Ferretbrain Presents: The Complete Works of Shakespeare Episode 2 - Cymbeline

by Wardog

This. Is. Britain!
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(MP3, 47:45, 128 kbps, 42.71 MB)
We learn that Cymbeline is definitely a dude, that Jupiter is Gandalf and that if someone tells you want they want your deadliest poisons so they can experiment on cats they're probably lying.

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Comments (go to latest)
Arthur B at 00:23 on 2012-07-17
Uh, I thought the Saxons came in after the Romans?

Also this play was so daft.
I do think it's funny that people don't get more annoyed at the sitcom plot contrivances in Romeo and Juliet.
This play was not nearly as bad as Pericles: Prince of Tyre, so it was a little less amusing in podcast review. I agree with you that Imogen was actually a really good character in this - in particular, I really liked her scenes in the first half with the roman and so forth, I felt that they were quite nice. Later on her actions felt a little like she was just following along, going to Milford because she was told to, letting herself be killed because she was told that her husband wanted her murdered, dressing as a boy (very unconvincingly...) because she was told to, then going along to serve as some guy's page because she was told too... it didn't feel like she had a whole lot of agency in the play's second half - there were opportunities for her to act, but it felt to me like she sort of drifted along through events.

Prince Stupidhead (Cloten, for those who didn't listen to the cast) is hilarious in this, and I agree that he was a major highlight of the play.

The BBC prodution was a lot better in this than in Pericles, probably because the source material was much less inane.

Thanks so much for doing this podcast series, I'm really enjoying it so far! I laughed a lot at it, and I really hope you eventualy do all of the plays! I am going to watch Henry VIII tonight...
http://murderershair.livejournal.com/ at 07:22 on 2012-07-18
Sounds like I should look into this DVD! The only production of Cymbeline I ever saw had about five actors playing all the parts and no scenery, and I was so confused I left at intermission. It's been weirdly popular to revive in NYC in the last five years though- there was a well received production at Lincoln Center with, *checks* Martha Plimpton and Michael Cerveris.
Alice at 19:46 on 2012-07-18
Have not yet listened to podcast, but:

Jupiter is Gandalf

I have a deep and abiding love for the BBC radio version of The Lord of the Rings, so when Jupiter first spoke, I a) clapped like a seal, and b) was strangely confused that he didn't look more Gandalf-ish. (Before watching the play, I had no idea what Michael Hordern looked like, but I always imagined him as generically long-bearded and bushy-eyebrowed to match Tolkien's description of Gandalf.)

*listens to podcast*

One of the things I enjoyed about this production was the look of the thing: apparently this was inspired by Rembrandt and other Dutch Golden Age painters, and that came through really strongly. A lot of the time the scenes started out almost as tableux vivants or recreations of period paintings, for instance the first scene with Prince Stupidhead Cloten (when he talks about not being allowed to fight anyone), or one with Morgan/Belarius (the banished lord who kidnapped the princes) where there's a skull and an hourglass on the table.

Prince Cloten was also one of my favourite parts of/in the play, and I think the transition from 'comic villain' to 'creepy villain' worked reasonably well: what with the foppish moustache and hair and ineffectual wooing of Imogen, I found him basically endearingly rubbish up till the "and then I will RAPE HER!" speech, which made me sit up and go "hang on a minute, that's actually quite scary".

Iachimo was brilliant too (and hilarious: black leather doublet and hose, omg) and the scene where he was watching Imogen sleep was fantastically creepy. It reminded me of Twilight, actually, though not for the most obvious reason: one of the many things that Bella lists about Edward as being amazing, beautiful, etc. is his breath (four times in the first book, apparently!), which always struck me as a bit ew. And Iachimo was all "'tis her breathing that Perfumes the chamber thus", and it was equally ew.
Wardog at 10:14 on 2012-07-19
Daft doesn't even begin to cover it...

Yes but it's GREAT ART so it doesn't count ;)

@112855461720260333586 (can we call you 11 for short?)
Yes, talking sensibly about things that are kind of okay is much more difficult than talking about things that are ON CRACK :)

I think you're right that Imogen loses agency in the second half of the play but everybody seems to lose agency as they become victims of an insanely broad plot. I mean Stupidhead seems to embark upon a clothes-stealing/rape/heading-cutting-off debacle solely to precipitate Imogen waking up on his corpse and thinking it's Wossname; The Queen dies of evil OFF STAGE (boo); Cymbeline suddenly starts getting his shit together; Wossname goes all Braveheart, Jupiter rocks up, a random Roman adopts Imogen as a page because blah ... I mean seriously, what the shit, Shakespeare? And in some ways plot salad made it *slightly* more disappointing than Pericles in that Cymbeline starts off being quite intriguing and then goes stupid whereas Pericles is just stupid all the way through.

Prince Stupidhead was definitely one of the highlights of this production but I thought there was a high level of basic competence across the board. I'd definitely be interesting in seeing another production to see how they'd handle him, because he does have the capacity of be incredibly sinister I think, in a rather interestingly, low key selfishly privileged way.

I'm really glad you're enjoying the podcasts. We're having a blast making them :)

It's definitely a decent production I think, with generally strong performances although the fight with Rome is represented by a fire and instead of a swordfight they have a stock footage of a hawk.... right. I think they attempted to do some kind interesting things with the look and feel of it - as Alice says below the static painted quality of the scenes is quite arresting. It's not very Saxon Britain-like, and makes all the references to the Rowans a bit ridiculous, but it gives the play a bit more visual identity than "random Shakespeare history with no particular indications of being in the past at all except for the names of things."

I love that LoTR - it's a massive (literally massive being, as I recall, 26 cassette tapes long) part of my childhood. And you'll probably be delighted to know that the further we've progressed into the BBC Shakespeare Collection the more it seems that they've scraped most of their subsidiarity cast members from the floor of the pub following a recording session of that very radio drama. We've met Gandalf twice, Saruman at least twice ... and I'm sure there are more. Arthur has some skill at spotting those dudes.

And, yes, the look is quite striking - it did look vaguely like the Knightmare sets but I loved the sense of artificiality and constriction suggested by the static arrangement of each scene. It seemed to straddle stage play versus television drama quite interestingly.

Also that skull and hourglass are recurring cast members - I spotted them in All's Well That Ends Well.

I definitely agree with you about Stupidhead. I don't know if he just seemed central because he was so well portrayed in this particular performance and I did find the comic idiot to evil rapist a bit jarring, simply because he'd been such of a lank-moustached doofus until that moment. But equally I can definitely see merit in that sense of "uh whut" because it underscores the danger of power and privilege even in the weak and worthless.

Robert Lindsey is amazing - always :) Especially in head-to-toe black leather AND A CAPE. The Iachimo scene reminded me weirdly of Othello actually - like the comedy version or something. And there's a similar line isn't there? (Oh, balmy breath, that dost almost persuade / Justice to break her sword!). I guess it's official: sleeping women smell good.
Alice at 19:19 on 2012-07-19
@Kyra, re: LoTR: I think it was originally aired in 26 episodes, but it was released on cassette tape in 13 episodes/tapes. And like you, it was a huge part of my childhood - we used to take it with us on long car journeys, and I'd listen to it if I was off school sick. It's still my go-to "comfort listen", especially once I bought the newest edition (re-organised into the three books, with new intros to each part recorded by Ian Holm, and Brian Sibley introducing the whole thing) off iTunes a few years ago. Apparently I've listened to it upwards of 40 times since then, so goodness knows how many times I've heard it over my lifetime.

Looking forward to meeting Saruman and hopefully others!

re: breath: I can just about go along with "sleeping women smell good", but the focus on sweet-smelling breath is just - really odd? And a bit gross? From the little I've read about Elizabethan dental hygiene (black teeth as a sign of status; toothpaste made from honey or sugar), I just can't imagine people's breath really being that pleasant. Though maybe that's why it's used by Shakespeare as a signifier of beauty/goodness, because of its relative rareness? Still icks me out, though.
Shim at 21:05 on 2012-07-24
So despite my ambivalence slash apathy towards Shakespeare, I'm short of podcasts and have started downloading these. Kyra, I love you dearly, but the erratic file-naming conventions never fail to wind me up... *librarian twitch*
Shim at 22:16 on 2012-07-24
Now there's an awkward front-page comment break!
Wardog at 23:22 on 2012-07-24
Yeah, I am too busy crying in the corner, stabbed through the heart by your entirely fair point.

I will try to standardise in future!
Shim at 23:26 on 2012-07-24
It's just nice if files sort in the right order, you know?

Just while I'm nitpicking, if you're doing 37 episodes, two-digit numbering would be nice *puppy eyes*
Arthur B at 08:07 on 2012-07-25
Merely sort your podcast folder by date and this problem goes away, even with individual hand-crafted bespoke file names. ;)
Shim at 08:28 on 2012-07-25
True enough. Still seems untidy though :)
Wardog at 09:17 on 2012-07-25
Fucking library assistants. How do they work?
Arthur B at 09:36 on 2012-07-25
And I don't want to talk to no bibliologist
Those motherfuckers filing and getting me pissed.
Shim at 23:25 on 2012-07-25
So either despite or because of my total ignorance I have really enjoyed the first three (or two and a prologue, if you like) podcasts. I even briefly entertained the idea of getting hold of my own copy, and then regained my senses and remembered that I don't even watch the DVDs that I already own or the ones I pay a monthly fee to have sent to me, so all it would achieve would be adding yet another thing I wasn't doing to the pile.
Ibmiller at 02:16 on 2012-07-26
Just to let peeps know - if you have Amazon Prime, I think all or most of the BBC Shakespeare series are available for free viewing. Which is what I'm going to be doing!
Ibmiller at 22:25 on 2012-07-26
Whoops, when I say "most" I obviously meant "12 of 37" (my bad).
Jamie Johnston at 20:04 on 2012-08-07
I have actually seen Cymbeline on stage! I think it was the RSC at the Barbican. Quite some years ago: I was probably in my mid-teens and it was sort of tangentially relevant to my historical interests (Roman Britain and all that). I also remember (for reasons that will become apparent later) that it was around the time when 'foot and mouth disease' was a thing.

I don't remember that much about it. I think the design scheme was meant to be vaguely East Asian, which was pointless and confusing. The only actual bits I really remember were:

1: They did the decapitation on stage by having the attacker very slowly swing his sword at Prince Stupidhead's neck until it got there, at which point the Prince Stupidhead actor chucked a balloon into the air with a ribbon tied to it, then fell over.

2: There was some kind of comedy interlude where somebody encountered some farmers, one of whom was said to be ill, and someone said 'What's wrong with him?' and they all turned to look at the diseased farmer and stared at his foot, which was massively bandaged, and then at his mouth, which was kind of frothing and dribbling. Biggest laugh of the evening.


Yes, Saxons came after Romans. There's no particularly convenient word for the people who lived in Britain before the Romans, but people tend to say 'Celts' or 'Britons'. I seem to recall that the play is very loosely taken from Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose History of the Kings of Britain is mostly utter tosh. I think possibly there is some evidence that Cymbeline (Cunobelinus) was an actual king of part of Britain at around the time of emperor Augustus. At this stage Britain had been invaded by the Romans already (by Julius Caesar) but then the Romans had gone home again because they couldn't be bothered to actually occupy the place. A couple of generations later the Romans invade again (see I, Claudius) and stick it out. But there was no recorded invasion under Augustus, and I don't think there's any particular evidence of tribute being paid, though there may have been friendly relations with Rome. But basically history is irrelevant to the play and not worth worrying about.

Milford Haven (which I think is in Wales?):

I once went to a thing at the Globe where Ken Campbell explained stuff about how Elizabethan / Jacobean theatre worked. And he claimed that an actor would commonly have a prepared speech in iambic pentameter that ran for about a dozen lines and was so vague that it could apply to almost any context: if they forgot their lines they would launch into this speech in the hope that by the time they got to the end they'd have remembered the next line. And in order that the other actors would know that it was over and they were back on the script again, the convention was (said Campbell) that the final words of the vague speech would be 'Milford Haven'. Which may explain the surprising frequency with which Milford Haven is referred to in plays from this period.

I can't quite bring myself to believe this is true but also I really want it to be so if you know that it isn't, please don't tell me.
Jamie Johnston at 20:21 on 2012-08-07
Oh and also can I just join in the love for that BBC radio Lord of the rings. The music is so good too! The only version where I don't wish they'd cut out Tolkien's random pointless songs.
Dan H at 13:09 on 2012-08-09
Magic of the internet: I certainly find no evidence that "Milford Haven" was *not* Jacobean theatre slang for "I am totally just making this shit up" but the intarwebs do inform me that Milford Haven would have been significant to a Tudor audience as the place where Henry Tudor landed at the end of the Wars of the Roses.
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