Cymbeline: directing the stage

With every play, toward the end of the discussion cycle, I like to address a subject that rocks my world, but probably bores the socks off you. Well, since it’s my blog, I get to do what I want. And I want to talk about stage directions hidden in plain sight within the dialog. While these later plays do tend to have more stage directions than before (like the bizarre war correspondency that opens Act Five, Scene Two; or the truly truly bizarre directions around the dream of Posthumus Leonatus), there are still some hidden nuggets. And what are Cymbeline’s nuggets? (that sounded like it belonged to our discussion of bawdy)

Well, let’s see…

It starts early enough. During the newlyweds’ farewells, when Posthumus says to Innogen, “Weep no more” (I.i.93), so it’s obvious what actions she should be doing.

In Act Three, Scene Two, there’s no stage direction, but Pisanio does say to Innogen, “Madam, here is a letter from my lord” (III.ii.25); and I’d argue that the two-foot metrical pause in the previous poetic line connotes Pisanio doing something with some written correspondence, either Innogen’s or Pisanio’s.

In the same scene, we get a direction for the prop-mistress: Innogen’s letter must have a wax seal: “Good wax, thy leave! Blessed be / You bees that make these locks of counsel” (III.ii.35-6).

In Act Three, Scene Four’s delivery by Pisanio of Innogen to Wales, the gravity of the situation must be getting to Pisanio…and it has to show, as Innogen says,

What is in thy mind
That makes thee stare thus? Wherefore breaks that sigh
From th’ inward of thee? One but painted thus
Would be interpreted a thing perplexed
Beyond self-explication.
  • III.iv.4-8

If she notices this change in Pisanio, so should we in the audience. And even without stage direction, he must give Innogen his own letter from Posthumus: “Why tender’st though that paper to me with / A look untender” (III.iv.11-2). He’s got to hand it over, and with some emotion, too. Still later in the same scene, she does what she thinks is Posthumus’ directive to Pisanio: “I draw the sword myself. Take it, and hit / The innocent mansion of my love, my heart” (III.iv.67-8).

And as we mentioned last week when discussing Innogen’s “wake-up” speech, she disguises herself with Cloten’s blood: “Give color to my pale cheek with thy blood, / That we the horrider may seem to those / Which chance to find us” (IV.ii.330-2).

And of course, in the 55-car pile-up on Revelation Roadway, Posthumus refers to the message left on his chest by Jupiter: “this label on my bosom” (V.v.433). The use that “this” obviously calls for a gesture or action of some type.

None of these get actual “stage directions,” but all necessary for a sensible performance…otherwise, you get dissonance between what is said and what is done. You know, that whole suit-the-word-to-the-action-the-word-to-the-action thing.

Man, I love this stuff.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *