Cymbeline: An Introduction

While I normally frown upon mixing plays, I wanted to preface March’s turn toward the histories by sharing an audio program I have begun from the Great Courses.

I am not being sponsored by them; I just happen to be a huge fan. So when it came time to making a crucial decision about how to tackle Shakespearean history, I went the unusual route of following the historical chronology rather than the order Shakespeare wrote them.

While I am curious about Shakespeare’s development as a playwright, I am even more eager to eliminate a blight in my own education. Because of my fascination with intellectual history, I have habitually followed the collapse of Rome with Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Empire, the Italian Renaissance and then the Enlightenment, leaving a near complete absence of the very material that this course covers.

Forgive my innocence, but I really had no previous understanding of English vs. British history, how the Scots and Welsh preserved their independence, or how the Irish “saved civilization.” From the development of Christianity, to feudal kingdoms and parliamentary law, I honestly had no grasp on the full extent of my ignorance.

Here is the video intro to the course that I am studying in 36 audio instalments. If it plays like an infomercial, well, that’s basically what it is:

Now I understand the historical background of Cymbeline. I’m not sure how much it will help me figure out the play, but at least I have a running start.

[Note: Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth have been removed from the chronology so they can be read sequentially later on. While they each have a historical component as well, their literary legacy transcends time, comprising the single greatest hot streak any author has ever achieved – as we’ll discuss later.]

I can’t tell you how exciting this is! Shakespeare has already led me down paths I never expected to follow, becoming an entire education unto himself. It’s a journey I heartily encourage you to take up for yourself.

And now we return to our original programming.


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