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Mr Malone informs the public, that the king from whom this play takes its title, began his reign, according to Holinshed, in the nineteenth year of the reign of Augustus Cæsar; and the play commences in, or about, the twenty-fourth of Cymbeline's reign, which was the forty-second year of Augustus, and the sixteenth of the Christian era.-Cymbeline is said to have reigned thirty-five years, leaving at his death two sons, Guiderius and Arviragus.
Notwithstanding an English king and his children furnish some names in this tragedy, it is supposed that its fable is taken from an Italian novel, which the dramatist has blended with many incidents, the produce of his own fancy.
Variety of events form the peculiar character of this play; attention is kept awake by sudden changes of time, place, and circumstances; but the mind obtains little reward for its watchfulness. Among the many amusing things, both seen and heard, at the representation of "Cymbeline," that part in which the great author is concerned, generally makes so
slight an impression upon an audience, that, when the curtain is dropped, they immediately discourse upon the splendour of Imogen's bed-chamber, the becoming dress she wore as a boy, and the dexterity with which Iachimo crept out, and crept into his coffer; without bestowing equal observation upon any of those sorrows or joys, which they have just seen exhibited.
Still the impossibility, that half the events in this play could ever occur, cannot be the sole cause of its weak effect. Shakspeare's scenes are frequently such as could not take place in real life; and yet the sensations which they excite are so forcible, that improbability is overpowered by the author's art, and his auditors are made to feel, though they cannot believe.
No such magic presides over the play of " Cymbeline," as to transform reason into imagination-the spectator may be pleased, but cannot be impassioned. The only scene which approaches the pathetic, is that where Imogen is informed by Pisanio of her husband's command, that she should be murdered;-and this is a vengeance so unlike the forgiving temper of an English courtier, upon similar occasions, that it appears as if the air of Italy had, as she suspects, infected the loving Posthumus with that nation's prédominant crimes, and no one heart is deeply affected by so extraordinary an occurrence.
The young mountaineers, the brothers of Imogen, are pleasing figures, among the large group of personages here collected; but still their forest dresses, more than their business in the scene, amuse the spec
tator. Or, if he be moved by any concern about them, it is with hatred, at the inhuman boasting of Guiderius, that he has-" cut off one Cloten's head, son to the queen, and sent it down the river, to tell his mother," &c. Whoever Cloten was, or whatever ill he might threaten, yet, for the author to make this youthful forester lay his foolish enemy dead at his feet, and then be facetious over the horrid act, was sinking him beneath the common bravo, who is ever pourtrayed grim and gloomy, as the good sign that he is still a man, and has a conscience capable of remorse.
Johnson concludes his commentaries on the tragedy of "Cymbeline" (in which he bestows little praise, except on the soliloquy of Posthumus, when he supposes Imogen has been put to death) with this general criticism.
"This play has many just sentiments, some natural dialogues, and some pleasing scenes; but they are obtained at the expence of much incongruity. To remark the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct, the confusion of the names, and manners of different times, and the impossibility of the events, in any system of life, were to waste criticism upon unresisting imbecillity, upon faults too evident for detection, and too gross for aggravation."
How would a modern author writhe under a critique that should accuse his drama, of only one half of these failings !-Yet "Cymbeline" survives this just attack-and will live admired, and esteemed, to the end of time.
Mrs St Ledger.