Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra is so much more than an intrigue story of the Queen of Egypt. It's about two great lovers who have reached middle age and are still bickering as though they were teenagers. Their struggle puts Romeo and Juliet's fling to shame. Their love transcends nations and continents. Betrayal here isn't told through glances and liaisons, but through armies and passion greater than words. It truly is a story of life and death.
And when the plot turns to the misguided message that will lead to Antony's death (much like Romeo) because he thinks his lover has died, he misses his grand statement and actually botches his suicide. It's because he's human. Romeo and Juliet are the stuff of passionate poetry and tragedy that can be tied up neatly with a little bow. This is the stuff of real life and shows us the shortcomings that we see and accept, if we life long enough to experience them.
This play will never reach the fame that Romeo and Juliet has. But then again, Romeo and Juliet has become so idealized that few of us even remember that the two lovers die in the end. Antony and Cleopatra do not have the poetry that our two young star-crossed lovers had. But then again few of us do.
I had the pleasure to work on a production of Antony and Cleopatra a few years ago that took a lot of liberties with the script. I enjoyed them, but I could see how some people wouldn't. The one gesture that really resonated, however, was the staging of Cleopatra's suicide. It's quite a grand statement to kill yourself through willingly inflicted asp bites and quite difficult to stage effectively - let alone to make it seem anything less than a ridiculous spectacle that will completely take the audience out of the scene. But when our director/adapter brilliantly choose to use syringes of lethal poison and call them "worm" or "asp," everyone got the point and the effect was quite powerful.
Read this play again with the new idea of a middle age love story and then with the new gesture in the end - I think you'll quite enjoy it.
Franz Werfel (1890-1945)
Rainis (1865-1929) and Jennifer Tipton (born 1937)
Sir Ian Holm (b. 1931)