Posthumus, an orphaned nobleman, has been brought up in the court of the British king, Cymbeline. The king's daughter, Imogen, brought up as Posthumus' playmate, has fallen in love with him and the two have been secretly married. Because of this Posthumus has been banished from Britain by the king. The king has a second wife, whose son, Cloten, wishes to marry Imogen. His mother, the queen, secretly plots to have her son become king. The Roman ambassador, Lucius, informs the king that because he refuses to pay tribute money to Rome, there will now be a war between the two countries. In Rome where Posthumus goes in exile, he meets an Italian nobleman, Iachimo, who challenges him to a wager concerning Imogen's chastity and fidelity to Posthumus. After much goading, Posthumous accepts the offer and Iachimo goes to Britain in order to seduce Imogen. When they meet, Imogen repels Iachimo's advances, but he then pretends it was all a ruse to test whether she was as virtuous as Posthumous had said. He asks that she protect a chest full of precious gifts he has bought on his trip and unsuspecting, Imogen agrees to keep them in her bed-chamber. During the night, Iachimo, who has been hidden in the trunk, steals a bracelet that Posthumus has given her, and also notes intimate marks on her body while she sleeps. He returns to Rome and convinces Posthumus that Imogen has been unfaithful to him. Posthumous rages against women in general and Imogen in particular, and sends a message to his faithful servant, Pissanio, instructing him to lure her to the distant location of Milford Haven and to kill her. Imogen, receiving a loving letter from Posthumous, leaves the court with Pissanio thinking she is going to meet Posthumous. When they are far from the court, Pissanio confesses the true nature of his mission, but will not do what Posthumous wants. Instead, he provides Imogen with men's clothing and tells her to seek out Lucius, the Roman ambassador who has landed to declare war on Britain. He also gives her a packet that he got from the queen, which she told him was a healing potion. The queen thinks, however, that it is a deadly poison, although the audience already has been told it is only a sleeping potion. Pissanio tells her to become a page to Lucius and to let "time" work things out for her. Now-this is where the plot gets really complicated!!!! Left alone, Imogen finds a cave and meets Morgan, and his two sons, Polydore and Cadwal. In reality, Morgan is Belarius, a soldier who had been loyal to Cymbeline, but had been banished by him on false charges of treason. The two boys are in reality Guiderius and Arviragus, the two sons of Cymbeline who Belarius had stolen in revenge when they were infants. Immediately the boys love Imogen, calling her brother, having no idea that she is really their sister. Still heart-sick at the betrayal of Posthumus, Imogen takes the potion that Pissanio gave her. The boys believe that she is dead and speak a funeral dirge over her body. In the meantime-Cloten has come looking for Imogen. He plans to revenge himself by raping her while wearing Posthumous' clothing. He meets Guiderius, challenges him to fight, but is killed and has his head cut off. Cloten's body is laid out next to Imogen's and when she reawakens and she sees the clothing of Posthumus, she thinks that it is his body, and that he has been betrayed by Pissanio and Cloten. The war rages, and thanks to Belarius and the boys, Cymbeline's forces have carried the day. Pothumus, who has come to Britain disguised as a Roman, is captured, as is Iachimo, the leader of the Italian forces. Lucius finds Imogen who is mourning over the body of Cloten (who she thinks is Posthumus), and he takes her into his service as a page. Everyone finally winds up in the camp of Cymbeline. All of the plot tangles are resolved, Cymbeline declares a pardon for all, and everyone is reunited in a happy ending for everyone except Cloten and the queen!
Production Notes One of Shakespeare's late plays, Cymbeline is often classified as a Romance. Along with Pericles, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest, Cymbeline is a story that utilizes, in a new way, elements of comedy and tragedy that Shakespeare had explored in earlier plays. While all of these stories have happy endings, they involve loss and painful journeys towards redemption. Cymbeline is a play in which redemption is achieved through forgiveness and reconciliation. Despite this rather somber sounding description, the Romances are filled with light, laughter, music and comedy. In Cymbeline, Shakespeare creates a fairy-tale world with separated lovers, evil step-mothers, magic potions, long-lost brothers and a happy ending. In Imogen, the heroine of the play, he also created one of his most complex and interesting characters. Although ignored for many years, Cymbeline is enjoying a resurgence of productions around the world and in the wake of post-modern productions, it now seems much more cohesive and persuasively stage-worthy. George Bernard Shaw wrote of the problems of the play and particularly of its sprawling fifth act. Never a modest author, Shaw wrote his own ending for the play, which transfers the setting to the comfortable middle-class drawing room of may of his other works. While not taking this radical a route, I have reshaped the final portions of the play to help sharpen the focus and deepen the impact developed in the preceding scenes and acts. The strengths of the text are Shakespeare's; I freely accept the weaknesses as mine. On a personal note, it is wonderful to have the opportunity to return to the stage of The Colorado Shakespeare Festival with a production-especially one featuring the gifted students from The Theatre Conservatory, Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. Audiences returning to CSF after last season will recognize the actress playing Imogen, Elizabeth Tanner, from the 2002 season's productions of Richard III and A Midsummer Night's Dream. I am very pleased to have her return to CSF in this production, along with her talented colleagues from The Theatre Conservatory. My thanks to Richard Devin and the staff of The Colorado Shakespeare Festival for making this collaborative production possible. My thanks to the students and staff of The Theatre Conservatory for their work in bringing the play to the stage, and for teaching me so much about how it works in performance.