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ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.
The First Edition. Antony and Cleopatra was first printed in the First Folio. It is mentioned among the plays entered by Blount in 1623 on the Stationers' Registers as not formerly entered to other men." A play on the same subject was registered by the same publisher on May 20th, 1608; it was probably the present drama, but for some reason or other no Quarto was issued.
The text of the play, as printed in the First Folio, was probably derived from a carefully written manuscript copy, and is on the whole most satisfactory.
The Date of Composition. There is almost unanimity among scholars in assigning Antony and Cleopatra to 1607-8, i.e. during the year preceding the entry referred to above. This date is corroborated by internal and external evidence. Particularly striking are the results arrived at from the application of the metrical tests. In Antony and Cleopatra the Poet seems for the first time to have allowed himself the freedom of using the unemphatic weak monosyllables at the end of his lines-a characteristic peculiar to the plays of the Fourth Period.* The rhyme test and the feminine ending test similarly stamp the play as belonging to the same late period. So far as "date" of composition is concerned, Antony and
* Antony and Cleopatra numbers 28 "weak endings"; Coriolanus 44, Cymbeline 52, Winter's Tale 43, Tempest 25, while Macbeth contains but 2 instances, Hamlet none; no play before Antony has more than 2; most of them have none at all.
† Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus have each 42 rhymes.
Cleopatra links itself, therefore, with Coriolanus rather than with Julius Cæsar, with Macbeth rather than with Hamlet. The same is true of its "ethical" relations to these plays.*
Macbeth III. i. 54-57 should be compared with Antony and Cleopatra, II. iii. 19-22; Cymbeline, II. iv. 69-73 with Act II. ii. 189-221; while the subject of Timon was in all probability suggested to the dramatist in reading for the present play (vide Preface to Timon).
The Source of the Plot. Antony and Cleopatra was directly derived from Sir Thomas North's famous version of Plutarch's "Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans," the book to which Shakespeare was indebted also. for his Coriolanus, Julius Cæsar, and, to some extent, for Timon of Athens (vide Prefaces to these plays for Shakespeare's obligations to Plutarch). In the present play the dramatist follows the historian closely, but not to the same extent as in the former productions; the glamour of the play is all the Poet's; the prose Life does not dazzle the reader; the facts of Cleopatra's history are those Shakespeare found in his original; the superb portraiture of the enchanting queen" is among the great triumphs of the Poet's matured genius; "he paints her," wrote Campbell, "as if the gipsy herself had cast her spell over him, and given her own witchcraft to his pencil."
Plays on the Subject of "Antony and Cleopatra." Cleopatra has been among the most popular of subjects
*The spiritual material dealt with by Shakespeare's imagination in the play of Julius Cæsar lay wide apart from that which forms the centre of the Antony and Cleopatra. Therefore the Poet was not carried directly forward from one to the other. But having in Macbeth studied the ruin of a nature which gave fair promise in men's eyes of greatness and nobility, Shakespeare, it may be, proceeded directly to a similar study in the case of Antony.
A detailed analysis of the relation of Antony and Cleopatra to Plutarch's "Life of Antony" is to be found in Vol. XXI. of the Shakespeare Jahrbuch, contributed by Dr. Fritz Adler.
for the modern drama, and some thirty plays are extant, in Latin, French, Italian, and English, dealing with her fascinating story; the French dramatists contribute no less than sixteen items to the catalogue, starting with the Cleopatra of Jodelle, the first regular French tragedy. Two English productions preceded Shakespeare's play, Lady Pembroke's Antonie, translated from Garnier, and Daniel's companion drama Cleopatra (1594) called forth by the former :
'thy well-graced Anthony
(Who all alone remained long)
Dryden's "All for Love." Dryden's "All for Love; or, The World Well Lost," "written in imitation of Shakespeare's style" (pub. 1678, 1692, 1703, 1709) was its author's favourite production,-"the only play he wrote for himself"; its popularity was great; and the older critics were fond of praising its regularity and poetic harmony, though they generously recognized that it fell short of its first model in fire and originality (cf. Baker's Bibliographia Dramatica). It held the stage for a century, and has in all probability been acted ten times oftener than Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Campbell evidenced this fact as a proof of England's neglect of Shakespeare, as a disgrace to British taste. "Dryden's Marc Antony is a weak voluptuary from first to last. A queen, a siren, a Shakespeare's Cleopatra alone could have entangled Shakespeare's Antony, while an ordinary wanton could have enslaved Dryden's hero."
Duration of Action. The Time of the Play, as represented on the stage, covers twelve days, with intervals:
Day 1, Act 1. Sc. i.-iv. Interval of twenty days. Day 2, Act I. Sc. v.; Act II. Sc. i.-iii. Day 3, Act II. Sc. iv. Interval. Day 4, Act II. Sc. v.-vii. [Act III. Sc. iii.] Interval (?). Day 5, Act III. Sc. i. and ii. Interval. Day 6, Act III. Sc. iv. and v. Interval. Day 7, Act III.
Sc. vi. Day 8, Act III. Sc. vii. Day 9, Act III. Sc. viii.-x. Interval. Day 10, Act III. Sc. xi.-xiii.; Act IV. Sc. i.-iii. Day 11, Act IV. Sc. iv.-ix. Day 12, Act IV. Sc. x.-xv.; Act V. Sc. i. and ii. (cp. Trans. New Shak. Soc., 1877-79).
The historic period embraces as many years as there are days in the play, stretching from about B.C. 42 to 30; that is, from the events immediately following the deaths of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi to the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra in Egypt.
“The gorgeous East, with liberal hand,
Showers on her kings barbaric pearl and gold.”