01 Antony and Cleopatra
02 How to be a Hero/Heroine
03 From History to Tragedy
04 Comedy into Tragedy: Othello
05 Sacrifice and Redemption: King Lear and Othello
06 Growing Pains: Adolescence
07 Violence and the Grotesque
08 Tragic Love
09 The Intriguing Outsider: Othello and King Lear
10 Women or ‘Women’?
Stephanie Lipka 7. Fachsemester
LA Sekundarstufe II/I
Shakespeare and Tragedy
“Antony and Cleopatra“
- William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra (1606) A tragic love story
At first, Antony and Cleopatra appears like a historical play focusing on Ancient Rome and Egypt. But – to me, personally – it appears more like a typical Shakespearean love story set on historic ground. As in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare here presents an impossible relationship between two people who – according to their roles – should be enemies. R&J ’s first night preceded A&C ’s a decade, and so Elizabethan playgoers who had witnessed performances of R&J would have known what to expect from these characters’ constellation: much ado up to act 5 and the death of the two protagonists whose love is – post mortally – respected and they are granted a uniting burial.
History seems to play a minor part in Shakespeare’s play. His main interests are the human mind and interplay. Similar to Hamlet (where the conflict between Denmark and Norway vanishes so completely from the play that Denmark’s enemy Fortinbras has been banned from the stage in most 20th century performances) or the Henry plays (where the relationships of Kings/fathers and Princes/sons and of men /Kings and women/Queens-to-be seem more important than, for example, the actual battle of Harfleur), in A&C, the interaction between Anrtony and Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Antony and Octavia, and Caesar and Pompey predominate the war scenes. When thinking this over, I can only imagine Shakespeare’s limited range of special effects on stage: on a battle scene, there is no need for iambic pentameters.
A: Hà! You díe!
B: Ó, wóe is mé! and so on would seem ridiculous. But you need swords and daggers, cannons and lots of artificial blood. You need horrible noises like banging, clattering, or cracking sounds. Nowadays, when looking at all the different movies on WWII, the film industry has those devices. And the theatre has changed and taken to a lot of techniques and machinery (lifts, wind machines, lighting machines).Nowadays, special effects sometimes rule the stage (and I mean not only in the case of something going wrong and an actor being trapped in some mechanical device or other). In Shakespeare’s days, it was the spoken word. Thus, scenes without much dialogue or monologue were useless. Everything had to be said.
Fencing scenes were entertaining but had to be brief to not bore the audience to death. Entertainment takes place in Shakespeare’s language puns. And those can be employed in the characters’ interaction. So Shakespeare does what the Greeks already did: in “holding a mirror up to nature” (Ham III.2) and human relationships, he offers entertainment (delectare) by creating ridiculous, frightening, touching, moving, shocking ... situations, and – as we are talking of the stage as of a mirror – he also offers insight (prodesse) by making the audience reflect upon their own lives and actions.
Shakespeare and Tragedy
“How To Be a Hero/Heroine“
- Antony and Cleopatra
Different Kinds of Hero
In Antony and Cleopatra, we are confronted with three different kinds of hero. The most obvious one is the male main character Antony - a passionate, world-wise warrior who prefers certain death to the loss of honour and respect. The quotation I believe to be most striking here is Antony’s conversation with Enobarbus in Act IV:
Ant. He will not fight with me, Domitius?
Ant. Why should he not?
Eno. He thinks, being twenty times of better fortune, he is twenty men to one.
Ant. To-morrow, soldier, by sea and land I’ll fight: or I will live, or bathe my dying honour in the blood shall make it live again.
Here, Antony’s obstinacy becomes quite clear. He will not accept Caesar’s army to be stronger than his own. He insists on a fight even though he knows that he is going to lose. For some readers/spectators, this hybris may just be foolish stubbornness, for some others, it may as well be a sign of courage. These two elements mostly go hand in hand in Ancient Drama - and these two also shape our contemporary image of a hero: the handsome or at least nice character is confronted with a task which is as ridiculous as it is requiring a lot of courage (for example: Superman who is to save the world in a day only by using his super-breath).
Antony, I believe, can be called the traditional hero - combining the unexpected and the already-known (making the reader/spectator wonder whether he is going to fight or not).
The second kind of hero is that of the noble person making things alright at the end of a story. He is the one in the shadow, a pale character (not flat), but who has the last word in a story. Just as Sense and Sensibility has Colonel Brandon, Antony and Cleopatra has Octavius Caesar. O. Caesar does not play an important role in the play, but he nevertheless is an important figure in history (and in the plot of the play). The audience is not brought round to liking him because he is Antony’s counterpart. So, we think of him as of the baddie. But at the end of the play, it is he who says, “She [Cleopatra] shall be buried by her Antony; No grave upon the earth shall clip in it a pair so famous“ (V.2). By accepting their love affair and allowing the corpses to be buried together, O. Caesar shows great respect and mercy - and, surprisingly for a Roman warrior, feeling. This turns him into a minor kind of hero. Again, this is the element of surprise: the bad Roman does not act the way the priests would have expected him to, but he acts the way we would expect a charitable Christian to.
The most interesting kind of hero -to my mind- is the last one: the underdog. In this category, we may include Eros and Proculeius. Both are minor characters in the play, servants, soldiers - men without any influence and position.
Yet, it is Eros who kills himself because Antony wants him to. This act cannot be called stupid because, as a servant, Eros cannot do otherwise. He has to obey and stabs himself for the love of his master:
Ant. Now, Eros.
Eros. Why, there then: -- [ Falls on his sword. ] Thus I do escape the sorrow of
Antony’s death. [ Dies. ] (IV, 12).
This spontaneous killing of himself shows that Eros is a very loyal and brave person. He can be called a true hero.
Another true hero would be Proculeius who saves Cleopatra’s life by snatching her dagger from her hand (V, 2) when she tries to kill herself because she wants to avoid O.Caesar’s tortures. As a Roman soldier, Proculeius probably does not care a bit about an Egyptian prisoner, and yet, he does not want her to take her life. We do not know why he acts the way he acts. He himself says that Cleopatra is to tell everybody how just and good O. Caesar is. But he might as well be just blinded by her beauty.
Cleopatra “She is cunning past men’s thought.“ (I, 2)
Cleopatra’s true feelings do not become obvious in the play. She might be a woman who dies for love or rather for the loss of it; but she might also just kill herself because she realises that she is beat. Having lost her lover and her kingdom, she loses her mind, too and commits suicide. Her character can be called tragic, but I would not call her a heroine.