Cymbeline - Adaptations and Cultural References

Adaptations and Cultural References

The play was adapted by Thomas d'Urfey as The Injured Princess, or, the Fatal Wager; this version was produced at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, presumably by the united King's Company and Duke's Company, in 1682. The play changes some names and details, and adds a subplot, typical of the Restoration, in which a virtuous waiting-woman escapes the traps laid by Cloten. D'Urfey also changes Pisanio's character so that he at once believes in Imogen's (Eugenia, in D'Urfey's play) guilt. For his part, D'Urfey's Posthumus is ready to accept that his wife might have been untrue, as she is young and beautiful. Some details of this alteration survived in productions at least until the middle of the century.

William Hawkins revised the play again in 1759. His was among the last of the heavy revisions designed to bring the play in line with Aristotelean unities. He cut the Queen, reduced the action to two places (the court and a forest in Wales). The dirge "With fairest flowers..." was set to music by Thomas Arne.

Nearer the end of the century, Henry Brooke wrote an adaptation which was apparently never staged. His version eliminates the brothers altogether as part of a notable enhancement of Posthumus' role in the play.

George Bernard Shaw, who criticised the play perhaps more harshly than he did any of Shakespeare's other works, took aim at what he saw as the defects of the final act in his 1937 Cymbeline Refinished; as early as 1896, he had complained about the absurdities of the play to Ellen Terry, then preparing to act Imogen.

Probably the most famous verses in the play come from the funeral song of Act IV, Scene 2, which begins:

Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

These last two lines appear to have inspired T. S. Eliot; in "Lines to a Yorkshire Terrier" (in Five-Finger Exercises), he writes:

Pollicle dogs and cats all must
Jellicle cats and dogs all must
Like undertakers, come to dust.

The first two lines of the song appear in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. The lines, which turn Mrs. Dalloway's thoughts to the trauma of the First World War, are at once an elegiac dirge and a profoundly dignified declaration of endurance. The song provides a major organizational motif for the novel.

At the end of Stephen Sondheim's The Frogs, William Shakespeare is competing against George Bernard Shaw for the title of best playwright, deciding which of them is to be brought back from the dead in order to improve the world. Shakespeare sings the funeral song of Act IV, Scene 2, when asked about his view of death (the song is titled "Fear No More").

"Fear no more the heat of the sun" is the line that Winnie and her husband are trying to remember in Samuel Beckett's Happy Days as they sit exposed to the elements.

The last two lines of the Act IV-scene 2 funeral song may also have inspired the lines W. H. Auden, the librettist for Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, puts into the mouth of Anne Truelove at the end of the opera: "Every wearied body must late or soon return to dust".

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