We all know the good bits and pieces written by Shakespeare, such as Hamlet’s “to be or not to be”-soliloquy, Richard III’s witty asides, or the love scenes in Romeo and Juliet. What a lot of people are less familiar with, are the really bad bits in Shakespeare. Yes, there are actually quite a lot of really bad twists in Shakespeare’s plots that often make me crinkle my nose in disbelief.
Here’s my personal Top 3 of the worst Shakespearean plot twists:
1. The Family Reunion in Cymbeline
Cymbeline is not regarded one of Shakespeare’s best plays although the character of Imogen (sometimes spelled Innogen) has been admired as a depiction of feminine virtue throughout the 19th century. This character is exactly what makes me shake my head at every re-read.
Princess Imogen secretly marries her childhood friend Posthumus. Because he is not a nobleman, her father Cymbeline banishes him from his kingdom. Posthumus swears eternal love to Imogen and goes to Italy where he is all whiny and going on about Imogen being the perfect woman. Evil Giacomo doesn’t really belief in this perfect woman and places a bet on her virtue. Giacomo then goes off to England to seduce her but Imogen is faithful to her husband. Due to a trick, Giacomo nevertheless gets to know the insides of Imogen’s bedchamber, sees a mole on an intimate part of her body and steals some of her jewelry as evidence for her infidelity.
Back in Italy, Posthumus beliefs him quite quickly and hates women from this moment onwards and orders one of his servants to kill off Imogen.
Then a lot of other things happen (like the beheading of evil Cloten, Jupiter coming down on stage on an eagle, and a war) but in the end they all meet up again with Imogen dressed up as a male peasant and still alive. Although Posthumus still believes that Imogen was unfaithful, he now regrets that he rejected her and that he had her killed. Ok: Imogen dressed up, Posthumus believing she’s dead and Imogen vice versa believing that Posthumus is dead (I told you: A lot of things happened!). Imogen recognizes Posthumus in an instant and when he laments her death she goes up to him and wants to tell him that she’s alive and: he hits her!
So, let me recap: Posthumus believes Imogen was unfaithful and orders someone to kill her. Then he regrets it. And when she wants to reveal her identity he beats her?
As you can guess, Imogen likes her Posthumus despite all of this and they end up together. Gurrrl could really learn a few things from Beyoncé… Independent woman and stuff…
2. The Groom Swap in Two Noble Kinsmen
Two Noble Kinsmen is about Palamon and Arcite who have been BFFs forever. Unfortunately they fall in love with the same girl, Emilia. Emilia, however, is very undecisive and cannot quite choose one of them. Well… What do you do, when you and your best mate fall in love with the same girl: You stage a big tournament and fight for her!
This is what happens. They fight and Arcite wins. Emilia agrees to marry Arcite and they could live happily ever after, but then the unforeseeable happens: Arcite falls off his horse shorty before the wedding and is fatally injured. Good friend as he is, his dying words are his wish for Palamon to have Emilia. And thus Palamon and Emilia lived happily ever after!
3. The Fate of Antiochus and his Daughter in Pericles
Pericles travels to the kingdom of Antiochus in order to win his daughter, who is praised as one of the most beautiful women in the world. Her father Antiochus, however, sets up a riddle. Pericles – smart guy as he is – solves it but the solution tells him that Antiochus engages in an incestuous relationship with his daughter.
Antiochus finds out that Pericles found out and Pericles has to flee followed by furious Antiochus and his daughter.
But luckily they are hit by lightning! End of story… for Antiochus and his daughter at least. Pericles’s story will further involve a birth in a ship, an (un)dead queen and finding his lost daughter in a brothel.
Now, if you ever stumble upon some unbelievable and unrealistic plot twist in a soap opera, remember this: Nobody’s perfect!