Happy Halloween, Bardophiles!
So. Here we are. At the end of our time-share somewhere between Rome and Alexandria. At the end of three–count ‘em! Three!–months with that slap-and-tickle couple, Antony and Cleopatra.
And I’m happy to be hitting the road and heading to … well, more on that in a minute.
Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about this play. It’s held in pretty high esteem by many critics, who’ve called it the last great tragedy, a mature tragedy. But, what does that even mean? That the characters are of–shall we say?–a certain age? That the writing’s mature?
I’m not sure. On either count.
Sure, Antony and Cleopatra are old(er). Kind of. Over the course of the real-world history in the play, Antony ages from 43 to 53 (my age at this moment in time… so, yeah, for him, I’ll buy “old”), while Cleopatra ages from 29 to 39. I wouldn’t call 39 old…but of course, I’ve got crushes on Tina Fey, Salma Hayek, Marisa Tomei, and Taraji P. Henson…all on my side of 45. And I’d call neither of our characters mature; neither acts as what I would expect “grown-ups” to behave.
These are two people who, I suppose, are past their primes in their respective fields of expertise. For Antony, it’s the nexus of military and political leadership; for Cleopatra, the combination of leadership and allure. It feels as if both are playing at being in love, but it’s hard to discern if it’s real, and if it is, that what that love ultimately is. And we don’t (or at least I didn’t) get much insight into who these people really are when they drop their masks…mainly because I’m not sure they ever do. Cleopatra has no soliloquies, and Antony’s are not exactly revelatory.
That’s not to say i didn’t find some aspects in the play interesting. I find Enobarbus to be a fascinating character; and Antony’s replacement of this barbarous right hand man with one who is literally named Love (Eros) is wonderfully fitting for Antony as he trades military success for what I believe he believes is love. The crazy number of scenes and location changes represent an almost prescient presentation of a screenplay. It’s incredibly modern in that way. So, too, then would be that ambiguity (or lack of depth) found in many modern screenplays’ characters. So, too again–or three, I guess–is its crazy quilt of genre: a history with gaps, a tragedy without a satisfying tragic hero.
As we wrap this play up, I find it all less fascinating than frustrating.
And in this frustration, I can’t really say I enjoyed it.
So where do I place it? Within the tragedies, the last of the eight I’ve read thus far. Even my previous least favorite (up till now)–Julius Caesar–was more enjoyable for me. And within the Canon as a whole? Also near the bottom, at number 27 of the 30 we’ve covered…only The Second Part of Henry the Fourth, King John, and the Two Gents of Verona gave me less enjoyment.
It just feels like an ambitious mess to me. So like I said, I’m not sorry to see Rome and Alexandria in my rear-view mirror. Of course, where do we go from here? Well, the title should tell you: Timon of Athens. That’s a much-maligned play, and given I really didn’t enjoy this better-regarded work, I’ve got major concerns (but maybe I shouldn’t… remember, I still like Titus).
Anyhoo…it’s off to Athens we go!
And until tomorrow, “Boo!”
2 Replies to “Antony and Cleopatra: the wrap-up”
Thanks, Bill! I’ve really enjoyed this journey with you, perhaps especially because all your careful and thoughtful consideration of this play leads me back to my initial impression of it as not really deserving to be counted as one of Shakespeare’s greatest.
But I would still love to have some insight into what admirers of this play find to appreciate in it. Do you have any suggestions of critics I should read who’ve loved A&C?
Harold Bloom is gaga for it.
Coleridge had quite a bit of admiration for the play, as did A.C. Bradley.
Eric S. Malin seems pretty infatuated for Cleopatra.
Jan Kott sits on the fence, with his feet on the good side.
Neither Shaw nor Dryden liked it much.