Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Reader's Diary #816- William Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra


Remember wedding receptions in the 80s when everyone clinked their glasses to get the bride and groom to kiss? Somewhere along the line people had decided it was getting a bit out of hand or it was becoming stale and then they started to try new approaches. I've been to weddings where, in order to get the newlyweds to kiss, people had to sing a verse from a love song or recount some fond memory of the happy couple and a whole bunch of other stuff that hasn't caught on or been any less intrusive than the glass clinking. At our wedding, a little over 10 years ago, Debbie and I also tried our hand at starting a new tradition. As a trivia buff, I thought it could be fun to have those in desperate need to see us kissing, first successfully answer a trivia question about famous couples. Needless to say, you have no worries about trivia replacing the relative ease of the spoon-on-wineglass classic. I bring it up now because I remember Antony and Cleopatra being on that list of famous couples, though I have no idea what question we could have asked. As I'd not read Shakespeare's play at the time, nor knew much of anything about their historical counterparts, I doubt I would have recognized whether the answers were correct or not!

Now that I've finally read it, how about this one? Next to Antony and Cleopatra, which character has the most lines? If you said "Octavian Caesar," I'd be kissing my wife right now! (Can you see why this game isn't more popular?) Believe it or not, this long-winded and irrelevant personal anecdote is my excuse to talk about Caesar's role in Antony and Cleopatra, as I was quite taken aback by his large presence in this story. I think I was expecting more of a Romeo and Juliet sort of focus. However, upon reading of Caesar's large role in this story, I'd be more inclined to name the play "Antony and Cleopatra and Caesar." (Perfect fodder for the next bigamist wedding reception trivia game.) Caesar was certainly as compelling as Marc Antony.

Not quite as compelling as Cleopatra, however. Vain, calculating and quick-to-temper, she is what makes the play worth reading. Of course, this is Shakespeare, so it wouldn't be complete without a faked death and a couple of suicides thrown in for good measure. There's also a neat bit of meta-drama going on as well, as Cleopatra laments that history will see her as a villain and Marc Antony as a bit of a drunken fool, as Shakespeare has done to some extent. One wonders if this was a simply wink to the audience or if it was Shakespeare's way of apologizing to memory of the real Cleopatra and Marc Antony; as in, "I know you were really so much more than this, but I had to take artistic license to please the crowd."

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