Shakespeare’s primary source for the play is Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, written around the first century AD, translated into French by James Amyot and thence into English by Thomas North in 1579. There are passages in the play — Enobarbus’s Cydnus speech for example — very close to Plutarch’s ‘Life of Marcus Antonius’, and a selection of the more direct adaptations are included here. Shakespeare developed, from Plutarch, his explorations of ‘the role of the great individual in the destiny of the state’ and the ‘problematic ideal of heroic selfhood’, themes also to be found in two other plays with Plutarchian sources, Julius Caesar and Coriolanus (see Neill, Antony and Cleopatra, p. 7). Shakespeare also took selective inspiration from some of Plutarch’s characterisation, and in other cases changed and adapted the ancient historian’s figures and narrative radically. Plutarch’s brave and morally upright Octavia, for example, is much reduced in Shakespeare (see below, pp. 107–8); Antony’s magnanimity is the quality from Plutarch’s history that Shakespeare emphasises over the cruelty to be found in the source.
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