Erin Julian, “Violence and Romance: Reclaiming the Heroine in Contemporary Cymbeline”

Violence and Romance: Reclaiming the Heroine in Contemporary Cymbeline
Erin Julian, University of Western Ontario 

Shakespeare’s Cymbelineattempts to ‘straighten out’ the queerness of romance to construct an emblem of Briton victorious: the crown princes Guiderius and Arviragus, swords heroically drawn, defending Britain from the entire Roman army. This image replaces fallible emblems of masculinity, notably the braggadocio Cloten impotently waving his sword while threatening to rape Innogen and the foreign Iachimo entering Innogen’s bedchamber in the pose of the rapist Tarquin (2.2) only to be later ‘revengingly enfeebl[ed]’ by the British air (5.2.4), unable to defeat Posthumous in battle. The play’s fantasy of Britain also rejects familiar icons of martial femininity including Spenser’s Britomart and Queen Boudicea, leaving only the duplicitous Queen and the Lucrece-like Innogen, whom the play imagines as a ‘scabbard’ for Posthumous’s phallus-like sword. Analyzing these emblems, together with related visual imagery, Dr. Julian’s paper outlines some of the obstacles contemporary productions encounter in returning queer gender play to Cymbeline.