Presentation on theme: "Antony and Cleopatra First lecture. Shakespeare’s comic tragedy? That paradox may define this play. It certainly contains the most fun, the most comedy."— Presentation transcript:
Antony and Cleopatra First lecture
Shakespeare’s comic tragedy? That paradox may define this play. It certainly contains the most fun, the most comedy of any of Sh’s tragedies. A sort of middle-aged Romeo and Juliet? But with little “tragic feel” in its ending. Differences from R & J. The joking, the puns, continue right up to the ending. And the play ends with something of a feel of triumph, that A & C have somehow won in spite of the fact that they die. Perhaps the main paradox of a play full of paradoxes.
Differences from Sh’s other “great” tragedies Does human evil have any role in the play? Cleo? She bears the main responsibility for “ruining” Antony. But are we on her side? Octavius? Just doing his “Roman” job? Role of gender: in the other tragedies, masculinity, maleness, seems to rule. And the agency of women, save for the special case of Lady M, is limited. In the comedies, by contrast, femaleness (I’m eschewing “femininity”) rules: e.g., Beatrice, Portia, Rosalind, Viola. Males must yield to females, or values traditionally associated with women, in comedy. But the “tragedy” of A & C breaks this mold. Cleo rules. And unlike Lady M, she doesn’t ask to be “unsexed.” Au contraire!
That first scene Contrast of theatricality and mere text? Text seems to make Philo’s point: “this dotage of our general’s/ O’erflows the measure.” See Philo’s theatrical invitation: ll What do we “behold and see”? Of course he’s right – and Demetrius agrees. Q.E.D Philo. Everything Philo had said in the first 10 lines is born out. Antony is certainly ga-ga for Cleo, over-top-top, head- over-heals in love. Rome? Fugedaboutit. Clip from Royal Shakspeare Company production film (1974) with Janet Suzman and Richard Johnson (strongly recommended) – first scene. What else do we “behold and see”?
The “world” of Antony and Cleopatra The most wide-ranging of Shakespeare’s plays? The “world” stretches from Alexandria to Rome, encompasses Messina (Misenum,in Sicily), Pompey’s galley (off Messina), Athens, Actium, even some place in Syria. So much for Aristotle’s “unity of place”! The historical significance of the battle of Actium? The “world” as defined by Rome and Egypt? And how Egypt is characterized: e.g., in I.2. And Antony: “a Roman thought hath struck him.” What’s “Roman”? The view from Rome: 1.4: in Caesar’s view, “A man who is the abstract of all faults/ That all men may follow.” Rome, by contrast?
Egyptian values Cleo’s subjectivism: I.5. “what was he, sad or merry?” Her “revisionism”: “O brave Caesar”? “O brave Antony”! And extravagance: Everyday a greeting “Or I’ll unpeople Egypt.” Fishing, Cleo style: II.5 Out drinking Antony – and dressing him in her clothes! And how to treat a messenger: II. 28ff. “I have a mind to strike thee ere thou speakest.” And her response to the bad news... Recall Antony’s “Roman” response to a messenger at I.2: 94ff. The messenger’s return in III.3: the messenger’s report on Octavia: “low-voiced” and not as tall as Cleo become “Dull of tongue and dwarfish.” Her gait? Her years: thirty. A Pintereque pause? (The historical Cleo was 39.) In any case, no response from Cleo. Her face, her hair? “The man hath seen some majesty, and should know.”
Roman values Antony on Fulvia: “There’s a great spirit gone.” She had been waging war on Antony’s part (II.2.47ff., 66ff) (Cleo’s “Can Fulvia die?”) Octavius: I : duty and pleasure. Antony’s previous forbearance: 56ff. The need for discrete speech: Maecenas vs. Enobarbus II.2.105ff. Agrippa’s proposal: Roman purposes for marriage. Caesar’s ratification of this: ll So let’s get going on Pompey!
Image of Egypt/Cleo in Rome Maecenas: “You stayed well by’t in Egypt.” (i.e., tell us about it!). Eno: “I will tell you.” And he does. A poetry of paradox and hyperbole. Baroque vision? Think of Titian (Prof. Snyder’s slide of Titian’s Venus), Bernini, Agrippa: “O, rare for Antony.” “Rare Egyptian!” Eno’s poetic elegance, to which Agrippa responds... “Royal wench!...” Making “defect perfection.” Antony leave her? “Never. He will not” And his wrapping her in paradox, Over against the good Roman [and English] virtues of Octavia.