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The tragedy is set in Rome and Egypt, characterised by swift, panoramic shifts in geographical locations and in registers. The story follows the relationship between Cleopatra and Mark Antony from the time of the Sicilian revolt to Cleopatra's suicide during the Final War of the Roman Republic. The major antagonist is Octavius Caesar, one of Antony's fellow triumviri of the Second Triumvirate and the first emperor of the Roman Empire.
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Antony And Cleopatra
Biography of Shakespeare
Since William Shakespeare lived more than 400 years ago, and many records from that time are lost or never existed in the first place, we don't know everything about his life. For example, we know that he was baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon, 100 miles northwest of London, on April 26, 1564. But we don't know his exact birthdate, which must have been a few days earlier.
We do know that Shakespeare's life revolved around two locations: Stratford and London. He grew up, had a family, and bought property in Stratford, but he worked in London, the center of English theater. As an actor, a playwright, and a partner in a leading acting company, he became both prosperous and well-known. Even without knowing everything about his life, fans of Shakespeare have imagined and reimagined him according to their own tastes, just as we see with the 19th-century portrait of Shakespeare wooing his wife at the top of this page.
William Shakespeare was probably born on about April 23, 1564, the date that is traditionally given for his birth. He was John and Mary Shakespeare's oldest surviving child; their first two children, both girls, did not live beyond infancy. Growing up as the big brother of the family, William had three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard, and Edmund, and two younger sisters: Anne, who died at seven, and Joan.
Their father, John Shakespeare, was a leatherworker who specialized in the soft white leather used for gloves and similar items. A prosperous businessman, he married Mary Arden, of the prominent Arden family. John rose through local offices in Stratford, becoming an alderman and eventually, when William was five, the town bailiff—much like a mayor. Not long after that, however, John Shakespeare stepped back from public life; we don't know why.
Shakespeare, as the son of a leading Stratford citizen, almost certainly attended Stratford's grammar school. Like all such schools, its curriculum consisted of an intense emphasis on the Latin classics, including memorization, writing, and acting classic Latin plays. Shakespeare most likely attended until about age 15.
For several years after Judith and Hamnet's arrival in 1585, nothing is known for certain of Shakespeare's activities: how he earned a living, when he moved from Stratford, or how he got his start in the theater.
Following this gap in the record, the first definite mention of Shakespeare is in 1592 as an established London actor and playwright, mocked by a contemporary as a "Shake-scene." The same writer alludes to one of Shakespeare's earliest history plays, Henry VI, Part 3, which must already have been performed. The next year, in 1593, Shakespeare published a long poem, Venus and Adonis. The first quarto editions of his early plays appeared in 1594. For more than two decades, Shakespeare had multiple roles in the London theater as an actor, playwright, and, in time, a business partner in a major acting company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men (renamed the King's Men in 1603). Over the years, he became steadily more famous in the London theater world; his name, which was not even listed on the first quartos of his plays, became a regular feature—clearly a selling point—on later title pages.
Shakespeare prospered financially from his partnership in the Lord Chamberlain's Men (later the King's Men), as well as from his writing and acting. He invested much of his wealth in real-estate purchases in Stratford and bought the second-largest house in town, New Place, in 1597.
Among the last plays that Shakespeare worked on was The Two Noble Kinsmen, which he wrote with a frequent collaborator, John Fletcher, most likely in 1613. He died on April 23, 1616—the traditional date of his birthday, though his precise birthdate is unknown. We also do not know the cause of his death. His brother-in-law had died a week earlier, which could imply infectious disease, but Shakespeare's health may have had a longer decline.
The memorial bust of Shakespeare at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford is considered one of two authentic likenesses, because it was approved by people who knew him. (The bust in the Folger's Paster Reading Room, shown at left, is a copy of this statue.) The other such likeness is the engraving by Martin Droeshout in the 1623 First Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays, produced seven years after his death by his friends and colleagues from the King's Men.
M.ANTONY, TriumvirOCTAVIUS CAESAR, TriumvirM. AEMIL. LEPIDUS, TriumvirSEXTUS POMPEIUS TriumvirDOMITIUS ENOBARBUS, friend to AntonyVENTIDIUS, friend to Antony
EROS, friend to Antony
SCARUS, friend to Antony
DERCETAS, friend to AntonyDEMETRIUS, friend to AntonyPHILO, friend to AntonyMAECENAS, friend to CaesarAGRIPPA, friend to CaesarDOLABELLA, friend to CaesarPROCULEIUS, friend to CaesarTHYREUS, friend to CaesarGALLUS, friend to CaesarMENAS, friend to PompeyMENECRATES, friend to PompeyVARRIUS, friend to PompeyTAURUS, Lieutenant-General to CaesarCANIDIUS, Lieutenant-General to AntonySILIUS, an Officer in Ventidius's armyEUPHRONIUS, an Ambassador from Antony to CaesarALEXAS, attendant on CleopatraMARDIAN, attendant on CleopatraSELEUCUS, attendant on CleopatraDIOMEDES, attendant on CleopatraA SOOTHSAYERA CLOWN
CLEOPATRA, Queen of EgyptOCTAVIA, sister to Caesar and wife to AntonyCHARMIAN, Attendant on CleopatraIRAS, Attendant on Cleopatra
Officers, Soldiers, Messengers, and other Attendants
SCENE: Dispersed, in several parts of the Roman Empire.
SCENE I. Alexandria. A Room in CLEOPATRA'S palace.
[Enter DEMETRIUS and PHILO.]
PHILO.Nay, but this dotage of our general'sO'erflows the measure: those his goodly eyes,That o'er the files and musters of the warHave glow'd like plated Mars, now bend, now turn,The office and devotion of their viewUpon a tawny front: his captain's heart,Which in the scuffles of great fights hath burstThe buckles on his breast, reneges all temper,And is become the bellows and the fanTo cool a gipsy's lust.
Look where they come:Take but good note, and you shall see in himThe triple pillar of the world transform'dInto a strumpet's fool: behold and see.
[Enter ANTONY and CLEOPATRA, with their trains; Eunuchs fanning her.]
CLEOPATRA.If it be love indeed, tell me how much.
ANTONY.There's beggary in the love that can be reckon'd.
CLEOPATRA.I'll set a bourn how far to be belov'd.
ANTONY.Then must thou needs find out new heaven, new earth.
[Enter an Attendant.]
ATTENDANT.News, my good lord, from Rome.
ANTONY.Grates me:--the sum.
CLEOPATRA.Nay, hear them, Antony:Fulvia perchance is angry; or who knowsIf the scarce-bearded Caesar have not sentHis powerful mandate to you: 'Do this or this;Take in that kingdom and enfranchise that;Perform't, or else we damn thee.'
ANTONY.How, my love!
CLEOPATRA.Perchance! Nay, and most like:--You must not stay here longer,--your dismissionIs come from Caesar; therefore hear it, Antony. --Where's Fulvia's process?--Caesar's I would say?--Both?--Call in the messengers.--As I am Egypt's queen,Thou blushest, Antony; and that blood of thineIs Caesar's homager: else so thy cheek pays shameWhen shrill-tongu'd Fulvia scolds.--The messengers!
ANTONY.Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide archOf the rang'd empire fall! Here is my space.Kingdoms are clay: our dungy earth alikeFeeds beast as man: the nobleness of lifeIs to do thus [Embracing]; when such a mutual pairAnd such a twain can do't, in which I bind,On pain of punishment, the world to weetWe stand up peerless.
CLEOPATRA.Excellent falsehood!Why did he marry Fulvia, and not love her?--I'll seem the fool I am not; AntonyWill be himself.
ANTONY.But stirr'd by Cleopatra.--Now, for the love of Love and her soft hours,Let's not confound the time with conference harsh:There's not a minute of our lives should stretchWithout some pleasure now:--what sport to-night?
CLEOPATRA.Hear the ambassadors.
ANTONY.Fie, wrangling queen!Whom everything becomes,--to chide, to laugh,To weep; whose every passion fully strivesTo make itself in thee fair and admir'd!No messenger; but thine, and all aloneTo-night we'll wander through the streets and noteThe qualities of people. Come, my queen;Last night you did desire it:--speak not to us.
[Exeunt ANTONY and CLEOPATRA, with their Train.]
DEMETRIUS.Is Caesar with Antonius priz'd so slight?
PHILO.Sir, sometimes when he is not Antony,He comes too short of that great propertyWhich still should go with Antony.
DEMETRIUS.I am full sorryThat he approves the common liar, whoThus speaks of him at Rome: but I will hopeOf better deeds to-morrow. Rest you happy!
SCENE II. Alexandria. Another Room in CLEOPATRA'S palace.
[Enter CHARMIAN, IRAS, ALEXAS, and a Soothsayer.]
CHARMIAN.Lord Alexas, sweet Alexas, most anything Alexas, almostmost absolute Alexas, where's the soothsayer that you praised so to the queen? O that I knew this husband, which you say must charge his horns with garlands!
CHARMIAN.Is this the man?--Is't you, sir, that know things?
SOOTHSAYER.In nature's infinite book of secrecyA little I can read.
ALEXAS.Show him your hand.
ENOBARBUS.Bring in the banquet quickly; wine enoughCleopatra's health to drink.
CHARMIAN.Good, sir, give me good fortune.
SOOTHSAYER.I make not, but foresee.
CHARMIAN.Pray, then, foresee me one.
SOOTHSAYER.You shall be yet far fairer than you are.
CHARMIAN.He means in flesh.
IRAS.No, you shall paint when you are old.
ALEXAS.Vex not his prescience; be attentive.
SOOTHSAYER.You shall be more beloving than beloved.
CHARMIAN.I had rather heat my liver with drinking.
ALEXAS.Nay, hear him.
CHARMIAN.Good now, some excellent fortune! Let me be married to three kings in a forenoon, and widow them all: let me have a child at fifty, to whom Herod of Jewry may do homage: find me to marry me with Octavius Caesar, and companion me with my mistress.
SOOTHSAYER.You shall outlive the lady whom you serve.
CHARMIAN.O, excellent! I love long life better than figs.
SOOTHSAYER.You have seen and prov'd a fairer former fortuneThan that which is to approach.
CHARMIAN.Then belike my children shall have no names:--pr'ythee, how many boys and wenches must I have?
SOOTHSAYER.If every of your wishes had a womb,And fertile every wish, a million.
CHARMIAN.Out, fool! I forgive thee for a witch.
ALEXAS.You think none but your sheets are privy to your wishes.
CHARMIAN.Nay, come, tell Iras hers.
ALEXAS.We'll know all our fortunes.
ENOBARBUS.Mine, and most of our fortunes, to-night, shall be--drunk to bed.
IRAS.There's a palm presages chastity, if nothing else.
CHARMIAN.E'en as the o'erflowing Nilus presageth famine.
IRAS.Go, you wild bedfellow, you cannot soothsay.
CHARMIAN.Nay, if an oily palm be not a fruitful prognostication, I cannot scratch mine ear.--Pr'ythee, tell her but worky-day fortune.
SOOTHSAYER.Your fortunes are alike.
IRAS.But how, but how? give me particulars.
SOOTHSAYER.I have said.
IRAS.Am I not an inch of fortune better than she?
CHARMIAN.Well, if you were but an inch of fortune better than I, where would you choose it?
IRAS.Not in my husband's nose.
CHARMIAN.Our worser thoughts heavens mend!--Alexas,--come, his fortune! his fortune!--O, let him marry a woman that cannot go, sweet Isis, I beseech thee! And let her die too, and give him a worse! and let worse follow worse, till the worst of all follow him laughing to his grave, fiftyfold a cuckold! Good Isis, hear me this prayer, though thou deny me a matter of more weight; good Isis, I beseech thee!
IRAS.Amen. Dear goddess, hear that prayer of the people! for, as it is a heartbreaking to see a handsome man loose-wived, so it is a deadly sorrow to behold a foul knave uncuckolded: therefore, dear Isis, keep decorum, and fortune him accordingly!
ALEXAS.Lo now, if it lay in their hands to make me a cuckold, they would make themselves whores but they'd do't!
ENOBARBUS.Hush! Here comes Antony.
CHARMIAN.Not he; the queen.
CLEOPATRA.Saw you my lord?
CLEOPATRA.Was he not here?
CLEOPATRA.He was dispos'd to mirth; but on the suddenA Roman thought hath struck him.--Enobarbus,--
CLEOPATRA.Seek him, and bring him hither.--Where's Alexas?
ALEXAS.Here, at your service.--My lord approaches.
CLEOPATRA.We will not look upon him: go with us.
[Exeunt CLEOPATRA, ENOBARBUS, CHAR., IRAS, ALEX., andSoothsayer.]
[Enter ANTONY, with a MESSENGER and Attendants.]
MESSENGER.Fulvia thy wife first came into the field.
ANTONY.Against my brother Lucius.
MESSENGER.Ay:But soon that war had end, and the time's stateMade friends of them, jointing their force 'gainst Caesar;Whose better issue in the war, from ItalyUpon the first encounter, drave them.
ANTONY.Well, what worst?
MESSENGER.The nature of bad news infects the teller.
ANTONY.When it concerns the fool or coward.--On:--Things that are past are done with me.--'Tis thus;Who tells me true, though in his tale lie death,I hear him as he flatter'd.
MESSENGER.Labienus,--This is stiff news,--hath, with his Parthian force,Extended Asia from Euphrates;His conquering banner shook from SyriaTo Lydia and to Ionia;Whilst,--
ANTONY.Antony, thou wouldst say,--
MESSENGER.O, my lord!
ANTONY.Speak to me home, mince not the general tongue:Name Cleopatra as she is call'd in Rome;Rail thou in Fulvia's phrase; and taunt my faultsWith such full licence as both truth and maliceHave power to utter. O, then we bring forth weedsWhen our quick minds lie still; and our ills told usIs as our earing. Fare thee well awhile.
MESSENGER.At your noble pleasure.
ANTONY.From Sicyon, ho, the news! Speak there!
FIRST ATTENDANT.The man from Sicyon--is there such an one?
SECOND ATTENDANT.He stays upon your will.
ANTONY.Let him appear.--These strong Egyptian fetters I must break,Or lose myself in dotage.--
[Enter another MESSENGER.]
What are you?
SECOND MESSENGER.Fulvia thy wife is dead.
ANTONY.Where died she?
SECOND MESSENGER.In Sicyon:Her length of sickness, with what else more seriousImporteth thee to know, this bears. [Gives a letter.]
There's a great spirit gone! Thus did I desire it:What our contempts doth often hurl from us,We wish it ours again; the present pleasure,By revolution lowering, does becomeThe opposite of itself: she's good, being gone;The hand could pluck her back that shov'd her on.I must from this enchanting queen break off:Ten thousand harms, more than the ills I know,My idleness doth hatch--ho, Enobarbus!
ENOBARBUS.What's your pleasure, sir?
ANTONY.I must with haste from hence.
ENOBARBUS.Why, then we kill all our women: we see how mortal an unkindness is to them; if they suffer our departure, death's the word.
ANTONY.I must be gone.
ENOBARBUS.Under a compelling occasion, let women die: it were pity to cast them away for nothing; though, between them and a great cause they should be esteemed nothing. Cleopatra, catching but the least noise of this, dies instantly; I have seen her die twenty times upon far poorer moment: I do think there is mettle in death, which commits some loving act upon her, she hath such a celerity in dying.
ANTONY.She is cunning past man's thought.
ENOBARBUS.Alack, sir, no: her passions are made of nothing but the finest part of pure love: we cannot call her winds and waters, sighs and tears; they are greater storms and tempests than almanacs can report: this cannot be cunning in her; if it be, she makes a shower of rain as well as Jove.
ANTONY.Would I had never seen her!
ENOBARBUS.O sir, you had then left unseen a wonderful piece of work; which not to have been blest withal would have discredited your travel.
ANTONY.Fulvia is dead.
ANTONY.Fulvia is dead.
ENOBARBUS.Why, sir, give the gods a thankful sacrifice. When it pleaseth their deities to take the wife of a man from him, it shows to man the tailors of the earth; comforting therein that when old robes are worn out there are members to make new. If there were no more women but Fulvia, then had you indeed a cut, and the case to be lamented: this grief is crown'd with consolation; your old smock brings forth a new petticoat:--and, indeed, the tears live in an onion that should water this sorrow.
ANTONY.The business she hath broached in the stateCannot endure my absence.
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