I’ve talked a little (well, maybe not a little) about the concept of performances and acting in Antony and Cleopatra. Our titular couple seems to act any role but that of themselves, so much so that I question who they really are.
There’s another angle to this performance relationship, however…
What if one of their roles is that of the other?
Lemme ‘splain (in a less than straightforward, a little more circuitous manner)…
Philo, who opens the play with disdain of Antony’s “dotage” (I.i.1) and his “transform[ation] // Into a strumpet’s fool” (I.i.12-3), tells Demetrius, “Sir, sometimes when he is not Antony // He comes too short of that great property // Which still should go with Antony” (I.i.57-9). He feels that Antony has become less than Antony.
Octavian tells Lepidus that Antony “is not more manlike // Than Cleopatra, nor the queen of Ptolemy // More womanly than he” (I.iv.5-7). Octavian calls into question Antony’s masculinity, especially in relative comparison to Cleopatra.
In defense of the emotional Octavian, Agrippa recalls Antony’s own emotional past: “When Antony found Julius Caesar dead, // He cried almost to roaring; and he wept // When at Philippi he found Brutus slain” (III.ii.54-6). Of course, Enobarbus explains this away by saying Antony had suffered from runny eyes (“rheum” [III.ii.57]).
And it’s not just others who see this femininity in Antony…and it’s just not what’s in Antony, but what’s on Antony… Cleopatra recalls one of their early dalliances:
I laughed him into patience; and next morn
Ere the ninth hour I drunk him to his bed;
Then put my tires and mantles on him, whilst
I wore his sword Philippan.
In drunken revelry, she puts her clothes (“tires and mantles”) on him, while she wears his sword.
In Act One, Scene Two, when Cleopatra enters, Enobarbus says, “Hush, here comes Antony,” only to have Charmian respond, “Not he, the queen” (both I.ii.78). Antony doesn’t enter for another eight lines. In an earlier posting, I mentioned this as possible evidence of Enobarbus’ intoxication. But what if Enobarbus actually thought this woman was Antony? Is Antony’s Cleopatra cosplay (costume-play for those who don’t attend Comic Cons) so common that Enobarbus has seen it…and thinks this is another example? Maybe. (note: Charlton Heston makes use of this in the opening of his 1972 film).
Does it matter than in Shakespeare’s day, female roles were already played by men?