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the god Osiris. The notion that a man might rise to union with deity had gradually hardened into a custom of admitting the royal right of apotheosis. Some years before, Antony had assumed the character and style of Bacchus at Athens. He now came forth as the Nile-god, or fructifying power of the Coptic mythology, to claim the religious veneration of the Egyptian people.
All these mad doings were closely watched by the cold blooded and astute Octavius, who worked them with terrible effect against his rival at Rome. The quarrel thus engendered came to a head in the great battle of Actium, which took place in September of the year B.C. 31. Stripped of fleet and army, and covered with foul dishonour, Antony returned to Egypt to brood sullenly over the past. The next year, Octavius followed with an army, and his work there was finished by the death of Cleopatra in August. So that the events of the play cover a period of a little more than ten years; the scene shifting to various parts of the Empire, Alexandria, Rome, Misenum, Athens, the plains of Syria, and several fields of battle.
“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. The highest praise, or rather form of praise, which I can offer in my own mind, is the doubt which the perusal always occasions in me, whether this play is not, in all the exhibitions of a giant power in its strength and vigour of maturity, a formidable rival of Macbeth, Lear, Hamlet, and Othello. Feliciter audax is the motto for its style comparatively with that of Shakespeare's other works, even as it is the general motto of all his works compared with those of other poets. 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."
Judging from my own experience, Antony and Cleopatra is the last of Shakespeare's plays that one grows to appreciate. This seems partly owing to the excellences of the work, and partly not. For it is marked beyond any other by a superabundance of external animation, as well as by a surpassing fineness of workmanship, such as needs oft-repeated and most careful perusal to bring out full upon the mind's eye. The great number and variety of events crowded together in it, the rapidity with which they pass before us, and, consequently, the frequent changes of scene, hold curiosity on the stretch, and somewhat overfill the mind with sensuous effect, so as for a long time to distract and divert the thoughts from those subtilties of characterization and delicacies of poetry which everywhere accompany them. I am by no means sure but the two things naturally go together, yet I have to confess it has long seemed to me that, by selecting fewer incidents, or by condensing the import and spirit of them into larger masses, what is now a serious fault in the drama might have been avoided. And my own view herein has been not a little confirmed on finding a similar one expressed by Gervinus; who, after remarking that the drama is “a masterwork full of deep thought, from which every writer of history may learn how to extract the spirit out of chronicles,” adds the following: “ But whether larger dramatic groups might not have been cut out of the complete history, which would have better satisfied the Aristotelian requirement of being easily surveyed as a whole; whether some of the inferior characters might not have been omitted, and all the acting personages thus concentrated upon the main point of the piece, as Shakespeare has accustomed us ; – this remains a subject of doubt much easier indeed for us to express than it could have been for the poet to remove."
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. .
CANIDIUS, Lieutenant - General to OCTAVIUS CÆSAR, Triumvirs, Antony. M. ÆMILIUS LEPIDUS,
MENAS, SEXTUS POMPEIUS.
MENECRATES, Friends of Pompey. DOMITIUS ENOBARBUS,
SILIUS, an Officer in Ventidius's Eros,
Friends to SCARUS,
EUPHRONIUS, an Ambassador from DERCETAS,
Antony to Cæsar. DEMETRIUS,
ALEXAS, MARDIAN, SELEUCUS, and PHILO,
DIOMEDES, Attendants on CleoMECÆNAS,
A Soothsayer. A Clown. DOLABELLA,
Friends of Cæsar. PROCULEIUS,
CLEOPATRA, Queen of Egypt. THYREUS,
OCTAVIA, Sister to Cæsar, and Wife GALLUS,
to Antony. TAURUS, Lieutenant-General to Cæ- CHARMIAN and IRAS, Attendants on
SCENE I. — Alexandria. A Room in CLEOPATRA's Palace.
Enter DEMETRIUS and Philo.
Phi. Nay, but this dotage of our general's O'erflows the measure : those his goodly eyes,
That o'er the files and musters of the war
fanning her. Cleo. If it be love indeed, tell me how much. Ant. There's beggary in the love that can be reckon'd. Cleo. I'll set a bourn how far to be beloved. Ant. Then must thou needs find out new heaven, new earth.
Enter an Attendant.
- The sum.
Att. News, my good lord, from Rome.
1 Reneag is an old word for renounce or refuse. See vol. xv, page 57, note 18.
2 Triple for third, or one of three; one of the Triumvirs, or three masters of the world. See vol. iv. page 40, note 17.
3 It seems that the " allowed Fool" was a frequent appendage to persons and houses of ill-repute. See vol, vi. page 155, note 20.
4 News is singular or plural indifferently in Shakespeare. Here it is used as both at the same time. - Grates me means it is irksome to me; grates on my disposition. — The sum means, speak it in a word.