Title: Antony and Cleopatra
Author: William Shakespeare
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Publication Date: 1606 (this edition 2009)
Review: I haven’t reviewed a play on my blog yet and I thought that Antony and Cleopatra would be a good place to start. One of my new year resolutions is to see as many Shakespeare plays performed at the RSC or the Globe in London and to also read them. I studied Shakespeare for 10 years but it is such a different experience seeing them performed by professional actors and following up with a reading of the play. As most of my reviewers will know, I am someone who is guided by my emotions when it comes to reading; as much as I appreciate stylistic techniques and themes, I love to be emotionally moved by a book because I feel that’s what makes reading so special. This is why I wanted to review this play because it did just that.
I saw this play performed in Stratford-upon-Avon (if you haven’t seen it, you must go) and was completely blown away by it. The actors, especially Antony and Cleopatra themselves, were just incredible and I left completely overwhelmed with emotion which I really didn’t expect. Naturally I had to get my hands on the book and read through it, especially now I had experienced it, and it did not disappoint.
Shakespeare has such a way with words and they are so powerful on paper and on stage. The interaction between Antony and Cleopatra is so charged and so emotional, both slaves to their feelings for each other and this is ultimately their downfall. However, I find that, even though Cleopatra is criticised and portrayed as an emotional manipulator throughout the play, she is much stronger in this relationship than Antony. There is a scene where both are involved in a battle against Pompey and Cleopatra turns ship and sails away, fleeing the battle; Antony, the greatest warrior in Rome, follows her and so completely ruins his reputation and his honour. This shows that he is tied completely to Cleoptatra whereas she is capable of being without him. This is also shown in the last few scenes where, being told that she has died, Antony commits suicide. The thought of Cleopatra not being on the same earth as him pained Antony so much, coupled with his shame and loss of honour which was also prompted by Cleopatra, he killed himself. Cleopatra’s suicide was not because of Antony; she preferred to die rather than being paraded through Rome as Caesar’s trophy. Her death was on her terms, by her own hand rather than by anyone else; she remained in power and control until the very end and, even though she was going to see Antony, her suicide was political rather than emotional.
I loved the comedy in this play which was portrayed by both Cleopatra and Enobarbus, Anotony’s right-hand man. Cleopatra’s comedic influence is mainly due to her irrational mood swings, obviously presented in the play because women are so interchangable but that’s another story. Her moods manipulate those around her and, even though they’re used in the play as a negative feature, they also show her understanding of how to gain strength and power in a man’s world and how clever she actually is. She creates tension and alleviates it in an instant and this is why she is one of my favourite characters.
Enobarbus is a fantastic comedic function in the play. He is Antony’s second in command and a typical, bawdy Roman soldier who enjoys drinking and women. He gets away with a lot, especially when talking to higher officials, and is always on hand to present a rude quip in a serious situation. He is a very understanding character and knows Antony incredibly well; he tries to dissuade Cleopatra from entering the battle, knowing full well the effect it would have on Antony if something happened to her, and he was proved right. However, instead of laying the blame and Cleopatra’s feet, he reassures her it was not her fault that he fled the fight and is now shamed, “[that] itch of his affection should not then/ Have nicked his captainship”. In this we can see the start of his relationship with Antony deteriorating; Antony was not the general he once was because of his love for Cleopatra but, interestingly enough, Enobarbus blames Antony for this and not Cleopatra. He sees this weakness, even though he still defends Antony for a few more scenes, it ultimately leads him to desert Antony in favour of Caesar which is a decision he cannot live with.
This play has so much emotion, comedy and action and, even though many other plays such as Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth get much better press, this really is a true gem and it has definitely become one of my favourite Shakespeare plays.
*Side note* I have been thinking lately of doing a giveaway for my subscribers. If this is something you think you would like, please let me know in the comments below!