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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Antony and Cleopatra

The play has a number of unusual features that break various stage conventions. No doubt other Shakespeare scholars have written extensively about them, but it was fun to discover them for myself. 

- There are all these henchmen and lieutenants and god-knows-whos that would show up, say a few lines, and never show up again! The named characters are so numerous that I have to suspect that any regular cast would have to rush through all the "revolving door" procedures throughout the play.

- The scene switching between Rome and Alexandria is so quick and frequent as to resemble cinematic editing. It reminds me of the way Robert Richmond handled the battlefield scenes in Henry V. He "cut" rapidly between the English and French camps with alternating spotlights on the upper and lower corners of stage.

- The large scale in characters and geography matches the complexity of political machination, double-crossing, betrayals and failed betrayals, alliances and breakups, and all the typical Roman Empire bloody struggles on a global scale.

- All that mixed-up conspiracy and political stuff takes up only three quarters of the play, and the last quarter is spent on an eerie, tragic, comical, absurd, heartbreaking, and twisty long climax that has everything and the kitchen sink thrown into it. It's sort of like the climatic battle sequences in Joss Whedon's "The Avengers" that eat up almost half of the movie, except more gut-wrenching. Holy macaroni the last quarter of the play should really have its own full-length play. Reading it got me all twisted up inside and filled me with all kinds of contradictory feelings that I don't know how to sort out.

- Also attesting to the massive scale of just the finale, Act 4 features not one but two big battles: One on land and the other at sea. The siege of Alexandria must have been at least a partial model for GRRM's siege of Meereen, which has presumably been completed in The Winds of Winter.

It is just the biggest play I have ever read and totally blows my mind. Ah it has to go on my must-see list.

Ultimately though, what makes the play immortal is the human truth in it. Despite the weight of history and expectation for "greatness" associated with the subject and characters, he gives us the naked truth about a middle-aged, professionally successful couple who fall madly in love and act stupid and ridiculous. We can't help but love them and root for them, not because they are regal and heroic, but because we recognize ourselves in them. And we have to despise Octavius Caesar because he is the most responsible adult in this whole mess who acts with impeccable strategy and reason, without any emotion or frailty.

Enobarbus might be my new favorite Shakespearean character. I love him so much.

One can analyze Shakespeare with a hundred books as thick as bricks, but I have no words to describe how he makes me feel --- a mass of jumbled conflicting explosive feelings that seem to encompass an entire lifetime and all its laughter and tears, joy and sorrow, longings and regrets, all at the same time.

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