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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: February ::
Antony and Cleopatra and The Sonnets?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0204  Tuesday, 2 February 2005

From:           Paul Swanson <
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Date:           Monday, 31 Jan 2005 21:23:24 EST
Subject:        Antony and Cleopatra and The Sonnets?

Having just finished Michael Wood's "Shakespeare," I was particularly
drawn to Wood's arguments regarding The Sonnets, and I wanted to throw a
speculative idea that argues a connection between The Sonnets and Antony
and Cleopatra.

Wood presents a compelling case in which he argues, like some other
critics, that The Dark Lady of the Sonnets is, in fact, Emilia Lanier, a
married woman from a family with Venetian ties. According to Wood,
Lanier was a well-known woman in London and court circles, known for her
dark complexion and powerful sexual aura.

Based on some of Wood's observations, it struck me that Antony and
Cleopatra shares intriguing parallels with The Sonnets. Consider: In AC,
Cleopatra, the dark-skinned, lust-inspiring Egyptian queen, sends Antony
on a revolving journey between his world of responsibility and duty in
Rome and his world of desire and passion in Egypt, just as Shakespeare
himself might have bounced back and forth between the duty he owed his
Stratford marital life and the adventurous freedom to the east in
London, where Shakespeare exercised his sexual passion with the Dark
Lady: "I will to Egypt / And though I make this marriage for my peace /
I'th' east my pleasure lies" (2.3.37-39).

Beyond the superficiality of the connection between the dark complexion
of both Cleopatra and The Dark Lady, as well as the opposing worlds of
Shakespeare's own personal life, I think a stronger case making the
connection between The Sonnets and Antony and Cleopatra lies in some of
the unusually synonymous language of the two pieces. Specifically, both
pieces contain recurring language and images of a speaker divided from
himself, a speaker whose identity has been lost in the intensity of his
sexual passion.

In The Sonnets, for instance, we have "Me from myself thy cruel eye hath
taken" (133.5), "Myself I'll forfeit" and "Him have I lost; thou hast
him and me" (134.3,13). In addition, there are countless images in the
Dark Lady sonnets in which the speaker complains that his senses are no
longer his own, or that they are no longer truthful or reliable.

Compare that to what we see in Antony and Cleopatra:. In the opening
scene alone, we have "Antony will be himself" (1.1.43-44) and "Sir,
sometimes, when he is not Antony..." (1.1.57). Further, Antony is
described as "The triple pillar of the world transformed / Into a
strumpet's fool," (1.1.12-13), and later in the play, Antony himself
discusses his loss of self-identity, telling Octavia that "If I lose
mine honor / I lose myself" (3.4.22-23).

My point is that in both the Sonnets and AC, we have a speaker or
character tossed back and forth between two opposing worlds, a man
passionately attracted  -- even to his own destruction --, and language
that explicitly describes the speaker/character's loss of self.

Historical criticism has told us over and over that finding Shakespeare
in his own work is a fool's journey, so I enter the dark wood of error
fully warned. Still, the similarities between the two pieces seem
awfully strong to me. So I ask this group, to what extent might AC be a
retelling (of sorts) of Shakespeare's relationship with The Dark Lady?

Paul Swanson

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