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Cymbeline as Mother

In: English and Literature

Submitted By kkang36
Words 2458
Pages 10
Kin Kang
Dr. Tredennick
English 330
12/20/13

Cymbeline as Mother
When reading through Shakespeare’s tragicomedy, Cymbeline, I tended to want to find the archetypal vices in the heros of the play. Among the most honorable characters: Posthumous, Imogen, Guiderius, and Arviragus, we find that only Posthumous seems to have the only recognizable character flaw in bargaining off his wife for gold. In almost all respects, the children of Cymbeline are perfect characters within the Elizabethan patriarchal ideal. The three of them have an incomplete parentage in the play, having an absent mother, and being displaced in the case of the boys. With the role of motherhood being so very important to child-development, the question becomes: how did these perfect characters get this way without the essential role of the mother? Of course in the heavily misogynistic society, the mother plays the part of enemy even in parenting, as the female body and character is something that must be conquered in order to successfully rear virtuous sons. In this play, this challenge is sidestepped by Cymbeline’s claim to motherhood. In Cymbeline, Shakespeare creates a familial fantasy within which the role of the mother is fully excised from the gender play of traditional Elizabethan parenthood, fostering purely masculine childrearing. Cymbeline takes on the role of the mother, embodying a purer space for child development that rids itself of the female body: the source of contamination to the ideal masculine character and form. This makes his children perfect in each of their respective personas, who are at that advantage of having a solely patriarchal parentage. In her essay, “The Absent Mother in King Lear”, Coppelia Kahn explores the effect of the also absent mother on the titular character of King Lear. Kahn’s argument is that Lear’s masculine identity deteriorates and fails to repress the feminine (and childlike) dependency on his “daughter-mothers.” To frame this idea, Kahn explores the paradoxical role of the mother within the Elizabethan family. Mother is the embodiment of femininity in form and in function: responsible for bearing and rearing children, which makes her the enemy to the development of the masculine psyche. Her presence in the family is required so that it can be either embraced by daughters or denied by sons. Kahn uses a psychoanalytic critique – credited most notably to Nancy Chodorow – of “how the early mother-child relationship shapes the child’s sense of maleness or femaleness,” and how “the basic masculine sense of self is formed through a denial of the male’s initial connection with the femininity, a denial that taints the male’s attitudes toward women and impairs his capacity for affiliation in general” (2). Kahn explains how it is the duty of the father as despot of the Elizabethan home to facilitate this transformation into manhood by “breaking the will” or severing the dependent bonds between mother and son. The father and son’s manliness is equally contingent on the repression of the mother, an idea that fits well into the Shakespearean discourse of male anxiety. In Cymbeline, the misogynistic rants of a vengeful Posthumous the character of the insidious stepmother-Queen embody the evil of womanhood that threatens man and prove the need for repression in the patriarchal backdrop of the drama. After Posthumous is duped by the conniving Iachimo, he curses all women, and claims that all evil – even in men – can be sourced back to them. He cries: “Could I find out / The woman’s part in me! For there’s no motion / that tends to vice in man, but I affirm / It is the woman’s part” (II.5.18). While this outburst is brought on by a deceptive ploy against his wife’s honor, his anger is hardly directed towards Imogen as it is toward the feminine creature as a whole. This language represents some of the most misogynistic language that I have encountered in my exposure to the Shakespeare corpus, which reveals more about Posthumous’ anxiety about this gender of evil than it does about mere misguided rage. But the idea seems to be widely accepted since it becomes a justifying basis for the repression of the feminine in Renaissance parental thought, as Kahn has shown in her study. Posthumous goes on to list several specific sins that he attributes to women including “lying,” “flattering,” “revenge,” “ambitions, covetings, change in prides, disdain,” and “slander” (21-25). These traits are all explicitly exhibited by the Queen throughout the play as she is the story’s feminine evil incarnate. The Queen is the character with influence over the king and his subjects, controlling the very position of England itself. Of course, all of this control is deeply malevolent, and she represents the actualization of the masculine nightmare. This underlying threat of the unsubdued woman is the source of conflict in the play, a conflict that must be quelled in order to reach a comedic resolution. By the end of the play, the social order realigns with a masculine fantasy where the ideal woman is rightfully embodied in the king as mother.
With his nameless wife completely absent from the text, Cymbeline acts as the masculine representation of the mother figure to the royal family. The entire plot surrounds the idea of a broken familial structure that moves to consolidation as the lines progress to the end of Act V. In the climactic family reunion in the king’s court, Shakespeare brings readers to the comedic resolution of the play which expressly portrays Cymbeline as the mother of his prodigal sons and disguised daughter. In a strange moment of parental androgyny, he exclaims, “O, what am I? / A mother to the birth of three? Ne’re mother / Rejoic’d deliverance more” (V.5.369-371). In his book Crossing Gender in Shakespeare: Feminist Psychoanalysis and the Difference Within, James W. Cone takes particular interest in this moment, marking it as the comedic finale of the play where not just social normalcy is achieved, but a sort of a supernatural ideal. He says that in this scene, “The hierarchy of the spheres is restored (and narrative closure achieved) by a king who is mother as well as father. If not immaculate, such a conception is nonetheless miraculous in its parthenogenesis (more precisely, androgenesis)… Excising the woman as medium of reproduction and as intermediary between the father and his child insures the purity and legitimacy of the male body, at least in fantasy” (126). Cone’s interpretation of the end of the scene rather eloquently addresses how the evil of femininity is vanquished by the close of the play, and the formation of a new perfect social order for the text hereafter. His interpretation of this moment links nicely with Kahn’s idea of parental repression of the feminine in order to maintain full manly purity. But the idea of a maternal replacement by man can be extended to the entire body of text and can be used to fill the role of the absent mother in previous lines. Readers get absolutely no insight regarding Cymbeline’s late wife, which by way of Kahn’s critique, would mean that we are equally blind to the character development of his children. We can use this interpretation of Cymbeline as mother to explain why the descendents of this superlative parentage are so pure. The elevated development of his children is enhanced by a mother devoid of the “all faults that may be named,” within the same model of respective repression and acceptance by his sons and daughter.
In the wilder land of Wales, Belarius takes the role of the foster father, acting as the repressor of Guiderius’ and Arviragus’ figurative mother, Cymbeline. In the caves of Milford-Haven where Balarius hides away with his two adopted sons, he constantly preaches against the Cymbeline and the court, hoping to instill more stoic values of Wales into the boys. In Act III, we see Belarius contempt towards the court and the strong values of the Welsh wilderness, and in scene 3 preaches heavily against the lifestyle that the boys’ mother figure enjoys. In an effort to steer the boys away from the motherly comforts he says: O, this life
Is nobler than attending for a cheque,
Richer than doing nothing for a bauble,
Prouder than rustling in unpaid-for silk:
Such gain the cap of him that makes ‘em fine,
Yet keeps his book uncrosses’d: no life to ours.
(III.3.22)

Belarius aims to make the boys hardened by struggle, and to repress the influence of his motherly counterpart. Imogen actually voices similar convictions scenes later when she gets to Wales and is forced to depart from her motherly home and feminine character as she faces her brother’s masculine element as Fidele. As she approaches the entrance to their cave, she says, “Plenty and peace breeds cowards: hardness ever / Of hardiness is mother” (III.6.21-22). Wales represents the masculine space, where motherly tenderness of the court is silenced. In this space we see Belarius fulfill his role as father in attempting to repress Cymbeline’s royal identity in the boys, and even Imogen attempts to repress her feminine nature as part of her disguise. It could be argued that neither effort is fully successful in the end, as evidenced by Belarius’ frustration with “how hard it is to hide the sparks of nature” and Imogen’s quickly recognized femininity. But since the mother role here is filled by a powerful and uncontaminated male, it becomes permissible for Guiderius and Arviragus to have stronger tendencies toward their mother figure. It is this enhanced parentage that makes them the masculine ideal: inherently nationalistic, adventurous, noble, brave, and virtuous. As for Imogen, her thinly veiled feminine perfection – also derived from Cymbeline – soon represents a perfect mother figure, which her brothers deeply identify with. Cymbeline’s untainted motherly influence shapes Imogen into the ideal woman, which immediately resonates with her brothers who view her as a strong mother figure as well. Kahn’s analysis focuses on the ego development of the son through the repression of the feminine influence of the mother, but she also emphasizes that the daughter’s “sense of femaleness arises through her infantile union with the mother and later identification with her” (2). Within this analysis, the son is the only child that needs the influence of both parents, because one of them needs to be defeated in order to shape his identity. In the daughter’s case, only a feminine influence is required since her character development relies on her acceptance of it. Imogen’s upbringing is shaped solely by Cymbeline, and therefore her virtue can be attributed to his masculine purity. Imogen notably has none of the evil characteristics of her stepmother, and her makeup consists of only the ideal qualities in a woman. Even in the words of her enemy Caius Lucas, with whom she has had a presumably short and rather meaningless relationship with, she is described as, “so kind, so duteous, diligent, / So tender over his occasions, true, / So feat, so nurse-like” (V.5.105-106). Every male character that comes into contact with her nearly swoons at the perfection of her form. When Imogen arrives at Belarius’ cave, she takes on the same feminine perfection that is embodied by Cymbeline, motherliness in the masculine form. Her Fidele disguise acts as an enhancement to her feminine qualities, as she proves to truly embody and identify with her mother figure. Her feminine qualities seem to be elevated and even made supernatural by her apparent maleness – Belarius initially thinks she is a fairy in III.6 – similar to Cymbeline’s parthenogenesis scene at the end of the play. The brothers immediately express familial love toward Fidele, as Arviragus’ first lines directed at her include that he “will love him as my brother: / And such a welcome as I’d give to him / After long absence” (III.6.85). Readers get the sense that the boys have been waiting for her to arrive, and welcome the return of a maternal figure. She comes to the scene and graces them with her “neat cookery” (236) and quickly operates as their “housewife” (227). With the heavily psychoanalytic basis to this paper, I feel obligated to mention the oedipal dynamic forming between the brothers and their newly reunited mother figure. It is emphasized by their obvious attraction toward her, and Arviragus’ preference of his own father’s death to hers.
In the very poignant funeral scene, the boys solidify their perception of Imogen as mother by giving her the same burial ritual as their thought-to-be mother Euriphile. Belarius’ wife, originally the princes’ nurse is given almost as little description as their actual mother, and by all evidence in the text seems to be equally absent in their early character-building stages of their lives. Belarius is painted quite clearly as sole parent. However, the text does imply that her death was an emotional event, as they pay extreme reverence to Imogen when they replicate it. Arviragus honors Imogen with the same solemn mourning song played on the instrument used only once before for Euriphile’s funeral procession. The boys equate the anguish in losing Imogen to that of losing their mother. Guiderius clearly conveys this relation when he decides to bury Imogen in the mother’s grave, and giving her the same eulogy song. Arviragus wants the song to be performed with the same conviction as their mother’s, saying they should “use like note and words, / Save that Euriphile must be Fidele” (IV.2.315-316). In this moment of the play, the boys deeply connect with the image of their mother, now embodied in Imogen, and by extension with Cymbeline. From this point on, we see a much stronger sense of nationalism from Guiderius and Arviragus as they shift their allegiances from the paternal stoicism of the Welsh mountains toward the princely duty of protecting their motherland. Belarius is no longer able to curtail the inherent influence of Cymbeline on the boys, as they return to save him from harm, avoiding another funeral song. The siblings return to Cymbeline’s court as a family reunited by way of Imogen’s motherly qualities, where the identities of their perfect womanless upbringing are finally revealed to the court. The comedic resolution is allowed to take full swing with the source of all evil that is the female body of sin is vanquished. With the threat of the Queen’s evil eliminated and the purely masculine upbringing of the new heirs to the throne, the future looks bright for Cymbeline’s kingdom.
Works Cited
Kahn, Coppelia. “The Absent Mother in King Lear”. DocStoc. N.p., 26 Apr. 2010. Web. www.docstoc.com/docs/.../The-Absent-Mother-in-King-Lear-(DOC)‎
Stone, James W. Crossing Gender in Shakespeare: Feminist Psychoanalysis and the Difference within. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print.…...

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Mother

...Having a serious mother is quite beneficial for children to form their personality traits. They can learn how to become ethical people and be able to solve their problems independently under their mothers’ nurturing from when they are young. However, almost all children just want to have a good-natured mother who can smile gently and forgive them whenever they make mistakes instead of punishing them. How is your mother? If anybody asks me this question, I will answer that she is truly fantastic. Although being a serious mother, she has a nice appearance, terrific personalities, and interesting hobbies. First of all, my mother is actually ordinary, but she is a good-looking woman in my eyes. She is average height and has a spender shape. As a Vietnamese woman, my mother has a round face and long black straight hair which cascades over her back like a waterfall. She also has a sweet smell of lotus and smooth tanned skin. Unlike some other serious women, my mother usually appears with a sweet smile on her red lips that can make other people comfortable. Under her thin black eyebrows, there are dark brown penetrating eyes framed by long lashes. They seem to brighten my world whenever I look at her. Although my mother’s nose is not really tall, it is straight and thin, so it makes her facial structures harmonious. When she smiles, her face scintillates delight since her cheeks turn pink and two black pupils stretch out. My mother has a narrow and sloping shoulder that makes......

Words: 371 - Pages: 2