Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Classics Club: 5. Antony and Cleopatra

Although I completed this play over a month ago, I've struggled with writing this review. And I think the reason is that I didn't really enjoy reading the play. Perhaps things would have been different if I had seen it performed (Shakespeare wrote his plays to be performed rather than read after all) but I struggled to believe in the characters and tended to be annoyed at them, rather than sympathise with them and share in their struggles. "Make up your mind, Anthony. Cleopatra or power in Rome. You can't have both," I wanted to shout at him. For some reason the strength and genuineness of the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra just didn't come through to me. Their passion seemed overwrought and fake, which may say more about me than about these characters and Shakespeare.

Antony and Cleopatra is one of Shakespeare's longest plays and it is comprised of many short scenes. To me this made it choppy and the story didn't really flow as a result. (Wow, am I really commenting critically on the greatest writer of the English language?) Compounding the problem, from my perspective, was that many of the scenes related to battles which, since they couldn't be portrayed due to the limitations of the theatre, were described instead. Even though they were short, these scenes often dragged. Again this probably says a lot about me and my preferences. Military history and manoeuvres just don't interest me.

While I can appreciate Shakespeare's mastery of language and what he has to say about choice, duty, honour, and reason versus emotion, among other things, Antony and Cleopatra won't be winning my vote for "Most Beloved Shakespearean Play". I'm unlikely to reread it (unless I want to check whether my current opinion holds) but I would be interested to see it performed. I wonder if, for me at least, this play loses more than most from being read rather than watched.

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