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CYMBELINE

Edited Dr. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine   One of Shakespeare's later plays and initially considered a rather lowly example of his work, Cymbeline was disregarded as poorly-conceived 'folly' by such eminent critics as Dr. Johnson. However, in the nineteenth century the play received praise and fondness and it is now fairly highly thought of, partially since it is now not seen as a tragedy but rather a 'romance' and it therefore fits in with The Tempest, Pericles and The Winter's Tale rather than being a poor relation of Coriolanus or Hamlet. It is likely to have been written 1609/10 and was first published in the First Folio of 1623. Its main sources are Holinshed for the English history, Boccaccio for the love story and A Mirror for Magistrates. The story concerns Imogen, the daughter of Cymbeline, King of Britain. Imogen has married Leonatus Posthumus secretly but the girl's stepmother - the queen - reveals this to the king and he banishes Posthumus. The queen's purpose is to bring together her ridiculous son Cloten with Imogen. Yet, Posthumus's certainty about Imogen's fidelity to him is such that in Rome he begins a wager with the Italian Iachimo over a diamond ring she has given him. After a grand deception on the part of the unsuccessful seducer Iachimo, Posthumus orders Imogen's death. Imogen, disguised as Fidele escapes the fatal punishment of Posthumus's jealousy only to be caught up in new disasters among the battles of the Britons and the Roman army. Eventually the truth is revealed and all is resolved but only after much pleading and mistaken identity. Virginia Woolf borrowed the dirge "Fear no more the heat of the sun" as a key theme of her novel Mrs Dalloway. Cymbeline is seen by some as a typical late-Shakespeare reconciliation play with the elements of a steadily darkening plot that involves murder before matters are straightened out to the benefit of all, as in The Winter's Tale and The Tempest.

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