Dramatis Personae: Innogen; Cymbeline; Cloten; Queen.
Roman à clef : Queen Elizabeth; Francis Duke of Alençon; Catherine de Medici.
Text & Context: Considered a lost play, The Cruelty of a Stepmother appears on a warrant recorded by the Office of the Revels dated the 16th of January, 1579. It was performed at Richmond by The Lord Chamberlain's Players, then under Lord Sussex, along with The Rape of the Second Helen, while the Children of Paul's played A Moral of the Marriage of Mind and Measure.
Cymbeline is obviously an early play, as Coleridge noted, and The Cruelty of a Stepmother may be its earliest incarnation. In it can be seen an admonition to Queen Elizabeth should she marry Francis Duke of Alençon, who was publicly courting her at the time, and the nefarious influence of his mother, Catherine de Medici. Here, in an early anonymous version of the Shakespeare Tarot, The Cruelty of a Stepmother replaces Helen & Bertram as the 2 of Cups card and sees the said couple from All's Well That Ends Well replacing Innogen & Posthumus on the Strength card.
By 1578, Leicester had given up hope of marriage to Elizabeth and secretly wed the widowed Countess of Essex. In the same year, the Queen had lit into Sussex in front of French diplomats, and immediately afterwards the Earl of Oxford, when called, refused to dance before the Frenchman and his entourage. Leicester's enmity for Sussex lasted until his mysterious death in 1583, quite possibly the victim of poisoning by Leicester.
In The Cruelty of a Stepmother - and Cymbeline for that matter - Innogen represents Elizabeth, her step-mother Queen Catherine, Alençon the would-be bridegroom Cloten, and Posthumous the banished author himself.
2 of Cups - The Cruelty of a Stepmother
Strength Xi - The Rape of the Second Helen
Dramatis Personae: Helena; Bertram, Count of Rousillon; Parolles; Soldiers.
Text & Context: An anonymous play, now lost, performed by Sussex's Men on January 6, 1579 at Richmond, as recorded in the same document indicating performances of The Cruelty of a Stepmother, Murderous Michael, and A Moral of the Marriage of Mind and Measure. The first Helen refers of course to Paris' captive, an allusion made by the Clown in the later version we know as All's Well That Ends Well:
Was this fair face the cause, quoth she,
Why the Grecians sacked Troy?
Fond done, done fond,
Was this King Priam's joy?
Here, Helen - or Helena - is shown astraddle the callow Bertram, in the figure of a lion. His title and estate, Rousillon, is derived from Rosciliona, in which "lion" can be espied. This would seem to indicate a somewhat more unambiguous criticism of Helena than suggested in the later extant version of the play. To the left stand Parolles and the soldiers of Bertram's regiment, while to the right are seen the paraphernalia of Helen's medicinal potions and the circumstance of the bed-trick.
Helen & Bertram replace Innogen & Posthumus on this the Strength card, with its original ordinal numbering of XI.