Time flies

Antony and Cleopatra, like Julius Caesar before it, plays with time, as we’ve noted before. The events of the play’s opening take place in 40 BCE (with Fulvia’s death), and they end in 30 BCE (with the deaths of our titular characters).

That’s ten years passing from beginning to end of the play.


The question must be asked: As a director, do you try to show the passage of time? If so, how?

Or do you ignore it? Does the concept of time play a big enough role in the narrative (as it does in, say, Romeo and Juliet) to merit its focus? Or rather, do you make the pacing of the play the key, driving the narrative forward quickly, showing a lack of time for our characters to make better decisions?

I lean toward having the passage of time play some kind of role in the presentation. I think it’s supported in the text. There are five references to Antony’s relative age; four are in the second half of the play (after Act Three, Scene Seven–when we jump ahead five years in actual history). Cleopatra’s eight references are split evenly between the two halves. Youthful Octavian’s seven references are mostly in the back half (five versus two). And of the six general mentions of age/youth, the second half references outnumber the first half 2-to-1. If time and age are more on the minds of the characters in the second half of the play (of Antony’s thirteen spoken references, eleven are in the second half; all of Octavian’s three spoken references are there as well), it would make sense that time is passing (because I have reached “a certain age,” I know time and age are more pressing matters to me now than they were when I was in my “salad days” [II.i.73]).

Which takes us back to the the subordinate question in our first query: how do we make such a presentation? Do you present the dates on the stage somehow? Do you “age” the characters? This is dangerous, though; make-up is one thing that should not call attention to itself.

Questions… but no easy answers.