Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Alexandria. Egyptian port city in whose Temple of Isis all the play’s action is set. The temple is more like a palace or government building than a religious temple, in the capital city of Cleopatra’s Egypt. Actually, Egypt is a satellite state of Rome assigned to Mark Antony. In the Shakespeare play, based on the internecine warfare between Octavius, the future Augustus Caesar, and Antony, battle scenes and other grand events are depicted on stage; Dryden expresses all the conflict in one location and over a short period of time. This practice exhibits the power of the neoclassical rules of dramatic unity of place and time. The focus in setting also emphasizes the theme of the exotic and mysterious East in conflict with the aggressive and modern empire building of Rome.


*London. Continually present to the perceptions of the audience due to the balanced verse and the elegant, courtly setting is the London court of Charles II, which is modeled on the French court of Louis XIV. The courtly culture also supports the neoclassical dramatic rules of unity by which generalized analogies from history can be used to explain current events. Dryden does not leave such analogies merely implicit, however, and includes several pieces of valuable prose along with the play, which make the connections to his own London clearly explicit.