« PreviousContinue »
'THE Tragedie of Cymbeline' was first printed in the folio collection of 1623. The play is very carefully divided into acts and scenes-an arrangement which is sometimes wanting in other plays of this edition. Printed as 'Cymbeline' must have been from a manuscript, the text, although sometimes difficult, presents few examples of absolute error.
In Cymbeline,' we are thrown back into the halffabulous history of our own country, and see all objects under the dim light of uncertain events and manners. We have civilisation contending with semi-barbarism; the gorgeous worship of the Pagan world subduing to itself the more simple worship of the Druidical times; kings and courtiers surrounded with the splendour of "barbaric pearl and gold ;" and, even in those days of simplicity, a wilder and a simpler life, amidst the fastnesses of mountains, and the solitude of caves-the hunters' life, who "have seen nothing," but who yet, in their natural piety, know "how to adore the heavens." If these attributes of the drama had been less absorbing, we perhaps might have more readily seen the real course of the dramatic action. We venture to express our opinion, that one predominant idea does exist.
The dialogue of the "two Gentlemen" in the opening scene makes us perfectly acquainted with the relations in which Posthumus and Imogen stand to each other, and to those around them. "She 's wedded, her husband banish'd." We have next the character of
the banished husband, and of the unworthy suitor who is the cause of his banishment; as well as the story of the king's two lost sons. This is essentially the foundation of the past and future of the action. Brief indeed is this scene, but it well prepares us for the parting of Posthumus and Imogen. The course of their affections is turned awry by the wills of others. The angry king at once proclaims himself to us as one not cruel, but weak; he has before been described as "touch'd at very heart." It is only in the intensity of her affection for Posthumus that Imogen opposes her own will to the impatient violence of her father, and the more crafty decision of her step-mother. But she is surrounded with a third evil,
"A father cruel, and a step-dame false,
A foolish suitor to a wedded lady."
Worse, however, even than these, her honour is to be assailed, her character vilified, by a subtle stranger; who, perhaps more in sport than in malice, has resolved to win a paltry wager by the sacrifice of her happiness and that of her husband. What has she to oppose to all this complication of violence and cunning? Her perfect purity-her entire simplicity-her freedom from everything that is selfish the strength only of her affections. The scene between Iachimo and Imogen is a contest of innocence with guile, most profoundly affecting, in spite of the few coarsenesses that were perhaps unavoidable, and which were not considered offensive in Shakspere's day.
This is the First Act; and, if we mistake not the object of Shakspere, these opening scenes exhibit one of the most confiding and gentle of human beings, assailed