A Life of William Shakespeare

By Joseph Quincy Adams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXI
DRAMATIC LABORS, 1607-09; ACQUISITION OF BLACKFRIARS

BUT we must return to Shakespeare's labors as a dramatist for His Majesty's Servants at the Globe. In 1607 he produced for them his second Roman tragedy, Antony and Cleopatra. Having already handled the youthful career of Mark Antony in one of his most successful plays, Julius Cæsar, it was natural for him to complete the story, and show the hero in his decline and fall. Yet his interest was not altogether in the noble Roman; the Egyptian Cleopatra shares titular honors with Antony, and is reserved alone for the glorious finale of the fifth act. Indeed, the greatness of the play lies mainly in the subtle portraiture of "the serpent of old Nile." The material Shakespeare found in North's Plutarch, whence he had drawn the plot of Julius Cæsar. It has often been observed that he follows the episodic narrative closely, with unusual care for historical accuracy. This fact indicates, as Professor Bradley points out in his admirable study,1 that the play, though ranked among the tragedies, belongs in technique to that peculiarly Elizabethan type known as the chronicle. It is not designed so much to produce in us the emotions of pity and fear, as to excite our wonder; and hence we do not find ourselves constantly exclaiming with the broken-hearted Othello, "The pity of it, Iago! O Iago! The pity of it, Iago!" but rather declaring with the smiling Enobarbus that not to have seen it would have "left unseen a wonderful piece of work." It is in truth a splendid historical pag

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1
Oxford Lectures on Poetry, 1909.

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