Last Updated on May 13, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 341
Context: All for Love, or The World Well Lost, based on the last two acts of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, is generally considered to be Dryden's best tragedy. It was written as part of his contract to supply the King's Theatre of London with three plays a year. Dryden wrote a total of twenty-eight dramas, counting his reworkings of Shakespeare's The Tempest (1667), Troilus and Cressida (1679), and this one. In some of his earlier plays, he used rhymed couplets, but for All for Love, he returned to blank verse. The work shows French influence and dramatic theory. It maintains the unities by confining the action to the Temple of Isis, and the time to Antony's birthday. So the Shakespearean spectacle of the fate of a nation had to be changed to the tragedy of the fortunes of two people. There was little time for character development. Antony seems unmanly because of a lack of vices. Cleopatra, the idealized heroine, has become untrue to herself. Yet in the dialogue can be found lines comparable to those of Shakespeare, as, for instance, the descriptions of Cleopatra and her barge. In Act III, after the coronation of Antony, his general Ventidius appears to warn him of dangers ahead. Though he did defeat Caesar with great slaughter on one occasion, he cannot hope for a repetition. Caesar is now warned and ready, and he also has access to abundant supplies; Antony can draw only from Egypt. Besides, as one whose fortunes are fading, he has discovered that his fair-weather friends are abandoning him.
Expect no more; Caesar is on his guard:
I know, sir, you have conquer'd against odds.
But still you draw supplies from one poor town,
And of Egyptians; he has all the world,
And at his back nations come pouring in,
To fill the gap you make. Pray, think again.
Why doest thou drive me from myself, to search
For foreign aid?–To hunt my memory,
And range all o'er a waste and barren place,
To find a friend? The wretched have no friends.
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