OK, so what does a director do when she has a historical character whose persona is so ingrained in the public imagination that no matter what the actual history says, the average audience member brings to the performance an image that creates (and sometimes overpowers) what she finds on stage. The classic example is the historical Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and the hatchet-job Willy Shakes did in Richard III. A king known for legal reform that helped the common man, the historical Richard suffered from scoliosis but did not appear deformed. Shakespeare’s Richard, however, is a hunchbacked, withered-armed, limping personification of evil. And that dictates the kind of Richard we continue to get on stage.
Why do I bring this up?
We face the same problem in this play with the distaff half of Antony and Cleopatra.
It’s Friday, and that’s movie release day, and so today, I’m going to start for Antony and Cleopatra a six-week Friday Film Focus (unlike our last play Macbeth, which had beaucoup de cinema, our pseudo-sequel to Julius Caesar has, well, let’s just say some slim pickin’s). Each week, I’ll present a capsule review of an A&C video, with full reviews coming in a future podcast.
In 2014, the Stratford Festival in Canada, as part of its “On Demand” series, captured on film their production of Antony and Cleopatra, directed for the stage by Gary Griffin, and for film by Barry Avrich, with Geralnt Wyn Davies as Antony, Yanna McIntosh as Cleopatra, and Tom McCamus as Enobarbus.
OK, so yesterday–before I was sidetracked by number crunching in regards to other romantic couples in Shakespeare (but it was fun, wasn’t it? *grin*)–I discussed the hellalong gap in Antony and Cleopatrathe play between Antony and Cleopatra the characters’ second and third appearances together in the play. 1249 lines, to be precise, comprising 41% of the length of the play itself (which is more than 2x the line count for the portion they are together in the entirety of the play), AND spanning from Act One, Scene Four to Act Three, Scene Seven, a total of fifteen scenes (and probably the intermission to boot–as the midpoint of the play occurs in the scene immediately before this one).
OK, when reading Antony and Cleopatra, I was struck by the huge (and I mean yuuuuuuge) chunk of the play that separates our titular characters’ second and third appearances together. From Act One, Scene Three, all the way to Act Three, Scene Seven, Shakespeare separates the lovers. Mathematically, that’s 41% of the total lines in the play.
This week’s Shakespeare news review includes Mark Rylance as Olivia, “Who wrote Shakespeare?”, scoring the Bard, and reviews. PLUS our usual recap of this week’s daily highlights in Shakespearean history.
Back when I was doing the plot synopsis for Act Three in Antony and Cleopatra, I mentioned the strange opening stage direction for Act Three, Scene Ten: “Canidius marcheth with his land army one way over the stage, and Taurus the lieutenant of Caesar the other way. After their going in is heard the noise of a sea fight” (III.x.opening s.d.).
OK, I had never read Antony and Cleopatra before this month. And I’ve only seen it once before, last year in Ashland. I thought that production felt disjointed (fast in the first half, frenetic in the second), but ultimately saved by the leads. I wasn’t sure if this disjointedness was the direction or the play itself.
The play is often referred to as a “mature tragedy.” Well, what the heck does that mean? That the protagonists are “of a certain age”? Or that the writing’s mature?
Previously on Antony and Cleopatra: Act One of the play begins with a doting Antony and a manipulative Cleopatra. Newly widowed, Antony decides to return to Rome and reconcile with Octavian Caesar and assist in the war against Pompey. In Act Two, the obvious tension and conflict between Octavian and Antony is only soothed by Antony’s marriage to Octavian’s sister Octavia, news of which brings much consternation to Cleopatra. Pompey accepts the truce offered, and the generals feast and all seems peaceful…for the moment. In Act Three, however, that peace is quickly destroyed: Octavian and Lepidus attack, defeat and kill Pompey. In turn, Antony returns to Cleopatra, marries her, and decides to meet Octavian’s superior navy with the Egyptian fleet. Antony is faced not only with defeat, but the defection of some of his troops. In Act Four, we see the lead-up to the battle of Actium, as well as its disastrous fallout, including the death of Enobarbus, Eros, and Antony. And with Octavian waiting in the wings, Cleopatra is ready to meet her maker as well.
After acts of five, seven, thirteen, and fifteen scenes, Act Five has a measly two scenes. But that last one, the culmination of the Antony and Cleopatra, is the longest in the play by far. So let’s dive in, shall we?