The Masks of Anthony and Cleopatra

The Masks of Anthony and Cleopatra

The Masks of Anthony and Cleopatra

The Masks of Anthony and Cleopatra


A sensitive and penetrating analysis, scene by scene, act by act, of this most complex and ambiguous of Shakespeare’s great plays, seen through the eyes of both the literary critic and the student of theatrical history. As in his earlier Masks books, Marvin Rosenberg has gathered impressions from performance reviews from all over the world, comments by actors and directors, and his own personal experience of the play in rehearsal and staging, and has combined these insights with extensive reading of critical essays and consideration of the thoughts and opinions of his literary colleagues to form an illuminating interpretive study. The book also conveys the author’s wholehearted enthusiasm for the play and his profound appreciation of Shakespeare’s poetic and dramatic genius. The book, left unfinished at Dr. Rosenberg’s death in 2003, was edited and completed by his wife, Mary.


The Masks of Anthony and Cleopatra occupied Marvin’s imagination for the last five or six years of his life, and he was writing and thinking about it—as well as teaching a freshman seminar on it—in the months immediately preceding his death in February 2003. He was in love with the play and its two main characters: and he delighted in the splendid, impassioned language—some of Shakespeare’s finest, he believed. At the time of his death he had completed the first draft of this book up to the end of act 5, scene 1. He talked at length to me, to his friends and colleagues, to his student research assistant, John Dravinski—to almost anyone who would listen, in fact!—about his interpretation of the final scene. He looked forward to writing about it.

After some hesitation, I decided that I was the person Marvin would most have wanted to finish the book for him: and I have done my best to complete the final section as I think he would have wished, using his few written notes and based on my own discussions with him and with John Dravinski. But, although the “I” statements there still express Marvin’s views, act 5, scene 2, alas, is not pure Rosenberg. At the end of act 5, scene 1, I was reminded of the words of Toscanini, conducting the world premiere of Puccini’s unfinished opera Turandot, two years after the composer’s death, when he laid down his baton shortly before the end of the final act, turned to the audience and announced: “Here the maestro put down his pen.”

We can never know exactly how satisfied Puccini—or Marvin—might have felt with the tacked-on endings to their work. But I hope Marvin would have been pleased.

At the end of my share of the writing, I felt that something was still missing: so I added a brief discussion on whether or not the play is a tragedy (and, if so, in what sense of the word), and a short note on the historical Cleopatra. These additions were mainly for my own interest, and they were certainly not in Marvin’s original plan.

When I first started to read Marvin’s manuscript to prepare it for completion and possible publication, I soon discovered that this is a different kind of book from the others in the Masks series.

Partly it is, as usual with Marvin, a painstaking and penetrating study, act by act, scene by scene, of the unfolding of Shakespeare’s play based on a close . . .

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