New College of the Humanities

The True Cymbeline

C.M. Matthews introduces Cymbeline, the most successful king of the dominant tribe in Southern England during the period between the two Roman invasions.

Of the two kings of ancient Britain used as themes by Shakespeare, King Lear is purely mythical, but Cymbeline, or Cunobeline, to give his name its contemporary form, is an historical character well vouched for, and an important one in the story of this island. He ruled for nearly forty years in the South-east of Britain, his life being contemporary with that of Christ, though exceeding it by many years. The authorities for his times are, firstly, the old English chronicles which Shakespeare used, and which are quite unreliable; secondly, Roman authors, who give us clear facts, but never enough of them; and thirdly, the evidence of the earth, which is always true, though often hard to interpret. Important archaeological finds of this period are rare, much rarer than Roman ones, hence the great interest attached to each new one— as at Hertford Heath this summer, where excavation has revealed a burial belonging to the reign and territory of Cunobeline which is probably the grave of one of his family or his tribal chieftains.

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