Cymbeline: A daughter by any other name…

There’s a wonderful little theory or legend concerning Cymbeline, and more importantly his daughter.


Yeah, not a typo.

Remember that one of Shakespeare’s sources for the play is Holinshed’s Chronicles. In a different story than what the Bard pilfered here, but a story of another legendary king of Britain (actually, not king, but founder–Brutus of Troy), said protagonist had a wife Innogen.


One of the earliest references to Cymbeline is in a book called (un-ironically enough) Book of Plays by Simon Forman. He was a bit of womanizing occultist, a wannabe alchemist, and as luck would have it for Shakespearean scholars, a taker of notes of some of the plays he attended.

One of which is Cymbeline, of which he writes:

Remember also the story of Cymbeline, king of England in Lucius’s time: how Lucius came from Octavius Caesar for tribute and being denied, after sent Lucius with a great army of soldiers who landed at Milford Haven, and after were vanquished by Cymbeline, and Lucius taken prisoner, and all by means of 3 outlaws of the which 2 of them were the sons of Cymbeline stolen from him when they were but 2 years old by an old man whom Cymbeline banished, and he kept them as his own sons 20 years with him in a cave. And how of them slew Clotan that was the queen’s son going to Milford Haven to seek the love of Innogen, the king’s daughter, whom he had banished also for loving his daughter. And how the Italian, that came from her love, conveyed himself into a chest and said it was a chest of plate sent from her love and others to be presented to the king. And in the deepest of the night she being asleep, he opened the chest and came forth of it, and viewed her in her bed and the marks of her body and took away her bracelet, and after accused her of adultery to her love, etc.

Now, you close readers will note how Imogen is spelled: Innogen.

Of course, Cloten’s name is misspelled as well, and we don’t call him Clotan.

So why all the love for Innogen?

Some research shows that the name Imogen first appears in Shakespeare, while of course Innogen appeared earlier, and it’s thought that maybe–just maybe–the publisher misread the two consecutive N’s and one M.

Well, there’s that.

And a connection to an earlier play.

Remember way back when, in the midst of Much Ado, we talked a little about missing persons in the play–folks who showed up in either dialog references or stage directions but never appeared in the play proper?

There was Claudio’s uncle. And Antonio’s son. And a woman named Innogen, mentioned in the Quarto edition’s stage direction for the opening scene (as well as the dance scene, Act Two, Scene One). But we never hear from her at all, and never hear about her again. What’s the big deal, and why does that matter one whit to the question at hand in Cymbeline. Well, dear reader, Innogen is the wife of that patriarch of Messina, Leonato.

Leonato. Leonatus. Tomatah, tomato?

Could Imogen after the end of our play, no longer heir to the throne, and married to Posthumus Leonatus, have moved with hubby to Italy? Where their names got a little alteration to Innogen and Leonato? Could they be Hero’s parents?

It’s a stretch, I know. But a stretch some scholars are willing to make. You know, like the folks at the Oxford University Press, those behind the New Oxford Shakespeare. Those guys.

Am I willing to make the stretch?

I’d say nah (I mean, how doe we explain Antonio, as Posthumus is an only [surviving] child?), if it wasn’t for one thing (and a thing I haven’t seen in the discussions).

What is the only and offhanded reference to Hero’s mother in the dialog of that play?

When Don Pedro, upon his arrival to Messina, asks if the young woman, Hero, is Leonato’s daughter, the patriarch answers: “Her mother hath many times told me so” (Much Ado, I.i.99). Leonato says that Hero’s mother, the absent(?) Innogen, often told him he was Hero’s father. Leaving the doubt of paternity hanging in the air like a stale joke.

After all these years, does Leonatus, er, Leonato still not trust Imogen, er, Innogen?

Hey, Posthumus: get over it already.

Yeah, I’m leaning (a little) toward Innogen.

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