Monday, February 19, 2007


On Shakespeare’s Cymbeline:

“To remark on 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, were to waste criticism upon unresisting imbecility, upon facts too evident for detection, and too gross for aggravation.” (Dr. Johnson)

“The chief mark of the experimental imagination in Cymbeline is to be found in its verse. The words are packed densely; instead of flowing out in sentences, they seem to break off individually, like drips of quartz under the hammer; they reach the ear in a rhythm that is abrupt and yet elegiac, angular yet gentle.” (John Wain)

“'It is for the most part stagey trash of the lowest melodramatic order, in parts abominably written, throughout intellectually vulgar, and, judged in point of thought by modern intellectual standards, vulgar, foolish, offensive, indecent, and exasperating beyond all tolerance.
There are moments when one asks despairingly why our stage should ever have been cursed with this "immortal" pilferer of other men's stories and ideas, with his monstrous rhetorical fustian, his unbearable platitudes, his pretentious reduction of the subtlest problems of life to commonplaces against which a Polytechnic debating club would revolt, his incredible unsuggestiveness, his sententious combination of ready reflection with complete intellectual sterility, and his consequent incapacity for getting out of the depth of even the most ignorant audience, except when he solemnly says something so transcendently platitudinous that his more humble-minded hearers cannot bring themselves to believe that so great a man really meant to talk like their grandmothers.
With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his.” (George Bernard Shaw)

Cymbeline was Lord Tennyson’s favourite Shakespeare play. When Tennyson died, a copy of Cymbeline was found on his bed beside him, and was then buried with him in his grave.

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