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In this little book are contained historical facts, taken from one of the most important eras in the Roman history. These facts include a well-known lovetale, great state negociations, and two famous battles, the one by sea, the other by land.
Events, thus remarkable, are here related by a poet, faithful in all historical recitals, and blessed with penetration to behold the inmost recesses of the heart of man; from whence he has ever curiously traced those actions which have made, or marred, his hero's fortune; and filled the world with surprise, terror, admiration!
The reader will, in the following pages, contemplate the Triumvirs of Rome as men, as well as emperors—he will see them with their domestic habits on; one toying with his mistress, another in the enjoyment of his bottle; a third longing, like a child, for a gaudy procession; and all these three rulers of the earth, ruled by some sinister passion.
The reader will be also introduced to the queen of Egypt, in her undress, as well as in her royal robes; he will be, as it were, admitted to her toilet, where, in converse with her waiting-woman, she will suffer
him to arrive at her most secret thoughts and designs and he will quickly perceive, that the arts of a queen with her lover, are just the same as those practised by any other beauty." If you find Antony sad," cries Cleopatra, to her female attendant, "say I am dancing; if he is in mirth, report that I am suddenly sick."
These natural contrivances of artful woman, labouring to make her conquest and her power secure, are even outdone in truth of description, by that fretful impatience, with which she is tortured, in the absence of Antony from Egypt: By the gloom which the poet has spread throughout her whole palace, whilst he is away; and, by the silly sentences, which, during this restless period, she is impelled to utter.
"Where think'st thou he is now? stands he, or sits he?
Or does he walk? or is he on his horse ?"
Silly sentences to all who never were in love, but sensible, and most intelligent, to all who ever were.
Equal to the foregoing conversation, is that, in which this impassioned queen makes anxious inquiry, concerning the charms of her rival Octavia. But those minute touches of nature, by which Shakspeare proves a queen to be a woman, are, perhaps, the very cause, why Dryden's picture of the Egyptian court, is preferred, on the stage, before this. There are things so diminutive, they cannot be perceived
in a theatre; whilst in a closet, their very smallness constitutes their value.
Dryden, in his "All for Love; or the World well lost," has humoured the common notion about kings and queens; and there, they are seen only in parade, as the public are accustomed to behold them. But Shakspeare gives those royal personages more endearments, far, than splendour can bestow, in exposing them as part of the human species; and claiming, from that tender tie, more lenity to their faults—more reverence for their virtues.
However this tragedy may be wanting in dramatic merit, so as to obtain that enthusiastic admiration from an audience, which most of the author's other plays have done" Antony and Cleopatra" will ever be acknowledged a composition of infinite worth. In this short production, which, to read, is but the employment of an hour, are lessons—multifarious, and enforced by great example—for, monarchs, statesmen, generals, soldiers, renegadoes; for the prudent and the licentious; the prosperous, and the unfortunate; the victor and the vanquished.
There is scarcely a person now existing, or a present occurrence in politics, to which some observation in this drama, of ancient history, will not apply. To the idle Antony, who, expressing amazement, that his enemy has with such rapidity crossed the space between Rome and Egpyt, it is answered" Celerity is never more admired than by the negligent."
And when poor Antony, nearly sunk beneath his
mighty foe, proposes some strange enterprize, as the means of safety; the friend, to whom he communicates his project, delivers these remarkable words, as soon as he is out of hearing.
"I see men's judgments are
A parcel of their fortunes; and things outward
To suffer all alike."