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Shakespeare and the Constant Romans$
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Geoffrey Miles

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780198117711

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198117711.001.0001

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‘Infinite Variety’: Antony and Cleopatra

‘Infinite Variety’: Antony and Cleopatra

(p.169) 9Infinite Variety’: Antony and Cleopatra
Shakespeare and the Constant Romans

Miles Geoffrey

Oxford University Press

Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus represent the opposing wings of the ‘triptych’ which Shakespeare borrowed from Plutarch. To put it in its starkest terms, Coriolanus falls because he is too constant, Antony because he is not constant enough and in love with a woman who is inconstancy incarnate. But where Plutarch saw his subjects as merely driven to disaster by moral flaws and irrational compulsions, Shakespeare sees each as pursuing, blindly, confusedly, and self-destructively, a genuine moral ideal. Coriolanus' ideal is that of constancy, an ideal taught him by Volumnia and Rome, and bearing a strong likeness to the Stoic codes of Julius Caesar. Antony's ideal is un-Roman and un-Stoic, and is best defined in the words of Montaigne: in a mutable world, he chooses to embrace ‘the benefit of inconstancy’.

Keywords:   Antony and Cleopatra, inconstancy, Plutarch, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar

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