Shakespeare relied upon Holinshed's Chronicles for the setting of the play and the name of the main character, Cymbeline. Holinshed reports on a king named Kymbeline, a descendant of King Lear, who ruled Britain from 33 B.C. to 2 A.D. The main plot of Cymbeline is an old and well-known story, retold time and again throughout the ages. Shakespeare no doubt had heard the tale, in many forms, of a man wagering that his lover is virtuous only to be made the fool. It seems that Shakespeare liked best the rendition of this timeless story told in Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron (second day, ninth novel), written in 1353.
An English translation of Boccaccio's version was not published until 1603 or even later, so Shakespeare must have read it in its original Italian. It is possible that he also consulted other texts on the same subject matter that we know were translated into English at the time Shakespeare was writing Cymbeline. These are Roman de la Violette, King Florus and Fair Jehane, and Roman del conte de Poitiers -- three thirteenth century romances originally in French. Shakespeare also used the English play The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune, written in 1589, which he seems again to have used in The Tempest. This play supplied many important elements of Cymbeline, primarily the love between Posthumus and Imogen, Posthumus' exile, and Cloten's envy. Shakespeare's ending of the play, and the story line regarding Belarius and the princes are purely his own inventions.
How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Shakespeare's Sources for Cymbeline. Shakespeare Online. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sources/cymbelsources.html >.