Throwback Thursday to Damian Lewis in Cymbeline

Hang there like a fruit, my soul,
Till the tree die!

Posthumus, Cymbeline

source: damianista
Cymbeline, Stage at Delacorte Theater, Central Park, NYC source: damianista

Shakespeare in the Park is a New York tradition combining two great things about the city: It’s Theater in Central Park… And, hey, it’s FREE, too! The tradition has been going strong for 53 years now in which Public Theater produces and stages two plays every summer at beautiful Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The productions are impressive that some of them move to Broadway once Central Park run is over, e.g. The Hair Musical in 2008 and Merchant of Venice in 2010. And, topping it all is it’s FREE! The only thing you have to do is go early in the morning and get in the line for free tickets distributed at noon. You may have to go really early if some big name is in a production though; for example we were in the line at 5am when Al Pacino did Merchant of Venice in 2010 and were among the last batch of people that could get tickets… Some people had arrived a night before with their camping equipment 😀 But, believe me,  waiting in line is half the FUN… You have people sleeping on their blankets, playing board games, reading the evening’s play together as a group…

And when you get your tickets, you are as happy as a clam… look at me!

source: Damianista
source: Damianista

Having grown up in Turkey, I am not coming from a deep Shakespeare culture. We read translated excerpts from Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet in our literature classes but I really believe one has to read Shakespeare in his language to understand and love it… That’s why my relationship with the great man really started as we moved to NYC and started doing Shakespeare in the Park… My husband and I read every play before we saw it and over the years we have read/seen Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Comedy of Errors, The Winter’s Tale, Measure for Measure, Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, and finally… Cymbeline last summer, one of Shakespeare’s late works that deals with the themes of innocence and jealousy. And.. most important for us, Damian played in a 1997 Royal Shakespeare Production of Cymbeline.

So… Today’s throwback takes us to a 26 year old Damian Lewis playing Posthumus in Cymbeline staged at Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 1997, at Barbican and also at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in New York and JFK Center for Performing Arts in Washington DC in 1998.


The play is still fresh in my mind that my big ambition today is to storify it for you with the lovely pictures that I found online and talk a bit about Damian’s character Posthumus as well as the play’s reviews.

Well, Cymbeline is the King of Britain as Augustus Caesar is the Emperor of Rome. Cymbeline has three children, but his two sons were kidnapped when they were kids and so he only has a daughter now: Imogen. The queen, the King’s second wife, has a son, a real laughing stock, called Cloten, and Cymbeline wishes Imogen to marry him. However, Imogen falls in love with her father’s ward Posthumus Leonatus (Damian Lewis) and the king banishes Posthumus from court and sends him to Italy for exile.

As Posthumus and Imogen say their good-byes to each other, they give each other a token to remember their love by… Imogen gives Posthumus a ring that used to belong to her mother and Posthumus gives her a bracelet. (Side note: I read somewhere that, lovers used to love tokens to tell everyone around “she’s mine” and “he’s mine” in the Elizabethean era.)

Cymbeline - 1997 Royal Shakespeare Company source:
Cymbeline – 1997 Royal Shakespeare Company, source:

Posthumus leaves for Rome where he meets Iachimo and the two talk about virtues of women. Iachimo claims he can seduce even the most virtuous Imogen and the two make a bet.

Cymbeline – 1997 Royal Shakespeare Company, source:
Cymbeline - 1997 Royal Shakespeare Company source:
Cymbeline – 1997 Royal Shakespeare Company, source:

Iachimo arrives in Britain to seduce Imogen. Understanding he cannot corrupt her, he finds a way to hide in her bedroom and steals her bracelet from her wrist as well as spots a mole on her right breast to present Posthumus as a proof of his success.

Cymbeline - 1997 Royal Shakespeare Company, source:
Cymbeline – 1997 Royal Shakespeare Company, source:

Iachimo easily convinces Posthumus that he has won the bet. Posthumus, devastated, tells his servant Pisanio to kill Imogen in Wales. Instead, Pisanio advises Imogen to disguise herself as a boy, Fidele, and she accidentally meets her brothers, who were kidnapped twenty years ago by Belarius, a nobleman who was banished from the court by King Cymbeline.

Cloten goes after Imogen to Wales in Posthumus’ clothes, determined to rape her as well as find Posthumus and kill her. Instead, one of Imogen’s brothers decapitates him and lays his headless body next to Imogen/Fidele, who has taken a potion that makes her appear dead. When she wakes up, Imogen/ Fidele believes that headless body belonged to her husband and she joins the Roman army, which is invading Britain as a result of Cymbeline’s failure to pay tribute to Rome.

Cymbeline - 1997 Royal Shakespeare Company, source:
Cymbeline – 1997 Royal Shakespeare Company, source:

Posthumus, who deeply regrets that he had Imogen killed, and the kidnapped princes who had no clue about their real identities are instrumental in defeating the Roman army and Cymbeline.

Cymbeline - 1997 Royal Shakespeare Company, source:
Cymbeline – 1997 Royal Shakespeare Company, source:

The final scene is typical and very much FUN with explanations leading to a HAPPY ENDING for everyone and Posthumus saying the most beautiful words that may mellow anyone that is more than a bit pissed with him because of the ease with which he believed Imogen was not virtuous… which reminds me of some certain hedge-fund billionaire that believed Dr. Mojo was selling him out…

“Hang there like a fruit, my soul, Till the tree die!”

Ok, Posthumus, I forgive you 😀 And I am looking forward to seeing if Axe has such beautiful words in his repertoire to win Dr. Mojo back 🙂

Cymbeline 1997 - Royal Shakespeare Company, source: The Guardian
Cymbeline 1997 – Royal Shakespeare Company, source: The Guardian

Washington Post critic Lloyd Rose, who says “Cymbeline puts the ‘fairytale’ back in romance” argues Imogen-Posthumus-Iachimo triangle is the most successful element in the production: “Steadfast, courageous Imogen bears comparison with the heroines of the great comedies, and the grave, gentle Pearce, with her beautiful low voice, does well by her. Posthumus, who first makes a bet with Iachimo about Imogen’s virtue and then is fool enough to believe that scoundrel’s lies, is a loser of a character. Though the handsome Lewis does what he can to make the character more impulsive than stupid or mean, the happy ending is somewhat marred by the audience’s suspicion that Imogen is way too good for him.”

I’m obviously not a theater critic but that’s exactly what I’m talking about. An actor can do only so much about Posthumus; in fact, it’s almost universally accepted that he is one of the weaker Shakespearean characters, And, Imogen being one of the strongest Shakespeare characters makes Posthumus all the more weaker as a character.

Ben Brantley of New York Times also talks about moments of “searing emotions” in Cymbeline saying “most of these come from Ms. Pearce, but the intense Mr. Lewis brings a haunting feeling of irreparable injury to the scene where he is made to believe that Imogen has betrayed him.”

Damian Lewis bringing “a haunting feeling of irreparable injury”? Ha! We know that well, don’t we? We know THAT very well.

Author: Damianista

Academic, Traveler, Blogger, Runner, Theatre Lover, Wine Snob, Part-time New Yorker, and Walking Damian Lewis Encyclopedia :D Procrastinated about a fan's diary on Damian Lewis for a while and the rest is history!

4 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday to Damian Lewis in Cymbeline”

  1. Great post. I didn’t get to Cymbeline in the park, was it with Hamish Linklater? Many years ago I sat in the all day line. Now I am finding pretty good luck going in the afternoon for the standby line (the line winds along a path in front of the theatre, sort of in line with the restroom building). It’s still a bit of a wait but not all day. These are tickets where people don’t show up or corporate tickets are not used. Or I might make a donation for a ticket (around $200) if I don’t want to miss it.

    I find earlier in the run is better especially if it seems it might be a hit. Before people catch on. Fridays in the summer when people decide to go away and don’t use their ticket. Or iffy overcast weather. It might not work if it’s a big event like Meryl Streep, Al Pacino or some other big star. But most of them I almost always get a ticket. And the seat can be anywhere. I got one in the second row once with my niece. King Lear with John Lithgow.

    You claim your place earlier in the afternoon. You could even get there around 3pm. It depends on the show. At 6:00pm you must stay in your spot. Maybe a brief bathroom run is okay. No one can join you in line after 6:00pm. They have to get at the end of the line. Of course if a huge group joins someone just before 6:00pm it’s going to create bad vibes. I think you have to stay in place after 7:00pm. Then around the start time of the show they start giving them out in increments. They really monitor the line so people can’t sneak in after 6:00pm and people in the line will point you out if you do. If you break line you get nothing.

    You get a taste of the all day experience but not having to join so early in the morning.

    There’s a chance you won’t get anything but if you get a spot kind of near the front of the line you have a good chance.

    But I also understand the fun of sitting in the all day line. It’s a New York tradition. The Outward Bound of theatre-going. And the park is so nice.

    One of my bosses a few years ago had never gone. He is a native New Yorker (I’m not). I told him about it and he acted like it was some magical adventure and bragged about going to all his suburban friends in Westport, CT.

    Oh, if we got Damian in a show (and Helen!) wouldn’t that be great! We get all kinds of TV and movie stars now. Some are more up to it than others. Some have done little to no stage work. Others are amazing like Anne Hathaway. But everyone is miked so they don’t have to lose their voices. Just might have to dodge one of the family of raccoons that waddles across upstage sometimes.


    1. Ann, thank you! Ah, Damian and Helen on stage in Central Park would be an out of this world experience. Yeah we had great actors on stage over the years. I was not able to see Meryl Streep, but saw Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice and saw an amazing Anne Hathaway in Twelfth Night from second row – and hey I got those tickets in lottery. Public Theater now gives out tickets via lottery every day. But I love waiting in line. I usually read the play that I will see that day. It’s a NY tradition. We are only a couple blocks away from the park so it’s pretty convenient for us to go in the morning with our lawn chairs and our breakfast 🙂

      Yes, Cymbeline was with Hamish Linklater, and Lily Rabe, who you and I both heard reading Cleo with Damian!!!

  2. I do love a good TBT post like this which explores Damian’s early career. This is wonderful and Damian doing his best with a weak character is no surprise. I enjoyed reading this a lot. It is great fun to look back at these works. Bobby is going to have to find a line worthy of winning Dr Mojo back and attempting to build the bridges of trust he has just destroyed.

    1. Thank you! I enjoyed storifying Cymbeline — I had it fresh in my mind and I could find all these photos to match to scenes. A lot of fun! Yes, it seems 26 yr old Damian impressed the critics even in a weak Shakespeare character. Haha I don’t see Bobby as a Shakespeare reader, do you? And I’d tell him a line from Rocky would probably not work with Wendy 🙂

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