Yesterday, I noted the many times in Antony and Cleopatra that we see a motif of performance and acting. There were quite a few.
Today, I’ve got no major revelations–just some questions…
If some of our couple’s interactions (either with each other or just for other audiences) are obvious performances, but all other statements (save for 10 lines) are made in front of (and in knowledge of) others–an audience–what are these two at their core?
What roles are they playing?
and (maybe more importantly)
Who are they really?
As I noted a couple of days back, Antony and Cleopatra share only 10 lines together where they are audience-less. And they’re not a pretty double-handful of lines, full of rebukes, spite and threats of Antony to Cleopatra. I would hate to say that this moment is when we actually see them, the real them.
I would usually argue in a case like this that their “real” selves are revealed in their soliloquies. Only there’s a problem with that. Cleopatra, remember, has no soliloquies.
No soliloquies. Only one line of the ten shared lines (and that a question). And she’s the one most invested in the diction of performance and theatricality in the play. Does she have a “real” self? Or is she only an act, an enigma?
And is that what ultimately dooms their relationship?
Antony has five soliloquies. The first two both weigh his responsibilities in Rome with his desires in Egypt. The last three–all after her military abandonment of him (for the second time)–all rail against her. Is what we’ve seen (her failure to live up to either her promises or his expectations–high and even higher) and what we’ve heard (in his soliloquies) the evidence we need as an audience to deduce her emptiness? That there’s no “there” there in Cleopatra?
Is she empty?
Or just unknowable in an exotic way?
Are we supposed to fear and disdain her alien-ness? Or be allured by her inscrutable enigma?
And Antony? Is he a military man who loses it all because of (what is described in the very first LINE of the play) his “dotage” (I.i.1)? Is his play-acting an attempt to put the military past behind him, only the wars–like the mob for Michael Corleone–pull him back in? Out of his now-chosen role? Back into a role for which he is no longer fit?
Lots of questions. And not necessarily fun ones… it may just be me, but they (and this play) seem to be more frustrating than fascinating.