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Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra is a tale of epic proportions. It portrays numerous facets of humanity - lust, allegiance and betrayal. Then, there is love. The love of a man for a woman. The love of a man to possess power. The love of countrymen for their land of birth.
To be able to encompass the enduring feelings that Antony felt for Cleopatra, there was a need to portray each battle in which he was embroiled. Action changes from Alexandria, and Cleopatra’s palace, to Antony’s homeland of Rome.
In order to convey the global enormity of two significant battle sequences; the travel necessary to encompass Alexandria, Italy, Sicily, Syria, Athens, Egypt, and Rome; and do justice to love itself, Shakespeare was obligated to pen a tome of many acts.
It was to give an impression that the audience receiving in this play is of historical acts flying at a very fast pace and with a global scope as the action shifts from many countries, including Egypt, Rome and Greece. It is trying to give brief details and not give a long, drab dreary details that would bore the audience to death but give summary to keep their attention. If they give long details, it may lead up to 101 acts and that would be too long to savour
One of the reasons is a rebellion agaisnt the Aristotelian unities (unity of time, place and action) During the renaissance, Classicism flourished and drama was mainly shaped after the Greek model. By multiplying scenes hence locations, Shakespeare openly defies the great master of drama and his poetics. Thus, we see in Antony and Cleopatra a rapid transition from Egypt to Rome. Such thing is absolutly dismissed by classicists since it tresspasses the unity of place but Shakespeare did it. Hence, he participated in liberating drama from a classical shackle.
And it is not the only play where Shakespeare defied tradition. He did the same in Hamlet by deconstructing the very nature of action. It is not a uniform straightforward action as in the Greek tragedies ("every action is an arrow pointing at another action") but its fulfilment is postponed for 5 acts and nothing seems to happen.
He defied also tradition in As You Like It. In that comedy, the bard attacked the pastoral tradition via Jacques, a melancholic character, and by portraying pastoral life as bitter.
You can find the contrary procedure with some modern playwrights. Miller, for instance, respected the unities in All My Sons or A View from The Bridge. But no matter who does it, it is always done to criticize what that tradition stood or stands for.
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