by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare's epic portrayal of Mark Antony's intoxication with the stunning Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Drunk with passion, the Roman war hero and leader neglects his duties back home, ignores prophecies, and enrages his former allies by choosing Egypt and its beautiful ruler while the Roman Empire hangs in the balance. When Octavius Caesar turns on Antony, is his attack on Egypt enough to rouse the smitten soldier into action? Often requested and seldom performed, this production is as enchanting as its Queen. In our repertory, Cleopatra will be played by the same actress who plays Queen Elizabeth in Elizabeth Rex.
Todd Denning - Antony
Kevin Rich - Director
It is 40 BCE, four years since the assassination of Julius Caesar. Mark Antony, Octavius Caesar (grandnephew and adopted son to Julius Caesar), and Marcus Lepidus have defeated the assassins Brutus and Cassius and have governed Rome as the Second Triumvirate since 43 BCE. Mark Antony has all but settled in Alexandria, where he and Cleopatra have developed a passionate love affair. Octavius and Lepidus have grown concerned that the affair with Cleopatra causes Antony to neglect his duties as a triumvir, and while he is gone, his wife Fulvia and brother Lucius Antonius challenge Octavius, occupying Rome and raising a large army, in an attempt to protect Antony's interests.
Antony returns to Rome when he learns that his wife Fulvia has died and that Sextus Pompey, the son of Pompey the Great, now threatens Rome. While in Rome, he agrees to marry Octavia, younger sister to Octavius, in an attempt to mend relations with Octavius and reaffirm his position in the triumvirate.
When Cleopatra hears news of Antony's marriage, she is immediately jealous and angry, but remains confident that Antony loves her. Antony and Octavius negotiate peace with Pompey, and the triumvirs feast with him to celebrate. From there, Antony travels to Athens to stop a rebellion, but learns that Octavius has once again launched a battle against Pompey, despite the peace treaty, and that Octavius is also plotting against Lepidus. With war escalating between Octavius and Pompey, Antony sends Octavia to Rome to help him negotiate with Octavius. Antony returns to Cleopatra.
Octavius hears of Antony's return to Egypt — including a story about Antony and Cleopatra appearing in the central marketplace, crowning themselves king and queen. He declares war on Egypt, and Antony agrees that their forces will meet on the sea near Actium, despite fervent arguments made by Enobarbus and others that Antony's land forces are far stronger than his navy. Cleopatra pledges her ships to the battle and sails with them, but they lose the Battle of Actium when Cleopatra's ships flee the battle, followed by Antony.
Antony is desperately ashamed by the defeat, and when he learns that Octavius will not accept Antony's terms but may negotiate with Cleopatra, he has Octavius's messenger beaten, challenges Octavius again to battle, and confronts Cleopatra, who reassures Antony that she is still loyal to him. Outside of Alexandria, where the two forces meet this time on land, Antony learns that his devoted soldier Enobarbus has deserted him, along with others. He sends a messenger after Enobarbus, to bring him the treasures he had left behind. Enobarbus is overwhelmed with shame and dies. Antony proves victorious in the land battle, and once again decides to launch a naval campaign against Octavius.
In the final battle, the Egyptian navy once again deserts Antony, and he begins to believe that Cleopatra herself has betrayed him and sided with Octavius. Cleopatra sends a messenger to tell Antony that she has committed suicide, and she retreats to her monument. When Antony hears this news, he determines to kill himself and chooses, like Brutus had, to run on to his sword while soldiers hold it. His servant Eros refuses to help him, however, and instead kills himself. Left to commit the act on his own, Antony wounds himself, and then learns of Cleopatra's deception. His guards take him to Cleopatra's monument, and he dies in Cleopatra's arms.
Cleopatra has promised Octavius that she will surrender, but she grows concerned about her fate once she is his captive. She requests a poisonous snake, and lets its bite poison her. Her faithful maids Charmian and Iras die with her. Octavius orders that Cleopatra and Antony be buried together.
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Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra is a tragic love story set against the backdrop of the last days of the Roman Republic. Its sweeping, epic story spans ten years — from 40 BCE to 30 BCE — and crisscrosses the Mediterranean. And while scholars comment on the play being an echo of Romeo and Juliet, its lovers are mature — middle-aged — as Shakespeare was when he penned it, likely in 1607, around the age of 50.
As with his other Roman plays — Julius Caesar and Coriolanus, Shakespeare drew this story from Plutarch's Parallel Lives, a study of famous Greeks and Romans.
Born in Greece roughly 75 years after Mark Antony's death, Plutarch did not make accurate historical recording his primary goal. By pairing narratives that were essentially studies of moral character, Plutarch sought to examine the choices and destinies of great men.
In the case of "The Life of Marcus Antonius," which is paired with a study of the Greek Demetrius, Plutarch appears at least as interested, if not more interested, in the figure of Cleopatra; once she enters Antony's life, Plutarch devotes much of the latter portion of the work to describe Cleopatra's involvement with Antony, and attributes much of Antony's downfall to Cleopatra's influence or Antony's obsession with her. Shakespeare's Plutarch was a translation by Sir Thomas North, completed in 1579:
Antonius being thus inclined, the last and extremest mischief of all other (to wit, the love of Cleopatra) lighted on him, who did waken and stir up many vices yet hidden in him, and were never seen to any: and if any spark of goodness or hope of rising were left him, Cleopatra quenched it straight, and made it worse than before.
Our Cleopatra is Cleopatra VII, who ruled Egypt from 51 to 30 BCE, one of the last in the line of Ptolemaic rulers and the only woman in all of classical antiquity to rule a land independently. Recent scholarship has challenged Plutarch's image of Cleopatra. "Like all women," writes classics scholar Duane W. Roller, "she suffers from male-dominated historiography in both ancient and modern times and was...stereotyped into typical chauvinistic female roles such as seductress or sorceress, one whose primary accomplishment was ruining the men that she was involved with."
In a season in which gender reversal is a prominent theme, Antony and Cleopatra might at first seem an unlikely fit. The image of Marcus Antonius is decidedly masculine: soldier, statesman, and lover. Cleopatra's image is no less rigidly gendered in our imagination: sultry, seductive, and manipulative. She embodies the classic qualities of the "whore" side of the virgin/whore paradox in literature — uncontained sexuality and assertive, even aggressive, qualities in traditionally male contexts. To the Romans, she was a spectacle — commanding her own navy, promoting and controlling her own image, and arranging political liaisons — and a dangerous threat to Antony's masculinity. Shakespeare makes frequent reference to her potential to emasculate Antony, often intimating that Cleopatra's manipulation of Antony results in a role reversal – that is, a gender reversal. In Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism, Ania Loomba enumerates several examples. In Act I, Augustus comments that Egypt has effeminized Antony, who is now,
...not more manlike
In Act II, Cleopatra describes cross-dressing as part of their love-making, and her language makes clear that in the bedroom, she is in control:
I laughed him out of patience, and that night
It may seem odd that a story that depends so clearly on Antony's virility should then also question his masculinity, but what is at stake for Antony in this relationship is key, for the definition of his masculinity depends on his reputation as political and military strategist, his acumen as a soldier turned general. By the end of his life, Plutarch tells us, and Shakespeare echoes, Antony was so besotted by Cleopatra that he allowed her to develop military strategies that set him up for failure, and he is so impotent as a soldier when he meets his end, that he can't even effectively kill himself. Even Brutus, the traitor, ended his life more effectively than Antony.
For further reading:
$15 Rush (10 Minutes Prior)
$20 Under Age 30
$27 Student/Senior Gold
$31 Adult Gold
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