I like the unsuccessful Shakespeare plays because they feel like they were written by a human being, not a deity. I could probably write a better play than “Henry V.” (I looked up “Shakespeare’s worst play” on the Internet, and that was the first result.) As a matter of fact, George Bernard Shaw re-wrote this one, entitling it “Cymbeline Refinished.”
I always thought Cymbeline was a woman. Probably everyone did. In fact, he was a king, who ruled England circa 9-42 AD. But he barely appears in this story! It’s really about a guy named Posthumus Leonatus, who’s madly in love with Imogen, Cymbeline’s daughter – and, indeed, has secretly married her. But Cymbeline can’t stand Posthumus (possibly because of his absurd name) so he banishes him, and imprisons the sweet Princess.
But don’t worry! Posthumus escapes to a cave in the Welsh mountains with two other banished lords, Guiderius & Arviragus (who are Cymbeline’s sons!)
In his unconvincing introduction, Peter Holland writes:
“Where we might imagine Cymbeline as ruler at some vaguely mythic point in British history, Shakespeare – and probably many in his audience – would have known him as king at a precise and potent moment of historical beginning, the moment of Christ’s birth. The play’s final image of peace is on the surface an indication of a final resolution of the war between Roman Britain, but it also suggests the larger peace of Christ.”
No way. Shakespeare didn’t give two shits about Christianity. T.S. Eliot thought him a Roman Stoic; Indian gurus see him as a Vedantist. I would call the Bard a “metaphysical cynic.”