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Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

Antony and Cleopatra

by William Shakespeare

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This is truly a play of epic proportions, moving from the centre of Rome to her periphery, including places such as Egypt and the borders of Parthia. It is one of Shakespeare's later works, and the skill in which he brings so much together onto the stage simply goes to show how skillful he was at producing historical drama. Now, some scholars like to argue that Shakespeare could not have been responsible for so many plays of such high quality, however I personally find such research and argument to be quite useless. In the end, I tend to, and have always tended to, lean towards the mythological than the scientific, and while it may be the case that Shakespeare was not responsible for the plays, I personally see no benefit in such argument and speculation.
One of the things that I struggle with these plays is that they can be difficult to follow at times with the poetical language of the 17th Century and the difficulties in determining which character is who (which in some cases involves flipping back to the dramatis personae). I have also been watching the series Rome, and the characters of Mark Antony and Cleopatra seem to invade my mind from that show making it a little difficult differentiating Shakespeare's characters. The Mark Antony of the TV series is a much more brutal and despotic character than is Shakespeare's. However, we must remember two things, and they are that Shakespeare is not attempting to give us an insight into the culture and lifestyles of Ancient Romans, while Bruno Heller is not trying to produce, or even rewrite Shakespeare. In fact it is very clear that Heller, in his TV series, is giving Shakespeare a very wide berth.
I find the topics of Shakespeare's plays quite interesting though because I have noted that Shakespeare seems to steer clear of writing any plays based upon biblical stories, even tragedies (and there are many stories in the bible that a skillful playwright could transform into a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions), but rather he seems to lean much closer to the secular world of Ancient Rome. Further, he does not seem to go to rewrite the ancient tragedies, even those of Seneca (Shakespeare did not know Greek therefore he only had access to Greek texts that had been translated, such as Plutarch's Lives). Even then, Shakespeare only borrowed three stories from Plutarch's Lives, that being Coriolanus, Julius Ceaser, and Mark Antony (even though Julius Ceaser is the tragedy of Brutus).
I am almost inclined to suggest that if it was not for this play or for Julius Ceaser, that the characters of Ceaser, Brutus, Antony, and Cleopatra, would probably not be as dominant in our culture as they are. In a way, Shakespeare took one of the defining periods of Roman History, namely the period in which the republic collapsed and was replaced by the empire, and placed them onto the stage. Whether this play is supposed to be a 'sequal' to Julius Ceaser is difficult to determine, though it is interesting to note that Bernard Shaw later wrote a third play, Ceaser and Cleopatra, to turn this into a trilogy.
The background of these events is when Ceaser Augustus defeated his enemies and ascended to the throne as the first emperor of Rome. However, it is also interesting that after this we have another great shift in European history: we shift from the west, back to the east, to the birth, life, and death, of the messiah - Jesus Christ. However, this is not mentioned in the play, though there are some hints to the appearance of Herod the Great.
It is difficult to tell whether there is truly a fatal flaw in Mark Antony, and it is also difficult to determine whether Cleopatra actually loved him. Her trick at the end of the play, where she feigns death, and as a result Antony kills himself, is not the action of somebody in love, even chivalrous love. In a way she has been testing Antony's love throughout the play, but whether she loved him, or simply lusted after him, is difficult to tell. Many of us like to see this as a love story, but to me, it is not. It is a story about a man who let himself become possessed by a wiry woman which in turn brought about his downfall. Remember two things about Egypt of this period: it was not a part of Rome, rather it was a protectorate, and secondly Cleopatra considered herself a god. While she was subservient to Rome, she still did not recognise Rome as her ruler. As such, by sinking her claws into Antony proved a way of enabling her to shift the balance of power back to her.
It is interesting that Shakespeare uses the serpent as the means of her death. It is almost as if the serpent is submitting herself to a serpent. She wrapped her coils around Antony and enchanted him, and in doing so set his downfall in motion (remembering that this is not the Mark Antony that is portrayed elsewhere). Ceaser tries everything to break her spell, including marrying him to his sister, but he fails. In the middle of an important battle with the pirates that are preventing wheat shipments from reaching Rome, Antony deserts and travels to Egypt. In Egypt he finds that his soldiers are deserting him, and even though he wins the first battle, he makes a tactical error, by fighting at sea instead of land, and as a result he is defeated.
However, it is interesting that Ceaser does not condemn or punish him for his crimes. It appears that Ceaser understands that it was Cleopatra's whiles that dragged him to this point and has his body carried off in honour and leaves his legacy intact. However Cleopatra, recognising that her life of luxury and as a queen of Egypt is over instead of going into slavery she poisons herself. We hear her speak of being a slave and of watching plays where she is turned into a whore and mocked on stage. It is not her position that leads her to her death, but her legacy. However, this is not the legacy that has come down to us because we, today, know of Cleopatra as the beautiful queen of Egypt. ( )
  David.Alfred.Sarkies | Feb 24, 2014 |
I didn't like Antony and Cleopatra very much at the beginning -- but then, it always seems to take about an act for me to get into the swing of a Shakespeare play. It helps with Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra that I'm familiar with the history it's based on. It took me a while to warm to the characters of Antony and Cleopatra, though, but for all that there's something very human about the way Cleopatra reacts to Antony -- now this, now that -- and how he responds to her.

There are, of course, some beautiful speeches and descriptions here: I was nudged into reading this by reading a reference just yesterday to Cleopatra burning upon the water. I don't think I've seen this one as often quoted as I have the other Shakespeare plays I've been reading lately, though... ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
Easily one of my top three plays. ( )
  cyafer | Mar 30, 2013 |
One of the Shakespearean plays that I had the misfortune not to enjoy so much at theatre. The actress playing Cleopatra spent a large amount of time on the stage screeching like a fishwife (it was apparent the girl studied the mannerisms and speech of Bette Davis), and it gave me a terrible headache.

The play is slow-moving to the point of pain, but the writing is beautiful. You have to read out the lines to feel how they round out on your tongue. Very pleasing.

Cleopatra (speaking of Antony): His face was as the heav'ns, and therein stuck
A sun and moon, which kept their course lighted
The little O, th' earth.

See what I mean, there? Gorgeous. But I'm a cranky sort of reader, and it was all just too much drama for little old me. Drama? In Shakespeare? Tell me it isn't so!

It's so. ( )
  quillmenow | Sep 19, 2012 |
"Antony & Cleopatra" is definitely not one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. It is a slow starter that sort of meanders about setting the scene for several acts before getting to the meat of the story. The ending, however, is terrific.... it just takes a long while to get there.

In the play, Cleopatra has fallen in love with Antony, one of the triumverate of Roman rulers. Of course, the rulers can't see to get along and end up in conflict with each other. War, destruction and death ensue.

It's an interesting story but not one of Shakespeare's most entertaining, unfortunately. ( )
1 vote amerynth | Jul 25, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (153 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shakespeare, Williamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Andrew, Stephen A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dennis, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harrison, George B.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hudson, Henry N.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kittredge, George LymanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lamar, Virginia A.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Neill, MichaelEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ridley, M. R.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shaw, ByamIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weis, RenéIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weis, ReneEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wright, Louis B.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
Nay, but this dotage of our general's
O'erflows the measure: those his goodly eyes,
That o'er the files and musters of the war
Have glow'd like plated Mars, now bend, now turn,
The office and devotion of their view
Upon a tawny front: his captain's heart,
Which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst
The buckles on his breast, reneges all temper,
And is become the bellows and the fan
To cool a gipsy's lust.
My salad days,
When I was green in judgment.
Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety.
Small to greater matters must give way.
Since Cleopatra died,
I have liv'd in such dishonour that the gods
Detest my baseness.
I have
Immortal longings in me.
Last words
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743482859, Mass Market Paperback)

Each edition includes:

· Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play

· Full explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play

· Scene-by-scene plot summaries

· A key to famous lines and phrases

· An introduction to reading Shakespeare's language

· An essay by a leading Shakespeare scholar providing a modern perspective on the play

· Illustrations from the Folger Shakespeare Library's vast holdings of rare books

Essay by Cynthia Marshall

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., is home to the world's largest collection of Shakespeare's printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe.

In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:47:52 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Blending history and high drama, Antony and Cleopatra remains one of Shakespeare's finest achievements.

» see all 12 descriptions

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