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We are without any record that “Antony and Cleopatra” was ever performed, and when in Act v. sc. 2, the heroine anticipates that "some squeaking Cleopatra” will “ boy her greatness" on the stage, Shakespeare seems to hint that no young male performer would be able to sustain the part without exciting ridicule. However, the same remark will, more or less, apply to many of his other female characters; and the wonder, of course, is how so much delicacy, tenderness, and beauty could be infused into parts which the poet knew must be represented by beardless and cracked-voiced boys.
The period of the year at which “Antony and Cleopatra” was entered on the Stationers' Registers might lead to the inference, that, having been written late in 1607, it was brought out at the Globe in the spring of 1608, and that Edward Blunt (one of the publishers of the folio of 1623) thus put in his claim to the publication of the tragedy, if he could procure a manuscript of it. The memorandum bears date on the 20th May, 1608, and the piece is stated to be "a book" called “ Anthony and Cleopatra." Perhaps Blunt was unable to obtain a copy of it, and, as far as we now know, it was printed for the first time in the folio of 1623.
It does not appear that there was any preceding drama on the story, with the exception of the “ Cleopatra” of Samuel Daniel, originally published in 1594, to which Shakespeare was clearly under no obligation. Any slight resemblance between the two is to be accounted for by the fact, that both poets resorted to the same authority for their materials-Plutarch—whose “Lives" had been translated by Sir T. North in 1579. The minuteness with which Shakespeare adhered to history is more remarkable in this drama than in any other; and sometimes the most trifling circumstances are artfully, but still most naturally, interwoven. Shakespeare's use of history in “ Antony and Cleopatra” may be contrasted with Ben Jonson's subjection to it in “Sejanus."
“Of all Shakespeare's historical plays (says Coleridge) ' Antony and Cleopatra' is by far the most wonderful. 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 impresses it more strongly. This is greatly owing to the manner in which the fiery force is sustained throughout, and to the numerous momentary flashes of nature, counteracting the historic abstraction.” (Lit. Rem. vol. ii. p. 143.)
Friends of Antony.
Friends to Cæsar.
ants on Cleopatra. A Soothsayer. A Clown.
CLEOPATRA, Queen of Egypt.
Attendants on Cleopatra.
Officers, Soldiers, Messengers, and other Attendants.
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.
ACT I. SCENE I.
Alexandria. A Room in CLEOPATRA's Palace.
Enter DEMETRIUS and Philo.
Phi. Nay, but this dotage of our general's
Flourish. Enter ANTONY and CLEOPATRA, with their
Trains ; Eunuchs fanning her.
Cleo. If it be love indeed, tell me how much.
RENEGES all temper ;] i. e. Denies or refuses all temper. See Vol. vii. p. 399. Coleridge would spell it rencagues. (Lit. Rem. vol. ii. p. 144.)
Ant. Then must thou needs find out new heaven,
Enter an Attendant.
Grates me :—the sum.
How, my love! Cleo. Perchance,—nay, and most like,— You must not stay here longer; your dismission Is come from Cæsar; therefore hear it, Antony.Where's Fulvia's process? Cæsar's, I would say ?
Both ?Call in the messengers.-As I am Egypt's queen, Thou blushest, Antony, and that blood of thine Is Cæsar's homager; else so thy cheek pays shame, When shrill-tongu'd Fulvia scolds.- The messengers !
Ant. Let Rome in Tyber melt, and the wide arch
? Of the Rang's empire fall!] The folio, 1623, prints the word raing’d, and so it stands in the three other folios ; though Johnson would lead us to suppose that “the later editions" altered the word to rais'd.
3 – the world to weet,] i. e. to uit or to knouo.
I'll seem the fool I am not; Antony
But stirr'd by Cleopatra.—
Cleo. Hear the ambassadors.
Fie, wrangling queen!
[Exeunt Ant. and CLEOP. with their Train. Dem. Is Cæsar with Antonius priz'd so slight?
Phi. Sir, sometimes, when he is not Antony,
I am full sorry,
The Same. Another Room.
Enter CHARMIAN, IRAS, ALEXAS, and a Soothsayer. Char. Lord Alexas, sweet Alexas, most any thing
WHOSE every passion fully strives] The folio, 1623, has who for “whose,” the change having been made in the folio, 1632, and not left until Rowe's time, as Malone asserts, apparently without having examined any of the three later folios. Steevens, who was so warm an advocate for the accuracy of the second folio, never detected Malone's mistake.