Presentation on theme: "Antony and Cleopatra Third lecture: the epistemology of Cleo."— Presentation transcript:
Antony and Cleopatra Third lecture: the epistemology of Cleo
The fourth dimension? With Enobarbus’ “death by thought,” we seem to enter new territory. It goes along with the strange, rather mystical stage direction, “Music of the hautboys is under the stage.” What is this music? One asserts it’s “Music i’ th’ air.” Another that it’s “Under the earth.” Does it “sign well”? “No,” another replies. Is it the god Hercules leaving Antony? The only thing they agree on is that “’Tis strange.” Do we ever know what this music means?
The last battle Antony’s squire is “Eros.” (As Macbeth’s was “Seyton?) Does all of the rhetoric of IV.4 lead us to expect Antony’s victory? “The morn is fair,” etc. Similarly with IV.8: the language of the victory sounds like ancient epic: “our gests.” “You have all shown Hectors.” Cleo’s greeting to him at ll. 16-18. Antony demands that Scarus kiss Cleo’s hand. And she promises him “An armor all of gold.” We seem to be in the world of epic, of “the story” as Enobarbus had expressed it. Not in a world of sober historical events. As maybe Antony’s brief victory makes clear.
And the real last battle Which Antony loses. And blames entirely on Cleopatra’s treachery: IV.12. Seems a repeat of his loss at Actium. Antony in a towering rage: “This foul Egyptian hath betrayed me.” “Triple-turned whore!” And he’s ready to kill her: “The witch shall die.” What’s the truth of this? Strangely, the play never tells us. But she does, presumably without meaning to, trick him into suicide. Antony’s rage is only abated by Cleo’s report of her death.
“Not know me yet?” Cleo’s question back in III.13, when Antony had found her with Thidias and had him whipped. But it hangs over the rest of the play. What’s to know? The “epistemology of Cleopatra.” (Greek episteme, knowledge.) What can the characters know of Cleopatra? What can the audience know? Enobarbus’ betrayal of Antony seems in part to come of his doubt of Cleo: at III.13 an aside: “Sir, sir, thou [Antony] art so leaky/ That we must leave thee to thy sinking, for/ Thy dearest quit thee.” But as he dies, he repents his betrayal of Antony, praying to the feminine moon. And dies “of thought.” With Enobarbus gone, we’re on our own.
Without knowledge, what? Antony feels his identity melting: IV.14. “I cannot hold this visible shape,” he tells Eros. And the language is also sexual: he tells Mardian – the eunuch! – “she has robbed me of my sword.” But Mardian insists: ll. 24-25. Can we know if this is true? What follows isn’t true: her “death.” So Antony is tricked into suicide? Again epic, legend, “the story”: “Eros, I come, my queen. – Eros! Stay for me...” The realm of Dido and Aeneas. The comedy of Antony’s almost suicide. “April Fool!” Cleo’s not dead, just locked in her monument. And Diomedes comes to bring “the truth.” The what?!
Should we give up on Cleo at this point? After all, she won’t even leave her monument. But what follows is the strangest, and theatrically most difficult, scene in the play. The actor playing Antony has be hauled up to the upper stage. And Cleo’s language is both weirdly comic and sexual. Antony’s “Give me some wine, and let me speak a while.” Even as he dies, Cleo seems to cajole and tease. “The soldier’s pole is fallen.” Her seeming death – will she die “of thought”? “No more but e’en a woman...” Are we ready to forgive Cleopatra?
But she still puzzles The Egyptian messenger: V.1 Caesar’s intentions – and trickery. Cleo: “’Tis paltry to be Caesar:/ Not being Fortune, he’s but Fortune’s knave.” And Proculeius too tricked? Does she intend to die? She tries – and vows at V.2, 49ff.
“I dreamt there was an emperor Antony” Cleo tells her dream to the treacherous Dolabella. Her dream seems to create an Antony coterminous with the whole world. And encompasses the sense of paradox we saw in Eno’s vision of Cleo on her barge at Cydnus. A’s bounty “grew the more by reaping.” “His delights/ Were dolphinlike, they showed his back above the element he lived in.” Such a man possible? “Gentle madam, no.” “You lie... But if there be nor ever were one such,/ It’s past the size of dreaming.” Nature can’t compete with “fancy” (the imagination, thought of as a frivolous – feminine -- power). BUT even to imagine an Antony “were nature’s piece [accomplishment] ‘gainst fancy,/ Condemning shadows quite.” The imagination, in this sense, is not frivolous, but a part of nature, i.e., not just “fancy.” This Antony existed, still exists. Cleopatra – and Shakespeare – invent philosophic idealism?
Caesar and the game with Seleucus With Caesar, is Cleo up to her old tricks? What about her vow of dying? “Which is the Queen of Egypt?” Is he blind?! What does she intend with Caesar? She confesses the frailties, “which before have often shamed our sex.” And Caesar’s nasty threat. Why does she call Seleucus to witness the truth of what she’s listed of her wealth? And why does he betray her? Was she serious about trying to buy favor with Caesar? Or was this a way to demonstrate something to him? Seleucus a “soulless villain.” But seems to make up to Caesar. But sees through it all: “He words me, girls, he words me...”
And Shakespeare’s game with us Cleo imagines the humiliation of being taken in triumph to Rome, V.2, 210ff. “Mechanic slaves/ With greasy aprons...” As are watching in the Globe? “The quick comedians/ Extemporally will stage us, and present/ Our Alexandrian revels; Antony/ Shall be brought drunken forth, and I shall see/ Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness/ I’ th’ posture of a whore.” Which is, of course, what the Elizabethan audience was watching. A challenge to the theatrical imagination analogous to Cleo’s challenge to Dolabella? Our faith in imaginative power of theater? Our faith in Cleopatra?
Immortal biting/immortal longings Cleo’s resolution – now “Roman” in a higher sense? The malaproping countryman a marvelous conception. The asp’s bite is “immortal.” “A very honest woman, but something given to lie.” “a woman is a dish for the gods, if the devil dress her not.” “I wish you joy o’ th’ worm.” And Cleo’s “immortal longings.” “I am fire and air; my other elements/ I give to baser life.” Mock jealousy of Iras. The asp “the baby at my breast.” Caesar notices she’s unchanged in death, looking as if “she would catch another Antony.” And Caesar is cheated of his triumph. Says she and Antony are rather to be buried together: “No grave upon the earth shall clip in it/ A pair so famous.” And even Caesar has to admit that they’re just as famous as he is (359-62). Who wins?