Two settings?

OK, I’m seeing (or rather have seen) an interesting bit of interpretive criticism regarding setting in Cymbeline. Seems there are two. Of course, you say: Britain and Rome.

Only that’s not what they’re talking about…

They’re not talking geography. No. They’re talking about time.

According to both Holland (in the Pelican intro) and Asimov, the Britain sequences take place about when we think they should: around the first decade A.D.

And yes, the latter is that Asimov…the SF master also wrote a “Guides” to both the Bible and the Bard, filling in for the reader any possible blank spots in their background or experiences…I love his work, and I’ve included it in my Not-So-Digital Tools-of-the-Trade.

However, both writers claim that the “Rome”-set scenes are not contemporaneous to the Britain scenes of the play, but more contemporaneous to Shakespeare’s Britain.


Well, primarily because of the names of characters found there:

  • Philario – Italian, not Roman (and Italy as an entity wasn’t around then)
  • Iachimo – Italian (ditto)
  • the Frenchman, the Spaniard, and the Dutchman (their countries didn’t exist yet either).

Is this just Shakespeare moving too quickly and not updating (or would that be down-dating?) the references he was liberally borrowing from Boccaccio’s Decameron? Possible. Probably.

Though the temporal fluidity does help create a certain fairy-tale vibe in the play…

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