The Tragedy of Cymbeline
Though entitled The Tragedy of Cymbeline, it ends not with mutiple deaths but with family reunion and political reconciliation. ‘Pardon’s the word to all’ as revelations pile in upon one another, each of them ‘a mark of wonder’, while a nation is restored to peace: the play could equally well have been classed as a comedy or a British history. The stylistic experimentation almost serves as an ironic epilogue to the Folio’s tripartite division into comedies, histories and tragedies: tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, Cymbeline would have been Polonius’ favourite work in the canon. Furthermore, in a manner analogous to the wittily extreme variations on classical motifs in Baroque art, both the narrative arc and the characterization revisit and revise, in a highly self-conscious manner, an array of favourite Shakespeare motifs: the cross-dressed heroine, the move from court to country, obsessive sexual jealousy, malicious machiavellian plotting, the interrogation of Roman values.
The Tragedy of 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.