Antony and Cleopatra: initial thoughts

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?

So needless to say, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

And now after a first read?

I’m still not sure about this play and my feelings toward it.

In some ways, it feels modern, almost screenplay-like, with its short scenes with huge location jumps.

In other ways, it feels like a stereotypical tragedy in that you’ve got the “winner” (who gets to write history) in Octavian, who’s left pronouncing last words over dead bodies.

I’m looking forward to a second read and a deep dive.

I know I want to hit some subjects:

  • Enobarbus
  • That barge speech
  • Antony from this play vs. from Julius Caesar
  • Octavian from this play vs. from Julius Caesar
  • Cleopatra’s bad rap/rep
  • The use of narrative or expository characters in the play
  • The view of women in the play
  • The role of performance in the play

And those are just off the top of my head. There will be others, I’m sure.

Anything you want discussed?

Let me know in the comments below…

2 Replies to “Antony and Cleopatra: initial thoughts”

  1. I’m so glad you’re taking on A&C! I’ve seen some memorable productions of over the years (including Vanessa Redgrave as Cleopatra in a West End production in the mid 1980s), but I’ve never really felt any of the pity, horror, or sense of waste that the other great tragedies induce in me. Antony and Cleopatra strike me as more petty and privileged than tragic. I feel more sorry for Troilus and Cressida at the end of their play than I do for this manipulative, self-centered pair. And yet critics, scholars, and teachers that I admire very much count this as one of their favorite plays, so I know I have a lot to learn….

    1. Hi, Jean.

      I totally understand your feelings, and I share many of them. I’d love to hear about the Redgrave production.

      Petty and privileged. Yup. Manipulative and self-centered. Absolutely. Spoiled and superficial, works for me as well.

      I’m hoping to find more depth in a deeper dive into the text, but I’m with you: I’m not getting the (seeming) universal love for this play, especially those who are all a-flutter over Cleopatra, calling her one of the great Shakespearean female roles.

      Should be an interesting half-dozen or so weeks ahead…


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