To some, Shakespeare's greatest tragedy, to others a closet drama and even a problem play, Antony and Cleopatra seems to possess, like its heroine, 'infinite variety'.
Despite its obvious ability to enthral and perplex, the play has had a relatively impoverished stage history. Reasons for its lack of success are, again, varied: it is 'unactable'; its most successful post-war Cleopatras (Peggy Ashcroft and Judy Dench) have been 'too English' to suggest exotic allure, etc. Michael Neill's edition does a thorough job charting the play's troubled stage life, even if his performance section is overlong and not well integrated into his discussion. I, for one, found the composite review notices (often synthesising two or three individual reactions into a single response) almost suffocating in their detail. Those readers particularly interested in past productions and their reception, however, will be spared much trawling through press cuttings.
This edition's real strength lies is its formidable and wide-ranging Introduction, often drawing upon radical recent criticism (by the likes of Janet Adelman and Jonathan Dollimore). Some of the more rewarding ideas include the play's relationship to mythic archetypes (Omphale and Hercules, Mars and Venus); Antony's wrestling with (male) identity; Roman constructions of 'otherness'; and the play's parallels with other Shakespearean tragedies - especially with its 'successor and companion piece, Coriolanus'.
This is yet another Oxford Shakespeare with a baffling bibliography, however. Despite making fullest use of a book by the above-mentioned author Janet Adelman, she is not listed here. (Unlike Styan Thirby, whose unpublished annotations of C18 editions earn him four entries.) Puzzling.
At times dense and challenging, the author's fondness for Scottish dialect words can obfuscate further (the term 'eldritch humour' appears three times). Nonetheless, Neill's Antony is indispensable to any serious student of the play.