Antony and Cleopatra
First lecture
Shakespeare’s comic tragedy?
• That paradox may define this play.
• It certainly contains the most fun, the most
comedy of any of Sh’s tragedies.
• A sort of middle-aged Romeo and Juliet?
• But with little “tragic feel” in its ending.
• Differences from R & J.
• The joking, the puns, continue right up to the
• And the play ends with something of a feel of
triumph, that A & C have somehow won . . .
• . . . in spite of the fact that they die.
• Perhaps the main paradox of a play full of
Differences from Sh’s other “great”
• Does human evil have any role in the play?
• Cleo? She bears the main responsibility for “ruining”
• But are we on her side?
• Octavius? Just doing his “Roman” job?
• Role of gender: in the other tragedies, masculinity,
maleness, seems to rule.
• And the agency of women, save for the special case of
Lady M, is limited.
• In the comedies, by contrast, femaleness (I’m eschewing
“femininity”) rules: e.g., Beatrice, Portia, Rosalind, Viola.
• Males must yield to females, or values traditionally
associated with women, in comedy.
• But the “tragedy” of A & C breaks this mold. Cleo rules.
• And unlike Lady M, she doesn’t ask to be “unsexed.”
• Au contraire!
That first scene
• Contrast of theatricality and mere text?
• Text seems to make Philo’s point: “this dotage of our
general’s/ O’erflows the measure.”
• See Philo’s theatrical invitation: ll. 10-13.
• What do we “behold and see”?
• Of course he’s right – and Demetrius agrees. Q.E.D
• Everything Philo had said in the first 10 lines is born out.
• Antony is certainly ga-ga for Cleo, over-top-top, headover-heals in love.
• Rome? Fugedaboutit.
• Clip from Royal Shakspeare Company production film
(1974) with Janet Suzman and Richard Johnson
(strongly recommended) – first scene.
• What else do we “behold and see”?
The “world” of Antony and
• The most wide-ranging of Shakespeare’s plays?
• The “world” stretches from Alexandria to Rome,
encompasses Messina (Misenum,in Sicily), Pompey’s
galley (off Messina), Athens, Actium, even some place in
• So much for Aristotle’s “unity of place”!
• The historical significance of the battle of Actium?
• The “world” as defined by Rome and Egypt?
• And how Egypt is characterized: e.g., in I.2.
• And Antony: “a Roman thought hath struck him.”
• What’s “Roman”?
• The view from Rome: 1.4: in Caesar’s view, “A man who
is the abstract of all faults/ That all men may follow.”
• Rome, by contrast?
Egyptian values
Cleo’s subjectivism: I.5. “what was he, sad or merry?”
Her “revisionism”: “O brave Caesar”? “O brave Antony”!
And extravagance: Everyday a greeting “Or I’ll unpeople Egypt.”
Fishing, Cleo style: II.5
Out drinking Antony – and dressing him in her clothes!
And how to treat a messenger: II. 28ff.
“I have a mind to strike thee ere thou speakest.”
And her response to the bad news . . .
Recall Antony’s “Roman” response to a messenger at I.2: 94ff.
The messenger’s return in III.3: the messenger’s report on Octavia:
“low-voiced” and not as tall as Cleo become “Dull of tongue and
Her gait?
Her years: thirty. A Pintereque pause? (The historical Cleo was 39.)
In any case, no response from Cleo.
Her face, her hair?
“The man hath seen some majesty, and should know.”
Roman values
• Antony on Fulvia: “There’s a great spirit gone.”
• She had been waging war on Antony’s part
(II.2.47ff., 66ff)
• (Cleo’s “Can Fulvia die?”)
• Octavius: I.4.28-33: duty and pleasure.
• Antony’s previous forbearance: 56ff.
• The need for discrete speech: Maecenas vs.
Enobarbus II.2.105ff.
• Agrippa’s proposal: Roman purposes for
• Caesar’s ratification of this: ll.159-162.
• So let’s get going on Pompey!
Image of Egypt/Cleo in Rome
• Maecenas: “You stayed well by’t in Egypt.” (i.e., tell us
about it!).
• Eno: “I will tell you.” And he does.
• A poetry of paradox and hyperbole. Baroque vision?
• Think of Titian (Prof. Snyder’s slide of Titian’s Venus),
• Agrippa: “O, rare for Antony.”
• “Rare Egyptian!”
• Eno’s poetic elegance, to which Agrippa responds . . .
• “Royal wench! . . .”
• Making “defect perfection.”
• Antony leave her?
• “Never. He will not”
• And his wrapping her in paradox, 245-50.
• Over against the good Roman [and English] virtues of

Powerpoint of first lecture on Antony and Cleopatra