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The pastiche of previous Shakespeare plays continues to unfold here, as Imogen's male disguise echoes the cross-dressing antics of early comedies like Twelfth Night and As You Like It. The disguise is remarkably convincing, it seems, since Guiderius and Arviragus fail to realize that she is a woman even as they carry and lay out her "dead" body. (Their failure may be forgiven, since they have been raised in the wilderness and probably have little experience with females.) Her seeming death, and the sleeping potion that induces it, clearly reference the ending of Romeo and Juliet, and as in that play, the heroine here awakens with what seems to be her love's dead body beside her. But this is a romance, not a tragedy; it follows different rules: In the first place, the body cannot be Posthumus's--only villains can die; second, the sensible Imogen, while grief-stricken, cannot commit suicide as Juliet does but instead must choose life. Having, thus, resolved to go on, she finds herself caught up in the Roman invasion of Britain.
One last issue presents itself in these scenes: Cymbeline is a highly musical play, filled with brief songs, and the best of them is probably the funeral dirge that the brothers chant over Imogen's corpse: "Fear no more the heat o' th' 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 (IV.ii.257-263)." What is remarkable about this chant, which continues for another 18 lines, is its profound melancholy and negativity. The repeated phrases of "fear no more" contrast sharply with the Christian view of death as the gateway to a heavenly reward--a contrast that is entirely appropriate, since this play is set in a pagan Britain, rather than a Christian one.
I just finished Cymbeline in quest to read all Bard's plays by next April. Entertaining play, lots of twists, and I have a theory. In case you're interested, check it out on my blog of the play:
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