What is the significance of the title of the play All For Love by John Dryden?

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In this play, which was modeled on Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, John Dryden makes a plea for moderation. Antony and Cleopatra lose everything because of their immoderate love and the play argues that this is not the best course of action. The significance of the title lies in that sacrificing "all" for love is a tragic mistake. 

The play has been interpreted as advice to Dryden's patron, Thomas Osborne, the earl of Danby, to moderate his passion for his French-Catholic mistress, the Duchess of Portsmouth. Despite his love for a Catholic, Danby also backed severe curtailments of both Catholic and Dissenter rights in England. Dryden uses the play to argue in general for moderation.

Antony and Cleopatra's excessive love lead to distrust as well as disastrous military and political miscalculations. They both end up committing suicide: doing all for love is not a good idea. 

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In his "Preface" to All for Love--which is an original structure that combines a "French classic tragedy" style with a deep characterization reminiscent of Shakespeare--Dryden explains his view that the love between Antony and Cleopatra is an "illegal love" based on "vice," which engenders little pity on its own because it was a purely voluntary choice as opposed to being compelled by some external circumstance. Therefore, both Antony and Cleopatra gave up all--their positions, their roles, their allegiance and duty, and their lives--for the pleasure of unjustifiable love; they gave All for Love. Dryden emphasizes this with the meeting between Cleopatra and Octavia. He refers to Octavia in his "Preface" as "virtue and innocence," saying that Octavia would want to triumph over Cleopatra when, at least for a time, virtuous love triumphs over the love stemming from vice.

[For more information, see The Literature Network.]

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