Antony and Cleopatra Antony and Cleopatra (Vol. 70)
by William Shakespeare

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(Shakespearean Criticism)

Antony and Cleopatra

Regarded as one of Shakespeare's most compelling love stories, Antony and Cleopatra is often seen as an anomaly among critics because, despite its apparently tragic ending, the play ends on a triumphant note. Although Antony and Cleopatra both die at the play's end, they deny Octavius Caesar victory and achieve immortality as lovers. The tragedy of the play is also undercut by the comic elements that appear throughout the course of the drama. The play's genre, which encompasses the comic, heroic, tragic, and romantic, comprises one area of intense critical analysis. Critics are also concerned with the language used in Antony and Cleopatra, and examine the rhetorical styles of the characters as well as Shakespeare's use of metaphor and imagery. Investigations of the characters in the play are concerned to some degree with the Elizabethan understanding of the characters as fictional entities and as historical personages. In modern stage productions of Antony and Cleopatra, the dynamic relationship between the two lovers is typically of most interest to spectators as well as reviewers.

Antony, Cleopatra, and Caesar are the most heavily scrutinized characters in Antony and Cleopatra. Some critics focus their character analyses on the way in which these characters might have been received by Elizabethan audiences. Robert P. Kalmey (1978) argues that the Elizabethan conception of Octavius Caesar was two-pronged. According to Kalmey, Elizabethans praised Caesar as an ideal prince only after he was crowned emperor. Prior to this event, Kalmey maintains, Caesar was condemned by Elizabethans who saw him as a tyrant who fueled the fires of civil war to further his own ambitions. Like Kalmey, Theodora A. Jankowski (1989) is interested in the Elizabethan take on Shakespeare's characters, specifically Cleopatra and her resemblance to Queen Elizabeth. Jankowski notes that although both women used their bodies for political purposes, Cleopatra should not be taken as an allegorical representation of Elizabeth. Jankowski states that the similarities between the women suggest Shakespeare's awareness of the fact that a successful female sovereign was an anomaly in a patriarchal society, and of the particular problems Elizabeth faced in ruling England. Taking a similar approach to the issue of Cleopatra's characterization, Imtiaz Habib (2000) also finds a connection between Cleopatra and Elizabeth. Habib, however, suggests that Cleopatra's blackness and seductive nature, in conjunction with the indolence of Egypt as a nation, is contrasted with the nobility of England, and the white and virginal Queen Elizabeth. Habib also comments on the black woman of Shakespeare's Sonnets and her relationship to Cleopatra. Additionally, Habib maintains that the critical connection between Cleopatra's political impotency and her sexual power is her race, which Habib demonstrates was understood to be black and ethnic in the eyes of historians and of Shakespeare. Coppélia Kahn (see Further Reading) centers her study on the rivalry between Octavius Caesar and Antony. Kahn contends that Caesar campaigns against Antony not only to demonize Cleopatra and paint her as Rome's archenemy, but to completely discredit Antony as a rival. Kahn goes on to examine the relationship between Caesar and Antony from Antony's point of view, commenting on what Antony hoped to accomplish through his suicide, and also discussing how his death would have been interpreted according to Renaissance ideas regarding suicide.

The sense of triumph at the play's end is an important element of modern stage productions of Antony and Cleopatra. In her review of the 1999 production of the play staged at the Southmark Globe Theatre in London and directed by Giles Block, Lois Potter (1999) comments that the director's vision of the play emphasized the victory of “a gloriously human couple.” Potter additionally singles out members of this all-male cast for praise; she finds that Mark Rylance's...

(The entire section is 93,412 words.)