For the week of commemorating Shakespeare’s life and work on this blog, I had asked a friend of mine – a composer and music teacher at Pretoria Boys High School – to contribute a piece to the blog, knowing that he’s something of fan. Rather than write his own bit on what Shakespeare means to him, however, he directed me to Gerald Finzi’s setting of the song from Cymbeline to music.
Beautiful as it is – in my judgement, it’s the finest song in all of Shakespeare – it’s a dark elegy, sung over Imogen by her brothers, who believe her to be dead, returning to “fear no more” as the only consolation in death.
In a critical essay on the play Cymbeline, Harold Bloom has this to say about the song:
“Since the song ‘Fear no more’ is too grand for its context (Imogen merely sleeps), I have no difficulty hearing in it Shakespeare’s own stance toward dying, and regard it as the locus classicus of Shakespeare upon death. The two prime Shakespearean values are personality and love, both equivocal at best, and here, with all else, they come to dust. This poem is a dark comfort, but its extraordinary aesthetic dignity is the only consolation we should seek or find in Shakespeare.”