Explanatory Notes for Act 1, Scene 1
From Cymbeline. A.W. Verity. Cambridge, University Press.
This introductory scene gives much information about the dramatis
personae and the general position. It also strikes one of the key-notes of the play -- the evil of court-life. This is a link with the earlier comedy, As You Like It, and the "romance" closely associated with Cymbeline, namely The Winter's Tale. Brandes says: "As in Cymbeline, the
court is here [Winter's T.] placed in contrast with idyllic life, and shown as the abode of cruelty, stupidity, and vice."
1-3. 'Our temperaments (or moods) are not more dependent on the heavens than the looks of our courtiers depend on the king,' i.e. if he smiles they smile etc.; cf. lines 12-15.
the heavens; perhaps with the special astrological idea of the "influence" of the heavenly bodies; but I think that it may mean more simply the effect which the varying aspects of the sky (e.g. sunshine)
exercise on men's spirits.
king; a generally accepted correction of the Folio's reading kings', where the s may easily have come from the termination of the two previous lines.
24. endows; singular in agreement with the sense -- 'the combination of such external and internal merits.'
but he; for the neglect of the inflexion cf. a passage like
Coriolanus, v. 3. 103, 104:
"And to poor we
Thine enmity's most capital";
or (less certainly) Macbeth, III. 4. 14 "'Tis better thee without than he within." So who for whom, III. 3. 87.
25-27. extend; carrying on the idea of "far" in 24: 'if I speak him far (i.e. praise him highly), I still keep well within the limits of his excellence.' Cf. I. 4. 18.
29. his honour, his honourable services; his feats as a warrior.
31. Tenantius, father of Cymbeline.
33. sur-addition; extra title; see addition in Glossary.
It is one of Shakespeare's Plutarch touches. Plutarch gives a full account and many illustrations of the custom among the Greeks and Romans of giving such "additions" or "surnames."
"Even so did the Grecians in old time give additions to princes, by
reason of some notable act worthy memory. As when they have called
some Soter and Callinicos, as much to say as saviour and conqueror.
Or else of some notable apparent mark on one's face, or on his body,
they have called him...Grypos; as ye would say, hook-nosed [see III.
I. 36, 37, note]; or else for some virtue, as Euergetes and Philadelphes,
to wit, a benefactor, and lover of his brethren.... And some kings have
had surnames of jest and mockery."'
The obvious Shakespearian instance of such an "addition" is
"Coriolanus," whom we know simply as Caius Marcius till the taking
"and from this time,
For what he did before Corioli, call him.
With all the applause and clamour of the host,
Cains Marcius Coriolanus! Bear
The addition nobly ever!" (i. 9. 63-66).
37. fond of, desirous of; very anxious to have.
39. A Midsummer-Night's Dream, II. 1. 131.
41. Posthumus; as having been born after his father's death; a posthumous child.
49. A glass: cf. Hamlet, III. 1. 161, "The glass of fashion and the mould of form" (Ophelia's description of Hamlet). So in 2 Hen. IV. II. 3. 21, 22:
"he was indeed the glass
Wherein the noble youth did dress themselves."
feated, made them feat (see Glossary), i.e. shaped, fashioned them into
trimness; they took him as their model in manners, etc.
86, 87. "I say I do not fear my father, so far as I may say it without breach of duty -- Johnson.
91. this jewel; her husband; a gesture makes plain her meaning. Perhaps the metaphor is suggested unconsciously by what follows (112 et seq.).
101. ink. ..gall. "Ox-gall was actually one of the constituent Elizabethan ink, as is shown by contemporary receipts for making it" -- Herford. Cf. the quibble in Twelfth Night III. 2. 52, 53, "Let there
be enough in thy ink" (i.e. bitterness).
105, 106. i.e. Cymbeline is so enslaved to his wife that every time she offends him he does her some fresh favour to win back her affection.
116. sear, wither, blight; but what follows ("bonds of death") suggests a quibbling reference to the cere-cloths (i.e. waxed linen shrouds) in which the dead were wrapped -- Steevens.
117, 118. thou... it; speaking first to and then of the ring; the transition occurs easily in the interval during which she puts the ring on his linger and looks up at him. sense, feeling, sensation.
121. win of, have the advantage of.
125, 126. avoid... fraught; see each in Glossary.
128. Thou'rt poison to my blood. So Claudius says of Hamlet, "For like the hectic in my blood he rages" (iv. 3. 68).
129. the good remainders; those who remain behind and are so superior to me (ironical).
131-150. King Lear and Cordelia in the first scene of the tragedy?
The dialogue-form, resembling the stichomythia of the early plays, e.g. Richard III, is noticeable.
135. a touch more rare, viz. love of her husband and grief at his
absence. Touch, like sense is a comprehensive word in Shakespeare; it sometimes
means 'feeling, sensation,' the context defining the particular feeling.
137. Past grace? "Although most of the scenes are laid in Britain before the Christian era, there is no pretence of historical vraisemblance. With an almost ludicrous inappropriateness the British king's courtiers make merry with technical terms peculiar to Calvinistic theology, like 'grace' and 'election'" -- Lee. See I. 2. 24, 25. grace; in its religious sense, 'favour of God' and so 'pardon.'
140. puttock, kite; contemptuous.
146, 147. i.e. she is worth only half the price he pays for her.
149. Like Perdita in the neighbouring play, The Winter's Tale.
155, 156. make yourself some comfort, find solace in reflection over
the whole matter.
160. Pisanio; the Shakespearean type of faithful servant.
167. Macbeth, III. 4. 104.
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_1_1.html >.
How to cite the sidebar:
Mabillard, Amanda. Notes on Cymbeline. Shakespeare Online. 10 Dec. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/cymbel_1_1.html >.
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