Antony and Cleopatra (Vol. 81)
Antony and Cleopatra
See also Antony and Cleopatra Criticism (Volume 58).
Likely written and first performed between 1606 and 1607, Antony and Cleopatra is generally considered one of Shakespeare's finest tragic dramas. Focused on the passionate love of the Roman general Mark Antony and the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, the play spans an approximately ten-year period of historical conflict between the Mediterranean powers of Egypt and Rome in the first century b.c. and culminates in the deaths by suicide of its eponymous figures. John Wilders (1995) surveys the structure, characters, themes, and language of Antony and Cleopatra and highlights Shakespeare's dramatic juxtaposition of Egypt and Rome, which has long been considered the major structural element in the play. Critics, including Wilders, have remarked that Shakespeare's Rome is a masculine, pragmatic, martial, and public culture that eagerly strives to fulfill its virtues of military conquest and peaceful, ordered rule. His Alexandrian Egypt, in contrast, is feminine, domestic, decadent, and individualistic, linked with pleasure—specifically Antony's dalliance with the beautiful Cleopatra. Scholars are also interested in the drama's extraordinary characters, including the historical personages Mark Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavius Caesar, whose stories Shakespeare culled from various sources in order to make them his own. Usually regarded as unstable, mutable, or inconsistent, these figures have proved notoriously resistant to categorization. Although it is one of Shakespeare's more difficult dramas to successfully stage, Antony and Cleopatra has been widely performed since the second half of the nineteenth century and remains popular with audiences, in large part due to the allure of Shakespeare's Cleopatra.
Contemporary critical interest in Cleopatra, especially among feminist scholars, attests to the continued status of this enigmatic historical queen as one of the most fascinating female characters in the Shakespearean canon. L. J. Mills (1960) regards Cleopatra as the central focus of the play. Analyzing Cleopatra's renowned contradictory manner and behavior, egocentrism, extravagance, and her essential mystery, Mills suggests that by winning control of Antony without care or recognition of his character, military virtue, or complete devotion to her, Cleopatra precipitates her own tragedy and prompts Antony's despair and self-destruction. Clare Kinney (1990) links Cleopatra's fundamental strength to her mutable identity. For Kinney, Cleopatra is a human embodiment of Egypt to such a degree that she subsumes its multiplicity and vast internal differences. Unlike the Roman figures with whom she is contrasted—individuals like Antony or Octavius Caesar, both associated with masculine virtues and a competitive drive to dominate—Cleopatra represents an all-inclusive potentiality that embraces the feminine and the masculine, refusing to be subsumed by one or the other. Feminist critic Mary Ann Bushman (1991) analyzes Cleopatra's status as the “tragic hero” of the play. Unlike Kinney and other critics who have viewed Cleopatra as a mingling of feminine and masculine principles, Bushman argues that Shakespeare's Cleopatra is neither masculine nor feminine, but instead defines herself through theatrical spectacle, and locates her shifting identity within the mutable realm of staged performance. Susan Muaddi Darraj (2001) concentrates on Shakespeare's efforts to fashion Cleopatra into a believable “violent and intimidating” character in an age when women had little political power. According to Darraj, Shakespeare made Cleopatra a convincing villain to Jacobean theatergoers by locating her in a foreign realm, inverting her gender role with that of her masculine lover Antony, obliterating her maternal nature, and allowing her to be redeemed only through death.
Antony and Cleopatra is considered to be one of the more difficult Shakespearean dramas to successfully stage. An extremely long piece with numerous abrupt changes in locale—from Egypt to Rome to Misenum to Athens—Antony and Cleopatra presents considerable challenges to directors, actors, and audiences. Reviewing a 1999 all-male production of the play directed by Giles Block and performed at the open-air Globe Theatre in London, Kristin E. Gandrow (2000) praises Mark Rylance's campy but nuanced portrayal of Cleopatra. Gandrow notes that Block's eccentric staging and Rylance's camp-inspired performance were a proper tribute to the spirit of William Shakespeare's original play. Reviewing the same 1999 production, critic Sheridan Morley finds its comic turn, including Rylance's near drag queen interpretation of Cleopatra, appropriate to the open-air environment and touristy nature of the Globe. Alvin Klein reviews the 2000 staging of Antony and Cleopatra directed by Bonnie J. Monte for the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival. Klein notes the difficulties in staging this “most unplayable play,” which crosses the boundaries between tragedy, comedy, and history, but finds the essential failure of this production was the lack of passion between Robert Cuccioli's subdued Mark Antony and Tamara Tunie's modernized Cleopatra. Critics were not much more favorably disposed to director Michael Attenborough's 2002 Royal Shakespeare Company production of the drama at Stratford-upon-Avon. Juliet Fleming notes several flaws in this production, including bungled verse that often degenerated into shouting and the lackluster male cast; however, she lauds several performances by women, principally Sinead Cusack's Cleopatra. Rex Gibson (2002) remarks on Attenborough's extensive cuts to the text of Antony and Cleopatra, and finds that the cuts highlighted two of the play's themes: “the contrast of Rome and Egypt, and the destructive effects of love.” Lisa Hopkins (2002) contends that Attenborough's production was both “unfocused” and “alarmingly short” and criticizes the textual cuts, simple set, and bad casting. While she praises several key members of its supporting cast—in the roles of Charmian, Enobarbus, and Octavius Caesar—Hopkins finds their work unable to redeem the unconvincing Egyptian queen and her theatrically constrained Roman lover.
Critics continue to examine the thematic oppositions in Antony and Cleopatra. Joan Lord Hall (see Further Reading) surveys a selection of dualistic conflicts and themes in Antony and Cleopatra, including the play's representation of love in opposition to military leadership, the antagonism between artistic imagination and nature (a favorite subject of Renaissance criticism), the futility of action in the face of capricious fortune, the essential mutability of the sublunar world, and the enormous power of theatricality and role-playing to destabilize perception and reality. William D. Wolf (1982) maintains that Antony and Cleopatra contrasts radically with Shakespeare's other tragic dramas, noting that the play's essential ambiguity is one of its defining characteristics. While acknowledging a pivotal dichotomy between the opposing cultural values associated with Egypt and Rome, Wolf claims its central symbolic conflict involves the tension between change and permanence—a tension that prompts Antony and Cleopatra to escape from this mutable world. J. Robert Baker studies the gender reversals in Antony and Cleopatra, contending that “Shakespeare figures movement out of one's own gender as a necessary and desirable, if painful, educational process a character must undergo in order to inhabit a world not bound by life or death, tragedy or comedy.” Paul Yachnin (1993) views Antony and Cleopatra as a critique of absolutist loyalty to the divinely appointed sovereign. Yachnin also investigates the dynamic of master and servant relations and the tensions between “command and response” that pervade the drama, as well as their political implications in the Jacobean and Elizabethan periods. Arthur Lindley (1996) adapts Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of the carnivalesque to his discussion of Antony and Cleopatra, noting the play's comic subversion of the tragic and Egypt's status as a carnival-like parody of Roman culture. Lastly, Alf Sjöberg (2002) concentrates on the theme of transformation in Antony and Cleopatra as a force born from the drama's “world of ruinous oppositions.” In Sjöberg's broad-ranging study, the play privileges change as the only constant in a reality defined by struggle, and as an ameliorative to the human impulse toward degeneration, loss of identity, and self-annihilation.
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Wilders, John. Introduction to The Arden Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra, edited by John Wilders, pp. 1-84. London: Routledge, 1995.
[In the following excerpt, Wilders surveys the structure, characters, themes, and language of Antony and Cleopatra.]
THE QUESTION OF STRUCTURE
SHIFTS OF LOCATION
The dramatic construction of Antony and Cleopatra, with its constant shifts of location, is one which Shakespeare had already used in the two parts of Henry IV with their oscillations between the court, the tavern and the battlefield and their excursions into Wales and Gloucestershire. This in turn grew out of the mode he had used in the comedies, where one location is set off against another: the house of Baptista against that of Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, the city and the wood in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Venice and Belmont in The Merchant of Venice. It had, in fact, been Shakespeare's way of working from the very beginning. As Emrys Jones points out,
A striking feature of a play like 1 Henry IV is the constant comparativeness of its method: we are never allowed to become identified with the point of view of any one of its characters. Although Talbot is a famous soldier-hero, he is only one of several main figures. The play's vision of reality is never less than...
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Criticism: Character Studies
SOURCE: Mills, L. J. “Cleopatra's Tragedy.” Shakespeare Quarterly 11, no. 2 (spring 1960): 147-62.
[In the following essay, Mills attributes Cleopatra's personal tragedy to her amoral, equivocal, and egoistic nature.]
Interpretations of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra have emphasized, with varying degrees of stress, one or another of the three principal themes in the play, which are, as summarized by John Munro:
… first, the East represented by Egypt and lands beyond versus the West represented by Rome; secondly, the strife in the Triumvirate who divided and governed the world, and the reduction of the three, Octavius, Lepidus and Antony, to one, Octavius; and thirdly, the love and tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra. Of all these the last is dramatically dominant.1
But among the commentators who regard the third theme as dominant there is much difference of opinion. Some write as if the play were entitled “The Tragedy of Antony”; for example, J. Middleton Murry:
… up to the death of Antony it is from him that the life of the play has been derived. She [Cleopatra] is what she is to the imagination, rather in virtue of the effects we see in Antony, than by virtue of herself. He is magnificent; therefore she must be. But when he dies, her poetic function is to maintain and...
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SOURCE: Heffner, Ray L., Jr. “The Messengers in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra.” ELH 43, no. 2 (summer 1976): 154-62.
[In the following essay, Heffner examines Shakespeare's extensive use of messengers in Antony and Cleopatra, contending that “the messenger is a bit of necessary stage machinery which Shakespeare seems almost miraculously to transform…into something rich and strange.”]
In electing to present the story of Antony and Cleopatra not, as Dryden did, by compressing the action to a single climactic day in a single place but instead by shifting the scene rapidly over the known world and allowing ample time for almost innumerable turns, counterturns, and apparent vacillations by his protagonists, Shakespeare avoided some problems of dramatic construction and magnified others. In The Tempest, in which the unities are observed, a long and potentially tedious exposition by Prospero must be rather artificially introduced by assuming that, in all their years more or less alone together on the island, not until now has Prospero told Miranda one word about their past. But instead of suppressing this dramaturgic difficulty, Shakespeare boldly calls attention to it, as Prospero punctuates his narrative with commands to Miranda to pay attention. His concern lest she, along with the audience, fall asleep prematurely itself becomes a subject of dramatic interest and tension....
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SOURCE: Kinney, Clare. “The Queen's Two Bodies and the Divided Emperor: Some Problems of Identity in Antony and Cleopatra.” In The Renaissance Englishwoman in Print: Counterbalancing the Canon, edited by Anne M. Haselkorn and Betty S. Travitsky, pp. 177-86. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990.
[In the following essay, Kinney contends that Cleopatra is the human embodiment of Egypt and represents an all-inclusive potentiality that embraces the feminine and the masculine.]
Cleopatra, like Falstaff, is always being called names. Almost every scene in Antony and Cleopatra generates new identities for her; over the course of the play she acquires at least forty different cognomens. She is gypsy, whore, trull, vile lady, grave charm, morsel, boggler, salt Cleopatra; she is great fairy, nightingale, serpent of old Nile, Egyptian dish; she is, furthermore, most sovereign creature, great Egypt, day o' th' world, lass unparalleled. Constantly avoiding the numerous (and largely male) attempts to fix or subsume her being within a single convenient or conventional category (such as Witch or Strumpet), she transforms and re-verses whatever labels are attached to her. Consider, for example, what happens to Cleopatra the Comestible. The “Egyptian dish” (2.6.123)1 has been tasted by Julius Caesar, the elder Pompey, and Antony: all Rome, it seems, has had a piece of the pie,...
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SOURCE: Bushman, Mary Ann. “Representing Cleopatra.” In In Another Country: Feminist Perspectives on Renaissance Drama, edited by Dorothea Kehler and Susan Baker, pp. 36-49. Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1991.
[In the following essay, Bushman examines feminist readings of Cleopatra's character in Antony and Cleopatra and analyzes her status as the “tragic hero” of the play.]
To the discerning eye of feminist criticism, Shakespearean tragedy seems to treat women characters as reflections of the tragic hero. According to Linda Bamber, since the tragedies feature a masculine version of Self, female characters differ from the male only because they mirror the external world, the Other, all that lies “outside the Self.”1Antony and Cleopatra, however, gives us glimpses of a kind of “self” that is not merely reflection or symbol of the Other. Through dialogue and certain forms of silence, the play text fashions a speaking position for Cleopatra that seems to imitate neither the masculine model of tragic heroes nor her feminine counterparts in comedy.2 Although Shakespearean texts draw on the same rhetorical resources for representing male and female characters, the representation of Cleopatra's self-consciousness reassigns those resources, giving them different values and functions.
Watching or reading a play affords us no access...
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SOURCE: Darraj, Susan Muaddi. “‘The Sword Phillipan’: Female Power, Maternity, and Genderbending in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra.” Schuylkill: A Creative and Critical Review from Temple University 4, no. 1 (spring 2001): 23-32.
[In the following essay, Darraj concentrates on Shakespeare's efforts to fashion Cleopatra into a believable, sympathetic character.]
The 19th century essayist and literary critic William Hazlitt wrote of Cleopatra, “She is voluptuous, ostentatious, conscious, boastful of her charms, haughty, tyrannical, [and] fickle,” which are “great and unpardonable faults” (Hazlitt 2-3). Much of the criticism of Antony and Cleopatra has recycled this judgement, depicting Cleopatra as a villainess uses her eroticism and sexuality to motivate Antony to seek power. Cleopatra is memorable for her propensity for violence as well. While Antony and Cleopatra was written after the death of a violent English queen, Elizabeth I, Shakespeare may have been faced with a dramatic dilemma: how to make a woman seem believably violent and intimidating on the stage. Coppélia Kahn notes that Cleopatra was “Rome's most dangerous enemy” (111),1 but how does one make the Queen of the Nile seem like such a threat during a time when women had little social and political power. Shakespeare does several things to accomplish this task: 1) he locates...
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Criticism: Production Reviews
SOURCE: Morley, Sheridan. Review of Antony and Cleopatra. Spectator 283, no. 8922 (7 August 1999): 40-1.
[In the following review of the 1999 Globe Theatre production of Antony and Cleopatra directed by Giles Block, Morley, although not impressed with the overall production, praises it as the best he has ever seen at the Globe.]
At Shakespeare's Globe, Giles Block's new Antony and Cleopatra is a weird affirmation of that amazing space's strengths and weaknesses, and far and away the best production I have ever seen there, which is admittedly not saying a lot. An all-male cast, as in Shakespeare's own tradition, is led by the theatre's artistic director Mark Rylance, who as Cleopatra appears on stage variously attired as Dame Edith Sitwell, Snow White, Liberace's mother and the Maid of the Mountains, all the while wearing the very best carpets and curtains that old Egypt can provide. He also achieves the remarkable feat of making Liz Taylor's epic performance in the role seem by comparison to have been in very quiet good taste, although I was rather hoping we would see him dressed as Bette Davis for Good Queen Bess and announcing that, though he was merely a woman, he had the heart of a man.
Paul Shelley, a natural Enobarbus, is somewhat undercast as Antony, but not half so undercast as the rest of a company of 30, most of whom appear to be encountering Shakespeare...
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SOURCE: Gandrow, Kristin E. Review of Antony and Cleopatra. Theatre Journal 52, no. 1 (2000): 123-25.
[In the following review of director Giles Block's 1999 all-male production of Antony and Cleopatra at the Globe Theatre, Gandrow admires the campy but nuanced performance of Mark Rylance as Cleopatra.]
The all-male casting of Antony and Cleopatra at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London asked a contemporary audience to acknowledge and accept the Elizabethan stage convention of men playing women's roles. Could we forget that the Cleopatra we watched was a man? Not completely. Did that matter? Not really, although it overtly emphasized the humor in the play, which perhaps was Shakespeare's intent all along when he wrote this tragicomic role for a boy. Director Giles Block's 1999 production of Antony and Cleopatra cut only ten lines from this epic. It opened after Mark Rylance directed its companion piece, Julius Caesar, in the season's repertory with the first all-male cast at this Globe.
In this production Rylance, artistic director of the Globe and a well-seasoned Shakespearean actor, became the first man to play Cleopatra on London's professional stage in nearly 400 years. He follows a parade of famous females, some nearly as immortal as the role itself. At thirty-nine (his age and Cleopatra's in the play), Rylance's girlish cavorting revealed the...
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SOURCE: Klein, Alvin. Review of Antony and Cleopatra. New York Times (24 September 2000): NJ21.
[In the following review, Klein asserts the essential failure of director Bonnie J. Monte's comic staging of Antony and Cleopatra at the 2000 New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, noting its lack of drive and passion.]
In April this year, when Shakespeare turned 436, words of reflection and awe poured forth.
In consideration of the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival's current staging of Antony and Cleopatra here, it is useful to mull the comment by Adrian Noble about “the challenge of bringing his words to life.”
After seeing Bonnie J. Monte's staging of what may be Shakespeare's most unplayable play, one cannot help wondering about the sheer monumentality of the task. In a program note, Ms. Monte explains her calling to have a go at this daunting work. But seeing is not believing. One comes away still wondering—not what was she thinking, but what was she doing?
Even though Antony and Cleopatra is categorized as a tragedy, it really isn't. It is neither a history nor a comedy, and that covers the three varieties of Shakespeare, though like his own Cleopatra, he had infinite ones. Of course, one could argue the historical possibility and when it doesn't work, the play, as in unforeseen moments here, teters precariously on the...
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SOURCE: Fleming, Juliet. Review of Antony and Cleopatra. Times Literary Supplement, no. 5170 (3 May 2002): 19.
[In the following review of Michael Attenborough's 2002 Royal Shakespeare Company staging of Antony and Cleopatra, Fleming finds fault with the production's slow start and muddled enunciation of verse, but contends that the strong female performances, particularly Sinead Cusack's fine Cleopatra, saved the production.]
Anyone familiar with Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra feels a moment of panic as the curtain first rises and they remember the play's potential length, its episodic structure, its closely packed style, and the fact that its premiss is an orientalist fantasy that pits a luxurious, feminized East against an austere and triumphant Rome. (It is an odd fact that theatre companies now carefully anxious in their staging of Othello are still prepared to represent Shakespeare's Egypt as little more than a beauty parlour. Shakespeare's own description of Egypt is drawn from Plutarch, who, as a Roman historian, was interested in the creation of a barbaric and politically ephemeral Orient; but these are surely times to resist, rather than celebrate, such visions.) The opening of Michael Attenborough's new production—red lighting, psychedelic music, hookah pipe, Antony discovered on a couch receiving a massage—is scarcely reassuring. However, the production is...
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SOURCE: Gibson, Rex. Review of Antony and Cleopatra. Times Educational Supplement, no. 4481 (17 May 2002): 13.
[In the following review of the 2002 production of Antony and Cleopatra directed by Michael Attenborough at Stratford-upon-Avon, Gibson contends that Attenborough's extensive textual cuts highlighted two of the drama's themes: “the contrast of Rome and Egypt, and the destructive effects of love.”]
Michael Attenborough has radically cut Shakespeare's sprawling masterpiece to highlight just two of themes, the contrast of Rome and Egypt, and the destructive effects of love.
So out go Sextus Pompeius and his bloodthirsty but shrewd pirates, alert to issues of state. Out goes the conquering but politically-aware Ventidius on the vast plains of Syria. Elsewhere, dialogue is trimmed to deliver a three-hour performance (including an interval) that concentrates on the vexed relationships of the three protagonists.
Sinead Cusack's excellent Cleopatra embodies the passionate, luxury-loving, frivolous and sexualised world of Egypt. That world's addiction to pleasure and excess is sensuously suggested in the opening scene. Astride the half-naked Antony, this Cleopatra massages his body.
In contrast Stephen Campbell-Moore's austere Octavius Caesar is a repressed public schoolboy, ramrod-backed and desperately afraid of any bodily contact....
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SOURCE: Hopkins, Lisa. Review of Antony and Cleopatra. Early Modern Literary Studies 8, no. 2 (September 2002): 19.1-2.
[In the following review of the 2002 Royal Shakespeare Company staging of Antony and Cleopatra under the direction of Michael Attenborough, Hopkins contends that the production was “unfocused” and “alarmingly short.”]
Going to see Antony and Cleopatra can sometimes be a daunting experience because it is so long. With this production, however, the converse very nearly applies: it is alarmingly short, with events unfolding at such breakneck speed that if you so much as blink you will probably have missed a crucial plot development. The Battle of Actium was won and lost by the (admittedly late) interval, and the entire thing comes in at only just over three hours. One of the principal reasons for this remarkable despatch is that a lot of lines have been cut, and the other is the simplicity and flexibility of the set, a panelled back wall bathed in soft golden light to suggest Egypt and harsh silver light to suggest Rome (with the single exception that the Egyptian rather than the Roman palette prevails in the drinking scene, suggesting the extent to which the influence of Egypt is here leaching into Rome). For most of the time, the sole furniture is two couch-like beds, pushed together for the Egyptian scenes and pulled confrontationally apart for the Roman...
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SOURCE: Wolf, William D. “‘New Heaven, New Earth’: The Escape from Mutability in Antony and Cleopatra.” Shakespeare Quarterly 33, no. 3 (autumn 1982): 328-35.
[In the following essay, Wolf claims that the central conflict of Antony and Cleopatra involves the tension between change and permanence and examines Antony and Cleopatra's efforts to escape from this mutable world.]
Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra has long been a controversial play, mostly because it differs so radically from the other tragedies. Its sweep is vast, but not so vast as Lear; it deals with love and politics, but not so obsessively as Coriolanus; its characters are full, but they lack Macbeth's depth. Beginning with Dr. Johnson, critics have debated the play's structure, its theme,1 its characters, and its ending.2 Perhaps the play's very ambiguity encourages disagreement among its readers, preventing any critic's triumphant quod erat demonstrandum. However, almost all the play's commentators see Egypt and Rome as the magnetic poles around which irreconcilable opposites cluster. Egypt is the Life Force—regenerative, hot, emotional, the center of love and overripe sexuality. Rome is Power—duty, public service, military valor, reason, and policy.
It is true that Antony and Cleopatra sprawls over most of the known world,...
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SOURCE: Fawkner, H. W. “Presence and Oblivion.” In Shakespeare's Hyperontology: Antony and Cleopatra, pp. 23-45. Cranbury, N. J.: Associated University Presses, 1990.
[In the following excerpt, Fawkner examines the oppositional pattern of “following and leaving” in Antony and Cleopatra, which he suggests defines the conceptual structure of the drama.]
At the most intense and fascinating level of dramatic suggestion, Shakespearean tragedy opens signification that is hyperontological. Shakespeare's language does not only dramatize certain human events, it also dramatizes the elusive play of certain logical fantasies, certain hyperlogical mystifications. These patternings, related as they are to what is philosophical in all human inquiry, are not external to the dramatic action—as “poetry” or “imagery” adorning it. Rather, these patternings are conceptual and hyperconceptual constructs that cause the organization of tragic discourse and the organization of tragic reality to become a unified sense of dramatic power.
While it is possible to argue that there is a general hyperontology for Shakespearean tragedy as a whole, it is first necessary to clarify the manner in which each individual tragedy tends to move toward its own special hyperontology: to face its own particular ontodramatic difficulty.1 Such a challenge causes the tragic vision to become more...
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SOURCE: Baker, J. Robert. “Absence and Subversion: The ‘O'erflow’ of Gender in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra.” Upstart Crow 12 (1992): 105-15.
[In the following essay, Baker examines the gender reversals of Antony and Cleopatra, contending that “Shakespeare figures movement out of one's own gender as a necessary and desirable, if painful, educational process a character must undergo in order to inhabit a world not bound by life or death, tragedy or comedy.”]
The complexity of Antony and Cleopatra is daunting. Nothing in the play—genre, character, or gender—continues stable or unchallenged. Even the play's structure remains so multifarious that critics have found it difficult to describe the play as either tragedy or comedy: Carol Thomas Neely aptly suggests that the way in which Antony and Cleopatra inhabit gender roles stretches the play “to include motifs, roles, and themes found in Shakespeare's comedies, histories, problem plays, and romances; and Paula Berggren has noted Cleopatra's affinities with the comic heroines.”1
The characters, similarly, defy easy categorization and exclusive definition. This holds particularly true for Antony and Cleopatra, who contradict themselves in word and action, and about whom not only the other characters, but also the critics offer many different reports. Berggren, for example, finds Antony...
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SOURCE: Yachnin, Paul. “Shakespeare's Politics of Loyalty: Sovereignty and Subjectivity in Antony and Cleopatra.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 33, no. 2 (spring 1993): 343-63.
[In the following essay, Yachnin views Antony and Cleopatra as a critique of absolutist loyalty to the divinely appointed sovereign.]
What might Antony and Cleopatra tell us about English political culture of around 1606, and what might it tell us about Shakespeare's theater's relationship with that culture?1 In this essay, I want to suggest answers to these questions in terms of the new historicist focus on the “theatricality of power and the power of theatricality,” but I want to avoid and critique two related assumptions which, I will suggest, have undermined new historicism's attempts to historicize texts such as Shakespeare's plays. Overall, I want to be able to enlist in this analysis of Antony and Cleopatra the powerful new historicist practice of interpreting “literary” texts in terms of large-scale discursive formations which cut across kinds of discourse usually kept separate in conventional criticism, but I want also to make that practice more historical by insisting on both the historically specific differences among kinds of discourse and the importance of writerly intentionality and readerly understanding—by insisting, that is, that the operations of...
(The entire section is 8162 words.)
SOURCE: Lindley, Arthur. “Enthroned in the Marketplace: The Carnivalesque in Antony and Cleopatra.” In Hyperion and the Hobbyhorse: Studies in Carnivalesque Subversion, pp. 137-56. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1996.
[In the following excerpt, Lindley adapts Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of the carnivalesque to his discussion of Antony and Cleopatra, noting the play's comic subversion of the tragic and Egypt's status as a carnival-like parody of Roman culture.]
Every act of history was accompanied by a laughing chorus
—Bakhtin, Rabelais, 474
Carnival is, of course, the festivity of the marketplace and transaction is central to its view of the world. Carnival parody depends on the assumption that rank, hierarchy, and identity are transposable, therefore negotiable. A bishop who can be replaced by a boy bishop can, by extension, be replaced by another bishop or no bishop. On top, as the Wife of Bath has discovered, is a position that can be purchased, even if that purchase turns out to be subject to the fluctuations of the market, as purchases are. The fluidity Bakhtin celebrates in carnival is necessarily that of commerce, in which the value of a thing is a matter of shifting agreements between buyers and sellers, not an intrinsic quality, just as the return to Lenten stability may reflect, not...
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SOURCE: Sjöberg, Alf. “The Secondary Role: The Vision of Master and Servant in Antony and Cleopatra.” In Shakespeare and Scandinavia: A Collection of Nordic Studies, edited by Gunnar Sorelius, pp. 31-43. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 2002.
[In the following essay, Sjöberg discusses Antony and Cleopatra as a drama of transformation derived from opposition and strife.]
But small to greater matters must give way.
Not if the small come first.
Few dramas have a more solid reputation for spectacularity than Antony and Cleopatra and few plays inspire the same expectations of extensive scenery, swarming crowds and magnificent battle scenes. And this is how the play has been staged, not least in Swedish theaters.
Yet there are, in fact, few dramas that resist this kind of treatment more radically than this. Right from the start it is understood that the drama moves in a world of ruinous oppositions. Antony is on the brink of destroying himself in Egypt, and he has hardly set foot on the stage before he wishes the whole of Rome to undergo the same fate. All external greatness and splendor is immediately broken down to a shadow of itself, and this ruinous and destructive picture running counter to something which at the same time is said to...
(The entire section is 5076 words.)
Berek, Peter. “Doing and Undoing: The Value of Action in Antony and Cleopatra.” Shakespeare Quarterly 32, no. 3 (autumn 1981): 295-304.
Highlights similarities in the views of Shakespeare's Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavius regarding the limits of worldly action in Antony and Cleopatra.
Charnes, Linda. “What's Love Got to Do with It? Reading the Liberal Humanist Romance in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra.” Textual Practice 6, no. 1 (spring 1992): 1-16.
Holds the near universal acceptance of passionate and real love between Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra up to critical scrutiny.
Curtis, Mary Ann. “The Joining of Male and Female: An Alchemical Theme of Transmutation in Antony and Cleopatra.” Upstart Crow 12 (1992): 116-26.
Probes the imagery of alchemy in Antony and Cleopatra, illuminating the drama's thematic concern with a transcendent union of opposites.
Fitch, Robert E. “No Greater Crack?” Shakespeare Quarterly 19, no. 1 (winter 1968): 3-17.
Critiques the ideal of love usually identified in Antony and Cleopatra, focusing instead on the play's representation of a conflict between pleasure and power.
Hall, Joan Lord. “Themes.” In Antony and Cleopatra: A Guide...
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