So, I’m looking at the appearances of Antony and Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra, and I note something of interest. The two of them are alone together on stage…
And even that one, I almost missed. In Act Four, Scene Twelve, Antony is in despair and railing against Cleopatra to Scarus, who exits in line 17, leaving Antony alone to continue to vent in soliloquy. Cleopatra arrives at line 30, only to have Antony chase her away in line 39.
One scene. Ten lines. Of which Cleopatra speaks:
One: “Why is my lord enraged against his love?” (IV.xii.31)
Antony doesn’t answer, but rather orders her to leave else face physical violence, causing damage to “Caesar’s triumph” (IV.xii.33), going on to describe the degradation that awaits her in Rome. And she leaves.
So it got me thinking: what about the other Shakespearean classic couples?
Let’s start with the other two title couples:
- Romeo and Juliet appear in two scenes together alone (if you don’t count the tomb scene) for just under 200 lines.
- Troilus and Cressida appear alone on stage together three times for around 110 lines (much more if you count when Pandarus is around, which I don’t).
And the other big-time couples off the top of my head?
- In The Taming of the Shrew, Kate and Petruchio are alone together onstage only twice for just over 100 lines.
- In Othello, the Moor and Desdemona shared the stage with each other and no one else only twice as well, for over 130 lines (150, if you count Othello’s lines over the sleeping Desdemona to start the final scene).
- In Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice and Benedick are onstage alone together three times for around 140 lines.
- And Lord and Lady Macbeth? Five scenes together on stage alone for a whopping 200 lines.
You get the point. The closest comparison couple I could find (and call out any you think I left out–by the way, I purposely left out any couple in which one partner is in disguise) was Hamlet and Ophelia, who appear together alone only once for under 50 lines (and no scenes at all if you don’t count that scene since because Claudius and Polonius are eavesdropping). That being said, I don’t really consider them a couple (of course, I’m sure Ophelia would beg to differ if she was around, but…well, you know).
One scene, ten lines, in Antony and Cleopatra.
Supposedly one of the classic couples in the Canon, and ten lines are all they share together on stage alone. In every other scene, they have others on stage with them. Listening. An audience.
But it’s these ten lines Shakespeare makes sure are their only ones alone.
I’m not sure.