Myth, Emblem, and Music in Shakespeare's Cymbeline: An Iconographic Reconstruction
Winner of the University of Delaware Press Award for the best manuscript in Shakespearean Studies, this study clarifies and revitalizes Shakespeare's Cymbeline for the modern reader through a rediscovery of the poet's artistic use of Renaissance myths, symbols, and emblematic topoi that give meaning to the play. Although mainly concerned with the rich classical and Christian iconography of Cymbeline, the book also rages widely over Shakespeare's dramatic and nondramatic works and beyond to the work of his contemporaries in Renaissance poetry, drama, art, theology, philosophy, emblems, and myths to show parallels between the mysteries of this tragicomedy and other examples of Renaissance thought and expression. It uncovers actual representations in the visual arts of parallels to the play's descriptive and theatrical moments. These iconographic parallels are lavishly illustrated in the book through photographs of Renaissance plaster work, embroidery, metalwork, oil paintings, and sculpture, but primarily through woodcuts and engravings from English and Continental emblem books of the period. The visual imagery is carefully related to an intellectual explanation of Cymbeline's complex Neoplatonic and Reformation themes.
The author begins with a extended definition of the genre of Renaissance tragicomedy, a form developed for Christian artistic purposes in Italy by Tasso and Guarini. Aside from the obviously similar characteristics of a happy ending and the presence of an oracle, Cymbeline shares nine other artistic aspects with the pioneer Italian tragicomedies Aminta and Il pastor fido, including the celebration of an Orphic ritual of death and resurrection. After a discussion of the Neoplatonic and Ovidian mythology embedded in the play, the book considers in detail the iconography of Imogen's elaborately decorated bedroom as a reconciliation of opposites, the iconography of primitivism and Wild Men versus courtier as a satire of the British court, and the iconography of birds, animals, vegetation, and minerals as evocative of the major themes of doubt, repentance, reformation, reunion, and regeneration in Cymbeline. The final objective of the dramatic conflict is mutual forgiveness and a happy marriage, all of which is achieved through temperance or the attainment of musical concord within the individual, the state, and the world. Although Shakespeare shows the five senses to be an inadequate means for his characters to recognize true virtue in a deceitful world, the sense of hearing is the most important in the play, since it allows participation in the four redemptive functions of sound, which ultimately leads to psychological harmony with the music of the spheres.
Simonds also demonstrates that because Cymbeline is essentially an Orphic tragicomedy designed to liberate the audience from melancholy, the play strives to bring delight through its theatrical reenactment of the initially painful Platonic journey from Eros to Anteros, from blindness to a vision of divinity, from discord to musical harmony, from spiritual confusion to joyful enlightenment.
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Page 3 - This play has many just sentiments, some natural dialogues, and some pleasing scenes, but they are obtained at the expence of much incongruity. To remark the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct, the confusion of the names, and manners of different times, and the impossibility of the events in any system of life...