THE LAST PLAYS: PART 3
let's consider our main objective here: is this play written after the death of de
Vere in 1604? I've relied on the Warwick edition of Shakespeare, edited by Alfred
J. Wyatt M.A., director of modern language studies, Jesus College, Cambridge,
published by Blackie & Sons, 1964. We'll refer to him as AJW. and give only
excerpts from his Introduction.
1. DATE, HISTORY AND BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE PLAY
The First Folio of 1623, the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays ...
contained thirty-six of the thirty-seven plays now usually associated with
Shakespeare's name- Pericles was not included until the Third Folio of 1664- one
half of which had previously appeared as single plays in 'quarto' editions. the other
eighteen being then published for the first time. Among the latter was Cymbeline,
the last of the 'tragedies', and the last play in the book.
Date of Composition.- It is not possible to fix the date of composition of this play
with certainty. The items of external and external-internal evidence are four in
(a) Dr. Simon Forman, the astrologer, in his M.S 'book of plays, and notes thereof',
has under the year 1611, but undated, a brief sketch of the plot of 'Cimbalin King
of England', which was Shakespeare's play. Forman died in September of that
year, and his diary, which also contains dated descriptions of Macbeth and
Winter's Tale, belongs to the years 1610-11. It is not improbable that, when
Forman saw it, Cymbeline was a new play.
This is mere guesswork. Even if it was 'a new play' what is meant by that is it was
newly staged. It tells us nothing about when the play was actually written.
(b) The suggestion for the character of Euphrasia in Beaumont and Fletcher's
Philaster was apparently taken from Imogen. Moreover, compare these two
I hear the tread of people. I am hurt:
The gods take part against me: could this boor
Have held me thus else?
...I have belied a lady,
The princess of this country, and the air on't
Revengingly enfeebles me; or could this carl,
A very drudge of nature's, have subdued me
In my profession?
Philaster is dated 1608-1611; 1611 would then be the downward limit for
This 'evidence' seems to me not to be evidence at all. I don't see any connection
here, and any similarity is too remote to be 'evidence' of any value. I suggest that
if there is a relationship between these two quotations it's more likely that both
merely reflect some common saying of the time.
(c) The main plot of the play is derived from the ninth 'novel' of the second day in
Boccaccio's Decamerone. From the same source Shakespeare took part of a
speech of Autolycus in Winter's Tale, as will be manifest to anyone who compares
these two passages following:
He has a son, who shall be flayed alive; then 'nointed over with honey, set on the
head of a wasp's nest; then stand til he be three quarters and a dram dead; then
recovered again with aqua-vitae or some other hot infusion; then, raw as he is,
and in the hottest day prognostication proclaims, shall he be set against a
brick-wall, the sun looking with a southward eye upon him, where he is to behold
him with flies blown to death.
Winter's Tale, 4.4 812-821.
But as for Ambrogiuolo, the very same day that he was impaled on a stake,
anointed with honey, and fixed in the place appointed to his no mean torment, he
not only died, but likewise was devoured to the bare bones by flies, wasps, and
hornets, whereof the country notoriously aboundeth.
The date of the Winter's Tale is 1610-11, and it is inferred that Cymbeline
preceded it by no long interval.
We have no problem with the statement that the main plot of the play comes from
Boccaccio. But then a firm date is given for The Winter's Tale - which we will
investigate in the next chapter, - and 'it is inferred that Cymbeline preceded it by
no long interval.' Once again there seems to be scholarly confusion between
dates of publishing and dates of performance on the one hand, and dates of
completed composition on the other. The unspoken assumption by scholars is
that as soon as a play was completed it was put out for performance, because the
man from Stratford on Avon would give it to the Globe Theatre right away as he
needed the income and was an actor and investor there. But we have proved that
to be quite wrong. The author was a nobleman. His plays appeared at Court and
were often surreptitiously passed on to printers by actors, using what they
remembered from their performance at Court. These actors were the ones
needing the money and partly the reason so many earlier plays came into print as
anonymous. Eventually the nobleman put a stop to this trafficking by using a 'pen
name' and becoming involved directly through leasing his own theatre and/or
through assistants skilled in the business of playwrighting and directing public
performances. Some plays for personal reasons the author deemed inappropriate
for general public viewing, and others were left incomplete, but even a few of
these were passed on to printers by his widow after his death. We have found
that the nobleman who best fits this scenario is Edward de Vere, to whom it
(d) From the allusion to the story of Antony and Cleopatra in 2.4. 69-72:
... the story
Proud Cleopatra, when she met her Roman,
And Cydnus swell'd above the banks, or for
The press of boats or pride
and to the Troy legend in 4.2.252,253:
Thersites' body is as good as Ajax,
When neither are alive;
it has been supposed that Cymbeline comes after Antony and Cleopatra and
Troilus and Cressida, that is, after 1607.
If the foregoing evidence be valid, the limits of date are 1607 and 1611, and
between these two years the composition of the play has been held to fall.
Malone conjectured that, inasmuch as Shakespeare drew material from the same
parts of Holinshed's Chronicles for Lear, Macbeth , and Cymbeline, these three
plays were written about the same time....Mr. Fleay postulates a double date for
the play- part written in 1606-7, the remainder about 1610...the hypothesis of a
double date, which would require very strong evidence, is far from being proved
at the present time. It is more satisfactory to turn to the internal evidence, which
will be found to point unmistakably towards the later date.
Cymbeline, the Tempest, and The Winter's Tale (with Pericles) form a small group
with marked points of resemblance. They have been well christened 'romances'.
There is a romantic element about these plays. In all there is the same romantic
incident of lost children, recovered by those to whom they are dear - the daughters
of Pericles and Leontes, the sons of Cymbeline and Alonso. In all there is a
beautiful romantic background of sea or mountain. They all deal with divided and
reunited families, with a background composed largely of country scenes. ... Not
less marked are the resemblances in style, language, - often outpaced by the
thought - metre. There are laxities in the dramatic contraction of Cymbeline...
which place it without doubt among the author's latest plays.
It may be that Cymbeline was written as a play after Antony and Cleopatra and
after Troilus and Cressida. First, this is only a supposition. And next, even if
provable as correct, and it is not presently provable, again it gives us only a
sequence of composition. It hangs one date on the others on the unsupported
assumption that the 'dating' of composition of the two 'earlier' plays is firm, but in
reality they are equally unproven.
There is nothing in any of this to identify when any of these plays were actually
written. At best we have a possible approximate sequence of composition, but no
firm dated evidence so far on which to peg any of it. AJW himself seems skeptical.
He ends 'if the foregoing evidence be valid,' which implies that he has his doubts.
The metrical evidence of date is threefold:
(a) The proportion of unstopped to end-stopped lines in his verse increases
steadily throughout Shakespeare's dramatic life. ...
Love's Labour's Lost 1 in 18.14
Cymbeline 1 in 2.52
The Tempest 1 in 3.02
The Winter's Tale 1 in 2.12
(b) the number of eleven-syllabled lines, lines with double or feminine endings,
increases in like manner with the lateness of Shakespeare's work.
In Love's Labour's Lost 4% of the total
Winter's Tale 31.09%
The Tempest 33%
(c) weak endings, or decasyllabic lines ending in unemphatic words such as
pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, are not found in the earlier plays; in the later
plays, beginning with Macbeth, they increase in number almost continuously.
Cymbeline 4.83 of the whole
Winter's Tale 5.59
It is not correct to call this 'evidence of date.'
This information is consistent in placing chronological order of composition as
Cymbeline between the other two plays. Despite this 'metrical evidence' to the
contrary, AJW dates Cymbeline first of the three, as follows:
... Thus it will be seen that the metrical unites with the other internal evidence in
bringing these three plays of Cymbeline, The Tempest, and The Winter's Tale
closely together in date of composition. If the last belongs to 1610-1611, and The
Tempest to 1610, as is almost certain, we cannot be far wrong in dating
We have no problem with the statement that Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and
The Tempest show similarities in metrical evidence and in plot. Then it is said that
the dating of The Tempest to 1610 is 'almost certain' and therefore Cymbeline is
dated in close proximity. This means that scholars are claiming that these three
plays were not just performed - as none of them was published as far as is known
before 1623 - but were actually written between 1609 and 1611.
In conclusion, no factual evidence to support any date for Cymbeline has been
provided. We can say that there is a linking of it with the dating for The Tempest
which is 'almost certain.' We'll investigate dating for that play in the next but one
chapter, and if we accept what AJW is telling us, then the dating for both
Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale will depend on the factual evidence for dating
There is little of importance in the subsequent history of the play. We know from
the Office-book of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels, that it was acted at
Court in January, 1633, and was 'well liked by the king.'
The sources of Cymbeline are twofold- one simple, the other more complicated.
The main plot of the play is a mediaeval fiction, the setting is early British history.
This historical framework, such as it is, Shakespeare took from Holinshed's
Chronicles. It consists chiefly of a few names, especially those of Cymbeline and
his sons... of a few allusions, as, for instance, to Mulmutius and his laws; and of
the incident of a handful of men staying the flight of an army and turning defeat
into victory, which Shakespeare, as was his wont, took from quite another part of
Holinshed. The Queen, Cloten (all but the name), the life of the Court, Belarius
and his theft and its consequences, are not in Holinshed, and no other source has
been found for them.
The story of the wager, out of which Shakespeare constructed his main plot, is
known to us, intact in all its essentials, in at least six different forms. They are
1, A French Miracle play, entitled Un Miracle de Nostre-Dame, probably of the
2. A French poetical 'Roman de la Violette' of the same century, by Gilbert de
3. Another poetical French romance of the 13th century, 'Le Compte de Poitiers'
4. The ninth 'novel' of the second day in Boccaccio's Decamerone, which first
appeared complete in English in 1620, but the dedicatory epistle of that edition
states that many of Boccaccio's novels had been translated into English long
5, The tale of the fish-wife of Stand on the Green ...in Westward for Smelts
...which Malone dated 1603, but of which no edition earlier than 1620 is known;
and the entry in the registers of the Stationers' Company confirms the later date
6. 'Frederick of Jennen' which Steevens describes as 'an ancient translation, or
rather a deformed and interpolated imitation, of the ninth novel of the second day
of the Decameron.'...printed in Antwerp in 1518.
In all these the plot is essentially the same: the wager, the repulse of the villain,
the husband's attempted revenge, the wife's escape, the discovery of the fraud,
the happy reconciliation of husband and wife, and the punishment of the criminal.
...(1) the miracle play, (4) the Decamerone tale, and (5) that in Westward for
Smelts, stand out from the rest. It seems to me impossible to decide whether
Shakespeare went direct to the Italian original, or borrowed from an English
translation or close adaptation now lost; but that he drew material from the one or
the other, I consider there is no room to doubt. The only other known source that
can compete with the Decamerone is Westward for Smelts....That he knew the
Decamerone version is proved by the quotation from Winter's Tale (given) above,
and by the fact that the device of the trunk for conveying the concealed villain into
the lady's bed-room is peculiar to that version; in Westward for Smelts he conceals
himself under the bed. The mark on the lady's person is on the left breast in
Boccaccio as in Shakespeare; it is not mentioned in Westward for Smelts.
But...there are a few remarkable resemblances between the Fishwife's tale and
Shakespeare, which are also divergences from Boccaccio:
1, the villain proposes the wager, not the husband
2, the villain converses with the lady and is entertained by her, whereas in the
Decamerone he only sees her asleep...
3. the lady requests the servant to fulfil his master's command and kill her, while
in Boccaccio she begs for her life to be spared
4. she is found in great distress in her disguise by King Edward 4th in Westward
for Smelts, becomes one of his pages (Cymbeline 5.5.86), and follows him into
The principal actors are all Italian in Boccaccio and all English in the English tale,
in Shakespeare two are English and one Italian.
The historical framework of the play is said to come from Holinshed's Chronicles.
(1577). Part of this edition was not approved by the Queen; some pages were
scrubbed out. Shakespeare may have used the 1587 enlarged and approved
edition. Boccaccio lived 1313-1375. AJW tells us he finds it impossible to decide
whether Shakespeare used the original Italian or some translation now lost. Of
course, if de Vere is Shakespeare, he would have had no problem reading the
original Italian and may have brought a copy of the Decameron back from his visit
to Italy, unless he already had one, and there is no need to posit a lost translation.
Dating Cymbeline on the evidence of the Fishwife's Tale is a problem for any
Shakespearean as the known first edition is in 1620. There is something wrong
here as it eliminates almost every known candidate for Shakespeare including the
man from Stratford on Avon. The only practical solution seems to be some
tinkering with the play by Ben Jonson at the time of the First Folio in 1623, of
which he was quite capable and for which he may have been naturally inclined.
Alternatively, this means that the few minor similarities it exhibits with Cymbeline
were perhaps independent alterations from Boccaccio by Shakespeare. All this
shows there is no known factual evidence for a dating of Cymbeline and there is
no reason related to sources as to why de Vere could not have written it..
A final quotation from the play's Introduction:
The play treats uniformly throughout two opposite ideas or moral qualities, namely,
truth in word and in deed (fidelity), and untruth, and faithlessness, - falseness in
deed or perfidy, falseness in word or slander.... Such words as 'truth', 'true'
'falsehood' false' 'lie' are of constant occurrence.
It's scarcely necessary to remind ourselves that the family motto of de Vere was
'vero nihil verius' (nothing is truer than truth) which de Vere found lends itself to
puns on the family name 'Vere'. De Vere was intensely proud of this heritage. He
sought always to refer to it in his literary work and emphasize his adherence to it
as a rule in life.
Rather than follow AJW into a discussion of the various aspects of the play and
its plot, let's do what we did with Pericles, and look at our own synopsis of
Cymbeline itself. Then we can each form our own opinion as to what it's all about.
CYMBELINE: THE PLAY
DRAMATIS PERSONAE (Major characters only)
Cymbeline, King of England
Cloten, son to the Queen by a former husband
Posthumus Leonatus, a gentleman, husband to Imogen
Belarius, a banished Lord, disguised under the name Morgan
Guiderius and Arviragus, sons to Cymbeline, disguised under the names of
Polydore and Cadwal, supposed to be sons to Belarius.
Philario, Italian, friend to Posthumus
Iachimo, Italian, friend to Philario
Caius Lucius, General of the Roman Forces
Pisanio, servant to Posthumus
Cornelius, a physician
Queen, wife to Cymbeline
Imogen, daughter to Cymbeline by a former Queen
Act 1 Scene 1.
Britain, garden of Cymbeline's palace.
Two gentlemen converse. Between them they tell us that Posthumus was brought
up as a Royal ward by the king since his father and two brothers died in wars
defending their country and his mother died in his childbirth. Posthumus had
grown to be a very fine young man. Imogen has married Posthumus but the King
had intended her to marry Cloten. As a result Posthumus has just been banished
and Imogen imprisoned in care of the Queen.
Also mentioned is the fact that the king's two sons were stolen at ages 2 and 3
about 20 years ago, but no one knows by whom or where they are.
The Queen enters with Imogen and Posthumus. She tells Imogen though you are
my prisoner you won't find me 'after the slander of most step-mothers' and 'evil
eye'd.' She leaves Imogen and Posthumus together for farewells.
O dissembling courtesy! How fine this tyrant can tickle where she wounds!
Words between Posthumus and Imogen show that they are very deeply in love.
She gives him a diamond ring. He gives her a bracelet. He has to leave Britain for
The Queen who has come back says be brief, I'm not supposed to let you see one
another. But in an aside she says I'll move the king to walk this way. She leaves
The king enters, and to Posthumus
Thou basest thing, avoid, hence from my sight.
The Queen enters. The king leaves. Pisanio enters, tells the Queen 'Your son
drew on my master.' (Cloten drew his sword on Posthumus). The Queen asks if
her son is hurt, Pisanio says
My master rather played than fought
and no harm done.
Imogen tells Pisanio 'Go see my husband aboard" and that she''ll see Pisanio in
about half an hour.
We're told what we need to know about the plot directly by a few words from the
characters, without long speeches. A lot goes on in this scene. It seems to be
mature Shakespeare at work here.
Act 1. Scene 2 (1.2)
Enter Cloten and 2 lords.
The First Lord advises Cloten to change his shirt, after the violence of the action.
Cloten: Have I hurt him?
The 2nd Lord (aside):
No, faith, not so much as his patience.
1st Lord says he must be hurt.
The two Lords continue to say how well he fought but in asides say what a fool he
And that she should love this fellow and refuse me!
Imogen asks Pisanio what was the last thing Posthumus said.
Pisanio tells her it was, his Queen, his Queen. He waved from on board until his
ship was out of sight.
Imogen says she had 'most pretty things to say' and they had to part before she
could give him that 'parting kiss.' A lady comes in to tell Imogen 'the Queen
desires your company.' All leave.
Enter Philario, Iachimo, a Frenchman, Dutchman and Spaniard.
Iachimo praises Posthumus to Philario.
His father and I were soldiers together, to whom I have been often bound for no
less than my life.
Posthumus enters. He thanks the Frenchman for his 'courtesies' when Posthumus
was involved in a quarrel in France. It transpires that the quarrel was similar to
one last night among this group about whose mistress was the most fair, virtuous,
wise, chaste, constant, qualified and less attemptable than any of the rarest of the
ladies of another country. Posthumus says he still holds the same opinion.
Strange fowl light upon neighbouring ponds. Your ring may be stolen too, ... the
one is but frail and the other casual. ... I dare ... pawn the moiety of my estate to
your ring ... against your confidence in her reputation...
Posthumus: What lady would you choose to assail?
Iachimo: Yours, whom in constancy you think stand so safe. I will lay you 10,000
ducats to your ring, that commend me to the court where your lady is, with no
more advantage than the opportunity of a second conference, and I will bring from
thence that honour of hers you imagine so reserv'd.
I will wager against your gold; gold to it.
I would undergo what's spoken, I swear.
Will you? ...here's my ring...
...Your hand,- a covenant! We will have these things set down by lawful counsel...
They all leave.
This is the kind of salacious material for which Boccaccio is famous. Surely, no
man who loved his wife would be fool enough to become trapped into such a
situation. Lending his ring is as good as telling Imogen he's already abandoned
her, which isn't true, except that he's done so morally. My own view is that in any
age a husband's prime duty to his wife is to do his best to protect her from the ills
of this world, not deliberately put her at risk.
Britain: Cymbeline's palace.
Enter Queen, ladies and Cornelius.
The doctor asks her why she's commanded him to provide her with most
poisonous compounds. She tells him it's to experiment with cats and dogs to learn
how to 'apply allayments to their act.'
Pisanio enters. In an aside the Queen says
he's for his master, an enemy to my son... upon him will I first work.
She dismisses the doctor who in an aside comments
I do suspect you madam,
But you shall do no harm.
He explains the drugs she has will stupify a while, not kill.
The Queen tells Pisanio the moment he can tell her Imogen loves her son Cloten,
she will make him richer than his master. She drops the box given her by
Cornelius. Pisanio picks it up for her. She says
It is a thing I made, which hath the King
Five time redeem'd from death...
She leaves, after reminding him of her promise.
But when to my good Lord I prove untrue
I'll choke myself. - thus all I'll do for you.
Enter Imogen alone:
A father cruel and a step-dame false
A foolish suitor to a wedded lady
That hath her husband banish'd.
Pisanio enters and introduces Iachimo
Madam, a noble gentleman of Rome
Comes from my Lord with letters.
The letter is read out loud, praising Iachimo in the highest terms. Imogen
welcomes him. Pisanio leaves.
Iachimo begins by subtly telling her that her husband is misbehaving wantonly in
Rome. Then he propositions her. She replies
If thou wert honourable,
Thou would'st have told this tale for virtue, not
For such an end thou seek'st, as base as strange.
Thou wrong'st a gentleman who is as far
From thy report as thou from honour; and
Solicits here a lady that disdains
Thee and the devil alike. What ho Pisanio!...
The king my father shall be made acquainted
Of thy assault.
Iachimo in a long speech says I was just testing you.
Imogen: You make amends.
He hath a kind of honour sets him of
More than a mortal seeming. Be not angry
Most mighty Princess, that I have aventur'd
To try your taking of a false report...
... the love I bear him
Made me to fan you thus,...
Imogen: All's well sir.
Iachimo then says I almost forgot, a small request, I have a trunk with 'plate of
rare device and jewels of exquisite form' ... which a group of us including your
husband have collected for a gift to the Emperor. Can I have safe storage for it
overnight as 'I must aboard tomorrow.' Imogen says since her lord is involved
she'll have it put in her bedchamber. He says if you would like to write your lord,
please do so tonight. She says she will. they exit.
Before Cymbeline's palace.
Enter Cloten and 2 lords.
Cloten is complaining about someone he calls a 'whoreson jackanapes' and says
'I had a hundred pound on it.' He's entitled to swear if he wants to.
Whoreson dog! I give him satisfaction? Would
He had been one of my rank!
The lords appear to agree with him but in asides say what an insufferable fool he
is. They tell him an Italian has come to court. Cloten says he'll go to see him and
what he's lost today at bowls he'll win from the Italian tonight. One lord leaves with
Cloten. The other stays to comment
That such a crafty devil as is his mother
Should yield the world this ass!
...alas poor princess
Thou divine Imogen...
What she endures between a father governed by this stepmother, the idiot Cloten
wooing her, her husband forcibly expelled...
The heavens hold firm
The walls of thy dear honour... that thou mayst stand
T'enjoy thy banish'd husband and this great land!
So Cloten played a game, lost £100 and was swearing as he was losing.
Someone protested at his language. This someone was of inferior rank and
therefore Cloten could not give him the 'satisfaction' of a duel, (or sword fight).
It so happens that in 1579 de Vere was playing tennis and apparently had some
words with Sir Philip Sidney, nephew of the Earl of Leicester. (See chapter 7 for
more details on the career of Sidney). There are at least two versions of the
altercation. But whatever caused it, and whatever was said, one challenged the
other, but the Queen stopped it, pointing out to de Vere that Sidney was not of his
rank and so he could not fight Sidney.
If de Vere was Shakespeare, he merely took an incident in his own life and some
unspecified time later turned it around to suit the play he was writing. The
alternative is that Jonson inserted this as a jibe against de Vere, but there would
be little point if de Vere was dead by then. Stanley would have been unlikely to
mock de Vere in this way as he was a friendly son-in-law. So I conclude de Vere
wrote it. This incident was well publicized at the time and has been referred to
since by historians. It must have etched itself into de Vere's mind, if he was
Shakespeare. Here's Polonius speaking in Hamlet, Act 2, scene 1, line 59
There falling out at tennis
But back to Cymbeline
Imogen's bedchamber, a trunk in one corner.
Imogen is in bed and asks her attending lady the time who says about midnight.
Imogen says she's been reading for 3 hours then, she's very sleepy, asks the lady
to leave the taper alight, and call her by 4 o'clock. The lady leaves; Imogen falls
Iachimo comes from the trunk. He notes every detail in the room. the location of
pictures, a window, ornaments of the bed, he gently removes her bracelet without
waking her, and notes
...on her left breast
A mole cinque-spotted...
He notes the book she's been reading, and the page she's at.
....I have enough.
To th'trunk again, and shut the spring of it.
An antechamber adjoining Imogen's apartments.
Enter Cloten and lords.
He's lost at a game again: now talks of music for Imogen to hear. He's ordered
musicians who come. They play and sing a wonderful lyric melody
Hark, hark! The lark at heaven's gate sings...
The musicians leave, enter the King and Queen. Cloten says he's serenaded
Imogen with music
but she vouchsafes no notice.
The king says it's too soon yet, after her husband left, give her time 'and then
Enter a messenger with news of 'ambassadors from Rome, one is Caius Lucius.'
All leave except Cloten who knocks on Imogen's door. A lady enters, says Imogen
is staying in her rooms; Cloten gives her gold.'Sell me your good report.' She asks
Imogen enters, the lady leaves. Cloten tells Imogen her loves her. She replies she
has no regard for him and after some explanation
I care not for you.
Cloten says she sins against obedience to her father's wishes. Cloten goes on
abusing her husband. She calls him a profane fellow. She says Posthumus' cast
off clothing is dearer to her than 'all the hairs above thee.' If he were the son of
(the god) Jupiter 'and as you now are, you would be too base' ...'to be his groom.'
Pisanio enters. She asks Pisanio to go to her woman and bid her search for the
bracelet. She would not want to lose it