[ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

1884. mar.5,

Minol â nuo KD53009 (16)

0 Jan 1, 12.

APR w 1951

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1881, by

HENRY N. HUDSON, in the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.





FIRST printed in the folio of 1623, and entered at the Sta

tioners' on the 8th of November, that year, by Blount and Jaggard, the publishers of the volume, as one of the plays “not formerly entered to other men.” The same register has also an entry, dated May 20, 1608, of “ A book called Antony and Cleopatra,” in the name of Edward Blount, doubtless the same man who afterwards appeared in partnership with Jaggard. This latter entry was probably made with a view to publication; but, if so, it would seem that the design must have been arrested. Nor is this anywise unlikely to have been the case; for it is certain that the theatrical companies of that time used every precaution to keep their plays out of print; and we have strong ground for believing that, after the edition of Hamlet in 1604, there was no authorized issue of any of Shakespeare's dramas during his lifetime. It is but fair to state, however, that some have doubted whether Blount's entry of May, 1608, referred to Shakespeare's play; their main reason being the admitted fact, that the style of this play bespeaks the Poet's highest maturity of power. But I can by no means approve this argument; for the other supposal naturally refers the composition to the year 1607, thus placing it in the same period, from 1605 to 1610, which witnessed the production of King Lear and Macbeth: for it will hardly be questioned that, at the time of writing these dramas, the Poet's mind was equal to any achievement within the compass of human thought. Accordingly it is now pretty much agreed on all hands, that Antony and Cleopatra was written in 1607 or in the early part of 1608.

I must add that the original text of this play is not very well printed, even for that time or that volume, and has a number of corruptions that are exceedingly trying to an editor. And, indeed, the style of the play is so superlatively idiomatic, and abounds in such splendid audacities of diction and imagery, that it might well be very puzzling to any transcriber or printer or proof-reader, unless the author's hand-writing were much plainer than it appears to have been.

The historic material of the play was all drawn from Plutarch's Life of Marcus Antonius as set forth in the translation of Sir Thomas North. And here the drawings from history, though perhaps not larger in the whole than we find in some other plays, are however more minute and circumstantial. In this instance, the Poet seems to have picked and sifted out from Plutarch, with the most scrupulous particularity, every fact, every embellishment, and every line and hint of character, that could be wrought coherently into the structure and process of the work. Notwithstanding, his genius is as free as ever from seeming at all encumbered with help, or anywise cramped or shackled by the restraints of history: on the contrary, his creative faculties move so freely and play so spontaneously under and through the Plutarchian matter, that the borrowings seem no less original than what he created, and the inventions no less historical than what he borrowed. I say inventions ; for, closely as he here works to the record, there is no one of his dramas wherein he shows a more fertile and pregnant inventiveness; many of the scenes being perfectly original, and at the same time truer to the history in effect than the history is to itself. For it is not too much to say that he had the art to express what was in his persons far better than they knew how to express it themselves.

Soon after the overthrow of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi, which occurred in the Fall of the year B.C. 42, the Triumvirs, Octavius, Antony, and Lepidus, partitioned the Roman world among themselves, Antony taking the Eastern provinces as his share. The next year, while on his way with an army against the Parthians, he summoned Cleopatra to meet him in Cilicia, and give an account of her doings in aid of Brutus and Cassius. She responded in the celebrated adventure in which she caught the amorous Triumvir, and “pursed up his heart upon the river of Cydnus.” In his account of this conquest the Poet does little more than translate the delectable narrative of old Plutarch into

[ocr errors]

dialogue. The result of the affair was, that Cleopatra led Antony captive to Alexandria, where he lost himself in the prodigious revelries and sensualities of the Egyptian Court. Thereupon his ferocious wife, Fulvia, together with his brother Lucius, who was then Consul, raised a war in Italy against Octavius ; her purpose being, it was said, to disenchant her husband, and draw him back to Rome. In the Spring, however, of the year B.C. 40, Fulvia died; from which event dates the opening of the play.

In the course of the same year Antony was married to Octavia ; by which marriage the difficulties of the two Triumvirs were expected to be permanently healed; though, as the issue proved, “the band that seemed to tie their friendship together was the very strangler of their amity.” This was followed, the next year, by the treaty with Sextus Pompey at Misenum. For some four years, Antony, in form at least, kept his faith with Octavia, who bore him two children. But, with all her beauty and wisdom and illustrious virtues, she could make no abiding impression upon him: his thoughts kept flying back to Egypt. In the year B.C. 36 he set forth on another expedition against the Parthians, and sent an invitation to Cleopatra to join him; and, on her doing so, he fell more hopelessly than ever under her enchantments, lavishing realms and cities upon her as if the whole world were his, and he valued it only that he might give it to her.

Once again at the Egyptian capital, Antony sank forthwith into a full-blown voluptuary. The accounts of his gigantic profligacy are indeed almost incredible, and would be thoroughly so, but for the support they derive from the well-known customs of “ the gorgeous East.” Still, however, Antony, as a Roman thought struck him,” varied his debaucheries from time to time with fits of spasmodic heroism in the camp and the field; though ever returning from these to plunge still deeper into the turbid stream of Oriental voluptuousness. In these fierce bacchanalian orgies, the Queen was always at hand; pampering his grosser appetites with rank and furious indulgences, and stimulating his flagging zest in them by cunning surprises. At length, she wound up the climax of extravagance by arraying herself in the garb and claiming the prerogatives of the goddess Isis, at the same time inducing Antony to usurp the titles and attributes of

« VorigeDoorgaan »