Antony and Cleopatra

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Antony and Cleopatra. Ed. by Richard Madelaine. (Shakespeare in Production) Cambridge, New York, and Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. 1998. xvi +358 pp. 45 [pounds sterling]; $59.95 (paperbound 15.95 [pounds sterling]; $22.95).

After a generation of hard work the performance dimension of Shakespeare's plays is now recognized as of equal importance to the more conventional traditions of semantic and literary interpretation, but there is still no consensus about the best way to present such material. One of the most thorough formats devised so far is that of Cambridge's `Shakespeare in Production' series, which combines a long introductory overview with commentary notes focusing on staging possibilities in detail.

The latter is keyed to the New Cambridge editions of the text, but this immediately raises two problems. Since the edition has not been influenced by the theatrical commentary and only a relatively small proportion of it needs annotation, the duplication of text is expensive (the books cost $60.00). Moreover, theatrical analysis is now quite separate from literary interpretation, instead of being complementary, so to study the play properly one needs to use both books. And there is also a problem of overlap between notes and introduction. One of the major tensions in all stage history is between a wish to record the whole sequence of performance as it mirrors the cultural preoccupations of different periods--what we may call an `historical' bias--and the desire to focus particularly on those aspects that feed back directly to Shakespeare's text--what we may call a `literary' (or textual) bias. The Cambridge format could manage both these purposes if the `historical' emphasis were restricted to the introduction, with the commentary limited exclusively to the `literary'; but unfortunately no such clear distinction is maintained, so not only are there many duplications of material but, more seriously, there is a blurring of focus that makes the overwhelming mass of detail difficult to absorb.

Despite these problems, Richard Madelaine's study of Antony and Cleopatra is admirably thorough and informative, covering some seventy-three productions in English from Britain, America, Canada, and Australia, plus key non-English-speaking productions by Simonov (Moscow), Sjoberg (Stockholm), Stein (Salzburg), Senda Koreya (Tokyo), and Zadek (Vienna and Berlin). After discussing the play's Jacobean production (rather too speculatively for my taste), the introduction suggests reasons why Shakespeare's play was supplanted in the Restoration, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by Dryden's All For Love, either wholesale or amalgamated with sections of the original in what Byron dismissed wittily as a `salad'. The loose narrative of Shakespeare's play fell short of neoclassical principles of unity and created difficulties for stagings which dropped a curtain between scenes; its exotic locations were costly to present in the elaborately `pictorial' style then favoured; and the protagonists offended current ideals of male heroism and (particularly) female propriety. …