Cymbeline Director's Note

Posted August 11, 2021

Post Imogen Web

Director Marti Lyons shares her thoughts on Cymbeline, and the work that goes into adapting a complex Shakespearean conundrum.

Director's Note, Cymbeline

Cymbeline is a difficult play to categorize. Is it a comedy, a tragedy, or a history? Is it set in ancient Britain, renaissance Italy, or Elizabethan England? Is it an experiment, a rough draft, or an intentionally circuitous work? And why, oh why, isn’t it called “Imogen”?

There are many ways to answer these questions, but the job of an adaptor/ director is to determine not just what is true, but what is relevant. My (and my collaborator’s) interpretation of this text is not authoritative; we determine relevance by choosing what to keep, and what to cut. Meaning can first be made from how I’ve adapted the work, done in collaboration with dramaturg Sara Becker, based on an original adaptation by Henry Woronicz, in collaboration with the acting ensemble and the design team. Meaning is imbued by each collaborator as we, together, shape the text to tell our version of this story. Meaning can also be made from the choice to cast all women in a play that centers around a misogynistic calumny plot, or the decision to tackle a dystopian fairytale set in ancient Britain with a multiracial cast in contemporary America. This is a production of Cymbeline, as much as any production of Cymbeline. The meaning of our production is made by the artists who create it, and, ultimately, by those who interpret it; you.

There are, however, a few themes that seem essential to any investigation of this story; accountability, mercy, and forgiveness. Scholar Emma Smith calls Cymbeline a post-tragic play. Where another of Shakespeare’s tragedies would end with villians dying a horrible death, in Cymbeline, people who commit grievous acts (mostly) live to face consequences. It is a rare opportunity in a Shakespearean play for flawed characters to have to face each other, and themselves, without the tidiness of death or a wedding to tie up the story. In Act Five of Cymbeline, the characters must strive to make sense of their actions as individuals and as a community. Together, they must catalog their wrongs and determine if and how mercy may be granted, and where it might be deserved.

– Marti Lyons