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Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra

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Antony and Cleopatra

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  1. Antony and Cleopatra Third lecture: the epistemology of Cleo

  2. The fourth dimension? • With Enobarbus’ “death by thought,” we seem to enter new territory. • It goes along with the strange, rather mystical stage direction, “Music of the hautboys is under the stage.” • What is this music? • One asserts it’s “Music i’ th’ air.” • Another that it’s “Under the earth.” • Does it “sign well”? “No,” another replies. • Is it the god Hercules leaving Antony? • The only thing they agree on is that “’Tis strange.” • Do we ever know what this music means?

  3. The last battle • Antony’s squire is “Eros.” (As Macbeth’s was “Seyton?) • Does all of the rhetoric of IV.4 lead us to expect Antony’s victory? “The morn is fair,” etc. • Similarly with IV.8: the language of the victory sounds like ancient epic: “our gests.” • “You have all shown Hectors.” • Cleo’s greeting to him at ll. 16-18. • Antony demands that Scarus kiss Cleo’s hand. • And she promises him “An armor all of gold.” • We seem to be in the world of epic, of “the story” as Enobarbus had expressed it. • Not in a world of sober historical events. • As maybe Antony’s brief victory makes clear.

  4. And the real last battle • Which Antony loses. • And blames entirely on Cleopatra’s treachery: IV.12. • Seems a repeat of his loss at Actium. • Antony in a towering rage: “This foul Egyptian hath betrayed me.” • “Triple-turned whore!” • And he’s ready to kill her: “The witch shall die.” • What’s the truth of this? • Strangely, the play never tells us. • But she does, presumably without meaning to, trick him into suicide. • Antony’s rage is only abated by Cleo’s report of her death.

  5. “Not know me yet?” • Cleo’s question back in III.13, when Antony had found her with Thidias and had him whipped. • But it hangs over the rest of the play. • What’s to know? • The “epistemology of Cleopatra.” • (Greek episteme, knowledge.) • What can the characters know of Cleopatra? • What can the audience know? • Enobarbus’ betrayal of Antony seems in part to come of his doubt of Cleo: at III.13 an aside: “Sir, sir, thou [Antony] art so leaky/ That we must leave thee to thy sinking, for/ Thy dearest quit thee.” • But as he dies, he repents his betrayal of Antony, praying to the feminine moon. • And dies “of thought.” • With Enobarbus gone, we’re on our own.

  6. Without knowledge, what? • Antony feels his identity melting: IV.14. • “I cannot hold this visible shape,” he tells Eros. • And the language is also sexual: he tells Mardian – the eunuch! – “she has robbed me of my sword.” • But Mardian insists: ll. 24-25. • Can we know if this is true? • What follows isn’t true: her “death.” • So Antony is tricked into suicide? • Again epic, legend, “the story”: “Eros, I come, my queen. – Eros! Stay for me . . .” The realm of Dido and Aeneas. • The comedy of Antony’s almost suicide. • “April Fool!” Cleo’s not dead, just locked in her monument. • And Diomedes comes to bring “the truth.” • The what?!

  7. Should we give up on Cleo at this point? • After all, she won’t even leave her monument. • But what follows is the strangest, and theatrically most difficult, scene in the play. • The actor playing Antony has be hauled up to the upper stage. • And Cleo’s language is both weirdly comic and sexual. • Antony’s “Give me some wine, and let me speak a while.” • Even as he dies, Cleo seems to cajole and tease. • “The soldier’s pole is fallen.” • Her seeming death – will she die “of thought”? • “No more but e’en a woman . . .” • Are we ready to forgive Cleopatra?

  8. But she still puzzles • The Egyptian messenger: V.1 • Caesar’s intentions – and trickery. • Cleo: “’Tis paltry to be Caesar:/ Not being Fortune, he’s but Fortune’s knave.” • And Proculeius too tricked? • Does she intend to die? • She tries – and vows at V.2, 49ff.

  9. “I dreamt there was an emperor Antony” • Cleo tells her dream to the treacherous Dolabella. • Her dream seems to create an Antony coterminous with the whole world. • And encompasses the sense of paradox we saw in Eno’s vision of Cleo on her barge at Cydnus. • A’s bounty “grew the more by reaping.” • “His delights/ Were dolphinlike, they showed his back above the element he lived in.” • Such a man possible? • “Gentle madam, no.” • “You lie . . . But if there be nor ever were one such,/ It’s past the size of dreaming.” • Nature can’t compete with “fancy” (the imagination, thought of as a frivolous – feminine -- power). • BUT even to imagine an Antony “were nature’s piece [accomplishment] ‘gainst fancy,/ Condemning shadows quite.” • The imagination, in this sense, is not frivolous, but a part of nature, i.e., not just “fancy.” • This Antony existed, still exists. • Cleopatra – and Shakespeare – invent philosophic idealism?

  10. Caesar and the game with Seleucus • With Caesar, is Cleo up to her old tricks? • What about her vow of dying? • “Which is the Queen of Egypt?” • Is he blind?! • What does she intend with Caesar? She confesses the frailties, “which before have often shamed our sex.” • And Caesar’s nasty threat. • Why does she call Seleucus to witness the truth of what she’s listed of her wealth? • And why does he betray her? • Was she serious about trying to buy favor with Caesar? • Or was this a way to demonstrate something to him? • Seleucus a “soulless villain.” • But seems to make up to Caesar. • But sees through it all: “He words me, girls, he words me . . .”

  11. And Shakespeare’s game with us • Cleo imagines the humiliation of being taken in triumph to Rome, V.2, 210ff. • “Mechanic slaves/ With greasy aprons . . .” • As are watching in the Globe? • “The quick comedians/ Extemporally will stage us, and present/ Our Alexandrian revels; Antony/ Shall be brought drunken forth, and I shall see/ Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness/ I’ th’ posture of a whore.” • Which is, of course, what the Elizabethan audience was watching. • A challenge to the theatrical imagination analogous to Cleo’s challenge to Dolabella? • Our faith in imaginative power of theater? • Our faith in Cleopatra?

  12. Immortal biting/immortal longings • Cleo’s resolution – now “Roman” in a higher sense? • The malaproping countryman a marvelous conception. • The asp’s bite is “immortal.” • “A very honest woman, but something given to lie.” • “a woman is a dish for the gods, if the devil dress her not.” • “I wish you joy o’ th’ worm.” • And Cleo’s “immortal longings.” • “I am fire and air; my other elements/ I give to baser life.” • Mock jealousy of Iras. • The asp “the baby at my breast.” • Caesar notices she’s unchanged in death, looking as if “she would catch another Antony.” • And Caesar is cheated of his triumph. • Says she and Antony are rather to be buried together: “No grave upon the earth shall clip in it/ A pair so famous.” • And even Caesar has to admit that they’re just as famous as he is (359-62). • Who wins?