I hope the scholars are right; I hope WS wrote Anthony & Cleopatra immediately after Macbeth, and then wrote Coriolanus after that. After two plays about the disaster of politicians with too little honor, a play about the disaster of politicians with too much. Good thoughts for election season.
Anthony and Cleopatra say “Screw it” to all their professional responsibilities. What’s wrong with that? At first their lovey-dovey behavior seems rather sweet. But that’s immediately followed by a scene with Cleopatra’s ladies and a Soothsayer, that makes explicit what kind of idiotic milieu they live in.
Not that the characters who take their responsibilities more seriously are in any way admirable. Caesar is solely interested in himself, criticizing Anthony’s behavior as an insult to his authority. Pompey, in contrast, goes on about A&C like a prig. Caesar’s great moment comes in Act 3, when his offer to make a private deal with Cleopatra achieves the precisely calibrated effect, and the loving couple turns on each other. Anthony whips Caesar’s ambassador, and then makes a completely incoherent, raving speech. It’s already over.
Coriolanus, in contrast, along with his mother Volumnia, represent monsters of duty. Too bad their context is post-Brexit remorse:
MENENIUS: Why, masters, my good friends, mine honest neighbours,
Will you undo yourselves?
FIRST CITIZEN: We cannot, sir. We are undone already.
WS shows the start of reality TV, over-sharing, selfies, Anthony Weiner, and Donald Trump:
SECOND CITIZEN: He used us scornfully. He should have showed us
His marks of merit, wounds received for’s country.
SICINIUS: Why, so he did, I am sure.
ALL THE CITIZENS: No, no: no man saw ‘em.
THIRD CITIZEN: HE said he had wounds which he could show in private,…