Places: Cymbeline

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1623

First produced: c. 1609-1610

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Tragicomedy

Time of work: First century b.c.e.

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Great Britain

*Great CymbelineBritain. Island of which Cymbeline is the king during the reign of Roman emperor Augustus Caesar and which is nominally governed by Rome, thanks to the earlier military incursions of Julius Caesar, whose name is invoked in the verse. Shakespeare deliberately refers to Cymbeline’s realm as “Britain” rather than “England,” which he uses routinely in his medieval history plays. Clearly, Cymbeline’s primitive Britain resembles the pre-Roman Britain of Shakespeare’s earlier King Lear (1606); however, the insistent use of “Britain” may be due, in part, to Shakespeare’s efforts to stress the unity of Great Britain to please his patron, King James I. Whereas Lear portrays disasters ensuing from dividing the kingdom, Cymbeline stresses the importance of the unity of Britain, affirming its sovereignty by a surprising British victory over Rome’s legions as a result of unexpected help given by three warriors from the mountains of Wales.

Lud’s Town

Lud’s Town. Ancient name of London, which is presumably the site of Cymbeline’s court. The name “Lud’s town” evokes the archaic period in which the play is set, as well as the ancient origin of England’s chief city, supposedly founded as a fortress by King Lud. In the play’s first three acts, the court is tainted by intrigue and favoritism, mainly resulting from the queen’s plotting and the petulant behavior of her spoiled son, Cloten, although the courtiers are mostly decent people who mock Cloten behind his back. While the court seems provincial in contrast to Imperial Rome, its inequalities and injustices clearly present a strong contrast to the Welsh mountains and the hardy, kidnapped princes who have become self-reliant mountaineers.


*Rome. Capital of the ancient Roman Empire. The language of the play emphasizes the “Italian” character of the city and links it with the intrigues of Renaissance Italy of Shakespeare’s time through the scheming figure of Iachimo (or Giacomo). When the action moves to Rome during Posthumus’s exile, a proper staging should use the city to project an atmosphere of cosmopolitan cynicism provoking Posthumus to make his wager on the invincible chastity of Imogen. By contrast with scenes of gossip and intrigue in Rome, later scenes showing the courage of Roman soldiers in Britain establish the aura of Rome as a powerful adversary, whose military defeat by the Britons seems miraculous.

Imogen’s bedroom

Imogen’s bedroom. Sexually charged setting of the crucial scene in Iachimo’s plot to destroy Imogen’s reputation. As Imogen prepares for bed, her bedroom assumes an erotic aura intensified by the emergence of the concealed Iachimo and his voyeuristic inspection of her, which suggests a symbolic rape, as allusions in the verse to the stories of Lucrece and Philomela are intended to suggest.

Belarius’s cave

Belarius’s cave (beh-LAY-ree-uhs). Hideaway of the banished nobleman Belarius in the mountains of Wales. The cave and its environs are a rugged wilderness setting that contrasts sharply with cosmopolitan Rome and the injustices of the court’s atmosphere. Clearly, the two princes who have grown up in the Welsh mountains have not been spoiled by the royal favoritism which has corrupted Cloten, as Polydore’s easy defeat of Cloten illustrates. The mountainous setting not only stimulates the young men’s courage and prowess, it also is conducive to poetry, as the dirge they sing at the supposed death of Fidele (the disguised Imogen) illustrates.

*Milford Haven

*Milford Haven. Welsh seaport that is introduced somewhat anachronistically as the chief port of arrival and departure for both the Britons and Romans and is the goal of Imogen’s flight. In Shakespeare’s earlier work, the port is associated with the successful expedition of Henry Tudor to defeat Richard III, which is virtually a providential event. Shakespeare’s invocation of such favorable associations here underscores the nationalist tone of the play; but his use of Milford Haven also ensures that some of the action will take place in Wales, which has mythic associations with Arthurian legend and with the prophecies of Merlin as well as with the poetry of numerous oracular bards.

BibliographyBergeron, David M. “Cymbeline: Shakespeare’s Last Roman Play.” Shakespeare Quarterly 31, no. 1 (Spring, 1980): 31-41. Traces the historical and political factors at work in the play.Frye, Northrop. A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance. New York: Columbia University Press, 1965. Frye puts the play in the context of other late romances. The most interesting commentary available on the role of Imogen and on the visions experienced by Posthumus toward the end of the play.Hieatt, A. Kent. “Cymbeline and the Intrusion of Lyric.” In Unfolded Tales: Essays on Renaissance Romance, edited by George M. Logan and Gordon Teskey. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989. Hieatt displays Cymbeline’s relationship to Edmund Spenser’s sonnet sequence “The Ruins of Rome” and other treatments of the theme of historical inheritance in the frame of lyricism. A major reinterpretation of the play and a valuable commentary.Miola, Robert S. Shakespeare’s Rome. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Places Cymbeline in the context of Shakespeare’s Roman plays. Emphasizes how Shakespeare’s portrait of Britain has an ambiguous relationship to the Roman imperial legacy.Parker, Patricia. “Romance and Empire: Anachronistic Cymbeline.” In Unfolded Tales: Essays on Renaissance Romance, edited by George M. Logan and Gordon Teskey. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989. Speculates on what has always been one of the most vexing issues surrounding Cymbeline, the fact that half of it seems set in ancient Roman times and the other half in the Italian Renaissance of Shakespeare’s lifetime. Parker also traces the influence on the play of Vergil’s Aeneid (29-19 b.c.e.), particularly as regards the roles of oracles, prophecy, and kingship.
Categories: Places