by Stefano Braschi
I do not have a favourite Shakespeare play. Every time I revisit a play it offers something new. Each production is different; some mesmerise whilst others send me straight to sleep. New experiences can also change the way we engage with plays we think we already know. There are easily ten or fifteen ‘masterpieces’ that stand out from the canon in terms of popularity. They include Shakespeare’s ever-popular seasonal Comedies, his most blood-rousing Histories and, of course, the almost mythical Tragedies of Hamlet, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet et al. These plays form the foundation of our British cultural understanding. They are stories we know and love, plays we studied in school and feel a nostalgic attachment to, for any number of reasons.
That said, my choice is not considered one of Shakespeare’s greatest creations, nor would I try to defend it as such. Cymbeline is a play which has always intrigued and excited me rather than being the work which I would want to defend as Shakespeare’s greatest in an academic sense. I love it for its bizarre blend of fantasy and romance, indulging an almost soap-opera-esque series of plots. His best play? Probably not. The most popular? Certainly not (though it did carry more favour in centuries past). It is confusing at times, manic and surreal, but this chaos adds to its charm. A crisis of royal succession, the threat of war, abandoned offspring and a pair of noble young lovers tested by a slimy, nasty piece of work (one you can’t help but love to see in operation) all make it a feast for the audience and a source of real potential for any off-the-wall director. Some say it was a side project, a little bit of fun for a writer who spent his best efforts on the masterpieces we all know so well. But, even if this were the case, it does not detract from Cymbeline’s value as a play that serves to entertain and animate its audience. After all, who doesn’t like a bit of fun?
Shakespeare’s clips show, for serious! Gosh, though, I love Cymbeline.