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REVIEWS Peggy Muñoz Simonds. Myth, Emblem and Music in Shakespeare's Cymbeline: An Iconographie Reconstruction. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992. Pp. 393; 78 illustrations in text. $55.00. Professor Simonds' study offers copious documentation of the iconographie context for the themes and imagery found in Shakespeare 's Cymbeline. The sources which she brings to our attention include bestiaries, frontispieces, domestic and applied arts, heraldry, illustrated Ovids and, above all, emblem books. Previous attempts to identify emblematic topoi informing specific images in the plays have had a notoriously checkered history. Henry Green's Shakespeare and the Emblem Writers (1870) now stands as a monument to over-enthusiastic source-hunting, and Peter Daly's attempt, in Literature in the Light ofthe Emblem (1979), to lay down a methodical and theoretically competent basis for such comparative studies was full of cautionary tales, many of them from Shakespeare criticism. Peggy Simonds' study is, needless to say, conversant with this methodological and theoretical debate; it is also fully aware of the limited extent of English knowledge of continental painting and the visual arts which has been carefully explored in such studies as Lucy Gent's Picture and Poetry 1560-1620 (1981)—though such awareness does not deter Simonds on occasion from discussing paintings and other documents which neither Shakespeare nor his audience could possibly have seen. A more fundamental problem for any extended study of the iconographie context of Cymbeline stems from the extremely allusive and complex nature of the play itself, many of whose fundamental issues are, arguably, only defined through passing allusions in the text. The recognition that the Orpheus myth is but "a phantom presence" in Shakespeare's later plays (p. 344) need not deter the critic from defining the neo-Platonic values surrounding this most suggestive of Renaissance myths, in a play where the severed head of Cloten, "the satyr in a prince's clothing," is "thrown into the creek which will carry it out to sea" (p. 57). The idea that the action of the play asks to be read as a specific allusion to Christian regeneration has long had support amongst critics who have noted that the birth of Christ, though unmentioned in the play itself, was the most significant historical event to have occurred during Cymbeline's British reign; the descent of Jupiter in Posthumus' dream in V.iv and the resonant allusions to the pax Augusti in the closing moments of the play offer sufficient hints for such a reading. The discussion is fully alert, as one would expect, to the contemporary political resonance of this concluding vision of national and imperial unity. The idea that the whole play is a spiritual 468 Reviews469 and neo-Platonic allegory of the soul's quest for God is a more challenging assumption, however, and one which I have to say I do not find wholly convincing. The most valuable of the documents presented in this study are those illustrating images which are fully established in the text itself. Simonds' extensive documentation of the eagle motif, which the play repeatedly deploys with an evidently symbolic register, will be of lasting value to future readers. Its association with the Icarus myth—in an emblem of Sambucus, for instance—and hence with the important doctrine of hidden knowledge, is highly suggestive. The association of the crow with ideas of landscape recession and perspective (pp. 189-90), and also with marital fidelity (pp. 207-10), is clearly relevant to what is going on in the text. At other times the emblematic allusions are more veiled, as with the familiar marriage topos of the elm wedded to the vine, for though the topos is nowhere fully described in the play, it is surely alluded to when, at IV.ii.59, Arvigarus refers to the "elder" and the vine (the iconography of the elder-tree is shown to be significant and relevant to this allusion), whereas at V.v.263 when Imogen finally embraces Posthumus as an unidentified tree he refers to his own spiritual "fruit," which suggests that we envision her as the fruitful vine. Not only is the marriage iconography wholly appropriate to the context at this point, but the topos...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 468-473
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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