Cymbeline: Constructions of Britain

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In Cymbeline: Constructions of Britain, Ros King argues that because of previous misunderstanding of the nature and history of tragi-comedy, critics have mistaken the tone of Shakespeare's play. Although it is often dismissed as a pedestrian 'romance', or at best a self-parodic reworking of previous Shakespearean themes, she proposes that Cymbeline's fantastical, black comedy and its facility for keeping multiple plots all in the air together are in fact a tour de force of dramaturgical construction. King's multi-faceted approach combines strikingly perceptive commentaries on the text's most notoriously difficult passages, with descriptions of performance, and analysis of the text's historical, cultural and literary contexts. In this wide-ranging study, the play becomes a focus for considering early modern England's encounters with its Scottish king, with religious struggle in Europe, and with the indigenous peoples of North America. King demonstrates that the play's dramaturgical structure enables it to raise daring questions about the nature of government, the rights of birth and of succession, and the concepts of 'empire', supplying a curiously bitter and indeed tragic undercurrent to the final 'happy' ending while attempting to neutralise contemporary religious conflict. Having explored the influences that went into the writing of Cymbeline, King devotes her final chapter to the play's later reception and shows how it has been made to respond to different cultural pressures over time. Using as a test case the outrageously ebullient production at Shakespeare Santa Cruz, 2000, for which she was dramaturg, she outlines an ethic for interpretation and considers the problems to be faced in both criticism and performance when realising the text as living theatre for a modern audience.