The Masks of Anthony and Cleopatra

By Marvin Rosenberg; Mary Rosenberg | Go to book overview

A Note on
the Historical Cleopatra
69 BC–30 BC

Shakespeare’s Cleopatra was modeled—in name at least—on Cleopatra VII of Egypt: known to him chiefly through Thomas North’s 1595 translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans.

But the historical Cleopatra was not Egyptian. She was by ancestry a Macedonian Greek, descended of the self-proclaimed royal house of Ptolemy, which also allied itself to divine association and inheritance. Thus, when Shakespeare has his heroine proclaimed as “descended of so many royal kings” (5.2) and allied to the goddesses Isis and Venus/Aphrodite, he spoke traditional truth.*

Historians generally agree that whatever Shakespeare knew of Cleopatra, apart from his self-evident reading of North’s Plutarch, would have come from many years later and would have been, as Ernle Bradford claims,

almost entirely a product of Roman propaganda against her…. That she was
finally defeated in her attempt to keep Egypt free from Roman rule is recorded by
the poets and historians who lived under the Roman Emperors, the first of whom
was Octavian/Augustus who achieved her ruin…. It was natural that they should
portray the woman who had tried to prevent Rome from dominating the Mediterra-
nean as evil, treacherous, and given to sexual excess.†

So what is the fairer picture? Bradford goes on to insist that Cleopatra was, above all else, a Queen (as Shakespeare himself never lets us forget): and a Queen who devoted herself—with considerable success—to the care and well-being of her country. A Greek papyrus of 35 BC calls her philopatris—“she who loves her

*So, too, with Anthony’s claim to be descended from the god Hercules. North’s Plutarch: “He had a noble presence, … and there appeared such a manly look in his countenance as is commonly seen in Hercules’ pictures stamped or graven in metal. Now it had been a speech of old time, that the family of the Antonys were descended from one Anton, the son of Hercules, whereof the family took name. This opinion did Antonius seek to confirm in all his doings: not only resembling him in the likeness of his body, … but also in the wearing of his garments.”

†Ernle Bradford, Cleopatra (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972), 11.

-482-

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The Masks of Anthony and Cleopatra
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Preface 9
  • Acknowledgments 17
  • Introduction 21
  • Act One 39
  • Act I, Scene I 41
  • Anthony 70
  • Cleopatra 80
  • Act I, Scene II 86
  • Act I, Scene III 104
  • Octavius 118
  • Act I, Scene IV 123
  • Act I, Scene V 133
  • Act Two 143
  • Act II, Scene I 145
  • Act II, Scene II 151
  • Act 2, Scene III 174
  • Act II, Scene IV 180
  • Act II, Scene V 181
  • Act 2, Scene VI 197
  • Act II, Scene VII 207
  • Act Three 225
  • Act III, Scene I 227
  • Act III, Scene II 231
  • Act III, Scene III 239
  • Act III, Scene IV 246
  • Act III, Scene V 251
  • Act III, Scene VI 254
  • Act III, Scene VII 262
  • Act III, Scenes VIII, IX, and X 272
  • Act III, Scene XI 278
  • Act III, Scene XII 288
  • Act III, Scene XIII 293
  • Act Four 315
  • Act IV, Scene I 317
  • Act IV, Scene II 320
  • Act IV, Scene III 326
  • Act IV, Scene IV 329
  • Act IV, Scene V 335
  • Act IV, Scene VI 337
  • Act IV, Scene VII 341
  • Act IV, Scene VIII 344
  • Act IV, Scene IX 349
  • Act IV, Scenes X, XI, XII, and XIII 352
  • Act IV, Scene XIV 362
  • Act IV, Scene XV 379
  • Act Five 393
  • Act V, Scene I 395
  • Act V, Scene II 403
  • Is Anthony and Cleopatra a Tragedy? 473
  • Epilogue 480
  • A Note on the Historical Cleopatra 69 Bc–30 BC 482
  • Critical and Theatrical Bibliographies 489
  • Critical Bibliography 491
  • Theatrical Bibliography 532
  • Index 597
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