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I wasn't much looking forward to this play - Roman and Egyptian history doesn't interest me too much, and well, it just didn't feel like my kind of play. Not nearly enough blood and drama. And to be honest, after reading it, and now having listened to an audio performance of it, I wasn't much wrong.

 

Antony, is married to Fluvia but having an affair with Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Fluvia dies and Cleo expects to step into her shoes, however her plans go awry when to make peace with Caesar, Antony marries Caesar's sister Octavia. In her fury Cleo switches allegiance to and fro, as does Antony's right hand man Enobarbus, and war is raged between Antony and Caesar.

 

The prose in this play is extremely varied and convoluted and just doesn't flow as well as other works. Plus it is pretty low on any good, solid, meaty drama. Cleo is a vain minx, and extremely hard to like. There is absolutely no empathy with her and therefore that makes it hard to stay engaged.

 

There is really only monologue that I really enjoyed, when Enobarbus realises his grave error and wishes to die. I'll post it when I have the text to hand.

 

All I can say is, thank the lord I don't have to do an essay on this one, 'cause I'd be struggling to get passionate about it.

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it is pretty low on any good, solid, meaty drama. Cleo is a vain minx, and extremely hard to like. There is absolutely no empathy with her and therefore that makes it hard to stay engaged.

 

Nice to find someone taking on the canon - ie trashing Shakespeare! However, whether one likes the heroine or not is hardly a valid criticism. I don't much like Moll Flanders or Emma Bovary, but I relish their challenge to orthodoxy. Cleopatra makes Antony give up all for love. She's a selfish, vain, scheming woman and I love her for that - in the drama that is, though I'd cross the road to avoid her in real life.

 

And the poetry is marvellous, especially when someone like Vivian Leigh or Peggy Ashcroft does the 'O wither'd is the garland of the war' speech.

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I read A & P as a meditation on power.

 

There are large, fairly obvious examples such as the fall of Antony's power via Cleo, the play between Antony, Octavius Caesar and Lepidus, and Octavius trying to control Antony via Octavia.

 

I first noticed this theme in I.ii. Charmain and Alexas are having fun with the soothsayer, using insults, issuing orders; Cleopatra enters and the fun stops, and their roles as servants become clear. Cleo wants to speak with Ant. ("Seek him, and bring him hither.") As he approaches of his own volition, she doesn't. ("We will not look upon him," Cleo decides. "Go with us.")

 

Antony's a fool and Cleo may remind one of Lady Macbeth, but I'd agree that the lack of "lovable" characters doesn't harm the enjoyment of the play.

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However, whether one likes the heroine or not is hardly a valid criticism. I don't much like Moll Flanders or Emma Bovary, but I relish their challenge to orthodoxy. Cleopatra makes Antony give up all for love. She's a selfish, vain, scheming woman and I love her for that - in the drama that is, though I'd cross the road to avoid her in real life.
Well, of course it is a valid criticism. It's not a simple matter of 'liking'. I diskliked much about Emma Bovary but she still managed to hold my empathy - in the same way that Macbeth might. But Cleopatra was everything I disliked in a woman and I found nothing to hold my attention to her. It's personal preference and this play, especially Cleo, left me cold.

 

I read A & P as a meditation on power.

Maybe that's why it left me cold. I really disliked the games Cleo played, and the ordering of her servants to spy on Octavia, her constant dismissiveness of Octavia's appearance. She is a bitch - and not a complex one. I was not interested in perusing her motivations further.

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This has never been a favourite of mine and there are various aspects about it that I find unsatisfactory.

 

The Roman plays are a very interesting and distinctive sub-set within Shakespeare, using the concepts of Roman idenitity and values as a wonderful touchstone to the contemporary world. They anatomise politics far more comprehensively than the English histories and a play such as Julius Caesar is beautifully constructed.

 

A&C, though, is much more ragged and fails to find its focus in the precise fashion of JC or Coriolanus. This is in part because of its divided nature. The politics of Rome are set against the love between A and C. Now of course that's part of the point: there is a fatal division here and one cannot accommodate the other, but that tension for me makes the structure and shifting moods of the play feel unsatisfactory.

 

The other key split is between Rome and Egypt, so we are hauled from one place to the other, then off to battles and so there is a fragmentary nature to the progression. This is probably the most fluid of all Shakespeare's plays, with a huge number of comings and goings on stage shifting at a sometimes alarming rate.

 

I think worst of all, though, is the protracted nature of the conclusion. This is the tragedy of A and C, yet the reality of their story is that they don't die at the same time. So Act IV deals with Antony's death whilst Cleo pops her Egyptian clogs in Act V. Two acts out of five concern themselves with the central protagonists' deaths and whilst Cleo's isolation in death is part of the tragedy, dramatically that is not so focused or potent through having the preceding act take us at some length through Antony's fate. The extended suffering of Lear is far more skilfully developed, though of course he doesn't share the stage with a partner. Yet even with Romeo and Juliet events are contrived so that their final deaths are close and dramatically striking.

 

Less a fault of the play in itself is the fact that I find it jarring after Julius Caesar. The Mark Antony in A&C is not the same character we met in JC. Yes, of course he's been changed by love but all the same it feels like a bump in the road!

 

None of which is to say that this isn't a good play in many other ways. As has been noted there are some marvellous sections of poetry and whilst Cleo is definitely annoying I nevertheless do find interest in her.

 

We probably ought to start a "Have a Pop at Shakespeare" thread! There's plenty that could go in there: Love's Labour's Lost, Titus Andronicus and even the great man's modern folly of penning a crowd-pleasing sequel for the popular character of Falstaff - The Merry Wives of Windsor!

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The Roman plays are a very interesting ...

A&C, though, is much more ragged and fails to find its focus in the precise fashion of JC or Coriolanus. This is in part because of its divided nature.

Some critics claim that it is a misnomer to categorize it as a 'Roman play' because there is too much of Egypt in the play for the categorization to fit comfortably. Of course, this entails the divided nature of the play.

 

Is it a romantic play or is it a political play? It just doesn't know. The kind of intense romantic love that Ant and Cleo purportedley feel is such that it overrides everything else in their world - but it doesn't do that here. Politics interrupts and you lose that sense of tragic love, I think.

 

This is probably the most fluid of all Shakespeare's plays, with a huge number of comings and goings on stage shifting at a sometimes alarming rate.
Yes, I think that's one of the reasons I couldn't get comfortable with it - too much goings on, too much shuffling and messengers. Of course, these details the distance between the 2 worlds and the broad expansion of the play's focus, but it's just too much for me to steep myself in the play.

 

I think worst of all, though, is the protracted nature of the conclusion...Yet even with Romeo and Juliet events are contrived so that their final deaths are close and dramatically striking.
I agree, R&J's ending is perfect, the sense of tragic loss is heightened because we know that the pair end in death together and with such a miniscule period of time making all the difference. A&C just kind of putter out. Plus, Ant's death is kind of comical, after all, Eros dies before either of the lovers - how appropriate!

 

We probably ought to start a "Have a Pop at Shakespeare" thread!

Well, it's nice to hear a dislike for some of his work - after all, there is much bardulation, you get the sense that it is almost punishable to say actually, I don't like this work very much, as if a million critics must be wrong. But if you don't like it, you don't like it - nothing can change that nor should.
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Is it a romantic play or is it a political play? It just doesn't know.

Yes, I think that's at the heart of its problems.

 

Well, it's nice to hear a dislike for some of his work - after all, there is much bardulation, you get the sense that it is almost punishable to say actually, I don't like this work very much, as if a million critics must be wrong. But if you don't like it, you don't like it - nothing can change that nor should.

Absolutely! No writer has ever been perfect and there are always flaws to be found. Shakespeare has become so iconic that it's rather lost touch in some quarters with the reality of the plays - I blame the Victorians! It's not detracting from the man's supreme achievements to find fault; actually it's treating him with far more respect. To imagine him as unflawed is patronising.

 

A&C is one of those plays that has very much divided the critics, though a lot of that debate focuses on interpretations of Cleo. It's always one to get people talking and I know there are others here with more positive views! ;)

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I don't think it need worry us whether Antony and Cleopatra is a Romantic or a Political play; it's just a play. Categories are for librarians or literary critics. I do see the problem - if it is one - of their being two tragedies, as it were, but Antony's death is early and off-stage, leaving us to concentrate on Cleo. We don't care all that much about him as a protagonist, do we? He's no Hamlet, just a deluded fool, encouraged by others such as Enobarbus. Cleopatra in her last speech rises to a great tragic pitch. She's a female Macbeth, doomed but fighting, at bay and standing up not for personal ambition but romantic love (and of course self-love, which may be more or less the same thing). To say 'there's nothing left remarkable beneath the visiting moon' once your lover's gone is stupid, but the very essence of lost love. We know how she feels. We don't admire her character but we feel for her in her deluded passion - after all her idealised Antony wasn't really any great shakes (but great Shakespeare), we know that.

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He's no Hamlet, just a deluded fool, encouraged by others such as Enobarbus.
If we think that then we are ignoring what Ant was before Cleo and what he became after her. Surely that's tragic?

 

She's a female Macbeth
I don't think that true - a bit of a stretch really, after all, what is her fatal flaw? Simply that she loves too much or loves a "deluded fool"? Where is her inner turmoil, a sense of her inner consciousness?
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I'm certainly not worried about classifications but I am worried when two rather incompatible strands attempt to work alongside one another and make the play a slightly jarring experience. A play needs clear focus - the terms are useful not for shelving but to identify why the focus here is blurred.

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I'm certainly not worried about classifications but I am worried when two rather incompatible strands attempt to work alongside one another and make the play a slightly jarring experience. A play needs clear focus - the terms are useful not for shelving but to identify why the focus here is blurred.

I love Antony and Cleopatra. Maybe not as much as I love Macbeth. It’s a different type of story from the other tragedies and perhaps that resistance to categorisation is something I like too.

 

It’s true that Cleopatra is no Juliet – she’s an adult woman. If you’ve seen or read Beatrice and Hero in Much Ado About Nothing you can see that Shakespeare understood what difference it makes for women to have grown up. The Cleopatra of this play has already loved and lost, and has had to make compromises with life. She looks back to her younger self and uses one of my favourite lines from Shakespeare, those were my salad days/ When I was green in judgement (who has not felt like that about loves of their youth?)

 

Yes, she comes across as political and scheming and it’s true that she is too flawed to isolate one in particular as the ‘tragic flaw’ but surely that’s an idea that has been and gone? It’s also true that I wouldn’t like her as a woman – but I love her as a character. Her hysteria, her selfishness, the vain way she insists upon a measure of affection,

CLEOPATRA.

If it be love indeed, tell me how much.

 

ANTONY.

There's beggary in the love that can be reckon'd.

Though it may not bear up to a comparison with Macbeth, it is still a far greater play than anyone else could have written, and Cleopatra’s first question (above) is actually very like Lear’s – so that might be the more profitable comparison.

 

Whatever her flaws are, I think her death scene shows that they have been overcome. However hysterical she has been in life she dies calmly, recognising what must be done. And she changes from being vain and self-absorbed to being able to die for the dignity of her country whilst retaining the characterisation that makes her believable - she is still herself, she dies in full awareness of her own worth, handing herself over to death rather than over to Caesar who would have taken her to Rome as a trophy,

Now boast thee, death, in thy possession lies

A lass unparalleled.

Juliet kills herself because she has lost Romeo – Cleopatra kills herself because she has lost Antony and Egypt. The focus isn’t narrowly romantic, as in Romeo and Juliet, nor political, as in Macbeth, and perhaps it suffers for that lack of a single focus, but you have to try to judge it according to what it tries to do. Its world is a vast canvas, its subject matter is political and romantic, historic and tragic. It aims for so much. I think its scope is something we should value too.

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It’s a different type of story from the other tragedies and perhaps that resistance to categorisation is something I like too.

Oh I'm really not one for tossing plays into pigeon-holes for neatness' sake, but I find labels useful in identifying aspects that don't harmonise very well. I love the Problem Plays, for instance, which are categorised in the Shakespeare canon almost for their inability to be categorised! They work far more satisfactorily in structural terms, though, and although there are ambiguities in the lines of morality and judgement that is perhaps part of their message.

 

Essentially you focus on Cleopatra, Kim, and I do find her an interesting character - Hazel and I probably differ on that one, although she's far from being a favourite character. My concerns are more structural.

 

It aims for so much.

Too much, I would argue. Not that it isn't admirable, I agree, but I don't think he quite pulls it off.

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This probably belongs more in a general Shakeapeare thread than here but anyway...

 

David, I do agree that Anthony and Cleopatra seems less well structured than Shakespeare's great tragedies but I still wouldn't go so far as to call the structure flawed. It's imply not quite as perfect. (I am, I've admitted elsewhere, an unreconstructed Bardophile ;) ) The reason I posted mostly about Cleopatra is that I wanted to discuss what I think the play can most be valued for. I believe that as a character she is a work of genius.

 

I'm also very fond of the 'problem' plays. One thing I've been interested in lately is reading the notes from a recent Arden Othello (it could be the latest, I'm not sure) that dates Othello as 1601 - very close to Hamlet after all, and, even more interestingly, during the same period of composition as the 'problem plays'.

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David, I do agree that Anthony and Cleopatra seems less well structured than Shakespeare's great tragedies but I still wouldn't go so far as to call the structure flawed.

Fair enough - many would agree with you!

 

The reason I posted mostly about Cleopatra is that I wanted to discuss what I think the play can most be valued for. I believe that as a character she is a work of genius.

Well, whilst you wouldn't go so far as 'flawed' I don't think I could go so far as 'genius', but she holds considerable interest for sure, not least because it's a strong central female character.

 

Equally, don't think I'm not a huge Shakespeare fan! As much as anything it's been part of my training to look for flaws, no matter how respected the writer! (Or 'imperfections', maybe! ;) )

 

One thing I've been interested in lately is reading the notes from a recent Arden Othello (it could be the latest, I'm not sure) that dates Othello as 1601 - very close to Hamlet after all, and, even more interestingly, during the same period of composition as the 'problem plays'.

The timeline is always interesting as you watch the evolution of his character. You can, for instance, watch the slide from light, bright verbal comedies into those with darker, quite disturbing edges, such as Twelfth Night with its imprisoning and mental torture of Malvolio. This sits around the same time as the Problem Plays and you sense a man losing youthful idealism and starting to question the darker elements underpinning life. It's also around the same time as Hamlet where questioning of identity and mission is central, moving ever more towards darkness, but that journey moves more certainly a few years on with tragedies such as King Lear and Macbeth.

 

Then, in older age he mellows and produces the late romances with a far more accepting philosophy on life. Interestingly, A&C falls in the early part of this phase - perhaps past the time when his tragic sensibilities were at their peak? (Mischief alert!)

 

It's a fascinating journey!

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