Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies, Histories, Comedies, and Romances

By Victor L. Cahn | Go to book overview

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA

For those who approach Shakespeare's plays with the intention of seeing each character as a unified figure acting in accordance with a recognizable psychological scheme, Antony and Cleopatra presents a rigorous challenge. The title characters are two of the most unpredictable in dramatic literature. A considerable portion of their language and actions implies that in addition to lacking maturity and understanding, they are careless with their own emotions as well as with those of others. At many moments the behavior of Antony and Cleopatra is comically outlandish, and the mixture of love and laughter makes Antony and Cleopatra by far the brightest of the tragedies.

At first glance, events suggest that these two people are remarkably foolish. Antony is a man of extraordinary gifts with the world in his power, but he throws it away for the inconstant affection of Cleopatra, an enticing but selfish, clinging, and headstrong woman. Yet the language of the play seems intended to convince us that their love is ultimately worth whatever tragic ends it brings. To learn the facts alone, that Antony and later Cleopatra reconcile with each other, is not convincing. To read or hear their specific words is to experience those moments quite differently.

The primary source of the play is "The Life of Marcus Antonius" in the Thomas North translation of Plutarch Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. The events of this play follow those dramatized in Shakespeare Julius Caesar, in which Brutus, Cassius and several conspirators assassinate Caesar in 44 B.C. Historically the forces of the rebels were defeated at Philippi, and in 43 B.C. a triumvirate was formed between three leaders: Caesar's adopted son, Octavius, who took control of Italy and various northern and western territories; Lepidus, who ruled Africa; and Antony, who ruled Egypt and various territories east of the Adriatic. Antony eventually met with Cleopatra over charges that she had aided Brutus and Cassius in the war against the triumvirate, but Antony was so taken with her that he abandoned all responsibilities, both political and familial, and returned with Cleopatra to Alexandria in Egypt, where the action of this play begins in 40 B.C.

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Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies, Histories, Comedies, and Romances
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • The Tragedies 1
  • Titus Andronicus 5
  • Romeo and Juliet 23
  • Julius Caesar 47
  • Hamlet 69
  • Othello 105
  • King Lear 137
  • Macbeth 179
  • Antony and Cleopatra 209
  • Coriolanus 241
  • Timon of Athens 267
  • The Histories 283
  • The First Tetralogy 287
  • King John 381
  • The Second Tetralogy 399
  • The Comedies 525
  • The Comedy of Errors 529
  • The Taming of the Shrew 541
  • Two - Gentlemen of Verona 555
  • Love''s Labor''s Lost 569
  • A Midsummer Night''s Dream 583
  • The Merchant of Venice 599
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor 619
  • Much Ado about Nothing 629
  • As You like It 647
  • Twelfth Night, or What You Will 665
  • Troilus and Cressida 683
  • All''s Well That Ends Well 703
  • Measure for Measure 721
  • The Romances 743
  • Pericles 745
  • Cymbeline 757
  • The Winter''s Tale 779
  • The Tempest 803
  • Appendix 1 - The Two Noble Kinsmen 823
  • Suggestions for Further Reading 826
  • Appendix 2 - The Royal Figures from the History Tetralogies 827
  • Select Bibliography 831
  • Character Index 833
  • Index 847
  • About the Author *
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