Category Archives: history

Podcast 135: Antony and Cleopatra — Historical challenges



This week’s podcast continues our three month-long discussion of Antony and Cleopatra with a look back at the history behind the play, its production challenges, and a quick look ahead to a CONTEST!

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Why, Myth Cleo, what a hithtory you have…

Yesterday, I talked a little of the prevailing public persona of character of Cleopatra, and tried to separate the myth from the historical figure. While some might see the image of sexual manipulator of men, as seen in Antony and Cleopatra, as some kind of weird, Bizarro-World proto-feminist symbol of empowerment, I think it’s fairly safe to say that this kind of reductive thinking and positioning of the character is something less than positive.

But how did we get here?

Continue reading Why, Myth Cleo, what a hithtory you have…

When Dickey met Cleo

OK, so what does a director do when she has a historical character whose persona is so ingrained in the public imagination that no matter what the actual history says, the average audience member brings to the performance an image that creates (and sometimes overpowers) what she finds on stage. The classic example is the historical Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and the hatchet-job Willy Shakes did in Richard III. A king known for legal reform that helped the common man, the historical Richard suffered from scoliosis but did not appear deformed. Shakespeare’s Richard, however, is a hunchbacked, withered-armed, limping personification of evil. And that dictates the kind of Richard we continue to get on stage.

Why do I bring this up?

We face the same problem in this play with the distaff half of Antony and Cleopatra.

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Antony’s history, man…

As I’ve noted many times in the past, Shakespeare and history have a rather tempestuous relationship. When it suits his dramatic purposes, history becomes a blueprint for structure. When history doesn’t play well with his dramatic purposes, he does what any playwright would do: f(orget) history. We know in Julius Caesar, he left out much, and compressed time greatly. Let’s see what the relationship is like in this pseudo-sequel Antony and Cleopatra.

Before I actually read Antony and Cleopatra, I thought the play took place a long time after the events of Julius Caesar. Boy, was I wrong…

Continue reading Antony’s history, man…

Review (and more): Richard III by Independent Shakespeare Company

OK, I’m late to the party on this one.

Last night, my wife Lisa and I saw part of the final weekend (yes, Wednesday is now a part of the weekend in Griffith Park, Los Angeles) of Independent Shakespeare Company’s FREE production of Richard III. If I say it was worth the price that would sound snarky, but the truth of the matter is that in the run-up to their two-production summer season, I had donated a fairly large chunk of change, and then at the end of the show last night, dropped another $20 into their donation “bucket for ducats” for good measure.

David Melville as Richard III for Independent Shakespeare Company (photo courtesy

And yes, the show was that good.

With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, let me count the ways (in an abbreviated Top Five listing, as I’ve got some Macbeth-related fish to fry later in this post):

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Macbeth and equivocation

Remember a few days back when discussing the more witchy sources for Macbeth (this after discussing Holinshed’s contributions to the more human side of the story), and how I said there was one more text that might be considered an influence if not a source? And I said I’d discuss that later when I hit the Porter scene?

Well, today, I’m a-hittin’ it…

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Sources: history?

OK, folks, we all know how Shakespeare picks and chooses (a) from whom he steals, (b) how much he steals, and (c) how much he massages those stolen goods. And that’s in his fictional plays. In the histories, he’s been known to compress time, changes ages, and make wholesale changes to his sources. Macbeth, though a tragedy, is no different.

Now, having already taken a look at his borrowings from Holinshed for the human characters and Scot for the not-so-human,  let’s take a look at the “real” history, shall we?

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Curses! Soiled again…

OK, so before we get too far into Macbeth, er The Scottish Play, let’s address the 800-pound gorilla in the room (I know I’m mixing idioms, thank you very much): the infamous curse.

I’m not a superstitious guy. Sure, if my beloved Bruins win their first game of the season, you can bet your bottom dollar I’m wearing that same shirt for the next game. But broken mirrors? Just glass to clean up, baby. Walk under ladders? More stupid than unlucky. Cross black cats? Not a cat guy, so I don’t go out of my way to be near them to begin with. Friday the 13th? Kinda cool, since any month (save that lil’ bastard February in non-leap years) with that day will have at least a portion of five weekends.

Continue reading Curses! Soiled again…