludes with an oration to the gods, declares peace and friendship between Britain and Rome, and great feasting in Lud's Town (London), concluding "Never was a war did cease, / Ere bloody hands were washed, with such a peace."

The play is not a bad read, and I like some of the characters. I'm not sure why the wikipedia entry differs on character names. For example, Imogen is spelled INNOGEN in my text, and Iachimo is GIACOMO . . .

Giacomo reminds me a lot of Iago from "Othello," though he doesn't have the same oily smooth tongue and wit. I also like Innogen's fiery spirit though it seems to fade as the play goes on . . . which is, apparently, part and parcel of the play's recoding of British nationalism and its New Man and masculinity codes . . .

I find it interesting that Pisanio (Posthumus' servant) seems to have one of the more significant roles . . . especially considering that one of the play's primary goals is to re-write British nationalism and masculinity in relation to its history and connections to Rome, etc.

I'll write more as I get further into the play. Right now I'm only into the middle of Act II.


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