September 4 – November 25, 2012

In this magical, violent, and beguiling comedy, Imogen — Shakespeare’s brave and virtuous heroine — must endure a series of humiliating trials before all is set right through the astonishing revelations that end the play. Loved for its ravishingly beautiful language and enthralling storytelling, Cymbeline has long been a cult favorite in which Shakespeare forces his characters to take a leap of faith and, when they do, they and the audience discover that miracles can happen even when it seems that all is lost.

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Stuff that Happens
Stuff that Happens during the play
  • Under the influence of his Queen, King Cymbeline of Britain banishes his daughter Imogen’s husband, Posthumus Leonatus. After he and Imogen exchange vows of devotion and tokens of love, Posthumus flees to Rome.
  • Spurred on by his mother, the Queen, Cloten forcefully woos his stepsister, Imogen.
  • In Rome, Iachimo bets Posthumus that he can tempt Imogen into adultery. Iachimo departs for Britain.
  • Meanwhile, Caius Lucius, an ambassador from Rome, arrives at the British court and demands that Cymbeline pay a monetary tribute to Caesar. Cymbeline refuses; in response, Caius Lucius declares war between Rome and Britain.
  • Iachimo returns to Rome, having failed to seduce Imogen, but tells Posthumus otherwise, saying he would “make a journey twice as far, to enjoy a second night of such sweet shortness which was mine in Britain.” Posthumus, overtaken by jealousy, sends a letter to his servant, Pisanio, telling him to lure Imogen into the Welsh wilderness and kill her.
  • Imogen, thinking that Posthumus has secretly returned to Wales to meet her, disguises herself as a boy and sets off in pursuit of him with Pisanio. Cloten, in a stolen suit of Posthumus’s clothes, follows in pursuit of her.
  • In Wales, Cymbeline’s kidnapped sons, Guiderius and Arviragus (thought to be long dead), have been living with their abductor, Belarius. They are unaware of their noble birth or their right to Britian’s throne; they think Belarius is their father.
  • Imogen arrives in Wales, still disguised as a boy and assumes the name Fidele. She meets the Welshman and they welcome her like a brother into their cave home.
  • Cloten arrives in Wales, encounters Guiderius, and loses his head in a quarrel between them.
  • Imogen, who has taken a potion that the Queen gave to Pisanio, is thought by the Welshmen to be dead. They lay her next to the headless body of Cloten and struggle to recite a funeral dirge.
  • After the Welshmen depart, Imogen awakes to find Cloten’s body, which she mistakes for Posthumus’s. Caius Lucius and his men, on their way to a battle against the Britons, discover Imogen weeping over the corpse. Caius Lucius takes Imogen/Fidele as his page.
  • Posthumus returns to Britain with the Roman troops; but remorseful, he chooses to fight on the side of the British instead. He and Iachimo encounter each other in the battle and Iachimo confesses his lie. Posthumus defeats Iachimo in the fight, but does not kill him.
  • Britain wins the day against the Romans, due in large part to the fighting spirits of Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus.
  • Posthumus, imprisoned for being a Roman soldier, is visited in his sleep by the ghosts of his parents and his brothers; the Roman god, Jupiter, descends to help him.
  • Reunions, confessions, forgiveness, and things with rings ensue.
Notes from the Director
More than just a fairy tale

Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true

  • 1611: Cymbeline – performed at the Globe Theatre
  • 1978: “When You Wish Upon a Star” – covered by Gene Simmons of Kiss for his solo album when Kiss was the highest-grossing rock band in the world

In the early 1600’s, Shakespeare had grown remarkably successful as a playwright and member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later the King’s Men when James became their patron after ascending to the throne in 1603). By 1608-09, the King’s Men were operating both of their extremely lucrative theatres – the outdoor Globe and the indoor Blackfriars – and Shakespeare was at the height of his popularity, having already written his most famous comedies, tragedies, and histories. From this peak, Shakespeare launched what turned out to be the final phase of his writing career by creating several plays with some fairy-tale elements at their core. Cymbeline, Pericles, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest are now bundled as “Romances,” but each of them is its own unique experiment with different kinds of plots, subplots, flavors, and fairy-tales-gone-wild.

Cymbeline is a bunch of different things and that caues problems for those folks with an obsessive need to label, categorize, and file everything in quaint, separate genre boxes. It’s a fairy tale with an evil stepmother poisoning a princess. It’s listed in the first Folio as a tragedy. It’s a romantic drama with a thwarted love store, it’s a comic melodrama with some hairpin turns, it’s a “dramedy” without a canned laugh track. It’s also an action adventure that travels to exotic lands. It’s a history about a monarch’s lost children and the run up to a might war. And it’s about reunions, redemptions, some people dying, and some living happily ever after.

The cornucopia nature of the play containing so many different treats makes it fascinating, but difficult for modern directors who often think their job is to emphasize one element above all others in Shakespeare productions. The real magic of Cymbeline is how each intriguing, individual piece combines with the next to create a powerful fusion; overemphasizing any particular part of it throws the balance out of whack. What I love most about Shakespeare is how his plays are never “just” any one thing. Multiplicity and ambiguity are essential ingredientts to the alchemy that makes Shakespeare the greatest playwright ever. And while I think these ideas are the key to staging all of Shakespeare’s plays, they are even more important with Cymbeline.

Just as a heavy metal megalomaniac slipped out of his regular reptile skin to sing a lullaby about fairy tales and dreams in the late 1970s, like a bolt out of the blue, William Shakespeare did something similar during the late stretch of his career in which he penned Cymbeline. We hope to capture all of the multiple facets of this wondrous, enchanted gem Shakespeare gave us, not just the ones that glimmer like something out of Disney. If you join us, we think you’ll see and hear some pieces of your friends, families, co-workers, schoolmates, and yourself. It makes no difference who you are.

Jim Warren

ASC Co-founder and Artistic Director