Explanatory Notes for Act 5, Scene 3
From Cymbeline. A.W. Verity. Cambridge, University Press.
"Another part of Cymbeline for which Holinshed furnished matter is the description ... of the means whereby victory was transferred from the Romans to the Britons. The prowess of Belarius, and his adopted children, Guiderius and Arviragus, has a parallel in an exploit attributed to a Scottish husbandman named Hay, who, with his two sons' help, routed the Danes at the battle of Loncart, fought A.D. 976" -- Stone.
Holinshed's narrative of the incident does not, I think, call for reproduction in extenso; but it is interesting to note how, as in the Roman plays founded on North's Plutarch, Shakespeare has kept some
verbal touches of his original. The student can identify for himself the Cymbeline parallels to the parts which I have italicised in the following extracts from Holinshed:
"This Haie beholding the king with the most part of the nobles, fighting with great valiancie in the middle ward, now destitute of the wings, and in great danger to be oppressed by the great violence of his enimies, caught a plow-beame in his hand, and with the same exhorting his sonnes to doo the like, hasted towards the battell.... There was neere to the place of the battell, a long lane fensed on the sides with ditches and walles made of turfe, through the which the Scots which fled were beaten downe by the enimies on heapes. Here Haie with his
sonnes, supposing they might best staie the flight, placed themselves ouerthwart the lane, beat them backe whome they met fleeing, and spared neither friend nor fo."
Shakespeare's use here of different parts of Holinshed recalls Macbeth, where he has supplemented Holinshed's brief narrative of the Macbeth and Duncan story with a good deal from Holinshed's much fuller account of the Donwald and Duff story given earlier in the Chronicle.
3. The abrupt, rhetorical style of these speeches of Posthumus recalls, I think, the Sergeant's speeches in Macbeth, I. 2.
12. hurt behind. Cf. Macbeth, v. 8, where old Siward hears of his son's death. So in Coriolanus, I. 4. 37. Quite a classical touch.
17. breeding, life; not, I think, 'nurture, support.' A man with a long white beard is usually a man who has lived a long time, and a man who has shown such bravery as this old soldier is a man who has deserved a long lease of life.
20. The country base; prisoners' base or prison-base; a very popular rustic game. See an account in Shakespeare's England, 1916, II. 478, 479.
22. i.e. women's faces.
24. harts, men timid and fleet as deer; Theobald's ingenious correction of the Folios' hearts. (F.)
Note the predominance of the hunting-metaphor in the speech. It may be noticed that the later Folios make the same mistake in II. 4. 27, printing hearts for harts.
27, 28. may save etc., may escape (viz. death at the hands of the "three") merely by turning and facing the foe.
30. are the file; "constitute the whole troop." file, a body of persons; especially, in a context like this, of soldiers.
32. charming, acting like a charm upon the others; cf. I. 3. 35.
The description that follow:; has much in common with the scenes
"before Corioli" in Coriolanus.
34. gilded, flushed. Lady Macbeth was ready to "gild the faces of the grooms" with Duncan's blood (11. 2. 56).
38. lions; no longer "harts" (24), i.e. timid deer.
42. stoop'd, swooped; cf. V. 4. 116; a falconer's term.
44. Like fragments i.e. when a ship's provisions have run short; a vivid simile in those (Elizabethan) days of hazardous exploration. Touchstone's brain, according to Jaques, "is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage" (As You Like It, II. 7. 39).
51. mortal bugs, deadly terrors; see bug in Glossary.
53. Sneering at the courtier: "this is a lord" (64).
Shakespeare himself, as a mere player -- cf. the bitter Sonnets CX, CXI -- may have had to put up with Court-insolence?
68. "Alluding to the common superstition of charms being powerful enough to keep men unhurt in battle" -- Steevens. Cf.
Macbeth's "charmed life" (v. 8. 13). In the mediaeval duello
(combats between single champions) each combatant took an oath
before the judges of the contest: "I do swear that I have not upon me, nor on any of the arms I shall use, words, charms, or enchantments, to which I trust for help to conquer my enemy, but that I do only trust in God, in my right, and in the strength of my body and arms." See Todd's note on Samson Agonistes, 1134 and 1139, where
the custom is alluded to ("I know no spells, use no forbidden arts"). The Italian epics are said to be full of this notion.
74. now, just now, till a moment ago. Evidently (85-91), he "resumes" his "Italian weeds" (v. 1. 23), though one does not quite see what he could have done with them -- as a "Briton peasant" -- during the battle.
80. my ransom, i.e. release from his troubles.
86, 87. silly habit, rustic dress.
90, 91. i.e. if others had supported him.
Enter Cymbeline etc. "This is the only instance in these plays [i.e. Shakespeare's] of the business of the scene being entirely performed in dumb show. The direction must have proceeded from the players, as it is perfectly unnecessary, and our author has elsewhere [in Hamlet, III. 2. 13, 14] expressed his contempt of such mummery" -- Ritson.
There is, of course, a dumb-show (a relic of the old Morality-pieces) in Hamlet, but it comes in the Play-scene (III. 2), which is designedly of the pre-Shakesperean, Senecan type of tragedy (like Gorboduc). Possibly, too, in Hamlet, the use of this old-fashioned device was intended as a touch of "local (i.e. Danish) colour," there being some reason to think that in the Danish theatre the dumb-show was used, as in Hamlet, to give an actual representation of the coming action. Usually, the dumb-show merely symbolised by some slight incident the general drift of the play -- e.g. in Gorboduc the breaking up of the solid group of sticks to suggest the results of disunion in a realm. The dumb-show in the next scene occurs in a very doubtful
context; see v. 4. 30, note. The parts of Pericles (containing Gower's speeches) in which the dumb-show is so prominent are obviously non-Shakespearean.
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_5_3.html >.
How to cite the sidebar:
Mabillard, Amanda. Notes on Shakespeare. Shakespeare Online. 10 Dec. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/cymbel_5_3.html >.
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