Here are extracts from four critical accounts of the ending of Antony and Cleopatra. It seems logical and tidy to place them in chronological order. I do not want to suggest that critical opinion of the play has somehow progressed from the romantic views of Schlegel in the early nineteenth century to the materialist ones of Dollimore in 1984, via Wilson Knight’s close reading and Shaw’s arch cynicism in the thirties. Though critical ideas and vocabulary such as Dolllimore’s are distinctively late twentieth-century, arguments not unlike Schlegel’s are still echoed in work published as late as 1992, as Sara Munson Deats has pointed out in her survey of Antony and Cleopatra in criticism (Deats, p. 2). However, placing criticism in its historical moment enables the scholar better to explore how it can be used and developed, engaged with and argued against. In examining critical writing on Antony and Cleopatra, it is worth considering not only what the critics have found in play, but what they wanted to find and what it was possible for them to find at the time their opinions were formed.
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