Historical Background

Although Shakespeare was well acquainted with the history and literature of his day and of preceding centuries, he did not hesitate to amend the known facts of history, if it served his dramatic purposes. Antony and Cleopatra was not well received when it was first produced. Since then, Antony and Cleopatra has grown in favor with both producers and readers. Modern productions have received considerably better reviews, on the whole, than any that were published during the playwright’s lifetime.

Antony and Cleopatra is the second in a trilogy of Roman plays (the first was Julius Caesar; the third, Coriolanus); Shakespeare wrote about an era some 1700 years before his own time. His main source of historical information was Plutarch, whose biographies of great Greeks and Romans has remained a staple of literature for nearly 2,000 years and is still read today.

The famous first triumvirate of Rome—consisting of Julius Caesar, Marcus Crassus, and Pompey the Great—dissolved with the conspiracy of Brutus, Cassius and others against Julius Caesar, and resulted in his assassination. Crassus was murdered by the Parthians, and Pompey the Great was defeated in an uprising against Rome. Following the death of Julius Caesar, the second triumvirate came into being and consisted of Octavius (the adopted son and designated heir of Julius Caesar), Mark Antony, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. The members of the...

(The entire section is 445 words.)