Antony and Cleopatra has had an irregular performance history until the twentieth century. As we have seen in Chapter 1, little is known about performances in Shakespeare’s time. The Restoration and eighteenth centuries were dominated by formal, heroic versions of the story, following the dramaturgical principles of Seneca and the dramatic unities. Dryden’s All for Love, with its emphasis on love and honour, proved the most popular. Where Shakespeare’s play was performed in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, drastic cuts and transpositions were made to accommodate extravagant pictorial scenery, and collations of Dryden and Shakespeare were produced (see Bevington, pp. 47–51, Madelaine, pp. 26–74, Deats, pp. 37–8). Spectacular productions, with their concomitant reorganisations of the text, continued into the early twentieth century. Accounts of the play’s performance history are full of entertaining details of extravagant processions and allegorical dances, enormous Sphinxes and working barges. The early twentieth century also saw, however, a revived interest in ‘Elizabethan’ production and Shakespeare’s simple, fluid staging. Productions influenced by the 1920s’ fascination for Egypt after discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb may still seem distractingly pictorial by today’s standards, but a growing acceptance of an open stage as the best place to perform Shakespeare allowed for fuller productions of the Folio Antony and Cleopatra from this time onwards.
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