Wine Women and Song: 'Anthony and Cleopatra' Revisited

A.P. Riemer


Almost a quarter of a century ago I published a short book entitled A Reading o fShakespeare's 'Antony and Cleopatra'. It was very much a product of its time, engaged with questions that would seem entirely irrelevant to the changed priorities of the 1990s. Its emphasis was intentionalist: that is to say, it assumed that the play was an intricate network of theatrical, rlletorical and conceptual strategies executed and transmitted by William Shakespeare, the dramatist, the creator of the theatrical illusion, despite the inevitable likelihood that the text had been imperfectly transmitted, as well as the possibility-obvious to anyone writing in a post-Freudian cultural context-that Shakespeare himself had but scant recognition of the motives behind his writing much of what he wrote. The book's bias was ethical: it assumed that the play concerned itself with the question of conduct, that its interest was engaged by an attempt to make discriminations among its various characters, and that it assumed that human actions must be judged according to one or another moral criterion---even though the subtlety and complexity of the dramatist rejected easy or conventional formulations. And lastly the book assumed that the play engaged with these issues in terms of the literary, philosophical, moral and sexual preoccupations ofthe early seventeenth century. Since that time, there have been a number of developments.

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