Saturday, December 1, 2012

Shakespeare Study: The Tragedy Of Cymbeline

This is the third year of my Shakespeare study. I read one play each month, and then watch as many film versions as I can get my hands on, and read as many books about the play as I'm able. November 2012 was The Tragedy Of Cymbeline.  There was only one film version that I could get.

Related Books:

- The Recurring Miracle: A Study Of Cymbeline And The Last Plays  by D. R .C. Marsh  -  As indicated by its title, this book focuses mainly on Cymbeline, but also has short chapters on Pericles, Prince Of Tyre; The Winter's Tale; and The Tempest. In the main chapter on Cymbeline, Marsh writes, regarding Posthumus and Imogen, "The difference in their attitudes to their love seems apparent even here. He gives Imogen the bracelet as a sign of his possession of her. She gives her ring as a token of her love for him" (page 28).  Later in that chapter, Marsh writes, "This is an interesting idea: it suggests not only that had she not been the direct heir to the throne, the opposition to her marriage, and all the suffering that it has caused, would have been less, but also that she would gladly give up her position, which many would esteem so highly, for the sake of her love. It also shows a deep understanding of the predicament in which Posthumus has been placed. For a man to have his value judged by his wife is in a sense unnatural; the position of king-consort is never an easy one. It may even be suggested that this sort of subconscious jealousy lies at the root of Posthumus's readiness to believe that his wife has been unfaithful to him" (page 71).  Published in 1962.

- William Shakespeare's Cymbeline  adapted by Vincent Goodwin; illustrated by Rod Espinosa  -  This is a volume in the Graphic Shakespeare series from Graphic Planet.  For some reason Iachimo is spelled Jachimo, but the rest of the characters are the same as in the play.  But there are other changes. Rather than have himself brought into Imogen's bedchamber in a trunk, Jachimo climbs in through her window, hanging upside down on a rope like Batman or something (see photo below).  Imogen, by the way, isn't very pretty, and in this version she dyes her hair brown (from red) as part of her disguise.  This book is fewer than fifty pages, so large chunks of the play are cut.  For example, Belarius, Guiderius and Arviragus are not introduced until Imogen meets them (in Act III Scene vi). The entire plot regarding the poison is dropped (though it's mentioned in the play's summary at the end of the book). There is also no mention of the Queen's death (except, again, in the play's summary). But of course we get images of the battle, which the play can't give us.  Published in 2011.

- Cymbeline  adapted by Emma Rice; written by Carl Grose  -  This is a contemporary musical version of Cymbeline, which makes several changes to Shakespeare's play, and even has the Queen giving Cymbeline cocaine. In the introduction, Emma Rice writes, "But for me, Cymbeline is a fairy tale. It is about where we come from, who we are and how we find out way home. It is about family, but not a sentimental notion of family, no. This story tackles step-families and dead parents, abduction and surrogate care. This is about families, as we know them, damaged, secretive, surprising and frustrating. Cymbeline, the king and father, is lost at the start. He is in the fog" (page 5).  When the play opens, it has been exactly twenty years since the King's sons were kidnaped, and there is a shrine to the princes. In this version, Pisanio is female, and there is the additional character of Joan Puttock. Posthumous gives Imogen his watch rather than a bracelet. Instead of a mole, Imogen has a tattoo that Iachimo spies. Cloten learns about Milford-Haven from Pisanio before Imogen has even left. Pisanio actually tries to kill Imogen with a knife. Imogen becomes Ian, not Fidele. The Queen's death is by suicide, and is done on stage.  Published in 2007.

Film Versions:

- Cymbeline  (1982) with Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom, Helen Mirren, Michael Pennington, John Kane, Paul Jesson and Robert Lindsay; directed by Elijah Moshinsky.  This film version has an excellent cast, but is marred by some thoughtless cuts (mostly in the first act), and by the way that asides are handled, and by some re-ordering of scenes late in the play.  In Act I Scene i, the second gentleman is played by a woman.  The Queen's aside, "Yet I'll move him/To walk this way. I never do him wrong/But he does buy my injuries, to be friends/Pays dear for my offenses," is sadly and terribly cut. You can't cut that aside, because it establishes her character and that she works behind the scenes. It seems like it was meant to be in, because there is a shot of the Queen (Claire Bloom) at the doorway, looking back, which is pointless if her aside isn't spoken there.  This is the first of several inexcusable cuts.  When Posthumus and Imogen exchange the ring and bracelet, it is done backlit, so they are nearly in silhouette (this shot is then done again at the end, which is nice).  The Lord's first lines from Scene ii are cut.  This is another bad cut, though not as awful as the first.  But the Lord's lines establish that not even Cloten's men think very highly of him.  Plus, Cloten's first line is a response to the Lord's line, and this film version begins with Cloten's response. But having a character respond to a line that has been cut is retarded.  This film also combined three characters into one. The First Gentleman, the Second Lord and Cornelius are all combined into one character, who retains the name Cornelius.  This isn't a case of the same actor playing three minor roles. It is a case of three roles being combined, as the actor wears the same costume throughout.  And in Scene ii all of the Second Lord's asides are done directly to Cloten (Paul Jesson). The last several lines of that scene are cut. The scene with Iachimo (Robert Lindsay) and Posthumus (Michael Pennington) is really good. It's difficult scene to do believably, but these two actors excel in this scene.  In Scene v, the film goes from the Queen's aside, "upon him/Will I first work" straight to Cornelius' aside, "I do not like her."  And so cut is the rest of the Queen's aside, "He's for his master,/And enemy to my son" (a line that is needed), plus her line to Pisanio and her line dismissing Cornelius. Also cut is the doctor's first aside, "I do suspect you, madam;/But you shall do no harm."  By the way, none of the asides in this film are done to the camera, to the audience, and that seems a great mistake.  Cornelius' aside is spoken to just the right of camera.  Scene v ends with the Queen's "To taste of too," cutting Pisanio's lines.  Scene vi begins with a wonderful wide shot of Imogen seated by herself, and then slowly pushes in on her. Her first few lines are presented as voice over. She begins to speak aloud on "Had I been thief-stol'n."  And when Iachimo enters, there is one another inexcusable cut.  Gone is his aside, "All of her that is out of door most rich!/If she be furnish'd with a mind so rare,/She is alone the Arabian bird, and I/Have lost the wager./Boldness be my friend!/Arm me, audacity. from head to foot!/Or, like the Parthian, I shall flying fight;/Rather, directly fly."  This is one of the worst cuts in any film version of any of Shakespeare's plays.  The aside does two very important things. It establishes for the audience that Imogen is so pure that even a man like Iachimo recognizes it immediately upon meeting her.  It also establishes that he realizes he can't win the wager by any straightforward means, as he'd intended, but that he means to go forward with an attempt anyway, but using a more devious strategy.  Cutting the aside makes us believe that he had this strange strategy all along, which is not the case.  In other words, don't fucking cut these lines. Then, when Iachimo turns away to say, "What! are men mad," it looks like an aside, because he's looking off toward the right, just as Cornelius did in the earlier scene. But this is not an aside, and Imogen looks up at him, showing that she hears the lines.  This would not be confusing if the real asides were done directly to the camera, to distinguish them from this shot. There is another strange moment in this scene that seems out of character for Imogen. As Iachimo tries to woo her, he leans in on "And will continue fast to your affection,/Still close as sure." Imogen whispers "What ho, Pisanio!" implying that she doesn't really want Pisanio to enter. Iachimo continues, "Let me my service tender on your lips," and Imogen closes her eyes and leans in for a kiss, only backing away slightly at the last moment to say weakly "Away!"  This is a very odd choice, because it shows Imogen to be much weaker than the text implies.  Note the exclamation points on "What ho, Pisanio!" and "Away!" These lines were not meant to be timidly spoken. Was this Helen Mirren's choice, or the director's?  But then right away, Imogen regains her strength for "I do condemn mine ears that have/So long attended thee," and her strength builds so that she then does shout the next "What ho, Pisanio!"
Paul Jesson is perfect as Cloten, and I love the way he's presented in Act II Scene i.  The scene ends with the Second Lord's line, "Cannot take two from twenty for his heart/And leave eighteen," thus cutting the last several lines of the scene. And it does seem strange for the doctor to be saying the Lord's lines.  In Scene ii, Iachimo is shirtless when he emerges from the trunk.  Robert Lindsay is really good, and the scene is presented well.  The first several lines of Scene iii are cut.  While the musicians play, we see a shot of Imogen in her chamber searching frantically for her bracelet. Most of the Queen's lines to Cloten are cut, as is his response to her before the Messenger enters.  Several other lines are cut from this scene.  Again, the actors playing Iachimo and Postumus are excellent Scene iv, when Iachimo "proves" he's won the wager.  Much of Postumus' speech of Scene v is done in extreme closeup.
Act III Scene i ends with Lucius' line "I thank thee for myself," so cutting the last several speeches, including Cymbeline's response, "Thou art welcome, Caius./Thy Caesar knighted me; my youth I spent/Much under him; of him I gather'd honor." It's a shame to lose those lines, because they show Cymbeline in a better light.  This play portrays him as something of an angry jerk rather than a more well-rounded character.  Scene iii begins with a shot of bird in the air, an image the film will use again later (but to no great effect).  Instead of a cave, Belarius and the two sons live in an austere building, which of course is not nearly as rough as a cave. And so Belarius says "This cell and these demesnes" rather than "This rock and these demesnes." His speech to the boys ends with "This is not hunter's language," thus cutting the lines about the competition regarding the better hunter.  The line in his next speech mentioning the cave is cut.  This speech should be done directly to the audience, for he is telling us the true tale of who he is, and who the boys are.  But as it's presented, it's as if he's thinking these lines out loud, which makes much less sense.  The scene with Imogen and Pisanio is excellent, the scene where Imogen learns that Pisanio has been ordered to kill her.  We have a scene with Cloten being dressed in Posthumus' clothes while two servants hold mirrors.  When they are done, Cloten speaks some of his speech from Act IV Scene i, beginning with "How fit his garments serve me" and ending with "What mortality is."  Imogen's long speech from Act III Scene vi is cut, and that scene begins with Belarius telling the sons, "Stay; come not in."  They could have made Helen Mirren more boyish.  Most of the second half of that scene is cut.  Act III Scene vi is cut entirely.
We then continue with Cloten's speech from Act IV Scene i, beginning with "Posthumus, thy head." But now Cloten is wandering about in the dark, alone, and shouting his lines. The last line is cut.  Several speeches are cut from Scene ii, including everything after Imogen takes the drug before Cloten's entrance.  After Cloten says "I am faint," he promptly falls over. Guiderius enters and Cloten immediately gets up, demanding "What slave art thou?"  Here is another awful cut. Gone are the lines establishing the Belarius and the sons were watching Cloten, and that Belarius recognized him and feared "some ambush."  Gone are the lines where Guiderius tells Belarius and his brother to sarch for what companies might be nearby.  These are important lines.  Another cut in this scene changes the meaning of a line. Cloten says, "Know'st me not by my clothes" and this film then goes to Guiderius' line, "Thou art some fool," which suggests that Posthumus' clothes are silly. But that is not what is meant at all.  After "Die the death," they fight, but what we see is a shot of birds flying.  Then it goes to a closeup of Cloten's severed head, held by Guiderius, and Belarius' line, "What has thou done?"  So several speeches are cut.  There is a human skull on the table in Belarius' home - an odd bit of set dressing. Whose is it supposed to be?  The woman who was the boys' nurse?  Imogen rubs Cloten's blood on her face at the end of the scene when she wakes next to his body.
And this is when the order of scenes becomes quite confused.  After Lucius says, "Dream often so,/And never false" to the soothsayer (who is played by a woman, by the way, thus necessitating minor changes of pronouns later in Act V Scene v), we go to Scene iii. Cornelius speaks Cymbeline's line, "A fever with the absence of her son,/A madness of which her life's in danger." Then Cymbeline takes over with "Heavens!"  After Scene iii, it skips to Act V Scene i, with the beginning of Posthumus' speech.  After "I'll give no wound to thee," we go back to Act IV Scene ii, when Lucius finds Imogen. This begins with Lucius' line, "Let's see the boy's face." After Lucius says, "And rather father thee than master thee," we go back to Act V Scene i for more of Posthumus' speech, beginning with "I'll disrobe me/Of these Italian weeds."  Then it goes to Act IV Scene iv, which ends with "and there I'll lie," thus cutting the last lines. The film then jumps to Act V Scene iii.  Act V Scene ii is cut entirely, so we lose the moment when Iachimo has a change of heart and reveals his guilt.  More importantly, we lose the battle scene where Belarius and the boys rescue Cymbeline, and the battle turns to favor the Britons. It's weird, because we go right from Belarius and the boys deciding to enter the war to Posthumus talking about how those three changed the course of the war.  In Scene iv. the film cuts to Sicilus rather than have the apparitions enter has indicated by the text, so for a moment it seems a new scene, that Sicilus isn't in the same room as Posthumus. Because we go from an extreme closeup of Posthumus to a closeup of Sicilus.  By the way, it's great to see Michael Hordern as Jupiter.  In Scene v, after Lucius enters, Cymbeline says, "Thou com'st not, Caius, now for tribute," but the rest of his lines are cut. This is another unforgiveable cut, because what's missing is that Cymbeline is going execute all the prisoners.  You absolutely need this line, because Lucius responds to it, and because later Cymbeline changes his mind and pardons all.  The response and the pardon are included in this film version, but not that he was going to execute the prisoners.  That makes no sense whatsoever.  The last line in this production is Cymbeline's "And let our crooked smokes climb to their nostrils/From our bless'd altars," thus cutting the last seven lines of the play.  As noted, the play ends with Postumus and Imogen in silhouette, with him replacing the bracelet on her arm and kissing her.

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