Study Guide

Cymbeline, King of Britain Patriotism

By William Shakespeare

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Bring out the Union Jacks, because this play is patriotic.

… Or is it?

As is often the case with Shakespearean plays that deal in some way with fair England and her politics, it's very heard to tell in Cymbeline on what side of fence Shakespeare himself falls. In this play, we've got a British king who ultimately follows Rome's rules and pays them a fee. We've got a battle that ends with a family reunion rather than rousing patriotic speeches.

On the other hand, we've also got characters like Guiderius and Arviragus, who insist on fighting for Britain even though they aren't affected by the outcome of the war. We've got Posthumus, who changes his clothes and allegiance to help his countrymen, even though his king has caused him pain and sadness. And then we've got Imogen, who tells Pisanio she can't imagine going anywhere else but Britain.

Shakespeare's a master of putting what seem to be straightforward scenes on the stage but then undermining these scenes with sarcasm, irony, and other kinds of weirdness. Don't try to pin this dude down: he's more interested in making you think than he is in telling you a simple story with an easy moral.

So put on those thinking caps, and take the long-live-England stuff with a grain of salt.

Questions About Patriotism

  1. Do you think the play is patriotic? Why or why not?
  2. Why do you think Shakespeare portrays the Roman leader (Lucius) as noble and valiant? How do you think he characterizes other Romans?
  3. Why might Britain be symbolized with a sun? If Britain is the sun, then how does Rome compare?
  4. Why do Guiderius and Arviragus want to defend Britain, even though they live outside conventional British society?
  5. Why do Posthumus and Belarius fight for Britain even though they've had horrible experiences there? What is it about Britain that attracts these men?

Chew on This

Posthumus, Guiderius, Arviragus, and Belarius fight for Britain because they are bound to the country where they were born—even if it scorned them.

Cymbeline is a patriotic play that celebrates the strength of Britain and its people.

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