The Arden Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra

The Arden Shakespeare Antony and Cleopatra, edited by M.R. Ridley.

This Arden Shakespeare edition of Antony and Cleopatra was not the first. The first version was compiled by R.H. Case in 1906. Nearly a half century later the second series version was completed by M.R. Ridley in 1954. T’was then reprinted twice by Methuen and then again as a University Paperback (by Routledge) in 1965, then reprinted 14 times, then again in 1987, 1988, and 1991.

1991 being the year that this one that I possess was produced. But I purchased it only late in 2023 at the Bookhaven book shop in Fairmount, Philadelphia for $8.

Arden Shakespeare Editions Timeline Contextualized

Timeline of the publication history of the second series Arden Shakespeare Antony and Cleopatra
I'm really not sure why when I created this timeline I insisted on indexing everything to military conflicts ...

So, just to be clear, WWI and WWII occured between the Case and Ridley editions. Then the University Paperback was published around the time of the United States’ explicit involvement in the hitherto French Indochina.

Then a score of reprintings before the 1987, 1988 and 1991 ones (1991 was the year of the end of history, as foretold by Hegel and Francis Fukuyama, and marked by the fall of the Soviet Union).

Then some 33 years passed (the sweet hereafter) between when it was printed, purchased, and then resold by Bookhaven in Philadelphia. I wonder where it went all those years.

Features of the Edition

Introduction written by R.H. Case in 1906 [pp. xxiii–xxxix], with a ten page addition [pp. xxxi–xlix] by M.R. Ridley, modestly beginning: “I have little to add to this introduction. …”

Five Appendices, the last being the “Extracts from North’s Plutarch (1579)” [pp. 241-278], which is still in the old English diction (that is, in old-timey language and freaking awesome!), with sentences like the latter:

And in the ende, the horse of the minde as Plato termeth it, that is so hard of rayne (I meane the unreyned lust of concupiscence) did put out of Antonius heade, all honest and commendable thoughtes: for he sent Fonteius Capito to bring Cleopatra into Syria.


What to Say About this Play Antony and Cleopatra?

There is so much feeding into this play that it is hard to know where to begin.

I come to it remarkably ignorant. Names that I have heard scores of times, but little beyond that.

In terms of my theory of reading, that should be good. Despite all that I know I cannot free myself of the prejudice to try as much as possible to be free of all prejudice. Imagining my mind as a blank slate waiting to be written upon.*

Laughable! [to be pronounced in the voice of Jesus Quintana in the movie The Big Lebowski (1998)]

* The powers of the imagination are awesome, but especially when provoked by desire.

Cleopatra is not Elizabeth Taylor

So I don’t read in it that Cleopatra is a guileless seducer, as she appears in the 1963 Joseph Mankiewicz film Cleopatra, in which she is portrayed by a younger Elizabeth Taylor (who had not long before completed Suddenly Last Summer [1959] — you haven’t seen this?! Don’t tell anyone!).


Painting of Cleopatra by John William Waterhouse
Painting of Cleopatra by John William Waterhouse

Julius Caesar Who?

Since Antony and Cleopatra begins with the power couple already in love, we “know” little about the previous relationship Cleopatra had with Julius Caesar, the uncle of the Caesar in the play, the soon-to-be Augustus, Octavius Caesar. Nor do we even enjoy the scene where Cleopatra arrives in her amazing boat at Tarsus on the river Cydnus.

Instead we have two lovers and all of their entourages, with Antony’s dubious about how he’s been beguiled by Cleopatra.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the scene from Mankiewicz's 1963 film Cleopatra
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in a funny scene from the 1963 film Cleopatra when Cleopatra has a satyr play performed in which the satyr is having his way with a stand-in for Cleopatra

Brief Excursus on the Material Conditions of Consumption (that's right, the sexy stuff)

But then, Shakespeare didn’t need spectacle when he had words.

Writing this, I wonder,* again, as always, about the fact that I read this text that had some considerable intention to be performed. Shakespeare’s “consumers,” if you will, did not pour over his words like I do. Nor did they have the pleasure of re-reading complex passages. Nor simply consuming it over several weeks’ time, being interrupted repeatedly by so many other breathless requests for my attention.

Yet again, in the voice of Jesus Quintana, I say: “Fuck that intentional fallacy bullshit!”

* Definitely NOT the wonder of which the Greeks spoke admiringly, of thaumazein.

How Antony Appears

Antony appears as a toy of his power-wielding contemporaries, Octavian and Cleopatra. He marries Octavia to pacify Caesar after his long absence in Egypt and the trouble given Caesar by Antony’s wife and brother. 

But then Antony takes up arms against Caesar when he finally returns to Cleopatra’s arms …

A Funny Episode In Which One of the Triumvirate is Mocked

At one point Agrippa and Enobarbus make fun of Lepidus’ obsequiousness to Caesar and to Antony.

Selection from Act I in which Lepidus is mocked by Agrippa and Enobarbus

When Cleopatra Learns of Antony’s Marriage to Octavia

The scene where Cleopatra learns of Antony’s marriage to Octavia must have been intended to comically delight: Cleopatra assails the messenger of news of Antony when she fears that he may be dead, warning him not to bring ill-news of Antony and then praising hims when he confirms that Antony is in good health. 

But then Cleopatra threatens the messenger when he tells her that Antony is married, begging him to tell her that he is lying. She seems to calm down. But when he confirms that Antony is married she again threatens to kill him.

Caesar Meets Cleopatra Upon Antony’s Death

In Act V the dynamics of Caesar’s encounter with Cleopatra are fascinating. He appears consummately diplomatic, whereas her language is dripping with tacit, perhaps even histrionic, subservience.

Cleopatra Fakes Her Death, Proves Her Mettle, Then Antony Takes His Life

To end her life a Clown is called* with “figs,” in fact snakes. This solution had already been provoked by Antony’s military defeat and subsequent suicide when … believing that Cleopatra had taken her life and thereby proven her love authentic … (though actually she had faked her death to produce this affect in Antony … and before his death he learns of all this, but without any anger or contempt — it should be said that he’s impaled on his own sword in this scene, so perhaps anger wasn’t really possible).

Cleopatra learns she is to be a spoil of war for Caesar, to be taken place to place and exhibited, despite the fact that both Caesar and his suppliants reassure her of the contrary.

* I really do not know why this person is called a Clown. Sort of mystified by this. One can imagine what images come to mind, I suspect quite distant from Shakespeare’s own intention.

An especially poetic excerpt, two servants speaking

An especially poetic excerpt from Antony and Cleopatra
"To be called into a huge sphere, and not to be seen to move in't, are the holes where eyes should be, which pitifully disaster the cheeks."