Antony and Cleopatra (Vol. 70)
Antony and Cleopatra
For further information on the critical and stage history of Antony and Cleopatra, see SC, Volumes 6, 17, 27, 47, and 58.
Regarded as one of Shakespeare's most compelling love stories, Antony and Cleopatra is often seen as an anomaly among critics because, despite its apparently tragic ending, the play ends on a triumphant note. Although Antony and Cleopatra both die at the play's end, they deny Octavius Caesar victory and achieve immortality as lovers. The tragedy of the play is also undercut by the comic elements that appear throughout the course of the drama. The play's genre, which encompasses the comic, heroic, tragic, and romantic, comprises one area of intense critical analysis. Critics are also concerned with the language used in Antony and Cleopatra, and examine the rhetorical styles of the characters as well as Shakespeare's use of metaphor and imagery. Investigations of the characters in the play are concerned to some degree with the Elizabethan understanding of the characters as fictional entities and as historical personages. In modern stage productions of Antony and Cleopatra, the dynamic relationship between the two lovers is typically of most interest to spectators as well as reviewers.
Antony, Cleopatra, and Caesar are the most heavily scrutinized characters in Antony and Cleopatra. Some critics focus their character analyses on the way in which these characters might have been received by Elizabethan audiences. Robert P. Kalmey (1978) argues that the Elizabethan conception of Octavius Caesar was two-pronged. According to Kalmey, Elizabethans praised Caesar as an ideal prince only after he was crowned emperor. Prior to this event, Kalmey maintains, Caesar was condemned by Elizabethans who saw him as a tyrant who fueled the fires of civil war to further his own ambitions. Like Kalmey, Theodora A. Jankowski (1989) is interested in the Elizabethan take on Shakespeare's characters, specifically Cleopatra and her resemblance to Queen Elizabeth. Jankowski notes that although both women used their bodies for political purposes, Cleopatra should not be taken as an allegorical representation of Elizabeth. Jankowski states that the similarities between the women suggest Shakespeare's awareness of the fact that a successful female sovereign was an anomaly in a patriarchal society, and of the particular problems Elizabeth faced in ruling England. Taking a similar approach to the issue of Cleopatra's characterization, Imtiaz Habib (2000) also finds a connection between Cleopatra and Elizabeth. Habib, however, suggests that Cleopatra's blackness and seductive nature, in conjunction with the indolence of Egypt as a nation, is contrasted with the nobility of England, and the white and virginal Queen Elizabeth. Habib also comments on the black woman of Shakespeare's Sonnets and her relationship to Cleopatra. Additionally, Habib maintains that the critical connection between Cleopatra's political impotency and her sexual power is her race, which Habib demonstrates was understood to be black and ethnic in the eyes of historians and of Shakespeare. Coppélia Kahn (see Further Reading) centers her study on the rivalry between Octavius Caesar and Antony. Kahn contends that Caesar campaigns against Antony not only to demonize Cleopatra and paint her as Rome's archenemy, but to completely discredit Antony as a rival. Kahn goes on to examine the relationship between Caesar and Antony from Antony's point of view, commenting on what Antony hoped to accomplish through his suicide, and also discussing how his death would have been interpreted according to Renaissance ideas regarding suicide.
The sense of triumph at the play's end is an important element of modern stage productions of Antony and Cleopatra. In her review of the 1999 production of the play staged at the Southmark Globe Theatre in London and directed by Giles Block, Lois Potter (1999) comments that the director's vision of the play emphasized the victory of “a gloriously human couple.” Potter additionally singles out members of this all-male cast for praise; she finds that Mark Rylance's Cleopatra offered new insights into the character and the play as a whole, and that John McEnery's performance as Enobarbus was exceptional as well. Patrick Carnegy (1999) and Russell Jackson (2000) review another recent production of Antony and Cleopatra, staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon and directed by Steven Pimlott. Although Carnegy criticizes Alan Bates, as Antony, for stumbling over many of his lines, he gives high praise to Frances de la Tour's performance as Cleopatra, and to the production as a whole. Likewise, Jackson is equally taken with de la Tour's Cleopatra and finds Bates's Antony to be likeable and energetic, but decidedly unheroic.
Many aspects of the language, style, and generic structure of Antony and Cleopatra fascinate modern critics. Robert D. Hume (1973) offers a detailed examination of the ways in which language, rhythm, and rhetorical habit are used for the purposes of character differentiation and development. For example, Hume observes that Antony's language reflects his vacillation between the worlds of Rome and Egypt, and that Cleopatra's imaginative language and varied rhythms are contrasted with Caesar's straightforward and regular verse. In another comparison between the language of Caesar and Cleopatra, Hume comments that the melodiousness arising from Cleopatra's use of assonance is set against the cacophony generated by Caesar's alliteration. Like Hume, Rosalie L. Colie (1974) explores the styles of speech used in Antony and Cleopatra. Colie focuses on the contrast between the Attic and Asiatic styles of speech and how these styles were understood in the Renaissance as encompassing not just rhetorical patterns, but moral and cultural differences as well. Colie explains that Atticism, the style preferred by Caesar, is characterized by plain, direct speech, while Asianism, which is more sensuous, self-indulgent, and imaginative, is the style used by both Cleopatra and Antony. Furthermore, Colie examines the language Antony and Cleopatra use with each other, commenting that their love transcends conventional hyperbole; in their creation of new forms of overstatement, the lovers employ a language reflective of the instability of their love. Donald C. Freeman (1999) uses the theory of cognitive metaphor to evaluate the figurative language found in Antony and Cleopatra. Freeman identifies the major image schemes used in the play and demonstrates the way these inform our understanding of the play's treatment of Antony, Cleopatra, and Rome. In terms of genre, Antony and Cleopatra encompasses elements of the comic, heroic, tragic, and romantic. J. L. Simmons (1969) demonstrates the ways in which the structure of the play follows the pattern of other Shakespearean comedies. Simmons finds that the contrast between Rome and Egypt is mirrored by the contrasts between court and tavern in the Henry IV plays, between Venice and Belmont in The Merchant of Venice, and between court and forest in A Midsummer Night's Dream and As You Like It. Taking another approach to the debate over the play's genre, R. J. Dorius (see Further Reading) discusses the interaction between the tragic, heroic, and romantic elements of the play, arguing that Shakespeare's treatment of love and of Cleopatra is at the center of the controversy regarding the relationship between tragedy and romance in Antony and Cleopatra.
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Turner, John. Introduction to The Tragedie of Anthonie, and Cleopatra, by William Shakespeare, edited by John Turner, pp. 13-29. New York: Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1995.
[In the following essay, Turner examines Shakespeare's treatment of Rome in Antony and Cleopatra, suggesting that his view of the empire was fueled by an imaginative return to the “honour culture” of late medieval aristocrats. Turner also comments on the major relationships within the play, and on the love poetry of Antony and Cleopatra.]
The stage upon which The Tragedie of Anthonie, and Cleopatra is enacted is a site upon which competitors meet. …
I am using the word ‘competitor’ in that precise but ambiguous sense which it enjoys throughout the play, and which, according to the OED, it enjoyed for the century between 1579 and 1681: a sense fluctuating between ‘rival’ and ‘associate’, and implying both the competition and collaboration that today—though we still speak of ‘fellow-competitors’ in a race—are usually thought to be mutually incompatible.
It is no accident that the period of the word's ambiguity coincides so closely with the period of the greatest efflorescence of court society in Britain, as succeeding monarchs sought to ‘gentle’ their aristocracy and disarm their code of honour by drawing them to court, where their...
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Criticism: Character Studies
SOURCE: Kalmey, Robert P. “Shakespeare's Octavius and Elizabethan Roman History.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 18, no. 2 (spring 1978): 275-87.
[In the following essay, Kalmey examines the Elizabethan conception of Octavius Caesar, and finds that Elizabethans praised Caesar as an ideal prince only after he was crowned emperor. Prior to this event, Kalmey maintains, Caesar was condemned by Elizabethans who saw him as a tyrant who fueled the fires of civil war to further his own ambitions.]
Few readers of Antony and Cleopatra have overlooked the contempt with which Cleopatra condemns as mere hollow words the paltry machinations of Octavius Caesar to take her captive. “He words me, girls, he words me, that I should not / Be noble to myself” (V.ii.190-191: Arden Shakespeare, ed. M. R. Ridley). Nor have readers neglected the irony Cleopatra articulates that Octavius, who has conquered Brutus, Sextus Pompey, Lepidus, Lucius Antonius, and Marc Antony, should so easily and deftly be humiliated by the personal will of a defeated queen. Speaking to the asp at her breast, Cleopatra defines her final contemptuous image of Octavius: “O, couldst thou speak, that I might hear thee call great Caesar ass, / Unpolicied!” (V.ii.305-307).
In spite of Cleopatra's final scathing assessment of the character of Octavius, it is a persistent commonplace in modern criticism to...
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SOURCE: Jankowski, Theodora A. “‘As I Am Egypt's Queen’: Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, and the Female Body Politic.” In Assays: Critical Approaches to Medieval and Renaissance Texts, Vol. V, edited by Peggy A. Knapp, pp. 91-110. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989.
[In the following essay, Jankowski identifies the similarities and differences between Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare's Cleopatra, and notes that although both women used their bodies for political purposes, Cleopatra should not be viewed as a direct allegorization of Elizabeth. Jankowski also claims that the parity between the two women reveals Shakespeare's interest in the difficulties Elizabeth faced as a woman attempting to be an effective ruler in patriarchal England.]
In his 1558 pamphlet, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, John Knox argued that no woman could be a sovereign ruler because
the immutable decree of God … hath subiected her to one membre of the congregation, that is to her husband. … So that woman by the lawe of God … is vtterly forbidden to occupie the place of God in the offices aforesaid, which he hath assigned to man, whome he hath appointed and ordeined his lieutenant in earth.1
That dour Protestant directed these words primarily against the two reigning Catholic monarchs, Mary...
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SOURCE: Habib, Imtiaz. “Cleopatra and the Sexualization of Race.” In Shakespeare and Race: Postcolonial Praxis in the Early Modern Period, pp. 157-205. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2000.
[In the following essay, Habib suggests that in Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare contrasted noble England and the white, virginal Queen Elizabeth with the torpor of Egypt and its black and wanton ruler, Cleopatra.]
Think on me That am with Phoebus's amorous pinches black And wrinkled deep in time?
Antony and Cleopatra 1.5.27-29
If Titus Andronicus was a failure to construct empire, Antony and Cleopatra may be a renewed attempt using this time as the object of subjugation a black female monarch of an alternative empire. It is a renewed effort also to reify through the idea of a fabulously re-imagined Rome the idea of empire, to vindicate it by writing it on whatever lies beyond it—in this case the East and Egypt. What is revisited is the archetypal European colony in Africa on the eve of its colonization, Egypt at the moment of its becoming a Roman province. Concomitantly, it is also an attempt to vindicate noble Rome-England and the memory of a white virgin Elizabeth against an indolent Egypt and a black seductive Cleopatra. This is a national instinct whose strength is reflected for example in a work like Anne...
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Criticism: Production Reviews
SOURCE: Carnegy, Patrick. “Wanton Self-Destruction.” The Spectator 283, no. 8917 (3 July 1999): 41-2.
[In the following review, Carnegy offers a mostly favorable assessment of the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Antony and Cleopatra at Stratford-upon-Avon for the Summer-Winter 1999-2000 season, directed by Steven Pimlott. Although Carnegy criticizes Alan Bates, as Antony, for stumbling over many of his lines, he gives high praise to Frances de la Tour's performance as Cleopatra.]
‘Men's judgements,’ as Enobarbus, Antony's sometime friend and shrewdest observer, remarks, ‘are a parcel of their fortunes.’ For Enobarbus, and for Steven Pimlott's new production, Antony's tragedy is his loss of judgement. His ill-fortune is shown as lying more in his stars than in Cleopatra's arms. We see an Antony whose behaviour is driven by ennui, even by what Sartre called nausea. Behold the man of power, the ‘triple pillar of the world’, now grown bored with omnipotence.
Cleopatra is one reason for him to go on living, drink is another. The one sure thing about Alan Bates's Antony is that it's already all up with him, a man who knows he's marked for death and will revel while he may. This is a Dionysus matched against the Pentheus of Guy Henry's coldly calculating Caesar. It's not his dalliance with Cleopatra that antagonises friends but his wanton...
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SOURCE: Potter, Lois. “Shakespeare Performed: Roman Actors and Egyptian Transvestites.” Shakespeare Quarterly 50, no. 4 (winter 1999): 508-17.
[In the following excerpted review of the Southmark Globe Theatre's all-male production of Antony and Cleopatra, directed by Giles Block, Potter praises many of the performances of the major characters, finding in particular that Mark Rylance's Cleopatra uncovered new meaning in the play. Potter comments that the director's vision of the play emphasized the victory of “a gloriously human couple.”]
In its 1999 season the Southwark Globe took up several challenges from its critics: to prove that it could do Shakespearean tragedy as well as comedy, to adopt more Elizabethan conventions (in this case, all-male casts for Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra), and to perform a new play. To make room for the last of these, which opened after I left, there were no plays by Shakespeare's contemporaries this year; I suspect that they will mostly be relegated to the small indoor theater when it finally materializes, and that the same will be true of new plays. The Globe theater has also taken notice of last season's complaints about problems seeing and hearing the actors. The pillars have new, slimmer bases; though actors can no longer stand on them, a little more of the forestage can now be seen from the side. This year each production has had...
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SOURCE: Jackson, Russell. “Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon: Summer and Winter, 1999-2000.” Shakespeare Quarterly 51, no. 2 (summer 2000): 217-29.
[In the following excerpted review, Jackson comments on the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Antony and Cleopatra at Stratford-upon-Avon, directed by Steven Pimlott. In particular, Jackson finds Frances de la Tour's performance of Cleopatra outstanding, and notes that Alan Bates's Antony, while amiable, is somewhat unheroic.]
In my previous report on Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon I wondered more in sorrow than in anger what kind of artistic policy the RSC might lay claim to.1 Whether or not in the course of the “Summer Festival Season” the company found a policy, they certainly acquired a stage, which may amount to the same thing. The 1500-seat proscenium-arch main house, with whose architecture directors and designers have struggled since it opened in 1932, was remodeled under the direction of the company's resident designer, Anthony Rowe. For the summer season the company installed a deep, elliptical platform stage, on which the principal action of each play was performed. The space upstage of the proscenium arch was relegated to providing background images or (for long stretches of some of the season's plays) simply closed off from view. In order to make the actors visible to spectators at the back of the topmost...
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SOURCE: Blissett, William. “Dramatic Irony in Antony and Cleopatra.” Shakespeare Quarterly 18, no. 2 (spring 1967): 151-66.
[In the following essay, originally delivered as a lecture in 1962, Blissett explores Antony and Cleopatra's use of dramatic irony, focusing in particular on the dramatic irony generated from the nature of the theater and from the audiences' interpretations of the play's characters and events. ]
Ho now, Enobarbus!
What's your pleasure, sir?
I must with haste from hence.
Why, then we kill all our women. We see how mortal an unkindness is to them; if they suffer our departure, death's the word.(1)
Antony, one may imagine, looks a little distraught; and a slight operatic tremolo carries over from the well-turned bel canto tribute to his late wife Fulvia. Enobarbus knows his man even if he does not know the news: his remarks are dry and pointed—ironic, in a sense recognized in Shakespeare's time, that is, in the rhetorical mode described as the “dry mock”.2 The relationship of the two characters might also have been called eironeia by the Greeks: the element of boastfulness and pretence in Antony at this moment, and often in the play, brings him close to the comic type of the alazon; and...
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SOURCE: Simmons, J. L. “The Comic Pattern and Vision in Antony and Cleopatra.” ELH 36, no. 3 (September 1969): 493-510.
[In the following essay, Simmons explores the ways in which the structure and thematic interests of Antony and Cleopatra are reflective of elements of Shakespearean comedy.]
Antony and Cleopatra is in the anomalous position of being Shakespeare's delightful tragedy. Death for Cleopatra has lost its terror if not its sting. The fear of something after or simply the horror of cessation is not a part of the effect, an effect all tragedy works with to some degree. Instead, the grave offers a victory:
No grave upon the earth shall clip in it A pair so famous.
Throughout the play the love-death imagery has pointed to this embracing grave, to some “mettle in death” that only a saint, certainly no tragic personage, can descry. By being absolute for death, Cleopatra and her Antony become absolute in death and achieve the eternal embrace and the acme of worldly fame, their two motivating ideals. The sense of triumph in the final scene, with the corollary of Caesar's “defeat,” is thus very strong, and some of the most enthusiastic pages of Shakespearean criticism have been written on its unique effect and its reflexiveness upon the entire play. But in this final scene, that conflict in the...
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SOURCE: Hume, Robert D. “Individuation and Development of Character through Language in Antony and Cleopatra.” Shakespeare Quarterly 24, no. 3 (summer 1973): 280-300.
[In the following essay, Hume analyzes the way in which language functions in the play and demonstrates how Shakespeare used language in order to distinguish and develop the characters in Antony and Cleopatra.]
In some of Shakespeare's plays—Love's Labour's Lost, for example—a linguistic character-typology is quite plain. In others it is less evident. Few of us would say with Tolstoy that all of Shakespeare's characters sound alike, but neither would many say with Pope that we could properly assign all the speeches if the speakers were unidentified. Studies of Shakespeare's language have tended to be either technical and descriptive or devoted to the general poetic effect of the language, particularly the imagery.1 Here I wish to study not the general effect but the specific function of the language as it contributes to the dramatization of individual characters.2 I have selected Antony and Cleopatra as my example for a number of reasons. First, it exhibits Shakespeare's style in full maturity. Second, none of its characters (save the Clown) is sharply differentiated for satiric purposes or on social grounds. Third, the contribution of the characters' language to the impression they create...
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SOURCE: Colie, Rosalie L. “Antony and Cleopatra: The Significance of Style.” In Shakespeare's Living Art, pp. 168-207. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1974.
[In the following essay, Colie examines the play's use of Attic and Asiatic styles of speech, explaining that Atticism, the style preferred by Caesar, is characterized by plain, direct speech, while Asianism, which is more sensuous, self-indulgent, and imaginative, is the style used by both Cleopatra and Antony. Colie contends that in the Renaissance, these styles were studied not just as rhetorical effects, but as indicators of morality and cultural differences.]
Like earlier chapters, this one is concerned with a particular manifestation of Shakespeare's control over style and styles. By definition, Shakespeare was a very stylish writer indeed, conscious of the range of stylistic alternatives available to him, concerned to honor the particular decorums of style and to extend (even to subverting those official decorums) the possibilities of expressive style. We have looked at his analytic prodigality in Love's Labour's Lost, as well as his counterpointing of epigrammatic and sonnet styles in his Sonnets: we have seen both how closely style is tied up with topic, subject, and moral tone, and how far away from these it can pull. In Othello, the charged passages in sonnet-language...
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SOURCE: Freeman, Donald C. “‘The rack dislimns’: Schema and Metaphorical Pattern in Antony and Cleopatra.” Poetics Today 20, no. 3 (fall 1999): 443-60.
[In the following essay, Freeman uses the theory of cognitive metaphor to evaluate the figurative language found in Antony and Cleopatra.]
Any approach to metaphor hoping to enhance centuries of scholarship on Shakespeare's dramatic language faces an onerous burden of proof, the more so when the play under discussion is Antony and Cleopatra. The play's lushness of figurative language has attracted hosts of both New Critics and traditional philologists. Many have commented on the play's vast compass—one made possible in large part by the cosmic imagery that Shakespeare so frequently employs.
The great German Shakespearean Wolfgang Clemen (1962 : 160), for example, remarked more than sixty years ago that Antony and Cleopatra summons “to our minds again and again the image of the wide ocean and of the immeasurably vast world.” At about the same time, Caroline Spurgeon (1935: 352) pointed out how the play “fills the imagination with the conception of beings so great that physical size is annihilated and the whole habitable globe shrinks in comparison with them.”
This commentary anticipated much of what has followed. Many of Clemen's and Spurgeon's successors have remarked on the...
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Charney, Maurice. “The Imagery of Antony and Cleopatra.” In Shakespeare's Roman Plays: The Function of Imagery in the Drama, pp. 79-141. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961.
Studies Antony and Cleopatra's use of the imagery related to dimension and scope, demonstrating the way such imagery expresses the hyperbole characterizing the style of the play.
Dorius, R. J. “Love, Death, and the Heroic” and “The Triumph of Imagination: Act V.” In How to Read Shakespearean Tragedy, edited by Edward Quinn, pp. 295-310; 339-49. New York: Harper's College Press, 1978.
Discusses the interaction between tragic, heroic, and romantic elements in the play, and contends that much of the divergence of opinion regarding the play's genre is rooted in the way Shakespeare's treatment of love and of Cleopatra are interpreted.
Hamilton, Donna B. “Antony and Cleopatra and the Tradition of Noble Lovers.” Shakespeare Quarterly 24, no. 3 (summer 1973): 245-52.
Examines the literary tradition that views Antony and Cleopatra as truthful and faithful lovers, and suggests that Shakespeare drew on these accounts for inspiration.
Herbert, T. Walter “A Study of Meaning in Antony and Cleopatra.” In … All These to Teach: Essays in Honor of C. A....
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