“Cymbeline” by William Shakespeare: Fear No More

My first ever exposure to Shakespeare was an excerpt from this play. As a kid, I somehow acquired a copy of a cheap paperback book called Immortal Poems of the English Language. I can still picture the cover. Anyway, the book included a Shakespeare “poem” entitled “Fear No More,” which I would discover many years later was actually just a passage from Cymbeline. But I loved this poem and read it over and over as a kid. So, having just re-read this play, it is that passage that I want to focus on.

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown o’ the great;
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke;
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak:
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning flash,
Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finish’d joy and moan:
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renowned be thy grave!

(Act IV: scene ii)

Just a quick note: the above passage is sung by two characters, Guiderius and Arviragus, and in the play they take turns with sections and lines, but I have omitted the names to preserve the flow that was in my old poetry book.

While these words are being spoken over a supposedly deceased person in the play, blessing the spirit as it is freed from the suffering of existence, it speaks volumes to the living. “Fear no more.” We spend so much of our lives worrying about things that in the end will amount to nothing. Death awaits all of us and is a part of all life. When we accept this fact, that we will “as chimney-sweepers, come to dust,” our priorities change. We recognize what is truly important in life, and can let go of the senseless worry and fear that burdens the existence of so many individuals, robbing them of the joy to be experienced during our brief sojourn.

Another aspect of this passage that resonates with me is in the second stanza: “The sceptre, learning, physic, must / All follow this, and come to dust.” It does not matter how much political power you amass, how educated you are, or how physically strong you might be; ultimately, you will die, just like everyone else. Death is the great equalizer.

While I focused on my favorite passage from this play, I want to close by saying that this is a really good play, and does not get the attention I feel it deserves. The story is great, the writing is superb, and it has a little bit of everything: history, tragedy, comedy, romance, and philosophy. If you have never read this play, I highly recommend you do so.

Thanks for stopping by, and remember, in these crazy times: Fear No More.

16 Comments

Filed under Literature

16 responses to ““Cymbeline” by William Shakespeare: Fear No More

  1. That’s cool Jeff when you can get into something that the masses may have missed whether it be a record or a book like this one.
    Hope you folk’s are doing fine.

  2. I seem to remember Cymbeline as a complex but interesting play. This passage is a favourite of mine too.

  3. Another Shakespeare play I haven’t read. Jeff, was I really an English major? Thanks for explaining this passage and Cembeline. Fear No More is good advice.

    • Hi Barb. I took multiple Shakespeare classes in college and did not read this one, which is a shame. I really like it, having read it a couple times now. It’s worth reading, imho. I would love to hear your thoughts if you read it. Cheers!

  4. Wow! What an introduction to Shakespeare. When I studied ten of Shakespeare’s plays as a module of a stand alone course (or part of a degree), the lecturer complained that it was one of his worst plays. I have to say I wasn’t enamoured at first. However, after a good deal of required re-reads, it grew on me. Inspite of that I would like to argue that it isn’t a very typical Shakespeare play, at least not from my often, unreliable memory. I wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction to the Bard. However, in the context of your blog it works very well and I might well read it again sooner rather than later.

    • Hi DQ! I am not surprised that you had something insightful to say about this play. You are absolutely correct: this is not a typical Shakespeare play, which is I guess why it is considered a Romance and not a Tragedy or Comedy. And I also agree, probably not the best play to read first (I would say Midsummer Night’s Dream is a good gateway play). But definitely not the worst. Pericles and Titus can battle it out for that title – LOL. Hope you are doing well. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

  5. Oh, that paperback “Immortal Poems of the English Language” edited by Oscar Williams! I ran across it as a teenager and fell deep into poetry through it. It maybe where I first read Raleigh’s “The Lie” and Wyatt’s “They Flee From Me”.

    • Ha! That’s awesome! Yeah, it was a cool book. Small world that you also had a copy. Not like it was a bestseller 😉 Hope you and yours are well. Thanks for stopping by,

  6. Pingback: Fear No More | Frank Hudson

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