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the « small Latin », and all is clear. Shakespeare's knowledge of man was almost superhuman; and as Agassiz from a single scale could reconstruct the fish, so Shakespeare from a few rudimentary facts could recreate the man or the people. His schoolboy lessons in Roman history in the Stratford Grammar School, supplemented by his later reading in a single volume, North's PLUTARCH, were all that he needed, outside of himself, for the production of Julius CÆSAR, and ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, and CORIOLANUS.
These Roman plays were not written in immediate succession, nor in the chronological order of the events upon which they are based. Julius Cæsar, the second in the historical sequence, was the first in the order of composition, having been written, as an allusion to it in Weever's MIRROR OF Martyrs proves, before 1601, when that book was printed. ANTONY AND Cleopatra, though historically in close connection with Julius Cæsar, was probably not written until six or seven years after that play – in 1607 or early in 1608 — and Coriolanus, earliest in its history, was the last to be produced, the date of its composition being fixed by the best critics between 1608 and 1610. It may have followed close upon ANTONY AND Cleopatra, or at an interval of one or more years.
The date mentioned for ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA is that agreed upon by nearly all the commentators. No one of any note places it earlier than 1607, while Knight, Verplanck, and Lloyd are the only ones who put it later than 1608. The only piece of external evidence bearing upon the question is the entry of an ANTONY AND CleoPatra in the Stationers' Registers (equivalent to our modern registration for copyright) to Edward Blount on the 20th of May, 1608. There can be little doubt that this was Shakespeare's play, since Blount, as one of the publishers of the Folio in 1623, re-entered it among the plays for that volume which were « not formerly entered to other men ». No edition having been brought out after the entry in 1608, he thus re-asserted his claim to the copyright. It may be noted that « the booke of Pericles, PRINCE OF TYRE », was entered by Blount at the same time with ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA in 1608. No author's name is given for either play in the entry, but Pericles was published in quarto the following year with Shakespeare's name on the title-page.
This external evidence to the date is strongly confirmed by the internal evidence, drawn from metre and style, and from the links that connect this play with others of the same period in the poet's literary career. The critics who count the light endings », the « weak endings », and other peculiarities of the verse, come to the same conclusion with those who note the broader characteristics of style and dramatic treatment, and with those who trace the development of the author's mind and art as shown in the succession of the later tragedies. It is impossible to illustrate this in detail within our present limits; but we cannot refrain from quoting what Dowden has said on the relation of the play to the other Roman plays and to Macbeth:
« The events of Roman history connect ANTONY AND Cleopatra immediately with Julius Cæsar; yet Shakespeare allowed a number of years to pass, during which he was actively engaged as author, before he seems to have thought of his second Roman play. What is the significance of this fact? Does it not mean that the historical connection was now a connection too external and too material to carry Shakespeare on from subject to subject, as it had sufficed to do while he was engaged upon his series of English historical plays? The profoundest concerns of the individual soul were now pressing upon the imagination of the poet. Dramas now written upon subjects taken from history became not chronicles, but tragedies. The moral interest was supreme. The spiritual material dealt with by Shakespeare's imagination in the play of Julius CÆSAR lay wide apart from that which forms the centre of the ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. Therefore the poet was not carried directly forward from one to the other.
But having in Macbeth (about 1606) studied the ruin of a nature which gave fair promise in men's eyes of greatness and nobility, Shakespeare, it maybe, proceeded directly to a similar study in the case of Antony. In the nature of Antony, as in the nature of Macbeth, there is a moral fault or flaw, which circumstances discover and which in the end works his destruction. In each play the pathos is of the same kind, it lies in the gradual severing of a man, through the lust of power or through the lust of pleasure, from his better self. By the side of Antony, as by Macbeth's side, there stood a terrible force in the form of a woman, whose function it was to realize and ripen the unorganized and undeveloped evil of his soul. Antony's sin was an inordinate passion for enjoyment at the expense of Roman virtue and manly energy; a prodigality of heart a superb egoism. After a brief interval, Shakespeare went on to apply his imagination to the investigating of another form of egoism, - not the egoism of self-diffusion, but of self-concentration. As Antony betrays himself and his cause through his sin of indulgence and laxity, so Coriolanus does violence to his own soul and to his country through his sin of haughtiness, rigidity, and inordinate pride. Thus an ethical tendency connects these two plays, which are also connected in point of time; while ANTONY AND Cleopatra, although historically a continuation of Julius Cæsar, stands separated from it, both in the chronological order of Shakespeare's plays and in the logical order assigned by successive developments of the conscience, the intellect, and the imagination of the dramatist. »
In this, as in the other Roman plays, Shakespeare drew his materials almost exclusively from Sir Thomas North's translation of Bishop Amyot's French version of Plutarch's Lives. Not only the main historical action, but also many of the minor incidents, speeches, and touches of characterization are taken from this source. As Trench remarks, « we have in Plutarch not the framework or skeleton only of the story, no, nor yet merely the ligarnents and sinews, but
very much also of the flesh and blood wherewith these are covered and clothed ». Gervinus has observed that even single expressions and words, « such as one unacquainted with Plutarch would consider in form and manner to be quite Shakespearian, and which have not unfrequently been quoted as his peculiar property », are not really his but the old Greek biographer's. It is a curious illustration of this that Hazlitt cites, as a striking example of the imagination displayed by the poet, the passage in which Cleopatra refers to her birthday (Act III, scene 13):
It is my birthday :
But this is taken from North : « From henceforth Cleopatra, to clear herself of the suspicion he had of her, made more of him than ever she did. For first of all, where (that is, whereas) she did solemnize the day of her birth very meanly and sparingly, fit for her present misfortune, she now, in contrary manner, did keep it wilh such solemnity that she exceeded all measure of sumptuousness and magnificence. » More than one critic has eulogized « the high-hearted answer » of Charmian to the expostulation of the Roman soldier in the final scene :
It is well done, and fitting for a princess
But this also is from Plutarch, with slight alteration except what is necessary to put it into verse : « One of the soldiers seeing her, angrily said unto her : Is that well done, Charmian? Very well, said she again, and meet for a princess descended from the race of so many noble kings. »
And yet, freely as the dramatist has drawn from the ancient author, how insignificant after all is his real indebtedness to him! So far as the historical materials of the play are concerned, he may owe to him, as Trench has