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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: February ::
Understanding Antony
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0094  Tuesday, 6 February 2007

[1] 	From: 	Louis Swilley <
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	Date: 	Friday, 2 Feb 2007 11:35:48 -0600
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0082 Understanding Antony

[2] 	From: 	Tony Burton <
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	Date: 	Friday, 2 Feb 2007 15:12:24 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0088 Understanding Antony

[3] 	From: 	Donald Bloom <
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	Date: 	Friday, 2 Feb 2007 15:38:15 -0600
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 18.0088 Understanding Antony


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Louis Swilley <
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Date: 		Friday, 2 Feb 2007 11:35:48 -0600
Subject: 18.0082 Understanding Antony
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0082 Understanding Antony

First, much thanks to the seven here who have responded to my question.

Edmund Taft's response, that "Antony's praise for Caesar stems in part 
from the fact that Caesar acted like a father to the younger man," is 
helpful and might with great difficulty be indicated in some way, before 
the soliloquy, by the actor playing Antony; but respecting the formal 
integrity of the play, and unless it can be suggested by the lines and 
actions of the characters *in the play*, such an explanation, dependent 
as it may be on material external to the play itself, must be 
disallowed, just as historical information about the greatness of the 
real Caesar must be put aside when considering the character of Caesar 
that Shakespeare has given us.

John W. Kennedy's remark is that I have begun with a dubious assumption 
(i.e., that Caesar is "a pompous, power-greedy person"), that, he says, 
"if taken wholeheartedly by the actor playing Caesar, would likely wreck 
the play." And he quotes Caesar's lines, "Cowards dye many times before 
their deaths, etc." offered as evidence of Caesar's nobility.  But as 
that speech is made to Calpurnia - and to himself, already frightened 
enough by her dream to send for a priestly reading of his future - it 
cannot be distinguished in type from his other puffy remarks. (And would 
Mr. Kennedy please say how my interpretation of Caesar would wreck the 
play?)

Steve Sohmer, Judy Lewis and Peter Groves have mistaken me.  I referred 
to Antony's SOLILOQUY over the corpse of Caesar, not his funeral speech 
made in public.  I have maintained - and I hope rightly - that a 
soliloquy conveys the real opinions and feelings of the character, since 
he is speaking only to himself. (Incidentally, the exact meaning of 
"noblest" in Antony's "Thou art the noblest man that ever lived in the 
tide of times, etc." seems to be given by the O.E. D., under "Noble," 
(4) "having high moral qualities or ideals," for it gives as 
illustration Antony's other use of the term in his comment on  the dead 
Brutus, "This was the noblest Roman of them all, etc.")

Donald Bloom quotes Brutus' "Did not great Iulius bleede for Iustice 
sake? etc." as one of the quotations defining the *public * man while 
Caesar's remarks indicating his pomposity or hubris define the *personal 
or private* man.  This suggests that a deeper matter of the play is 
Caesar's (the character's) tendency to confuse the public and private 
orders (like Lear's treating the public state as his private property to 
be parcelled out to his daughters), and to parade his personal opinions 
about himself ("...for always I am Caesar..." and this to the very 
senators to whom he is applying for further power! - "...if I were as 
you, If I could pray to move, prayers would move me..."

But all this seems beside the point of my question: doesn't Antony see 
what we see? And if he does, how can he so lament Caesar's death and 
praise him so in the soliloquy?

 From time to time, we have returned to a central problem in our many 
discussions: Should we bring into a play our  knowledge of the 
historical person, qualifying what is said about the *character* by such 
knowledge? I have said and say that we should not. We should consider 
Caesar, for example, as Character X, defined all and only by what the 
character says and does and what is said and done about him in the play. 
  After that exercise is complete, we may, indeed, say, "This is what 
the playwright thinks of the historical *man* - that is, as he is 
presented in the play, " and such might well then be compared to other 
historical presentations and opinions of the man. But to intrude 
historical *particulars* into the *universals* of literature, of art, is 
to alter the vocabulary and therefore the organic calculus of the work.

L. Swilley

=============================================================
From: 		Tony Burton <
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Date: 		Friday, 2 Feb 2007 15:12:24 -0500
Subject: 18.0088 Understanding Antony
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0088 Understanding Antony

I had the pleasure of being dramaturge to a production of Julius Caesar 
not long ago and, for me, all the characters presented the same sort of 
challenge facing Louis Swilley with respect to Antony.  I find that, in 
moments of acute anxiety as to the right way to handle Shakespeare's 
characters, it frequently helps to turn to Shakespeare's words in the 
play itself and disregard Marx, Freud, Derrida, Lacan, vice-president 
Cheney, and any other all-purpose authorities.

Antony first appears as a contestant in the ritual running race in which 
his touch may, or may not, cure Calphurnia of her barrenness, an event 
in which Brutus declines to participate even as a spectator because he 
is not "gamesome" and lacks the "quick spirit" that makes it attractive 
to Antony.  In Caesar's estimation, Antony contrasts with the "spare" 
Cassius of the "lean and hungry look", the "great observer," who "looks 
quite through the deeds of men;" Caesar trusts (or doesn't mistrust) 
Antony, a lover of plays and music and given to smiling, an "Antony, 
that revels long o' nights."

Antony is a player of performances, and it is in performances that he 
expresses so much of himself as the play allows us to know.  He is the 
one who offered a "crown" to Caesar during the popular demonstration he 
may also have organized, as described by Casca.  His words to the 
conspirators after Caesar's death are smooth and convincing, but as soon 
as he finds himself alone on stage with Caesar's corpse we learn how 
artificial and performative they were, and far from his own feelings. 
After his praise over the corpse of "the noblest man that ever lived in 
the tide of times," we may well remember to ask with Hamlet," What's 
Hecuba to him or him to her/ that he should weep for her?"  We are not 
given much to explain his personal relation to Caesar, but Caesar's 
language hints that he may have embraced Antony precisely because he 
considered him frivolous and unthreatening When Antony takes up the 
cause of revenge, he does so without regard to high principals, personal 
or otherwise.  He disdains concern for justice or moral consequences, 
seeing full well that the events he sets in motion will flow from Hell 
and be led by Ate, the goddess of overweening madness, and will subject 
Rome to general destruction.  His performance during the funeral oration 
is pure and masterful example of manipulation and demagoguery, but the 
resulting mischief is of no concern to him; "let it take what course it 
will."

Yet, he is a good and effective soldier, and it is he who wins the day 
at Philippi.  And he continues to perform even at the end, when he would 
have been better employed consolidating his own battlefield gains.  As 
he delivers his "noblest Roman" speech over Brutus' corpse (is he 
sincere or just caught up in the opportunity for performance?), it is 
Octavius who gathers the spoils of the field and takes command ("within 
my tent') of the story and thus of the future.

Is Antony cynical, passionately revengeful, frivolous, or drunk with the 
power of words?  Is he driven by a vision of patriotism, martial or even 
personal loyalty, hatred for the conspirators, or perhaps a sense of 
personal failure for having let Caesar fall to the very man, Cassius, 
against whom he had warned Antony in the strongest terms?  Shakespeare 
allows innumerable good choices to be made with respect to Antony's 
personal qualities and relationships with the other characters; the 
backstory is largely up for grabs.  But it does seem certain to me at 
least, that Shakespeare directs us to view the whole spectrum of his 
actions as arising out Antony's fundamental character as an all-purpose 
performer and, like any player in Shakespeare's own troupe, a 
professionally quick study and enactor of whatever roles the exterior 
scene and setting present for him to exercise his talents.  And if 
Antony sees the whole world as a stage, on which he plays his part as 
well as he can, he may be the sort of man Shakespeare would have taken 
very much to heart.

Tony

=============================================================
From: 		Donald Bloom <
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Date: 		Friday, 2 Feb 2007 15:38:15 -0600
Subject: 18.0088 Understanding Antony
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0088 Understanding Antony

William Godshalk writes

 >I would suggest that seeing the past in terms of the present is
 >inevitable. How can it be otherwise? We reconstruct the past from a
 >position in the present. We may use artifacts and documents from the
 >past in this reconstruction, but those artifacts and documents can only
 >be read and interpreted in the present.

The problem to me can be seen in the phrase "in terms of," which I don't 
know the precise meaning of. I don't say it is meaningless, but that it 
leaves a great deal unsaid that needs to be said.

If, in turn, you mean by "the present" a state of mind that includes as 
much presumption, circular reasoning, prejudice, bigotry and illogic as 
can be found in the past, then you may have it. But I don't think you 
do. In fact, I'd be stunned if you did.

But if you mean a state of mind that attempts to transcend the 
limitations and blindness of cultural assumptions, then I'm with you.

In regard to "Julius Caesar," the hatred of dictators is a 20th Century 
commonplace. I hate them, too. Did Shakespeare hate them? Hardly. You 
may say he hated bad men, and especially bad rulers. Good. But would he 
have thought that an absolute monarch was by definition evil? I doubt it.

By reading back into Shakespeare our attitude toward such people we must 
inevitably distort what he wrote in favor of confirming our prejudices. 
  These prejudices may be morally correct (as regards Jews and women, as 
well, for example), but they are no less prejudices.

I had hoped that the presentist idea was to help us overcome our 
tendency to misread the past by making us aware of such prejudices, 
assumptions, givens and so forth. Am I wrong in this?

Cheers,
don

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