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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: May ::
Re: Cleopatra and Dolabella
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0359.  Thursday, 4 May 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Ann Flower <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 3 May 1995 10:34:53 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0352  Re: Cleopatra and Dollabella
 
(2)     From:   Don Foster <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 03 May 1995 12:09:14 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: Dolabella
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ann Flower <
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Date:           Wednesday, 3 May 1995 10:34:53 -0500
Subject: 6.0352  Re: Cleopatra and Dollabella
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0352  Re: Cleopatra and Dollabella
 
Re Cleopatra/Dolabella problems:
 
I want to argue again for Cleopatra's agency in her own death, even if it is an
"old hat" perspective. I don't think Cleopatra "blinked" -- she goes against
her Egyptian code when she commits suicide, and instead follows the Roman code
of honor and her "husband" Antony. Her hesitation, or it might be called her
reasoning with a new Roman cast, can be seen in the lines that begin V.2,
 
My desolation does begin to make
A better life: 'tis paltry to be Caesar:
Not being Fortune, he's but Fortune's knave,
A minister of her will: and it is great
To do that thing that ends all other deeds,
Which shackles accidents, and bolts up change.
 
It is as if she is trying to convince herself that she will be empowered by
dying.  Samuel Daniel's version has Caesar sense that Cleopatra will try to
kill herself, though he wants it to be otherwise: "tis more honour for her to
die free . . . Princes respect their honour more than blood . . . private men
sound not the hearts of Princes,/ Whose actions oft beare contrarie pretences .
. . A private man may yeelde and care not how,/ But greater hearts will breake
before they bow."  Daniel links an overall design of the necessity of change
that levels iniquities directly to the internal action of the untrustworthiness
of subordinates.
 
Shakespeare does not work in this "exemplary" manner, but presents a more
complex system of betrayals and trusts.  Each of the three leaders has problems
with subordination, and in both Roman and Egyptian worlds where there is
something noble in extravagance and theatrical show, what is said about leaders
is important to political order and fealty, to maintaining a height above the
common men.  In Shakespeare there is a fluidity to the information that comes
by messenger that contributes to a dream-like confusion that a constantly
shifting ownership of the world might create.  The leaders are always
susceptible to the changing loyalties of their men, each of whom may make a
personal decision to defect to the other side based on change of fortune -- but
all are part of an atmosphere of seeming and interpretation.  Changing
perceptions de-emphasize a clear relationship between reality and perceived
events.  Up to the last scene we are aware of multiplicity of perspective, but
within the final 400 lines Cleopatra alone works out her desire to flaunt a
Roman end and to embrace it.  Shakespeare concentrates all the movements of
Caesar's emissaries here, consolidating into Dolabella two other potential
messengers in Plutarch, balancing the three minor Roman characters with the
three Egyptians.  The countryman who is merely an instrument in Plutarch,
rendered as if he just happened to stop by, or as part of a series of events
known only to Cleopatra and thus part of her deception, in Shakespeare becomes
the embodiment of the unpredictable, the extra messenger, the intelligent life
force that often appears completely unannounced in Shakespeare in humble form.
Shakespeare does not linger on Cleopatra's decline but rather on the
claustrophobia of the moment, the monument, and the boundary edge between life
and death.  The biggest problem with staying alive is becoming part of someone
else's tableau, shown to be an actor in someone else's (Caesar's) design.
 
Dolabella's purpose I think is to allow us to see Cleopatra's creative mind,
her freedom even if entombed alive by Caesar.  If it can be assumed that there
was no mistake in Dolabella's late exit, it might be argued that Caesar was as
confused by the proliferation of messengers as everyone else in the play.
Remember that Cleopatra was sending a messenger every hour to Antony -- one can
only picture a continuous marching file to the battlefield.  Or Dolabella may
have left on his own accord to warn Cleopatra.
 
Hmm.  This was a very long answer!  Sorry.
 
--Ann Flower
    New York University
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Foster <
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Date:           Wednesday, 03 May 1995 12:09:14 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Re: Dolabella
 
(In response to Bill Godshalk) As Bill observes, my posting on ANT 5.1 only
addresses the textual problem. I wasn't attempting to solve Bill's problem --
but for what it's worth, Bill's query, "ready for what," is easily answered:
Caesar has just asked, "Where's Dolabella," forgetting that Dola. is employed.
All of the other characters on stage call after Dola., who has, however,
already left in haste without hearing the news that "Antony is dead." In
response to that news, Caesar states clearly, to his own (privy) council of
war, his latter set of directions for Dola., to wit: Dola. must "second
Proculeius" in Proc's mission; following Proc, Dola too must "Go and say / We
purpose her no shame. Give her ... comforts ... Lest in her greatness, by some
mortal stroke / She do defeat us; for her life in Rome / Would be eternal in
our triumph..."  Bill's question: "Ready for what?" is thus explictly answered
by the text: when Dola. returns, he will be ready "to second Proc. in
attempting to make Cleo. a live POW rather than a dead queen.  Bill's theory
might be highly effective in the theater--it might even be worth changing the
text to make such a reading work--but I can't see that there's any textual
support for it, either in Shakespeare or in Plutarch.  And as Fran Teague has
pointed out, it is certainly a mistake to insist upon such a position.
 
--Foster
 

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