Antony and Cleopatra (Shakespeare Library Book 8)

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It looks like cookies are disabled in your browser. Find out more about changing your browser cookie settings. Search Search. What's on. National Theatre. Click here to request a link to set a new password Login. Learn the benefits Create an account. Spectacular tragedy. Go see it. The Times.

Both a Roman triumph and an Egyptian feast. What's On Stage. Financial Times. Simon Godwin directs a terrific and epic production filled with passion. Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo have simmering chemistry. Evening Standard.

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Rollicking political thriller. Slick, stylish and action-packed. Time Out. The Stage. Daily Telegraph. Restrict to tags:. Official Hotel Partner. Eros Fisayo Akinade. Scarus Alexander Cobb. Soothsayer Hiba Elchikhe. Antony Ralph Fiennes. Caesar Tunji Kasim. Lepidus Nicholas Le Prevost.

Enobarbus Tim McMullan. Octavia Hannah Morrish. Cleopatra Sophie Okonedo. Euphronius Nick Sampson.

Agrippa Katy Stephens. Pompey Sargon Yelda. Director Simon Godwin. I will tell you. The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne, Burn'd on the water: the poop was beaten gold; Purple the sails, and so perfumed that The winds were love-sick with them; the oars were silver, Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made The water which they beat to follow faster, As amorous of their strokes.

Shakespeare Society: Antony and Cleopatra

For her own person, It beggar'd all description: she did lie In her pavilion—cloth-of-gold of tissue— O'er-picturing that Venus where we see The fancy outwork nature: on each side her Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids, With divers-colour'd fans, whose wind did seem To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool, And what they undid did. Therefore when she was sent unto by diverse letters, both from Antonius himselfe, and also from his friends, she made so light of it and mocked Antonius so much, that she disdained so set forward otherwise, but to take her barge in the river of Cydnus , the poope whereof was of gold, the sailes of purple, and the oares of silver, which kept stroke in rowing after the sound of musicke of flutes, howboyes cithernes , vials and such other instruments as they played upon the barge.

And now for the person of her selfe: she was layed under a pavilion of cloth of gold of tissue, apparelled and attired like the goddesse Venus, commonly drawn in picture: and hard by her, on either hand of her, pretie fair boys apparelled as painters do set foorth god Cupid, with little fans in their hands, with which they fanned wind upon her. However, Shakespeare also adds scenes, including many portraying Cleopatra's domestic life, and the role of Enobarbus is greatly developed. Historical facts are also changed: in Plutarch, Antony's final defeat was many weeks after the Battle of Actium, and Octavia lived with Antony for several years and bore him two children: Antonia Major , paternal grandmother of the Emperor Nero and maternal grandmother of the Empress Valeria Messalina , and Antonia Minor , the sister-in-law of the Emperor Tiberius , mother of the Emperor Claudius , and paternal grandmother of the Emperor Caligula and Empress Agrippina the Younger.

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Many scholars believe it was written in —07, [a] although some researchers have argued for an earlier dating, around — The Folio is therefore the only authoritative text we have today. Some scholars speculate that it derives from Shakespeare's own draft, or "foul papers", since it contains minor errors in speech labels and stage directions that are thought to be characteristic of the author in the process of composition.

Modern editions divide the play into a conventional five-act structure but, as in most of his earlier plays, Shakespeare did not create these act divisions. His play is articulated in forty separate "scenes", more than he used for any other play. Even the word "scenes" may be inappropriate as a description, as the scene changes are often very fluid, almost montage -like. The large number of scenes is necessary because the action frequently switches between Alexandria, Italy, Messina in Sicily, Syria, Athens , and other parts of Egypt and the Roman Republic.


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The play contains thirty-four speaking characters, fairly typical for a Shakespeare play on such an epic scale. Many critics have noted the strong influence of Virgil 's first-century Roman epic poem, the Aeneid , on Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Such influence should be expected, given the prevalence of allusions to Virgil in the Renaissance culture in which Shakespeare was educated.

Moreover, as is well-known, the historical Antony and Cleopatra were the prototypes and antitypes for Virgil's Dido and Aeneas: Dido , ruler of the north African city of Carthage , tempts Aeneas , the legendary exemplar of Roman pietas , to forego his task of founding Rome after the fall of Troy.

The fictional Aeneas dutifully resists Dido's temptation and abandons her to forge on to Italy, placing political destiny before romantic love, in stark contrast to Antony, who puts passionate love of his own Egyptian queen, Cleopatra, before duty to Rome. As Janet Adelman observes, "almost all the central elements in Antony and Cleopatra are to be found in the Aeneid : the opposing values of Rome and a foreign passion; the political necessity of a passionless Roman marriage; the concept of an afterlife in which the passionate lovers meet. James emphasizes the various ways in which Shakespeare's play subverts the ideology of the Virgilian tradition; one such instance of this subversion is Cleopatra's dream of Antony in Act 5 "I dreamt there was an Emperor Antony" [5.

James argues that in her extended description of this dream, Cleopatra "reconstructs the heroic masculinity of an Antony whose identity has been fragmented and scattered by Roman opinion. Cleopatra, being the complex figure that she is, has faced a variety of interpretations of character throughout history. Perhaps the most famous dichotomy is that of the manipulative seductress versus the skilled leader.

Examining the critical history of the character of Cleopatra reveals that intellectuals of the 19th century and the early 20th century viewed her as merely an object of sexuality that could be understood and diminished rather than an imposing force with great poise and capacity for leadership. This phenomenon is illustrated by the famous poet T.

Eliot 's take on Cleopatra. He saw her as "no wielder of power," but rather that her "devouring sexuality Throughout his writing on Antony and Cleopatra, Eliot refers to Cleopatra as material rather than person. He frequently calls her "thing". Eliot conveys the view of early critical history on the character of Cleopatra. Other scholars also discuss early critics' views of Cleopatra in relation to a serpent signifying " original sin ". The postmodern view of Cleopatra is complex.

Doris Adler suggests that, in a postmodern philosophical sense, we cannot begin to grasp the character of Cleopatra because, "In a sense it is a distortion to consider Cleopatra at any moment apart from the entire cultural milieu that creates and consumes Antony and Cleopatra on stage. However the isolation and microscopic examination of a single aspect apart from its host environment is an effort to improve the understanding of the broader context.


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In similar fashion, the isolation and examination of the stage image of Cleopatra becomes an attempt to improve the understanding of the theatrical power of her infinite variety and the cultural treatment of that power. Author L. Fitz believes that it is not possible to derive a clear, postmodern view of Cleopatra due to the sexism that all critics bring with them when they review her intricate character. He states specifically, "Almost all critical approaches to this play have been coloured by the sexist assumptions the critics have brought with them to their reading.

Freeman's articulations of the meaning and significance of the deaths of both Antony and Cleopatra at the end of the play. Freeman states, "We understand Antony as a grand failure because the container of his Romanness "dislimns": it can no longer outline and define him even to himself. Conversely, we understand Cleopatra at her death as the transcendent queen of "immortal longings" because the container of her mortality can no longer restrain her: unlike Antony, she never melts, but sublimates from her very earthly flesh to ethereal fire and air.

Arthur Holmberg surmises, "What had at first seemed like a desperate attempt to be chic in a trendy New York manner was, in fact, an ingenious way to characterise the differences between Antony's Rome and Cleopatra's Egypt. Most productions rely on rather predictable contrasts in costuming to imply the rigid discipline of the former and the languid self-indulgence of the latter. By exploiting ethnic differences in speech, gesture, and movement, Parsons rendered the clash between two opposing cultures not only contemporary but also poignant. In this setting, the white Egyptians represented a graceful and ancient aristocracy—well groomed, elegantly poised, and doomed.

The Romans, upstarts from the West, lacked finesse and polish. But by sheer brute strength they would hold dominion over principalities and kingdoms. Cleopatra is a difficult character to pin down because there are multiple aspects of her personality that we occasionally get a glimpse of.

However, the most dominant parts of her character seem to oscillate between a powerful ruler, a seductress, and a heroine of sorts. Power is one of Cleopatra's most dominant character traits and she uses it as a means of control. This thirst for control manifested itself through Cleopatra's initial seduction of Antony in which she was dressed as Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and made quite a calculated entrance in order to capture his attention.

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Cleopatra had quite a wide influence, and still continues to inspire, making her a heroine to many. The relationship between Egypt and Rome in Antony and Cleopatra is central to understanding the plot, as the dichotomy allows the reader to gain more insight into the characters, their relationships, and the ongoing events that occur throughout the play.

Shakespeare emphasises the differences between the two nations with his use of language and literary devices, which also highlight the different characterizations of the two countries by their own inhabitants and visitors. Literary critics have also spent many years developing arguments concerning the "masculinity" of Rome and the Romans and the "femininity" of Egypt and the Egyptians. In traditional criticism of Antony and Cleopatra , "Rome has been characterised as a male world, presided over by the austere Caesar, and Egypt as a female domain, embodied by a Cleopatra who is seen to be as abundant, leaky, and changeable as the Nile".

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The straightforwardness of the binary between male Rome and female Egypt has been challenged in later 20th-century criticism of the play: "In the wake of feminist, poststructuralist, and cultural-materialist critiques of gender essentialism, most modern Shakespeare scholars are inclined to be far more skeptical about claims that Shakespeare possessed a unique insight into a timeless 'femininity'. In Antony and Cleopatra , Shakespeare uses several literary techniques to convey a deeper meaning about the differences between Rome and Egypt.

One example of this is his schema of the container as suggested by critic Donald Freeman in his article, "The rack dislimns.