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All for Love


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AT: The World Well Lost A: John Dryden Pf: 1677, London Pb: 1678 G: Trag. in 5 acts; blank verse S: Alexandria, Egypt, 30 bc C: 6m, 4f, extrasCleopatra's treacherous flight from battle has cost Antony the battle of Actium. His general Ventidius accuses Antony of throwing away his empire for love. Tricked into meeting Cleopatra, Antony becomes reconciled to her when she shows him that she has rejected an offer of peace from their enemy, Octavius. After winning a minor battle, Antony is confronted by his wife Octavia, who, like Ventidius, begs him to make peace with Octavius. Octavia then meets Cleopatra and accuses her of destroying Antony's life. Antony, roused to jealousy by Cleopatra's behaviour towards his closest friend Dollabella, banishes them, and is then told that Cleopatra has committed suicide. Facing military defeat and with his beloved queen supposedly dead, Antony falls on his sword. Cleopatra comes, and they are reconciled. A poisonous snake allows her to join him in death and so cheat Octavius of his prize.

AT: The World Well Lost A: John Dryden Pf: 1677, London Pb: 1678 G: Trag. in 5 acts; blank verse S: Alexandria, Egypt, 30 bc C: 6m, 4f, extras

Using the same material as in Antony and Cleopatra and claiming that he was writing ‘in Shakespeare's style’, Dryden has created a version that is clearly not as great as Shakespeare's but which offers its own special qualities. In place of Shakespeare's vast historical panorama, Dryden concentrates the action according to neo-classical rules, keeping to locations in Alexandria and beginning near the end of the story, so that the action seems to occupy a few days at most. This offers a much more concentrated experience than in Shakespeare. Cleopatra's character is different too: in Shakespeare Antony loves her because she possesses ‘infinite variety’. Dryden's Queen is much more honourable, winning Antony over as much by argument as through her feminine wiles. Finally, Dryden exploits an opportunity not used by Shakespeare, to bring Cleopatra and Octavia together in a memorable if unhistorical meeting.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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John Dryden (1631—1700) poet, playwright, and critic


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