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THE VARIOUS READINGS, NOTES, A LIFE OF THE POET, AND
A HISTORY OF THE EARLY ENGLISH STAGE.
J. PAYNE COLLIER, ESQ. F.S.A.
IN EIGHT VOLUMES.
WHITTAKER & Co. AVE MARIA LANE.
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 emai able 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.)