Imágenes de páginas
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Historic Time.-From about 40 B. C. (the death of Fulvia,

I. 2.) to 30 B.C. (the death of Cleopatra).



ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA was first published in the Early Folio of 1623, as the last but one in order of the History'Tragedies.' It is included in the list of plays entered Text. in the Stationers' Register, in the same year, as 'not formerly entered to any man.' It is likely, nevertheless, that a play issued with the same title by the same publisher, Blount, on May 20, 1608, was Shakespeare's tragedy.


This conjectural inference is the sole scrap of Date of Comexternal evidence we possess for the date of the play. But it is in excellent accord with the internal evidence of style, verse, and dramatic treatment. In conception, Antony and Cleopatra has most affinity, among the greater tragedies, with Macbeth, which probably appeared in the previous year. Its versification, on the other hand, is already touched with the symptoms of his latest manner; the obtrusive symmetries of lyrical verse are flung aside or broken up more decisively than ever before. Rhyme all but vanishes, and we meet practically for the first time with the complete disregard of verse-structure in the distribution of pauses; in particular, with the weak monosyllable at the end of the line, known as a 'weak ending.'1 A speech like the following occurs in no previous play :

1 There are twenty-eight 'weak endings' in Antony and Cleopatra.

Earlier and later Dramas

[blocks in formation]

If, or for nothing or a little, I

Should say myself offended, and with you

Chiefly i' the world; more laugh'd at, that I should
Once name you derogately, when to sound your name
It not concern'd me.

(ii. 2. 30-35.)

One may detect in the bold yet effective poising of such verses as these another phase of that 'happy valiancy' which Coleridge detected in the style of this play. In all these points Antony and Cleopatra stands in the sharpest contrast with Julius Cæsar, which it ostensibly continues, and in close relation to Coriolanus, remote as its imperial theme lies, historically, from the parochial conflicts of the early republic. Brutus and the earlier Antony are admirably heightened reproductions of their prototypes in Plutarch, and the whole ethical tone and feeling of the play reflects that of the Lives: the later Antony, though founded upon Plutarch's hints, is a supreme poetical creation, Shakespearean and unique as Hamlet himself.

Like the story of Cæsar, that of Antony had early on the Story. attracted the more scholarly dramatists of modern Europe. Cleopatra shared with Dido, Sophonisba, Antigone, the first honours of the Italian stage; the classicists of the French Pléiade applauded the Cléopatre Captive of Jodelle and the Marc-Antoine of Garnier. In England, too, it was among the sparse cultivators of an academic drama that the subject first found favour: Sidney's sister translated Garnier's Marc-Antoine; Samuel Daniel wrote a Cleopatra to match (1594). Neither had, apparently, the slightest influence upon Shakespeare. Later English dramatists, on the other hand, even when dealing with other

1 'Feliciter audax is the motto for its style comparatively with that of Shakespeare's other

works, even as it is the general motto of all his works compared with those of other poets."

phases of Cleopatra's story, wrote obviously under his spell. Fletcher in The False One (on her amour with Julius Cæsar) draws the trail of his coarser fancy over the Cleopatra of Shakespeare. Dryden, half a century later, produced, under the stimulus of rivalry, the best that he was capable of, in his All for Love (1678).


of the Plot.

In Plutarch's Life of Marcus Antonius Shakespeare The Source found the story of Antony and Cleopatra told with Plutarch's great literary art and a realism which loses nothing Life of Antony. in the hands of his translators, Amyot and North. Plutarch's grandfather was Antony's contemporary, and tales of the miseries of Greek provincials and of the fabulous profusion of Egypt were still current in his family. Few men of his day were better fitted than this thoughtful Greek observer of the Roman world to portray the tragic collapse of Roman nerve and stamina in the arms of the Greek enchantress on the throne of Egypt. The subject also suited his. taste for strongly marked ethical light and shade. It resembled a kind of political 'Choice of Hercules,' where Antony, unlike his fabled ancestor, preferred Pleasure to Virtue. Plutarch, however, throws the full burden of the tragic issue upon Cleopatra. It is in these solemn words that he introduces the final phase of his career: 'Antonius being thus inclined, the last and extremest mischief of all other (to wit the love of Cleopatra) lighted on him, who did waken and stir up many vices yet hidden in him, and were never seen to any; and if any spark of goodness or hope of rising were left him, Cleopatra quenched it straight and made it worse than before.'

This Plutarchian conception Shakespeare entirely adopted, together with almost all the detail in which it is worked out. It fell in with the disposition 1 Cf. North's translation in Shakspeare's Library, iii. pp. 346, 397.

apparent in the dramas of the preceding years,-in Lear, Troilus and Cressida, Macbeth,-to connect tragic ruin with the intervention of a woman. Plutarch's Cleopatra was already an assemblage of all that is fatal in womanhood. With the wit, grace, and courtesan coquetry of Cressida she combined the sagacious craft of Lady Macbeth and the tigress cruelty of Regan. Shakespeare adds no single trait, but he makes the whole tingle with vitality and throb with beauty. Plutarch sounds the notes of her complex nature one by one, with sober precision and doctrinaire emphasis; Shakespeare flings them off in an amazing scherzo of inexhaustible fascination and surprise. Plutarch's Cleopatra has as many moods, but it is only in Shakespeare's that they flash in and out with the chameleon-like swiftness which extorts from the caustic Enobarbus his famous tribute to the undoer of his lord: 'Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.' Entire scenes are evolved out of a matterof-fact statement, or a merely implicit situation. Cleopatra's frenzy at the news of Antony's marriage (ii. 5.) is an admirable imagination of Shakespeare's own; and her wonderful half-real, half-acted penitence after deserting him at Actium (iii. 11. 25 f.), is built upon these simple words: [when Antony came on board] he saw her not at his first coming, nor she him, but went and sat down alone in the prow of his ship and said never a word, clapping his head between both his hands. . . . But when he arrived at the head of Tanerus, there Cleopatra's women first brought Antonius and Cleopatra to speak together.' In Shakespeare we see Cleopatra led by Charmian and Iras where Antony sits in his despair.

Eros. Nay, gentle madam, to him, comfort him.
Iras. Do, most dear queen.

Cleo. Let me sit down. O Juno!

« AnteriorContinuar »