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Like , was completed by 1611 and printed for the first time in the 1623 Folio. Because it refers to the "still-vext Bermoothes" and derives in part from three accounts of the 1609 wreck of a Virginia-bound ship called the , the play has long been scrutinized for its supposed commentary on the colonial exploitation of the New World. But if the brute Caliban is not the noble savage of Montaigne's essay on cannibals, he is probably not intended to be an instance of Third World victimization by European imperalism either. And Prospero's island is at least as Mediterranean as it is Caribbean. More plausible, but also too speculative for uncritical acceptance, is the time-honored supposition that the magician's staff with which Prospero wields his power is meant to be interpreted as an analogy for Shakespeare's own magical gifts--with the corollary that the protagonist's abjuration of his "potent art" is the dramatist's own way of saying farewell to the theater. Were it not that at least two plays were almost certainly completed later than , this latter hypothesis might win more credence.
These are the kinds of question a reading of elicits, and the majority of its interpreters during the last three centuries have answered them in such a way as to place this second "Roman play" in a category largely its own. Noting that the "Roman" characters are bloodless and coldly calculating--particularly Octavius and his sister Octavia, whose hand Octavius gives to Antony in an effort to resolve the political differences he has been having with his slothful counterpart in Egypt--most critics and theater professionals have found them much less appealing than they do the two lovers. The consequence has been that readers and viewers have tended to see Antony and Cleopatra as the characters see themselves and thus to regard the play primarily as a dramatization of what termed "the canonization of love."
Which of them came first we do not know, but most scholars incline toward , a play so openly scaffolded upon Plautus's and (two farces that Shakespeare probably knew in Latin from his days in grammar school) that one modern critic has summed it up as "a kind of diploma piece." Set, ostensibly, in the Mediterranean city familiar from St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, the play begins with a sentence on the life of a luckless Syracusan merchant, Aegeon, who has stumbled into Ephesus in search of his son Antipholus. After narrating a tale of woe that wins the sympathy of the Duke of Ephesus, Aegeon is given till five in the afternoon to come up with a seemingly impossible ransom for his breach of an arbitrary law against Syracusans. Meanwhile, unknown to Aegeon, the object of his search is in Ephesus too, having arrived only hours before him; Antipholus had set out some two years earlier to find a twin brother by the same name who was separated from the rest of the family in a stormy shipwreck more than twenty years in the past. By happy coincidence, the other Antipholus has long since settled in Ephesus, and so (without either's knowledge) has their mother, Aegeon's long-lost wife, Aemilia, who is now an abbess. To complicate matters further, both Antipholuses have slaves named Dromio, also twins long separated, and of course both sets of twins are indistinguishably appareled. Into this mix Shakespeare throws a goldsmith, a set of merchants, a courtesan, a wife and a sister-in-law for the Ephesian Antipholus, and a conjuring schoolmaster. The result is a swirling brew of misunderstandings, accusations, and identity crises--all leading, finally, to a series of revelations that reunite a family, save Aegeon's life, and bring order to a city that had begun to seem bewitched by sorcerers.
LOGANRome and Egypt in Antony and Cleopatra and in Criticism ofthe Play JAMES HIRSH"He beats thee `gainst the odds": Gambling, Risk Management,and Antony and Cleopatra LINDA WOODBRIDGE"Cloyless Sauce": The Pleasurable Politics of Food in Antonyand Cleopatra PETER A.
Antony and Cleopatra New Critical Essays Shakespeare Criticism UMUSEKE The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare Author William Shakespeare