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All for Love (play)

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All for Love (play)

All for Love or, the World Well Lost, is a heroic drama by John Dryden written in 1677. Today, it is Dryden's best-known and most performed play. It is a tragedy written in blank verse and is an attempt on Dryden's part to reinvigorate serious drama. It is an acknowledged imitation of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, and focuses on the last hours of the lives of its hero and heroine.[1]


Combining the unities of classical theatre and the style of Shakespearean drama, Dryden creates an elaborately formal production in which fashionable philosophies of the time could be discussed and debated in a public atmosphere. Dryden used the theatre as a forum for testing problematic philosophical, moral and political questions. The results of these investigations were to form the basis of his later works.

The original 1677 production by the King's Company starred Charles Hart as Marc Antony and Elizabeth Boutell as Cleopatra, with Michael Mohun as Ventidius and Katherine Corey as Octavia.[2] All for Love; also called, The World Well Lost is a tragedy by John Dryden, first acted and printed in 1677. Dryden deals in this play with the same subject as that of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Whilst, however, the elder poet "diffused the action of his play over Italy, Greece, and Egypt," Dryden laid every scene in the city of Alexandria. Moreover, he "contents himself with the concluding scene of Antony's history, instead of introducing the incidents of the war with Pompey, the negotiation with Lepidus, death of his first wife, and other circumstances which, in Shakespeare, only tend to distract our attention from the main interest of the drama" (Sir Walter Scott). Dryden, says Saintsbury, "omits whatever in the original story is shocking and repulsive from the romantic point of view.... The best pieces of All for Love cannot, of course, challenge comparison with the best pieces of Shakespeare ... but the best passages of this play, and, what is more, its general facture and style, equal, with certain time-allowance, the best things of Beaumont and Fletcher, and therefore the best things of almost any English tragedian save Shakespeare." The original cast included Hart as Antony, Mohun as Ventidius, Clarke as Dolabella, Goodman as Alexas, Griffin as Serapion, Mrs. Boutell as Cleopatra, Mrs. Corey as Octavia. The play was revived at Lincoln's Inn Fields in February 1704, with Betterton as Antony, Mrs. Barry as Cleopatra, Wilks as Dolabella, and Mrs. Bracegirdle as Octavia; at Drury Lane in December 1718, with Booth as Antony, Mrs. Oldfield as Cleopatra, and Mrs. Porter as Octavia.


Mary Ann Yates as Cleopatra by Edward Edwards, 1777
Act One

Serapion describes foreboding omens (of storms, whirlwinds, and the flooding of the Nile) of Egypt's impending doom. Alexas, Cleopatra's eunuch, dismisses Serapion's claims and is more concerned with Cleopatra's relationship with Antony. He sees that Cleopatra dotes on Antony and worries that Antony will not continue seeing Cleopatra. Thus, Serapion hosts a festival to celebrate Antony's honour.

Ventidius, a Roman general, comes to aide Antony in Alexandria. Ventidius disagrees with Antony's relationship with Cleopatra and offers to give Antony troops if he leaves her. Although Antony is insulted by Ventidius's opinions regarding Cleopatra (and refuses to hear anything negative about her), Antony agrees.

Act Two

Cleopatra mourns about her situation without Antony. Charmion, Cleopatra's lady in waiting, attempts to set up a meeting between Cleopatra and Antony, but she is unsuccessful. Cleopatra thus sends Alexas to try to win back Antony using gifts (jewels including a bracelet). Alexas suggests that Cleopatra should tie the bracelet onto Antony's wrist. In the subsequent meeting between Cleopatra and Antony, Ventidius appears and tries to proclaim how Cleopatra is not Antony's rightful partner and would betray him for her own safety. However, Cleopatra wins this argument by demonstrating a letter showing that she refused Egypt and Syria from Octavius. Antony is overjoyed by Cleopatra's decision and proclaims his love for her.

Act Three

Antony is returning from battle and is overwhelmed with love for Cleopatra. Ventidius comes to speak with Antony, who attempts to flee unsuccessfully. Antony does not want to go back to war but doesn't know how to stop it. He believes Dolabella can help him and Ventidius brings Dolabella out. Dolabella, Antony's friend, appears after Antony's success in battle. Dolabella was banished for his love for Cleopatra, but he returns to a warm welcome from Antony. Dolabella offers a gift that will bring peace between Antony and Caesar. The gift is Octavia, Antony's true wife and Caesar's sister, and Antony's two daughters. Octavia tells Antony the war will stop when he returns to his rightful place, by her side. Antony and Octavia reunite, and Alexas's attempts to meddle for the sake of Cleopatra are dismissed. Cleopatra appears informed of her defeat. Alexas tells her to avoid Octavia but Cleopatra chooses to face her as a rival. Cleopatra and Octavia have an argument, it seems clear that Octavia is whom Antony rightfully belongs to, even if it is not she whom he loves most.

Act Four

Antony has been convinced by Octavia that his rightful place is by her side, in Rome, with his children. Antony plans to leave but does not have the strength to tell Cleopatra himself. Antony asks Dolabella to tell Cleopatra he is leaving so that Antony will not be persuaded to stay. Ventidius overhears that Dolabella will be going to Cleopatra to bid her farewell. He also sees her divising a plan with Alexas to inspire jealousy in Antony by way of Dolabella. Ventidius and Octavia see Dolabella taking Cleopatra's hand, but when the time comes to make a move romantically, both of them fall apart from the guilt of their betrayal. Ventidius tells Antony that Cleopatra and Dollabella have become lovers and Octavia also bears witness. Ventidius then asks Alexas to testify to the same story, which Alexas believes to be. Antony is infuriated by this information, but is still looking for some loophole that would confirm Cleopatra's innocence. Antony's belief in Cleopatra's innocence hurts Octavia and she leaves permanently. When Dolabella and Cleopatra try to explain themselves Antony refuses to believe them.

Act Five

Antony takes Cleopatra's naval fleet and sails to Caesar where he is greeted like an old friend. They then sail back to Alexandria. When Cleopatra hears of this Alexas tells her to flee and that he will attempt to make amends with Caesar. Cleopatra tells him this would make him a traitor and that he cannot go to Caesar. Cleopatra flees and Alexas is left behind. Antony and Ventidius meet up and prepare to fight. Alexas, Cleopatra's messenger, comes and informs Antony that Cleopatra is dead. Antony then tells Ventidus to end his life, but Ventidius refuses and kills himself. With Ventidius dead, Antony then tried and failed to commit suicide. Cleopatra then comes in and sees Antony, still living, but on the verge of death. Antony dies. Cleopatra then kills herself. Serapion delivers their eulogy.



In "All for Love," honour is a concept associated chiefly with Rome. Antony's military and political strength are inextricably tied to his strong loyalties to the Roman empire.

Personal and political

Every character in this play is influenced by both personal and political motivations from the powerful Marc Antony to the rest of the cast. Personal and political motives affect the central themes of love and honour. Marc Antony has an internal conflict in choosing between his family, Octavia and his two daughters, and his mistress, Cleopatra.The main character, Marc Antony, shirks his political duty for the sake of his love relationship with Cleopatra. His peers deem Marc Antony's actions to be irresponsible and believe will be the cause of his downfall. In the end, Marc Antony dies (V.402), Cleopatra dies (V.498), and Octavius wins the war. In the end, Marc Antony and Cleopatra, who cared more about personal matters, die, while Octavius, who cares more about political power, becomes Caesar.


The deaths taking place within this plot is "all for love." They show "love" for one's country and/or loved ones. Antony kills himself after falling under the false pretense that Cleopatra is dead. His servant, in an act of loyalty and honour to his country and master, kills himself before Antony. Cleopatra distraught over the death of her beloved Antony, applies the aspes' venom to her arm and falls to eternal death on Antony's chest. The Eygyptian servants decide to follow their Queen in death.


Throughout "All for love," Dryden illustrates the vast cultural differences. Rome is characterised by its military predominance. The Egyptian culture focus more on domestic affairs instead of political matters. Antony's presence in Egypt represents Rome's political culture, while Cleopatra's presence reflects the personal or domestic aspects of Egyptian society. Their deaths symbolise their cultures.

Emotional weaknesses

Despite holding great positions of power, both Antony and Cleopatra are weakened by their overwhelming love for one another. Antony's ability to fulfill his military and political duties is hindered by his consistent emotional preoccupation with his love, Cleopatra. Cleopatra rejects offers of other kingdoms, prevents Egypt's growth, neglects her queenly duties, and throws her country into submission to the Romans all because of her infatuation with Antony.


Antony betrays Caesar by going back to Cleopatra and not staying with Octavia. Antony leaves his troops behind during battle to follow Cleopatra; complete betrayal to his own troops.


Jealousy is predominately demonstrated in the interactions of Cleopatra towards Octavia. We can see through the passages that Cleopatra is jealous not only of Octavia's affiliation with Mark Antony, but additionally her great beauty.


Power in this play is exhibited in many ways. In the beginning Cleopatra tries to get power over Antony. There are many types of power exhibited, such as the power of beauty and the power over the people.


There are two types of strategies in this play, the strategy of war and the strategy of love. The strategy of love is more important in this play then the strategy of war. The strategy of war is based on the relationships that all the main characters share with other powerful countries. In Antony's case, his army is spread out all over the Middle East and lacks a Navy, so these two factors severely hurt his army's chances of winning against the Romans. Antony and Cleopatra are trying to make their love work. The people around are using any means possible to pull the lovers apart.


The Play's Dedication and its Political Context

John Dryden dedicated his play All For Love to the leader of the anti-French movement at court, Thomas Osborne, Lord Treasurer and Earl of Danby. The Dedication critiques Whiggery and "republican" politics, or political practices which strove to continue the Reformation in England. The Dedication also critiques the aggressive and intolerant Anglicanism present in England. Danby was himself prejudiced against Catholics. This prejudice led to his opposition of Charles II’s alliances with the Catholic French. When the Dedication was published in 1678, Danby was at a difficult point in his career. Shortly before the fall of Ghent to Louis XIV's forces, and the signing of a peace treaty at Nijmegen between the Dutch Republic and France, Danby was attempting to arrange an unpopular Anglo-Dutch alliance against the French. Using his Dedication, Dryden took advantage of this political turmoil by attempting to befriend Danby, one of the most powerful members of the Cabinet. There were many potential benefits for Dryden's decision to dedicate his play to Danbury. One reason for Dryden's choice was the economic advantages he incurred. As treasurer, Danbury had the opportunity to monetarily reward underpaid poets. Danbury paid Dryden his full salary as poet laureate from 1673–77 even though the treasury was heavily depleted at the time. However, Dryden's choice of dedicatee also allowed him to highlight the political, as well as romantic, follies within the play. Dryden uses the Dedication to advise Danby to adopt a more moderate political stance. Additionally, Dryden uses the Dedication to demonstrate the similarities between his patron's life and the characters in All for Love.

The Dedication was written in the winter of 1678, at a time when Danby was voicing his opposition to King Charles’ affections for both French and Catholic subjects. Danby was given the position of treasurer following the forced resignation of Thomas Clifford in 1673. He immediately tried to convince King Charles to reinstate a nationalistic line of politics, which had proven beneficial for England from 1669–71.[3] Danby and his ally Lauderdale attempted to shift the King’s support from foreign to native advisors. They met in October 1674, for the first of what would become a series of meetings with Anglican bishops to prepare for the Parliamentary session in the spring of 1675. The religious leaders agreed with Danby’s anti-Catholic sentiments, stating that the laws against popery and dissent would prove satisfactory if they were enforced. Danby then convinced a hesitant King Charles to both revoke the preaching licenses given to dissenters in 1672 and more strictly reinforce the laws against Catholics. Dryden was opposed to Danby’s avid support for policies such as these, which severely limited the rights of non-Protestants living in England. He was able to foresee the potentially negative impact that such exclusionary policies may present for Danby’s political career. Dryden therefore uses the Dedication to advise Danby to adopt a more moderate viewpoint.

Despite his expected opposition, in 1676 Danby was made aware of a secret treaty between Charles and Louis XIV. The document bound the two monarchs to convene for discussion before either country could sign treaties with the States General of the Dutch Republic. Danby attempted to nullify the treaty, despite having helped negotiate its conditions. However, while trying to nullify the treaty, Danby was attempting to negotiate French bribes for himself. Despite Danby's seemingly conflicted dealings with the French, in 1677 he became more aggressive in his anti-French and anti-Catholic political stance. Danby felt his calls for war would win him the support of the Opposition members of Parliament, increase Britain's commercial concessions from Spain and the Netherlands, and situate Charles as a renowned Protestant King, able to salvage Europe from Catholic influences and King Louis. King Charles however began to grow displeased with Danby's anti-French sentiments because they interfered with both his efforts to increase sympathy for Catholics in England and his desire to collect French bribes.

With his Dedication, Dryden attempts to restore Danby and King Charles’ relationship. To achieve this goal, Dryden uses biographical information about his patron to highlight the noble aspects of Danby's career. In the Dedication, Dryden discusses how Danby managed to bring order to the chaotic treasury department he inherited. While Dryden does celebrate Danby's character strengths, he also uses the Dedication to offer Danby advice, demonstrating his own authority at being able to advise the Lord Treasurer. For example, Dryden critiques Danby's habit of conforming to the pressures of his inferiors and surrendering some of his political aspirations in the name of bureaucracy.

The biographical information Dryden provides, not only serves to advise Danby, but also accentuates his similarities to characters in All for Love. Danby was elected to office because of his reputation for being an independent thinker, not easily swayed by the majority. However, by the time Dryden composed the Dedication, Danby's only independent policies focused on efforts to increase anti-Catholic and anti-French sentiments. Dryden offers a solution to Danby's political struggles. He suggests that were Danby to assume a position between king and servant, he would no longer be subjected to the conflict between independence and political duty. In other words, Dryden recommends in the Dedication that Danby replicate the king's behaviour without overstepping his authority, while maintaining a connection with the British subjects without compromising his status. By advocating moderation, Dryden also effectually demonstrates his support for King Charles’ policies of tolerance within government and the church, condemning Danby's aggressive anti-French and anti-Catholic sentiments.[4] Dryden also portrays the benefits of political moderation in the plot and character dynamic of his play All for Love. Within the play, the more reasonable, moderate and compassionate character of Dollabella is ultimately a more valuable advisor for Antony than the militant and aggressive Ventidius. Dryden combines his own political philosophies with character portrayals and the plot line from his play All for Love to provide his patron, the Lord Treasurer with advice.

Dryden alludes to the many correlations between Danby's personal life and the characters in All for Love. However, the presence of a Cleopatra figure in Danby's life is noticeably absent from the Dedication. In reality, at the time the Dedication was written Danby was carrying on an affair with the duchess of Portsmouth, Louise de Kéroualle who also happened to be French-Catholic.[5] Dryden strategically does not mention the duchess in the Dedication to avoid highlighting the hypocrisy of Danby's staunch anti-Catholic and anti-French political position. Despite Dryden's omission, several known historical facts demonstrate the similarities between Danby and de Kéroualle's relationship and the relationship of Antony and Cleopatra as portrayed in Dryden's play All for Love. For example, from 1670 until he was impeached, Danby used his position to procure money and jewels for de Kéroualle. This illicit distribution of wealth is not dissimilar from the exchange of goods that takes place between Antony and Cleopatra in All for Love. Cleopatra presents Antony with various ornaments; such as the ruby bracelet she gives him before he enters into battle. Cleopatra gives Antony these jewels in an effort to maintain his affections and presence in Egypt. Danby also presents de Kéroualle with gifts in an effort to secure her as his mistress. In both the real world relationship between Danby and de Kéroualle and the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra in Dryden's All for Love, jewels are exchanged in an attempt to bind clandestine affairs. Another parallel between the two relationships is that in both affairs, the male figures attempt to use their love for political gains. In All for Love, Antony attempts to use Cleopatra's Egyptian military to assist in his battle against Caesar. Similarly it is known that Danby and Lauderdale used de Kéroualle, and her influence as one of Charles’ mistresses, to defeat their political opponent Shaftesbury and therefore remain top advisors to the king. Though Dryden strove to disguise Danby's relationship with de Kéroualle in the Dedication to hide the hypocrisy of his relationship with a French-Catholic woman, many satirists at the time were not so forgiving.

Dryden uses the Dedication to not only offer advice on political matters, but he also seems to offer advice on how Danby should navigate his romantic relationship. In Dryden's play All for Love, it is implied that Cleopatra's foreign country, religion and appearance all contribute to her allure for Antony. Biographical information indicates that her foreign beauty is also what attracted Danby to de Kéroualle. Dryden implies that a more acceptable relationship for Danby might resemble Dollabella's relationship with Cleopatra. Dollabella respects Cleopatra's beauty and admits to his past love for her; however he is no longer actively pursuing her during the play, stepping aside instead for Antony. Dryden seems to suggest that Danby replicate Dollabella's model of moderation, and love de Kéroualle from afar while allowing her to be mistress solely to King Charles.

In the Dedication, Dryden offers his benefactor, Lord Treasurer Danby, both political and love advice that emphasises the value of moderation. Dryden's advice also corresponds with the predominant plot lines throughout his play All for Love. By counselling moderation, Dryden is suggesting that both politically and romantically, Danby should become more like Dollabella and less like the militant Ventidius and the impassioned Antony.


  1. ^ Dryden, John. All for Love. London:Nick Hern Books Limited, 1998.
  2. ^ John Downes, Roscius Anglicanus, London, 1708; Montague Summers, ed., London, Fortune Press [no date]; reprinted New York, Benjamin Blom, 1963; p. 11.
  3. ^ Huse, Ann A. “Cleopatra, Queen of the Seine: The Politics of Eroticism in Dryden’s “All for Love.” Huntington Library Quarterly 63 (2000): 23–46; 39
  4. ^ Huse, 41.
  5. ^ Huse, 45.

External links

  • Great Books Online
  • All for Love by John Dryden – plain text from Project Gutenberg
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