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ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.
INTRODUCTION, AND NOTES EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL.
FOR USE IN SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES.
Rev. HENRY N. HUDSON, LL.D.
PUBLISHED BY GINN & COMPANY.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1881, by
HENRY N. HUDSON, in the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
J. S. CUSHING & Co., PRINTERS, BOSTON.
Date of the Composition.
HE TRAGEDY OF ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA was never
printed that we know of till in the folio of 1623. As to the time when it was written, the most that we have to proceed upon, aside from the qualities of the work itself, is an entry at the Stationers' by Edward Blount, May 20, 1608, of “a book called Antony and Cleopatra.” Whether Shakespeare's drama were the "book" referred to in this entry, is something questionable, as the subject was at that time often written upon, dramatically or otherwise. Of course the entry was made with the design of publication ; so that, if it refer to the play in hand, either such design must have miscarried, or else the edition has been utterly lost. Blount was one of the publishers of the first folio ; and in the entry made by him and Jaggard at the Stationers', November 8, 1623, Antony and Cleopatra is among the plays set down as “not formerly entered to other men." Which certainly favours the conclusion that the entry of 1608 referred to the same play.
There is perhaps no point in the early history of the English stage more certain than that the theatrical companies took every precaution in order 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 the Poet's dramas during his lifetime. This may have been, and probably was, the cause of there being no edition of this play in pursuance of the entry in question.
Knight and Verplanck argue that Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra was not written till after the date of Blount's entry, and that this entry referred to some other performance; their main reason being the admitted fact that the style of this play bespeaks the Poet's highest maturity of mind. I agree, however, with Malone and Collier in assigning the composition to 1607, or the early part of 1608, when the author was in his forty-fourth year. This brings it within the same five years of his life, from 1605 to 1610, which witnessed the production of Macbeth and King Lear. 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. Nor can I taste any peculiarities of style in this play, as distinguished from the proper tokens of dramatic power, that should needs infer any more ripeness of mind than in case of the other dramas of that period.
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 andacities 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, from the specimens that have come down to us.
Source of the Matter. In Antony and Cleopatra, the drawings from history, though perhaps not larger in the whole than we find in some other plays, are, however, more minute and circumstantial. Here the Poet seems to have picked and sifted out from old 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; the whole thus evincing the closest study and the exactest use of the matter before him. Notwithstanding, his genius is as far 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 many of the finest scenes and passages are purely such: yet these seem to have caught the very spirit and method of the old material ; so that the whole work is perfectly fused into one substance, all the parts being just as much of the same grain and texture as if they had originally grown together.
It is well known that even in matters of history fictions often express
the real truth of things much better than any facts which history has preserved. This, to be sure, may sometimes proceed from a kind of psychological comparative anatomy, whereby a sagacious mind, from a small relic of fact, a single tooth or bone, as it were, reconstructs the living whole. Take, for instance, the early part of the 17th century : I suppose no competent judge will question that