In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Antony and Cleopatra both delights and bewilders with its extraordinary diversity. Classical mythology, biblical apocalypse and thematic insistence on the virtue of temperance meet in enlightening combinations and puzzling disjunctions. Critical analysis, precisely because it is analysis, tends to isolate one or two aspects of the play and to discuss them to the exclusion of others. Perhaps it is time to ask whether one should attempt a synthesis that makes some attempt to see the dominant motifs in the play in relation to each other: is there any way that we can begin to see this play whole? And, if we can, can we test our impressions against likely overall responses among members of Shakespeare's first audience? For if this play meant anything in particular when it was first performed, its mysteries will only be yielded up to those who are prepared to inquire what those particularities were. In short, what I am proposing here is the study of Antony and Cleopatra as a cultural artefact that can be reliably interpreted only in . terms of the broad cultural context from which it emerged.