Cymbeline (USS Iowa - 2016)

Written By: William Shakespeare

Conceived & Directed By: Aaron Ganz

Production Date: May 8th, 2016


"Theatrum Elysium inaugurated the magic of the 2016 season on board the U.S.S. IOWA with a bold and exciting re-imagining of one of Shakespeare's most thrilling adventures, Cymbeline. For the first time in its extraordinary history the USS Iowa was host to a live theatrical production! This historic battleship has been home to American presidents from FDR to George HW Bush and was the stage for a momentous meeting between the likes of FDR and Winston Churchill during WWII. Coinciding with Shakespeare's 400th birthday, Artistic Director Aaron Ganz chose an exciting, vibrant tale filled with elements of fairy tale romance and epic adventure.


One of Shakespeare's final works, Cymbeline presented a bold, spirited take on his familiar themes of forbidden romance, betrayal, and the mayhem of war, blending tragedy, combat, fantasy and broad comedy into a plot filled with twists and turns, centering on the courageous princess Imogen. One of Shakespeare's greatest works, Elysium's production included expressive choreography, riveting music, explosive battle scenes, and a narrator to guide audiences through the flurry of adventure and romance."


Production Team

Video Gallery

Photo Gallery

Program Notes



Shakespeare’s romances—plays from late in his career so labeled because they don’t neatly fit in the comedy/tragedy/history scheme his other works have been sorted into—have long been a source of consternation for theatrical and literary critics. While most rate The Tempest to be a masterpiece (or skillfully constructed at least), Cymbeline, Pericles, and sometimes even The Winter’s Tale tend to be written off as lesser works of a great writer. Some view them as the work of a Shakespeare who was struggling to master a new dramatic form (the tragicomedy, popularized by his contemporaries Beaumont and Fletcher); others see them simply as the work of a master past his prime, whose dramatic gifts were fading. One critic, Lytton Strachey, went so far as to call the romances the work of a Shakespeare who was “bored with people, bored with real life, bored with drama, bored… with everything except poetry and poetical dreams.” Such declarations by scholars and theatre artists have contributed to keeping all three of these plays out of the wide performance enjoyed by The Tempest and many of Shakespeare’s tragedies, comedies, and histories.


Another school of thought, however, holds that the romances are a natural outgrowth of Shakespeare’s tragedies—simple destruction counterbalanced with reconstruction, renewal, life going on in a way that seems impossible at the end of many of his tragedies. Indeed, it is easy enough to spot shades of Shakespeare’s tragedies in Cymbeline, like the jealousy of Othello, the ambition of Lady Macbeth, or the rage of King Lear. Such heavy matters, however, are sweetened with hints of the cleverness of comic heroines like Viola and Rosalind and the national pride of histories like Henry V.


Tonight’s play has been criticized for having a sloppy structure and a plot that strains reason, and it is very easy to accept that surface judgment. I would urge you not to jump to that conclusion so quickly. By its scope that encompasses comedy, history, and tragedy, Cymbeline is able to look over the whole of Shakespeare’s oeuvre in search of a cosmic vision of hope, love, and forgiveness in the human experience. Perhaps it does strain what we may consider as “reasonable;” but then, perhaps “reasonable” is not what the Bard was after. So often, life and human action are not limited to the reasonable. Maybe the deepest depths and the greatest heights of man’s free will can only be explored in art that frees itself from strict adherence to the reasonable. Maybe that is the road to the sublime.



Beck Holden