Sunday, October 24, 2004

Some Introductory Notes on William Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra"

  • Shakespeare was a philologist (sp?)-- he loved the study of words and incorporated an erudite vocabulary into all of his work as a means of staying connected to words.
  • The play was written during the early modern period of England, and Shakespeare's work (Antony and Cleopatra included) helped in the invention and development of the modern sense of self. This period centered around the 16th-17th century.
  • Shakespeare himself lived from 1564 to 1616-- a relatively short life by contemporary standards. The playwright had a middle-class upbringing and mastered Latin/classical Rhetoric at an early age.
  • Shakespeare also became very familiar with the Bible and its classical English form as part of his early education. When he began writing plays, Shakespeare began to incorporate biblical elements into his complex plots.
  • Shakespeare is especially known for his English historical/classical tragedies and comedies. The playwright is especially infamous for his ambiguous plays that fall between the cracks of tragedy and comedy.
  • Shakespeare's plays stand in tension with all that was considered proper and correct during his time. The Globe Theater of London, where his plays were performed, stood on the other bank of the Thames River, where the public would go to gamble, visit brothels and attend one of his controversial plays. Much of the controversy in Shakespeare's work stems from his incorporation of taboo play material that angered the clergy officials of 16th/17th century London. Men fulfilling women's roles serves as an example of the type of thing that made Shakespeare's plays controversial.
  • Antony and Cleopatra was written in 1606, after Shakesepare had finished writing Hamlet and McBeth.
  • The play formulates its conflict on the tension in the play between the rigidity of the Roman Empire and the easygoing, alternative lifestyle in Egypt. Shakespeare has constructed two principle allegorical settings, with Rome symbolizing order and duty, while Alexandria (and Egypt in general) is emblematic of luxury and excess.
  • Antony and Cleopatra is a heterogenous play, meaning a performance that has many different elements coming together with distinct viewpoints and perspectives. Shakespeare capitalizes on the division of character classification as either one of two categories-- individual people and as rhetorical figures. This division is symbolic of Shakespare's imagination being split in two pieces.
  • The drama in Antony and Cleopatra is an excellent example of heteroglossia-- the presence of several different voices within the same text, with special emphasis upon each character representing a particular figure of speech.
  • Antony and Cleopatra is a play of opposites: Military-- "dotage", Self-control-- pleasure, Discipline-- excess, "Devotion"-- "lust"
  • Shakespeare plays upon these opposites in constructing a conflict around Mark Antony's character-- his involvement with Cleopatra is deemed a "feminizing quality" that detracts from his service to the Roman Empire as the third triumvir. Not only is Cleopatra eyed by Antony's triumvir colleagues as a detraction to his service, but the fact that she is a "gipsy" underscores Antony's seduction from service by a promiscuous, exotic and alien woman.

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