Theatre Database
Home | Ancient Theatre | Medieval Theatre | 16th Century | 17th Century | 18th Century | 19th Century | 20th Century


A brief analysis of Shakespeare's historical play

The following article is reprinted from A Dictionary of the Drama. W. Davenport Adams. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1904.

Antony and Cleopatra, a tragedy by William Shakespeare, was entered in the Stationers' Register under the date May 20, 1608, and first printed in the folio of 1623. The Countess of Pembroke had printed in 1592 her tragedy of Antonius, and Daniel had published in 1594 his tragedy of Cleopatra, but Shakespeare owed nothing to either of these plays, his chief authority being the biography of Mark Antony in Roger North's translation of Plutarch's Lives.

"Antony and Cleopatra," says Schlegel, "may in some measure be considered as a continuance of Julius Caesar--the two principal characters of Antony and Augustus are equally sustained in both pieces. Antony and Cleopatra is a play of great extent; the progress is less simple than in Julius Caesar.... The principal personages are most emphatically distinguished by lineament and colouring, and powerfully arrest the imagination." Coleridge doubted "whether the Antony and Cleopatra is not, in all exhibitions of a giant power in its strength and vigour of maturity, a formidable rival of Macbeth, King Lear, Hamlet, and Othello.... This play should be perused in mental contrast with Romeo and Juliet, as the love of passion and appetite opposed to the love of affection and instinct.... Of all Shakespeare's historical plays, Antony and Cleopatra is by far the most powerful. There is not one in which he has followed history so minutely, and yet there are few in which he impresses the notion of angelic strength so much, perhaps none in which he expresses it more strongly." Coleridge adds: "If you would feel the judgment as well as the genius of Shakespeare in your heart's core, compare this astonishing drama with Dryden's All for Love." "This," says Hazlitt, "is a very noble play. Though not in the first class of Shakespeare's productions, it stands next to them, and is, we think, the finest of his historical plays.... What he has added to the actual story is upon a par with it. His genius was, as it were, a match for history as well as nature, and could grapple at will with either. The play ... presents a fine picture of Roman pride and Eastern magnificence.... The characters breathe, move, and live."

Browse Antony and Cleopatra Quotes

Purchase Antony and Cleopatra

Back to William Shakespeare