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Influence of Folk Fairy Tales on “Cymbeline” by Shakespeare

Folk tales and legends have always been an inexhaustible source of inspiration for many authors, creating their masterpieces in various times. William Shakespeare was not an exception. In a lot of his works a careful reader will notice references to folk legends. And his tragedy named Cymbeline is one of them. The play is not very familiar to a modern reader, but it doesn’t make it less valuable from the literary point of view or less interesting in terms of the intrigue.

The plot of the story is based upon an ancient legend about Celtic British King Cunobelinus. Although it is classified as a tragedy, modern critics more often tend to refer the piece to the romantic style, and it can be easily understood why. Shakespeare highly appreciated the humanity and nobility of the human spirit, but believed that they could reign only in the fairy-tale situations. In Cymbeline this element is more than noticeable.

The piece includes a lot of themes from popular folk fairy-tales, familiar to different nations. For instance, tricks and intrigues of the mean step-mother (the Queen), who is ready to perish her stepdaughter (Imogen, the daughter to the King of Britannia by a former Queen) and her own husband – Cymbeline, to have her stupid and shallow son Cloten at the head of the kingdom. Imogen’s escape has some reminiscences of the fairy-tale about the Snow White (a cave in the woods, gnomes). But here instead of gnomes we have noble Belarius, former courtier, outcast by Cymbeline, and the two sons of the King – legal inheritors of the kingdom, young and good-looking. Belarius declaims against feudal prejudices, because of which Imogen had nearly died and the author supports him.

These are only a few folk motives this magic masterpiece contains.


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