The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1242 Tuesday, 6 July 1999.
Date: Tuesday, 06 Jul 1999 08:59:24 -0400
Subject: SHK 10.1235 ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
I don't know if this will persuade Mr. Heller that the scene from A&C in
which the soldiers hear terrestrial music "works," but a lot of
individual scenes and lines in Shakespeare remain resistant to "working"
for me, too. However: I very much believe in Egypt as a comic locus
contrasting with the seriousness of Rome (to paraphrase you), though I
believe Egypt is more than that (and note that Plutarch says the
Alexandrians were happy Antony acted his comic self in Egypt and kept
his tragic parts for Rome-another paraphrase).
Keeping this in mind, it's almost as if the soldiers in 4.3 (I'm using
Bevington) are hearing Cleopatra's music from 2.2: "we'll to the river.
There, / My music playing far off, I will betray / Tawny-finned fishes."
Given Antony and Cleopatra's various elemental associations, it is also
perhaps significant (or maybe just mischievous) that Shakespeare gives
the soldiers some confusion over their music's origin ("i'th' air" or
"Under the earth"). Also, the second soldier suggests the music
signifies that the "god Hercules, whom Antony loved, / Now leaves him."
I surely don't wish to overread at this point, but consider too that
Antony's Herculean-Bacchic associations also link him to Cleopatra's
associations with Isis (a link traced by Walter Coppedge, among others).
You are absolutely right about Eros. In fact, it's fun and rewarding to
imagine Antony talking to the god of love in the guise of a soldier,
late in act 4.
I also think your observation about the play's "presented deaths" is
very astute and should be expanded to include Lepidus and Pompey. The
old republican values of Rome certainly do not sustain them, either. The
clash of old-new values in the play is a very interesting issue,
especially since-re Roman values-Antony would appear to be just as "old
school" as Pompey. But Antony seems to grow in interest as Lepidus and
Pompey wane (they don't die so much as they just drop out), even though
he can act as bloodlessly and expediently as Caesar.