There couldn’t have been a more appropriate way for me to begin my travels than in viewing Shakespeare’s Cymbeline in the new (2014) Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, next to the Globe Theatre in London. This theatre is used for indoor productions, and it was intimate, vibrant, and appealing to both eyes and ears. I will not try to explain all the intricacies of the plot here, but it follows the Romans in Britain.
Cymbeline is the current king of Britain, and his evil queen (why not – it’s Shakespeare) and stepson convince him not to pay the tribute owed to the Romans. This happens to be the exact plot my Latin III class was reading in the narrative of The Pericles Group’s Operation Lapis game before I left for sabbatical. One of the major plot lines not only follows the story of Collatinus and Tarquinius fighting over the purity of Collatinus’s wife Lucretia, but it also references it in the dialogue. In addition, the dialogue references poems of Catullus and makes multiple digs at those Italians. The drama was masterfully produced, with a candlelit set and a deus (well, dea here) ex machina. Motifs included girls dressing as boys, soldiers switching uniforms (reference both to Patroclus in the Odyssey and Androgeos in the Aeneid), sons thought to be long-lost but appearing at manhood (reference to Romulus and Remus and countless other Plautine plots) and second wives conspiring to have sons from a first marriage promoted to the crown. Britons fighting Romans in authentic garb; actors singing a beautiful duet over the funeral for someone taken for dead; a number of different English, Irish, and Scottish accents; and lines delivered comically and directly to the audience all added to the effect.
Another fabulous irony was having our walk to the theatre during a torrential downpour followed by the line, “Hath Britain all the sun that shines?” It was an exciting evening and an excellent introduction to our upcoming trip to Rome!