Royalty Unlearned, Honor Untaught: British Savages and Historiographical Change in Cymbeline


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Brittons, thinke not that your glories fall,

Deriued from a meane originall.

-William Browne, Britannia's Pastorals

Critics have tended to approach Cymbeline, Shakespeare's strange hybrid play, from one of two directions: some, following the lead of G. Wilson Knight, look to the historical dimension of the play in search of allegory or topical significance;1 while others, following J. M. Nosworthy, view the play as pure romance.2 In my own reading of Cymbeline I am aiming at something of a reconciliation between these two camps. As we shall see, in the case of Cymbeline a theme typically associated with romance becomes more than a mere convention of that geme; it becomes a reflection of pressing issues within the intellectual context of Shakespeare's day-issues concerning the nation's past, and how Englishmen were supposed to interpret it.

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