Explanatory Notes for Act 5, Scene 5
From Cymbeline. A.W. Verity. Cambridge, University Press.
A scene, beyond any other in Shakespeare, of recognitions and explanations and general unravelment. The skill with which the threads of the complex plot are gathered up is one of the commonplaces of Shakespearean eulogy.
It is, too, peculiarly a scene of reminiscences: the poet's mind working back to the "old unhappy [and happy] far-off things" of his greatest days.
3. the poor soldier: of course, Posthumus.
5. targes of proof, shields of tested metal.
25-61. Lady Macbeth's end?
38. Affected, aimed at; a common Miltonic use ( = Lat. affectare).
Cf. Par. Lost, v. 763, "Affecting all equality with God" (said of Lucifer = Satan).
43. bore in hand, pretended. To bear in hand meant originally 'to maintain a statement, or charge against someone' (being a literal rendering of the legal word manutenere, 'to maintain a charge against'); then 'to maintain a false statement' etc.; then 'to pretend, to delude with false hopes, to deceive.' In the last senses it is a common Elizabethan phrase. Cf. Macbeth, III. 1. 81.
47, 48. Cf. Edgar's reflection when he finds on Oswald the letters which reveal Goneril's guilty connection with Edmund and instigation to him to murder Albany:
"O undistinguish'd space of woman's will!
A plot upon her virtuous husband's life!"
(Lear, IV. 6. 278, 279),
where undistinguish'd = 'indefinable,' meaning that it is impossible to calculate what direction a woman's desires will take.
55. fitted you with her craft: a euphemism, like those we get in Macbeth.
55, 56. to work her son, etc.; the converse of the position in Hamlet, where the real heir is ousted by his step-father, supported by the Queen.
88. feat, dexterous in waiting.
92, 93. The Duke in As You Like It, V. 4. 26, 27, when Rosalind's disguise has served its dramatic purpose and the end is not far off.
105, 106. The poor sea-captain in Twelfth Night (III. 4) when he thinks that Sebastian has ungratefully discarded him (mistaking of course Cesario = Viola for her twin brother).
107. boys. "He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse's health, a boy's love" -- King Lear, III. 6. 18, 19.
120-123. Cf. the delightful puzzle of the onlookers when Viola (still dressed as a boy) and Sebastian meet at last ( Twelfth Night, V. 223-252). Strictly, the passage here will not bear analysis, but one sees the
sense; I do not think that any words have dropped out.
153. The style of his speeches is meant to suggest agitation.
153-191. Not a precise reproduction of what occurred in I. 4. Perhaps Shakespeare wished "to denote Iachimo's innate untruthfulness and unscrupulousness, which lead him to falsify in minor matters as in those of greater moment." (F.)
163. feature, shape in general, exterior; F. facture, 'make,'
Lat. factura. "And how, Audrey? am I [Touchstone] the man yet? doth my
simple feature content you?" (As You Like It, III. 3. 2, 3).
164, 165. Shakespeare has in mind statues of the classical goddesses; a Renaissance touch. For his interest in sculpture cf. the description of the supposed statue (really Hermione) in The Winter's Tale, v. 3, with the interesting allusion earlier in the play to its author, "that rare Italian master, Julio Romano" (V. 1. 105, 106). But he was more famous as a painter; see Shakespeare's England, II. 9, 10. shrine, image. brief; since Nature's creations are brief lived in their beauty whereas Art confers immortality of grace.
189. Editors aptly quote Antony and Cleopatra, IV. 8. 28, 29:
"He has deserved it, were it carbuncled
Like holy Phoebus' car."
The chariot of the Messiah in Paradise Lost, VI. 755, has "wheels of beryl." Shakespeare may have remembered the description of the chariot of Phoebus in the story of Phrethon, Ovid, Metamorphoses, II. 107. (F.)
See II. 2. 45, note.
199. practice, plot; see Glossary.
200. simular, false, counterfeit.
209. Othello, when he knows the truth and turns on Iago (the
counterpart of Iachimo).
214. justicer. "The most ancient law books have justicers of the peace as frequently as justices of the peace" -- Reed. Justicer is an old, abbreviated form of justiciar, 'a judge.' It occurs several times in King Lear, e.g. IV. 2. 79.
221. yea, and she herself; "she was not only the temple of virtue, but virtue itself" -- Johnson.
225. Be villany less than 'twas! since his villany throws all other
villany into the shade.
253-258. The potion in Romeo and Juliet.
262. upon a rock; "as a shipwreck'd sailor" -- Herford. But may it not be much the same metaphor as in 393? Let Posthumus feel that he has found salvation by attaching himself to the rock of her devotion. And then, with a touch of playfulness, she bids him cast himself adrift again -- if he can! I cannot see the smallest need for any
change of the text such as "upon a lock," a wrestling term which would suit "throw" but does not occur elsewhere in Shakespeare, and is not, surely, very appropriate to a woman.
262-264. Like the reconciliation scene in Pericles, V. 3. 41-44; the rhythm is curiously similar.
291. He was a prince. Cf. IV. 2. 244.
305. Had ever scar for, i.e. had ever "merited" by fighting.
319. Assumed this age; explained, I think, by IV. 4. 33.
326. prefer, recommend to your consideration.
334. mere, whole; see G.; neere in the Folio. His crime and punishment, all amounted to this -- that his master was capricious.
353. To inlay heaven with stars.
"Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold" --
The Merchant of Venice, V. 58, 59.
352-354: "'Thy tears give testimony to the sincerity of thy relation [report]: and I have the less reason to be incredulous, because the actions which you have done within my knowledge are more incredible than the story which you relate.' The King reasons very justly" -- Johnson.
364. a mole. Two moles in one play! And Shakespeare had used the same device of identification in Twelfth Night, V. 249.
378. ye; the Folio we, and it is not indefensible.
382-384. i.e. 'this vehement epitome has details that demand separate explanation': hence his questions.
396. counter change, exchange of looks and feelings.
405. forlorn; explained, obviously, by 409, "in poor beseeming"; forlorn-looking; cf. 2-5 and V. 1. 22-24. That the word is used in its literal sense 'lost, not to be found' (V. 5. 5), seems to me very improbable.
407-414. A little like the final scene between Edgar and Edmund? Similarly Belarius somehow takes one's thoughts back to Kent. We have noticed other King Lear echoes.
I am down again. "The wheel is come full circle; I am here"
(Edmund, at the feet of Edgar, King Lear, V. 3. 174).
411, 412. I had you down. Posthumus did not then (V. 1) know of Iachimo's treachery. But why should he assume that Iachimo could identify him with his disguised vanquisher?
421. freeness, generosity. "I loved the man and do honour his memory, on this side idolatry,
as much as any. He was, indeed, honest and of an open and free nature" (Ben Jonson's immortal testimony to Shakespeare).
422. Pardon's the word to all. Shakespeare's final message: all his last plays come to this.
425-433. The passage which (with what follows) seems to make
the Vision (V. 4) unnecessary.
428. spritely, of spirits -- "the Ghosts" of V. 4.
430-432. The contents of the label were so obscure that he could
not infer (deduce) the sense.
"Her speech is nothing ( = 'nonsense'),
Yet the unshaped use of it cloth move
The hearers to collection: they aim at it"
(i.e. Ophelia's in her madness -- Hamlet, IV. 5. 7-9).
446, 447. mollis aer...mulier. Various examples of this partially incorrect derivation are cited by editors from works antecedent to Shakespeare, e.g. Caxton's Game of the Chesse, printed about 1474-75.
Mulier is connected with mollis. (F.)
450. were; strictly singular (wast), as the antecedent is who ( = Posthumus); but the verb is attracted to you. The speaker makes who quite plain by turning or pointing to Posthumus. There are many
passages in dramas where the sense depends on some gesture too obvious to need mention.
464. Obviously 'have laid hand on'; but the omission is quite Shakespearean.
481. the temple of great Jupiter. Lud built in London "a faire
temple neere... to his palace, which temple (as some take it) was
afterward turned to a chuich, and at this daie called Paules"
The following verdict has the Johnsonian flavour and limitations:
"This play has many just sentiments, some natural dialogues, and
some pleasing scenes, but they are obtained at the expence of much
incongruity. To remark 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 faults too evident for detection, and too gross for aggravation."
But let us end on a happier note of sympathy: "Though. ..no one can think of [Cymbeline] as a finished play, it has dramatic scenes, one faultless lyric, and many marks of beauty. It deals with the Shakespearean subject of craft working upon a want of faith for personal ends, and being defeated, when almost successful, by something simple and instinctive in human nature. It is thus not unlike Othello; but in Othello the subject is simple, and the treatment purely tragic. In Cymbeline the subject is only partly extricated, and the treatment is
coloured with romance, with that strange, touching, very Shakespearean romance, of the thing lost beautifully recovered before the end...." -- Masefield.
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Cymbeline. Ed. A.W. Verity. Cambridge, University Press, 1899. Shakespeare Online. 10 Dec. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/cymbel_5_5.html >.
How to cite the sidebar:
Mabillard, Amanda. Notes on Shakespeare. Shakespeare Online. 10 Dec. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/cymbel_5_5.html >.
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