Antony and Cleopatra: New Critical Essays

Antony and Cleopatra: New Critical Essays

Antony and Cleopatra: New Critical Essays

Antony and Cleopatra: New Critical Essays

Synopsis

Complementing other volumes in the Shakespeare Criticism Series, this collection of twenty original essays will expand the critical contexts in which Antony and Cleopatra can be enjoyed as both literature and theater. The essays will cover a wide spectrum of topics and utilize a diversity of scholarly methodologies, including textual and performance-oriented approaches, intertextual studies, as well as feminist, psychoanalytical, Marxist, and postcolonial inquiries. The volume will also feature an extensive introduction by the editor surveying the under-examined performance history and critical trends/legacy of this complex play. Contributors include prominent Shakespeare scholars David Bevington, Dympna Callaghan, Leeds Barroll, David Fuller, Dorothea Kehler, and Linda Woodbridge.

Excerpt

MARS OR GORGON

Of all Shakespeare's problematic plays, I find Antony and Cleopatra to be his most anamorphic drama, a judgment validated by 350 years of vehemently conflicting interpretations. For the almost four centuries since its composition, critical controversy has seethed around ever y aspect of the tragedy-its value, its ethos, its genre, its structure, and its characters.

First, few of Shakespeare's tragedies have been both so admired and so disparaged. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1813-34) extols Antony and Cleopatra as the most wonderful of Shakespeare's plays and includes it-along with Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth-in Shakespeare's pantheon of sublime masterpieces. Conversely, A. C. Bradley (1906), who faults the catastrophe as failing to evoke the requisite pity and terror, excludes the tragedy from his big four. Bernard Shaw (1900) dismisses the play as a study in infatuation, a theme he deems more appropriate to comedy than tragedy, whereas T. S. Eliot (1920) lauds the tragedy as “Shakespeare's most assured success” (99), seconded by Bertolt Brecht (1920), who relishes it as a splendid, gripping drama, and G. Wilson Knight (1931), who acclaims it as probably Shake-speare's subtlest and greatest play, perhaps “paragoned only by The Tempest” (199).

Furthermore, throughout the centuries, the ethos of the play has been fervently debated. Is Antony and Cleopatra a condemnation of irresponsible lust, as moralistic critics from E. K. Chambers (1907) to Franklin Dickey (1957) and Daniel Stempel (1956) insist? Or is it a celebration of a magnificent passion transcending traditional moral laws, as romantic critics from Horace Howard Furness (1907) to Knight (1931) to Charles Wells (1992) assert? Or is the play, as complementarians like John F. Danby (1949), Maynard Mack (1960), and Norman Rabkin (1967) contend, both and neither, a deliberately ambiguous drama that defies any permanent allegiance to either

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