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Shakespeare's Characters: Cloten (Cymbeline)

From The Works of William Shakespeare. Vol. 18. Ed. Evangeline Maria O'Connor. J.D. Morris and Co.

Life at court is beset with treacherous quicksands. The king is stupid, passionate, perpetually misguided; the queen is a wily murderess; and between them stands her son, Cloten, one of Shakespeare's most original figures, a true creation of genius, without a rival in all the Poet's long gallery of fools and dullards. His stupid inefficiency and undisguised malignity have nothing in common with his mother's hypocritical and supple craft; he takes after her in worthlessness alone.

For the sake of an inartistic stage effect, Shakespeare has endowed him with a bodily frame indistinguishable from that of the handsome Posthumus, leaving it to his head alone to express the world-wide difference between them. But how admirably has the Poet characterised the dolt and boor by making him shoot forth his words with an explosive stammer! With profound humour and delicate observation, he has endowed him with the loftiest notions of his own dignity, and given him no shadow of doubt as to his rights. There are no bounds to his vanity, his coarseness, his bestiality. If words could do it, not a word of his but would wound others to the quick. And not only his words; but his intents are of the most malignant; he would outrage Imogen at Milford Haven and "spurn her home " to her father.

His stupidity, fortunately, renders him less dangerous, and with delicate art Shakespeare has managed to make him from first to last produce a comic effect, thereby softening the painful impression of the portraiture. We take pleasure in him as in Caliban, whom he foreshadows, and who had the same designs upon Miranda as he upon Imogen. We might even describe Caliban as Cloten developed into a type, a symbol.
Brandes: William Shakespeare.


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