Joseph Valente as Arviragus
Shakespeare’s Cymbeline tells the story of the family of King Cymbeline as his daughter, adopted son, and two unknown sons search for their purpose and place in life in the midst of major international pressure, as well as villainous trickery and deception. Though royal, the family displays many relatable qualities present in many families. I play Arviragus, one of the lost princes, unaware of his royal birth, but searching desperately for his identity and purpose in life. Wearing a kilt (NOT a skirt!), and living in the wilderness with his older brother and adopted father, Arviragus longs for a life of significance and valor where he achieves his true potential and ensures that his actions will survive after he himself has succumbed to his own mortality.
Often, Shakespeare was commissioned to write his plays for the noble and royal, hence he deals with the issues of bloodline and birth in many of his plays. Unbeknownst to Cadwall, he and his brother are the lost sons of King Cymbeline, stolen by Belarius (Morgan) as revenge against his master for unjustly banishing him as a traitor. Shakespeare cleverly pleases his employers by implying that the princely blood within Guiderius and Arviragus emerges even in their rustic surroundings, somehow elevating them toward honor, courage, and valor. However his portrayal of Prince Cloten as an oafish, deplorable character of noble birth, hints at a satire of this belief that noble birth somehow grants one excess honor and greatness over others. Lines such as “…mean and mighty rotting together have one dust…” further emphasize the view that birth matters little, it is one’s actions, both small and large, that determine true nobility, honor, and greatness. Shakespeare provides the implication that Belarius has taught the princes these ideas, as evidenced by their disdain of money, and lack of respect for Cloten, despite his princely birth.
With this perspective in mind, I realized that Arviragus was truly similar to every other young man or woman searching for a path in life and a way to distinguish oneself. The brothers are unsatisfied with their rustic existence because it offers little hope for a better future where their struggles and accomplishments will survive their own mortality. They have not been beaten down by the world, as has their adopted father. There is a strong, youthful idealism about Arviragus, as he searches for something greater in life, something beyond his own knowing. He conceives himself in all manner of tales of glory and valor in war. In this way he is similar to many mythic characters who reside in ordinary surroundings while longing for adventure and experience beyond the ordinary. Encountering his sister in disguise as a man is joyous to him, as he believes that this individual provides an opportunity to enter a new world outside of the one he knows. Hence his grief at her apparent death is all the more painful, as he has pinned all his hopes and aspirations on this strange individual that has provided variety to his routine-oriented life. The battle with the Romans provides another such opportunity to break out of his world, and he remains determined to seize it this time and use it to begin a new life of valor and significance. He will not remain “a poor unknown” any longer. This quest for fulfillment defines his character, and is relatable as every individual seeks out their full potential as they go through life.
Belarius scoffs at the restlessness of his sons, as the idealism he once harbored was crushed when he was unjustly banished from Cymbeline’s side after many an honorable deed. However this cynicism has been unable to touch his adopted sons, as their yearning for something more remains strong. Yet Belarius has taught them that nobility and birth truly mean little, it is how one lives life that defines an individual. By foiling the brothers with Cloten, a man who places all his stock in his birthright, Shakespeare implies that this social education will ensure benevolent rule from the brothers when they take their place at Cymbeline’s side.
Shakespeare often deals with issues of identity, especially when concerning royalty and nobility. Arviragus and Guiderius are struggling to find their purpose, and yearn for opportunity to distinguish themselves. The revelation of their princely birth only comes after they have taken a valiant part in the British victory over the Romans. This is fitting, as their nobility comes not through birth but deed, an idea Shakespeare hints at throughout the play. They possess the same desire for purpose as all human beings. It is implied that this human solidarity they have been taught by Belarius will benefit the kingdom when it comes under their reign after Cymbeline’s death. This has truly been a great journey for me in discovering this complex character, and I look forward to opening night this Friday. I have been truly impressed with the performances of all my fellow cast members, and am humbled to have been able to work with such talented, dedicated people in this production.