“Cymbeline,” from The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, by W. Shakespeare

Cymbeline is a bit of an odd duck when it comes to stories about royalty, war, family, and marriage. I felt a lot like I was reading the first draft of several Disney fairy tale scripts, and/or a recycled mish-mash of Shakespeare’s own earlier plays regarding fantasy and coincidence.

There are some visuals in this one I’d love to see portrayed on the stage, because the characters and their actions are so bizarre. There are elements of Snow White and Cinderella in this play and I couldn’t help snickering, but then there are other things, like a lovely lady waking up to find a decapitated corpse next to her, that make me wonder.

But I’m jumping the gun a bit here.

Cymbeline is a tale full of implausibilities, coincidences, death and near-death experiences, and a very complicated family and class structure. Cymbeline’s not the central character in that we get much of who he is and what he wants, though his every action makes things happen in the play (things which are brought to light and interestingly–read: farfetchedly–resolved).

Cymbeline has a daughter named Innogen (often mistaken as Imogen) and stepson, Cloten, by his second Queen. The Queen is not much different from any jealous Disney wicked ladies, so you can guess what she’s like. She wants Innogen to marry Cloten to make their family closer together, and she’s got her hooks deep in the king. But Cloten’s a brute and dullard, and Innogen has already married a worthy young man of lower birth named Posthumus. As such, Cymbeline banishes him, but the couple tries to keep together with letters. The Queen acts as a friend to the both of them, but basically ensured the Queen would discover the marriage in the first place, and even went so far as to make Imogen a “medicinal draught” to help any ailment (which was meant to kill her).

Of course, with such a long distance relationship, and general mischief-makers abounding who can intercept such slow communications…crap happens.

There’s a disreputable Italian named Giacomo who has bet with Posthumous that Innogen is as disreputable and false as any other woman, and goes to England to prove it and bring back the proof. Posthumous loves her, but is naive and too trusting in those he shouldn’t. When there’s some apparent proof, he goes so far as to call for her death.

Yeah, yeah, yeah…we’ve seen a lot of this rom-com “mistake” before, but it’s in what happens after that’s so interesting. Innogen reads about Posthumous’ criticism and isn’t just going to wait til her father marries her to her moronic stepbrother, so she uses Pisanio, her husband’s loyal servant, to help her leave and find Posthumous.

The adventure leads to a lot of that odd, far-fetchedness and coincidence, and also most of the “Snow White” elements. There’s so much here I’d end up giving the whole story away, so I’d rather not keep going. Shakespeare does stretch as far as he can to make the story elements go way out there and then snap back together into a relatively cohesive, happy ending.

That’s about all I can say about that. I’m not too sure how much I liked this one. I’m always a bit annoyed at how easily these men are fooled into thinking their lovers or wives are unfaithful in such a short time. Granted, they may have married quickly and are still getting to know each other, but sheesh–just happens as a plot device so often no wonder rom-coms follow the same formula.

I could give this one another go, because there’s so much in it I’m sure I missed something the first time.

Though the odd “waking up to a dead body” scene would be interesting to see on stage (or even in rehearsals)!

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