illustration of Antony and Cleopatra facing each other with a snake wrapped around their necks

Antony and Cleopatra

by William Shakespeare

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Sample Analytical Paper Topics

Topic #1
Antony and Cleopatra was received without enthusiasm by audiences of the early seventeenth century in England. The play has continued to attract attention throughout its nearly 400–year history. Many factors contributed to the audience’s reaction to the play. Discuss these issues in your paper.

I. Thesis Statement: Many social factors contributed to the audience’s negative reaction to Antony and Cleopatra when it was first produced.

II. The difference in time (1600 years) and in location (2000 miles) between where the action of the play takes place and where the play was first produced.
A. Cultural Differences
1. Roman and Egyptian History
2. British Drama
B. Shakespeare’s development of the character Cleopatra, compared to the other characters in the play.
1. Influence of the playwright’s gender on the development of female and male characters.

III. Factors affecting how Antony and Cleopatra was received when it was first produced in England.
A. By the critics
B. By the literate public (who expressed their opinions in writing).
C. By the illiterate public who saw the play performed and expressed their opinions.

IV. Politics that might have affected the way in which Antony and Cleopatra was received in England of the early seventeenth century.
A. The recent union of Scotland and England to become Great Britain.
1. The political repercussions of the imprisonment in England of Mary Queen of Scots.
B. Publication of the “King James” English translation of the Bible.
C. The religious unrest seething in England during the latter part of Shakespeare’s lifetime.
1. The Protestant/Catholic controversies.
2. The repression of religious freedom of speech and actions.

Topic #2
Shakespeare tends to favor Antony over Octavius (Caesar) as being the better of the two men, even though he honestly portrays the faults of both and the good points of both. Dissect the play to find specific lines or speeches that relate to this distinction, and indicate how they suggest the relative merits of the two leading men. Do you think the playwright preferred Antony? Was his preference based on historical fact or was it merely personal prejudice unrelated to the facts of history?

I. Thesis Statement: Shakespeare favored the character of Antony over that of Octavius.
II. Portrait of Antony
A. Antony in Egypt at the opening of the play.
B. Antony in Egypt after the battle of Actium.
C. Antony before, during, and after the successful land battle against Octavius.
D. Antony after the sea battle in which Cleopatra’s ships joined Octavius.
E. Antony with Eros just before his attempt at suicide.

III. A portrait of Octavius (Caesar).
A. Octavius upbraiding Antony upon Antony’s return to Rome from Egypt.
B. Octavius’ conference with Mecenas and Agrippa in Rome, detailing Antony’s faults.
C. Octavius receiving news of Antony’s death.
D. Octavius with Cleopatra near the end of the play.

IV. Comparison of the two characterizations.
A. Depth of characterization.
B. Accuracy and honesty of characterization.
C. Personal biases (if any) reflected in the characterizations.
D. Conclusions about Shakespeare’s treatment of these two men in this play.

Topic #3
Locate a modern stage production of Antony and Cleopatra. From the newspapers of the city where it was produced notice the reviews and any comments the papers’ drama critics might have made about it. Then consider how and why the text of the modern production might have been changed from the original text, what effect the changes had on the modern audiences, and whether the play was considered successful by the drama critics.

I. Thesis Statement: It would be difficult to stage Antony and Cleopatra as it was originally produced.

II. The original text.
A. Number of acts and scenes.
1. Scenery used (remembering that no scenery was used in Shakespeare’s day)
2. Should the play be shortened? (The original is one of the longest of all Shakespeare’s plays.)

III . Costuming.
A. Elaborate or simple.

IV. The critics’ reactions to the original version.
A. To the text of the play.
B. To the quality of the production.
C. To the financial success of the project.

V. Comments of the theatergoers and reviewers from various newspapers.

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