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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: February ::
Understanding Antony
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0082  Thursday, 1 February 2007

[1] 	From: 	Steve Sohmer <
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	Date: 	Monday, 29 Jan 2007 13:36:32 EST
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0064 Understanding Antony

[2] 	From: 	Edmund Taft <
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	Date: 	Monday, 29 Jan 2007 13:58:57 -0500
	Subj: 	Understanding Antony

[3] 	From: 	John W. Kennedy <
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	Date: 	Monday, 29 Jan 2007 14:23:31 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0064 Understanding Antony

[4] 	From: 	Judy Lewis <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 30 Jan 2007 08:39:44 +1300
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0064 Understanding Antony

[5] 	From: 	Arthur Lindley <
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	Date: 	Monday, 29 Jan 2007 21:08:52 +0000
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0064 Understanding Antony

[6] 	From: 	Peter Groves <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 30 Jan 2007 08:44:42 +1100
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 18.0064 Understanding Antony

[7] 	From: 	Donald Bloom <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 30 Jan 2007 13:45:22 -0600
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 18.0064 Understanding Antony


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Steve Sohmer <
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Date: 		Monday, 29 Jan 2007 13:36:32 EST
Subject: 18.0064 Understanding Antony
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0064 Understanding Antony

Dear Louis,

The truth about Antony is rather more complex than an actor can play, I 
think . . . unless the audience comprises students of Roman history (or 
very careful listeners).

Antony's forum speech is a passel of lies. Antony was not with Caesar's 
army when he overcame the Nervii. And Antony wasn't present during 
Caesar's murder and, therefore, could hardly know which holes each of 
the conspirators made in Caesar's mantle (and body). An actor playing 
Antony should think deeply about these lies; they provide a key to his 
character, as does his chilling demeanor during the death-list scene 
with Octavius and Lepidus.

Hope this helps.

Steve

By the way, Antony was a priest-and I like to think that when he fled to 
his home he changed his senatorial toga for his priestly robes before 
meeting the conspirators and delivering his address over Caesar's 
corpse. This, I think, is why Brutus greets him with "reverence" among 
other felicitations.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Edmund Taft <
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Date: 		Monday, 29 Jan 2007 13:58:57 -0500
Subject: 	Understanding Antony

Louis Swilley's questions about Antony and Caesar underscore the fact 
that _JC_ really is a more complicated play than is generally thought. I 
think that Antony's praise for Caesar stems in part form the fact that 
Caesar acted like a father to the younger man. Most of this occurs 
offstage or before the play begins, but it can be inferred from the 
text. The more interesting question is Antony's transformation. It's a 
matter of interpretation, but I see Shakespeare as indicating that raw 
political/Machiavellian talent is mostly inborn. Some of us have it 
(Antony), and some of usdon't. (Brutus)  This view is buttressed by the 
character of Hal in _1H4_, whose political savvy seems to spring, fully 
developed, from nowhere at the start of the play!

Ed Taft

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John W. Kennedy <
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Date: 		Monday, 29 Jan 2007 14:23:31 -0500
Subject: 18.0064 Understanding Antony
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0064 Understanding Antony

Louis Swilley <
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 >Does Antony see Caesar as Shakespeare has shown him to us,
 >a pompous, power-greedy person?

That seems to me to be starting out with a dubious assumption -- at 
least, an assumption that, if taken wholeheartedly by the actor playing 
Caesar, would be likely to wreck the play. It certainly is not in 
keeping with everything that Shakespeare has to say about Caesar outside 
of this one text, and, while it is true that "Julius Caesar" shows 
Caesar as succumbing to hubris at the peak of his career, he has more to 
say for himself than the "northern star" speech and the like:

    Cowards dye many times before their deaths,
    The valiant neuer taste of death but once:
    Of all the Wonders that I yet haue heard,
    It seemes to me most strange that men should feare,
    Seeing that death, a necessary end
    Will come, when it will come.

. . . almost a rough draft of Hamlet's approach to the subject. 
(Incidentally, after just Googling, I suspect the above speech may be 
the most commonly and variously misquoted in all Shakespeare.)

In "Julius Caesar", as in all his Roman plays, Shakespeare tends to 
accept Roman values, and, by Roman standards, Caesar is surely a great 
man; if the measures that he took led to the collapse of the Republic in 
all but legal fiction, we must remember that his assassination was, as 
history worked out, the actual proximate cause, and he, himself, had 
behaved better in his dictatorship than either Marius or Sulla had.

To return, then, to the question of Antony, I think he believes 
throughout the play that Caesar was a giant, brought down by curs. It is 
true that he speaks well of Brutus, but only when Brutus is safely dead, 
and he explicitly distinguishes Brutus, too, from the rest of the 
tyrannycides.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Judy Lewis <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 30 Jan 2007 08:39:44 +1300
Subject: 18.0064 Understanding Antony
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0064 Understanding Antony

Louis Swilley writes:  Does Antony see Caesar as Shakespeare has shown 
him to us, a pompous, power-greedy person? If he does, how can we 
account for Antony's praising soliloquy over the corpse? (Does Antony 
admire Caesar and lament his death as a Mafioso might admire a murdered, 
murderous godfather?) If he doesn't, should we assume that the 
practical, hard-nosed Antony ("This many then shall die, etc.") has 
awakened to the *real* Caesar sometime between his lament for the dead 
Caesar he has mistakenly respected and his later, heartless capitalizing 
on the power vacuum Caesar's death has created? If we say that Antony 
has admired Caesar but at some time sees him what he was, at what point 
in the Antony's speeches could his "awakening" be made clear? (The 
problem is particularly critical for the director of the play and the 
actor who is to play Antony.)

This assumes that Antony's eulogy is sincere.  I have always read it as 
a cynical piece of oratory, deliberately structured to rouse the 
citizens against Brutus et al.

Antony is grabbing his chance for power.

Judy Lewis

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Arthur Lindley <
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Date: 		Monday, 29 Jan 2007 21:08:52 +0000
Subject: 18.0064 Understanding Antony
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0064 Understanding Antony

Why not assume that Antony is making a political speech (of the sort 
usually instigated in our own time by Karl Rove) and that his personal 
feelings about Caesar are beside the point?

Arthur Lindley

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Peter Groves <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 30 Jan 2007 08:44:42 +1100
Subject: 18.0064 Understanding Antony
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0064 Understanding Antony

Louis Swilley asks  "Does Antony see Caesar as Shakespeare has shown him 
to us, a pompous, power-greedy person? If he does, how can we account 
for Antony's praising soliloquy over the corpse?"

Antony's eulogy is, of course, a textbook instance of political rhetoric 
(full of the necessary tropes and figures): language, that is, designed 
not to reveal the speaker's feelings and beliefs but to produce effects 
by working upon the audience -- the first effect being the 'tearing' of 
Cinna the poet.  Antony, in other words, is simulating such feelings and 
beliefs, and what the actor has to do is to act acting, which is simpler 
than it sounds.

Peter Groves

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Donald Bloom <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 30 Jan 2007 13:45:22 -0600
Subject: 18.0064 Understanding Antony
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0064 Understanding Antony

Louis Swilley asks,

 >"Does Antony see Caesar as Shakespeare has shown him to us, a pompous,
 >power-greedy person? If he does, how can we account for Antony's
 >praising soliloquy over the corpse?"

I think we tend to misapply contemporary ideals to Shakespeare and his 
perception of historical figures, including Julius Caesar. In 
particular, I think we forget the assumed and acknowledged greatness of 
Caesar against which Shakespeare shows the "pompous and power-greedy" 
private man.

As to the second epithet, I can only say, "Of course he was 
power-greedy. How could he not be and still be a successful politician?"

The first is subtler matter. My own feeling is that the pomposity is 
there to show his humanity. He is not merely a legend, one of the Nine 
Worthies, but a real man with real human failings, one of which is that 
of taking himself too seriously. I am not claiming that Shakespeare 
admired Caesar, merely that he sought to make him human. (We might 
contrast him with Tamburlaine in that regard.)

For the view of Caesar that Shakespeare is trying to expand on (or 
correct) we might try Brutus, ex-friend and co-murderer:

Remember March, the Ides of March reme[m]ber:
Did not great Iulius bleede for Iustice sake?
What Villaine touch'd his body, that did stab,
And not for Iustice? What? Shall one of Vs,
That strucke the Formost man of all this World,
But for supporting Robbers: shall we now,
Contaminate our fingers, with base Bribes?

That Caesar is great is stated clearly; that he is flawed-ditto. 
Anthony thus does not have to change his view. For him, the greatness 
far outweighs the flaws, for the murderers it did not.

The question of who is right remains quite complex-as it also does in 
most of the Chronicle plays. A large part of the dramatic intensity lies 
in that question, which is lost if Caesar is presented as some 
banana-republic dictator (as I have seen it done).

Cheers,
don

P.S. Is this a case of "presentism?" I perceive a tendency of 20th 
century readers to associate Caesar with Hitler, Stalin and their whole 
murderous ilk up through Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. Reading back into 
Caesar their hatred of such figures, they assume that Shakespeare judged 
him with the same hatred, and that his admirable characters must do so 
likewise. Or is it historicism? Or both? Or neither?

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