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Antony and Cleopatra
ISBN 0553212893 / 9780553212891 / 0-553-21289-3
Publisher Bantam Books
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Antony and Cleopatra is one of the greatest love stories of all time, and one of the finest, and most poetic of all the high Shakespearean tragedies. Written between 1606 and 1607, it draws on the Roman historian Plutarch and his account of the collapse of the Roman Republic and the birth of the empire under Octavius Caesar, son of Julius. This imperial struggle for political power between Octavius, Lepidus, Pompey and Mark Antony provides the backdrop for the play's extraordinary evocation of the tempestuous love of Antony for Cleopatra, his "Egyptian dish".
The play cuts back and forth between the cold, calculating realpolitik of imperial Rome, and the sensuous, erotic world of Egypt and Cleopatra's luxurious and hedonistic court. Yet what is most memorable about the play is its remarkably poetic language; its lush image of Cleopatra in her barge, "like a burnished throne / Burned on the water", and "beggared all description", and its erotic fusion of images of sex and death which find their ultimate culmination in the suicides of Antony and Cleopatra in the final scenes of the play. A notoriously elusive play for both critics and theatre directors alike, Antony and Cleopatra's fascination with questions of race, sex, death, power and politics makes it one of the most compelling of all of Shakespeare's plays. However, the stage is undoubtedly held by Cleopatra, and Enobarbus' attempt to explain her fascination, as powerful and evocative today as ever: "Age cannot wither her, Nor custom stale her infinite variety".--Jerry Brotton [via]