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Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

Antony and Cleopatra

by William Shakespeare

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    Antony and Cleopatra by Adrian Goldsworthy (laura_88)
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    Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (Waldstein)
    Waldstein: Shakespeare's treatments of passionate, irrational and self-destructive love between teenagers (R&J) and mature people (A&C) make for a truly fascinating comparison. The vastly greater political and metaphysical implications, as well as the extreme concentration of the language, in the later play show how far Shakespeare developed for just over a decade.… (more)

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I do like the bit where Antony gives a grandiose speech, stabs himself, and then is mortified with annoyed surprise at the fact that he's still alive afterward. ( )
  jhudsui | Jul 20, 2014 |
William Shakespeare

Antony and Cleopatra

Wordsworth Classics, Paperback, [2006].

8vo. 160 pp. Edited by Cedric Watts with Introduction [9-20], Notes [135-47] and Glossary [148-60].

This edition first published, 2006.


General Introduction
Further Reading
Note on Shakespeare
Acknowledgements and Textual Matters

Antony and Cleopatra



This is a review of this particular edition. What I have to say about the play I have said it elsewhere.

If you insist on Wordsworth Classics editions, this is the right one to have, not the travesty from 1993 of which I have also spoken elsewhere. It contains everything a scholarly edition should. Cedric Watts, the general editor of the series, has done a fine job. With the single exception of the Glossary, which is an expanded version of Dover Wilson’s that was reprinted in the 1993 edition, all other editorial contributions are original.

Mr Watts evidently did a lot of research in the preparation of this edition. Of course he started with and kept most closely to the First Folio (1623), the only relatively authoritative text we have. But in “Acknowledgements and Textual Matters”, he gives an impressive list of modern editions which he “consulted” and was “indebted” to. These include the following:

• John Dover Wilson, Cambridge University Press, 1950;
• Peter Alexander, Collins, 1951 (“The Tudor Shakespeare”);
• M. R. Ridley, Methuen, 1954 (“The Arden Shakespeare”);
• Barbara Everett, New American Library, 1964 (“The Signet Classic Shakespeare”);
• G. Blakemore Evans et al., Houghton Mifflin, 1974 (The Riverside Shakespeare);
• Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, Oxford University Press, 1988 (The Complete Works: Compact Edition);
• David Bevington, Cambridge University Press, 1992 (“The New Cambridge Shakespeare”);
• Marvin Spevack, Modern Language Association of America, 1990 (A New Variorum Edition);
• John F. Andrews, Dent Everyman, 1993;
• Michael Neill, Oxford University Press, 1994;
• John Wilders, Routledge, 1995 (“The New Arden Shakespeare”);
• Stephen Greenblatt et al., Norton, 1997 (The Norton Shakespeare).

Oddly enough, the list doesn’t contain the edition I used for my first serious exposure to the play: G. R. Hibbard, New Penguin Shakespeare, 1977; reprinted in Three Roman Plays, Penguin Classics, 1995. The editorial work of Mr Watts is much less extensive than that of Mr Hibbard, but it has its own advantages. The introduction, in particular, is shorter and less given to far-fetched obscurity.

The “Notes” are under the form of 130 numbered endnotes. They deal with the usual suspects: elaborate wordplay, obscure allusions, tricky details of the plot, controversial stage directions. I prefer Mr Hibbard’s more thorough treatment on these matters, plus his notes include countless parallels with Plutarch and “translation” of archaic words in situ (rather than in a separate Glossary as here). On the other hand, Mr Watts does notice some puns Mr Hibbard misses. A charming example is “tawny front” in Philo’s opening lines. The obvious meaning is Cleopatra’s “brown face”, but “front” may also mean “battlefield”. It’s a small detail, but it goes nicely with the rest (surely one of Shakespeare’s best openings) in suggesting the frightful intensity of Antony’s enchantment (if a great general like him sees Cleopatra as a battlefield).

One caveat about the notes: they could have been more extensive. I mean that some of the usual suspects are released on very small bail. For example, Enobarbus’ satirical suggestion to kill all women (I.2.128-139) is left without any explanation. If you don’t know that “dying” is a euphemism for sexual intercourse, the salacious nature of the passage will be lost on you. This omission is all the more strange considering that Enobarbus’ obscene punning on Fulvia’s death (I.2.156-163) is carefully explained. (To be fair to Mr Watts, in his introduction he does mention that words like “die” and “lie” are often used in bawdy contexts.)

The introduction is an interesting essay, as wordy and pretentious as you would expect from a Research Professor of English, but well-written and intriguing. I do enjoy the editor’s raving about Cleopatra’s “infinite variety”. According to Mr Watts, she is “arrogant, vain, jealous, reflective, poignant” and “seductive, sensual, passionate, crafty, jealous, vindictive, cowardly, brave, false, true, generous, mean, petty and changeable”. A bit repetitive and not terribly original, but it does give you at least a faint idea what to expect. I do disagree, though, that Cleo is “experienced in love and politics”. No question about love, but however astute a politician the historical Cleopatra might have been, Shakespeare’s Cleo is politically ignorant in the extreme. Nor do I necessarily agree about the “variety of orthodox ethical tests around the central characters” which Shakespeare is supposed to imply, although I appreciate the attempt to describe the indescribable and define the indefinable:

Recurrently, the play’s rhetoric expresses a fierce questing for definition. Antony and Cleopatra try to define themselves and each other by references to all the elements, to tides and dolphins, to seasons and fires, to kingdoms and empires, to sun, moon and stars. No comparison quite fits; no brief quotable definition sums up Antony and Cleopatra; some irony always saps the hyperboles; but that ransacking for definition, the constant quest – that gets defined abundantly in the play. Those two characters, those two existential megalomaniacs, defiantly shout aloud what many people silently recognise: each of us can imagine a plenitude of personal selfhood that actual existence seldom seems to grant.

What a lovely phrase: “existential megalomaniacs”! I think this is the finest possible description of Antony and Cleopatra in two words.

Since the notes of Mr Watts, unlike those of Mr Hibbard, do not invite you to compare Shakespeare’s play with Plutarch’s prose original, the editor spends part of the introduction on this engrossing topic. Few things illustrate better Will’s genius than his creative reworking of what he borrowed/stole from lesser writers. Mr Watts finely observes that he made both Tony and Cleo more attractive by omitting some disturbing incidents, for instance Antony’s sentencing to death one-tenth of his men after a shameful defeat or Cleopatra’s desire, horribly similar to that of the Nazi doctors, to test different poisons on human beings. Other episodes Shakespeare compressed or enlarged, emphasising the human interest at the expense of military campaigns and tedious politics. Above all, he completely transformed Plutarch’s “relatively inert catalogue of details” into gorgeous verse that manages to be functional and sublime at the same time. Mr Watts chooses the most hackneyed example, Enobarbus’ description of Cleopatra’s first meeting with Antony (II.2.196-223), but he beautifully shows how Shakespeare, by numerous minor changes, manages to convey Cleopatra’s smouldering sensuality in a way Plutarch could never have dreamed of.

I am not sure about the size, but the price certainly does matter. Considering the pittance it is offered for, this Wordsworth Classics edition is an excellent starter. Should you like the play, you can always purchase one of those imposing – but somewhat intimidating – monuments of scholarship in which the notes and the introduction are twice longer than the play itself. This aims of this edition are much more modest, but they are admirably fulfilled. As Mr Watts truthfully put it:

No edition of the play can claim to be definitive; but this one, which aims to reconcile fidelity, clarity and concise practicality, promises to be very useful. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Jun 27, 2014 |
William Shakespeare

Antony and Cleopatra

Wordsworth Editions, Paperback, 1993.

12mo. [x]+141 pp. Text edited by J. Dover Wilson [uncredited]. Introduction [vii-viii] and Glossary [124-141], both uncredited.

Written, c. 1606.
First published, 1623 [F1].
This edition of the text first published, 1950.
First published by Wordsworth Editions, 1993.


Antony and Cleopatra


This is not a review of the play but of this particular Wordsworth “Classics” edition. The rating has nothing to do with Shakespeare’s work or with the editor’s decisions as to produce a modern text. The lone star has everything to do with the publisher.

To all newcomers to Shakespeare, here is a piece of fine advice for free. Be very careful when you order Wordsworth Classics editions online. You may get less than what you bargained for. The following paragraphs explain why this edition – with this cover! – is ridiculous and why, consequently, you should never buy it. Now, to quote Stanley Kowalski, “Let me enlighten you on a point or two, baby.”[1]

To begin with the most astonishing thing, nowhere – I repeat: nowhere – in this book is there any information who is responsible for the edition of the text; the introduction and the glossary are likewise anonymous. I wrote to Wordsworth Editions and asked them, but I never received an answer.* Nor did I expect one. I suppose my tone was too rude. I couldn’t help it. Such monumental sloppiness, not to say flagrant dishonesty, on the publisher’s side is to my mind unacceptable.

This book bears the inscription “Wordsworth Classics” on both its front cover and its title page. This is complete delusion. As you can see from various “looks inside”, it has little in common with the other two Wordsworth Classics editions of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. The first of these, with new Introduction and Notes by Cedric Watts but using the much older (1950) text and glossary by Dover Wilson, seems to have been published in 2000 and revised in 2004. The second appeared in 2006 and apparently contained newly edited text by Mr Watts and substantially revised versions of his introduction, notes and Dover Wilson’s glossary.

This mutilated and bastardized 1993 Wordsworth “Classics” edition does contain the “complete and unabridged” (at least that’s true!) text of the play as edited by John Dover Wilson. This was first published in 1950 and is still in print as part from The Cambridge Dover Wilson Shakespeare. As you can see from another surreptitious look, though, this text was originally accompanied by 30-pages-long introduction and more than 100 pages of notes. The latter are completely omitted here, as are all other editorial contributions save the Glossary. The uncredited introduction may – please note: may – also come from Dover Wilson’s edition, but, if so, it has been lamentably reduced to three superficial paragraphs about the play and one about the facts of Shakespeare’s life, altogether only two pages. Personally, I think it’s a publisher’s invention. The Further Reading section appended to the introduction is certainly an original contribution by Wordsworth Editions. It consists of exactly five books and it is magnificently updated – the newest volume is from 1983.

What about this Glossary, you ask? Well, it is very helpful, to be sure, but nowhere near as much as copious notes are. For each word, in addition to its meaning of course, all places where it occurs in the play are given; these are easy to locate as each scene has line numbers and the heading of each page contains exact references (e.g. 3.6.54, meaning that the page begins with Act 3, Scene 6, line 54). Different meanings (i, ii) and puns (a, b) are noted, though how extensively I don’t know. All this is fine, but there are problems, too. Cross-references with other plays abound, but if you don’t have Dover Wilson’s editions, you may well find line references “wrong”. Many abbreviations also present problems. “O.E.D.”, “M.N.D.” and “L.L.L.” are clear enough. But what do “K.”, “G.” and “J.” stand for? I suppose these are rival editors that were identified in Dover Wilson’s bibliography, but here they remain elusive. Whole names and even cited works can be equally obscure. I still don’t know who “Onions” or “Schmidt” are, nor what “Chambers, Med. St.” is supposed to mean.

This sloppy, misguided and misleading edition receives one full star only because it contains the full text of the play. It is easy to read and convenient as a reference. But you have to know the play intimately. There is precious little here to help you out with the complexity of plot, characters and language. And even this “little” is not properly credited. To be sure, publishers are notoriously disrespectful and greedy tribe. They would bring on the market all kinds of atrocious stuff, usually under budget-price conditions, if there are enough fools to buy it. Penguin, no less, regularly publishes unreadable fonts in their Popular Classics series and, in regard to Shakespeare, treats with abominable lack of respect so fine an editor as G. B. Harrison. But the insolence of Wordsworth Editions is truly unsurpassed. If you contemplate purchasing their edition of Antony and Cleopatra online, be sure it doesn’t have The Death of Antony and Cleopatra by Alessandro Turchi (1579-1649) on the front cover.


[1] Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire, Scene 2.

*After this review was written, I did receive an answer from Wordsworth. It stated that "the short introduction and other material would have been written by the editorial staff of Wordsworth at the time the book was first published in 1993." This confirms my speculation that the introduction (including the biographical note and the Further Reading) was done by the publisher, but it is not correct as far as the Glossary is concerned. Strangely, Mr Wright from Wordsworth mentioned nothing about the most important matter, the editor of the play itself. Antony and Cleopatra being first published in the First Folio (1623), no early quartos known to have existed, you might think textual matters are easy. Not so. The Folio is far from reliable, for one thing, and different editors often have very different ideas of punctuation and versification. Nearly a century ago, M. A. Bayfield supplied as an appendix to his A Study of Shakespeare's Versification (1920) the whole play in a revised text which, so he thought, was closer to Will's original than anything else. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | May 9, 2014 |
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 |
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» Add other authors (153 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shakespeare, Williamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Andrew, Stephen A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brissaud, PierreIllustratorsecondary 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
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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