Antony and Cleopatra

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When W.H. Auden and Norman Holmes Pearson edited the great 5 Vol. anthology, The Viking Portable Poets of the English Language in 1950, they represented Shakespeare’s poetry not by excerpts from various plays, not by selected sonnets or by the wonderful Venus and Adonis, but by the complete text of this play. Taking our cue from them, we will spend all 8 sessions on it, exploring its richness at our leisure. Participants will need an edition of the play that has numbered lines. There are several good cheap ones available.


  • Michael Wood, In Search of Shakespeare, BBC 2003
  • John Bell, On Shakespeare, Allen and Unwin 2011
  • Peter Levi, The Life and Times of William Shakespeare, Papermac, 1998
  • Jonathan Bate, The Genius of Shakespeare, Picador, 1997


  • Acts 1 & 2: Antony, Rome and Egypt; Cleopatra, Enobarbus and The Barge Scene.
  • Act 2 & 3: on Pompey’s boat; Caesar, Antony and Octavia; Caesar and Lepidus.
  • Act 3: Enobarbus sees Cleopatra’s ships flee and Antony follow her; Antony laments his shame. Enobarbus decides to desert Antony.
  • Act 4: Caesar rejects Antony’s terms of battle; Antony feasts his men; he arms; he learns of Enobarbus’s defection and sends his gold after him; Antony laments his change; Cleopatra has word sent to him that she is dead; he attempts to kill himself and is taken, half dead, to her monument; he dies; her final tribute to him.
  • Act 5: Caesar pays tribute to Antony; Cleopatra outwits Caesar; her great dream of Antony; her preparations for a fitting death; her suicide.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Appreciate that responding to the details of Shakespeare’s poetry is essential to experiencing his plays.
  2. Experience the way the poetry creates the individuality of each of the characters and the precise quality of their experiences.
  3. Respond to the different possibilities of life that the play presents.
  4. Recognise the exploration of human values that is central to the play.