Broadcasts of scenes from Cymbeline in 1937 and 1956 were among the earliest British television productions of Shakespeare. On both occasions the selections included the ‘wooing scene’ (Act I Scene 6) and the ‘trunk scene’ (Act II Scene 2). Transmitted with multiple electronic cameras from a television studio, the excerpts were taken from contemporary theatrical productions, in 1937 from Andre van Gyseghem’s staging at the Embassy Theatre, London, and in 1956 from the production by Michael Benthall at the Old Vic.
Neither broadcast was recorded, but for both of these ‘lost’ productions the BBC archives preserve detailed camera scripts and other documentation. Uniquely for Shakespeare on British television, these scripts detail pre-war and post-war treatments of the same elements from a play by studio directors (respectively, Royston Morley and Michael Elliott) nearly twenty years apart. An additional comparison is facilitated by the extant studio production of Cymbeline in 1983, directed by Elijah Moshinsky for The BBC Television Shakespeare.
Grounded in a close reading of the 1937 and 1956 camera scripts as well as the 1983 recording and camera script, this paper offers a detailed analysis of the development of the language of television studio drama as applied to the two scenes from Cymbeline. Shot lengths, camera movements and framings – all of which are significantly more complex in the 1956 script - are explored as determinants of the multiple available meanings of Shakespeare’s dramatic poetry. The analysis is further contextualised with discussions of developing studio technology and the changing institutional context of BBC television drama as well as the history of Cymbeline in British theatre in the twentieth century.