Appunti sulla tragedia Antony and Cleopatra di Willliam Shakespeare, edizione di John Wilders, The Arden Shakespeare.
Shakespeare probably completed Antony and Cleopatra towards the end of 1606 or early in 1607.
The story had been told in detail by the first-century biographer Plutarch and his account translated into both French and English. Virgil had referred to it in the eight book of the Aeneid, Horace had written an ode on the courage and dignity of Cleopatra’s suicide and Chaucer had described her death in “The legend of good Women”.
Antony and Cleopatra shift rapidly from tenderness to fury and grief and the emotions of the one are largely determined by those of the other. We are willing to believe in their love because the violence of their frequent quarrels testifies to their total absorption on each other.
Antony and Cleopatra is a public as well as a private drama in which Antony and Octavius compete for mastery over the Roman Empire which, at the time, extended from Britain in the west to what is now Turkey in the east, and the battles in which this contest was fought out occupy much of the third and fourth acts. Caesar ultimately wins and Antony loses because of the kind of people they are and because of the irresistible power which Cleopatra exercises over Antony. This gives to the relationship between the lovers a sense of unusual weight and risk.
Is typical of their self- dramatization that when Antony distributes the countries of the eastern empire to Cleopatra and her children he does so in a public ceremony at which the two of them sit in “chairs of gold” on a silver platform and she is decked out in the habiliments of the goddess Isis.
The question of structure
In Antony and Cleopatra there are constant shifts of location.
Throughout the ply, Roman attitudes and principles, expressed mainly by Octavius Caesar, are placed in opposition to the Egyptian, represented chieftly by Cleopatra.
Rome and Egypt “represent crucial moral choices and they function as symbolic locales in a manner not unlike Henry James’s Europe and America” (Charney)
For the Romans the ideal is measured in masculine, political, pragmatic, military terms, the subservience of the individual to the common good of the state, of personal pleasure to public duty.
Alexandria is a predominantly female society for which the ideal is measured in terms of the intensity of emotion, the subservience of social responsibility to the demands of feeling.
Caesar regards his “great competitor” as a man who has betrayed his own ideals but Cleopatra sees him as a man who has become at one with herself.
Into the characters there are different feelings depending on the mood and circumstances in which characters find themselves.
Antony – Cleopatra: enchanting queen/triple-turned whore.
Cleopatra- Antony: horrible villain/ a proper man
Caesar-Antony: old ruffian/mate in empire, brother
Images of instability
Shakespeare seems to be creating his own vocabulary to establish the feeling of disintegration in the Roman world.
Caesar, foreseeing that his own and Antony’s temperaments are so incompatible that their friendship is unlike to last, longs for a “hoop” which will hold them “staunch” or watertight; Antony, ashamed of his lost reputation and his pitifully botched suicide, hopes that his fame as “the greatest prince o’th’world” will remain intact, and Enobarbus recognizes that a servant willing to remain loyal to a “fallen lord” will “(earn) a place i’th’story”.