Sunday, April 12, 2009

Antony & Cleopatra Part 2

I have a poor edition of the collected works of Shakespeare for someone who tries to present himself as whatever it is I hope to present myself as, something called the Cambridge Edition Text of 1936, with "The Temple Notes" which are quite the most useless notes I have ever encountered, and illustrations by the 1930s Socialist-Realist artist Rockwell Kent. I actually don't mind Kent, but I have been present when others of great knowledge and strong opinions regarding art and the world in general have sneered at the drawings and critical writings of this artist, and thus suspect that any project which had an association with him must smack of second-rateness through and through. This edition doesn't even seem to agree in its scene breaks with most of the ones in common use, Act III of Antony and Cleopatra for example having 13 scenes in this book, which does not appear to be the case elsewhere. I really ought to get something better, at the very least something more attractive, or less cumbersome, or with easier to read print (this book having the dreaded old-fashioned small print double-column type). Currently I am not getting even a modest visceral thrill from pulling down and fondling the family volume of Shakespeare, something of which sort I think should be the case to some degree in the life of a person such as I am.

Act III Scene xiii: ANTONY: "I found you as a morsel cold upon
Dead Caesar's trencher; nay, you were a fragment
Of Cneius Pompey's; besides what hotter hours,
Unregister'd in vulgar fame, you have
Luxuriously pick'd out..."
These are some cold words. Wherever we love with any especial fervency or significance to ourselves, we can never forgive the object of our passion for coming to us in any but a completely undefiled state. So long as our beloved is wholeheartedly engaged in attending to our happiness, and ignoring all else, we can forget these harder sentiments, but they must ever rear themselves at the slightest neglect or other disappointment.

Act IV Scene iv: Beautiful line:
ANTONY: "This morning, like the spirit of a youth
That means to be of note, begins betimes."

Artist's Conception of What Cleopatra May Have Looked Like. That's what it says anyway. Obviously I would be content enough to imagine it were so. Antony does not really come off too good to me in this play, either. I guess I just can't warm up to him. His character is kind of an arrogant jerk, all the while he's getting worked over by both Cleopatra and Octavian. This play is usually listed with the tragedies, so I assume the title characters are supposed to have tragic flaws. Cleopatra is pretty much synonymous, fairly or not, with sensualism and vanity, and I can't see that Antony's downfall is morally the result of anything more direct than that. Being more obtuse than the people one is contending with does not seem to qualify one as a tragic figure.

ACT IV SCENE xv, CLEOPATRA: "...then is it sin
To rush into the secret house of death,
Ere death dare come to us?..."

A lot of legendary Romans fell on their swords, or had swords thrust into them by others, in a comparatively short period of time, as noted above: Pompey the Great, Caesar, Cicero, Cato, Antony, Brutus. Whatever one thinks of these people, that was by our standards a considerable collection of intellect, energy and talent to be consumed in internecine struggle, though of course their involvement in that struggle was in most cases what caused their great abilities to attract so much attention and renown. Still, the general attitude of Roman society at that time certainly was not that talented people were such precious resources as to be unexpendable. Indeed, the greater ability you showed in some instances, the more likely you were to pass a significant portion of your life with that life imperiled. This seems to be a common trait among well-developed aristocratic castes, the to bourgeois sensibilities shocking indifference to exposing the most brilliant, capable and highly refined young men to a casual death, the willingness to do which, is, I suppose, expresses in the plainest manner what is known as a sense of tragedy, which most intellectuals seem to consider a very desirable thing to possess in one's person.

Millenial Generation Antony and Cleopatra, I Presume. Chicks like this, you can argue, aren't worth getting worked up about, but I have always sensed that figuring out how to get in favor with this general type would have been the key for me, given the era in which I lived, social environment I had some possibility of hovering around, etc, to have had a more satisfying social and romantic life in my youth. Of course I never came close to figuring it out, and women like this, who would seem to be the nearest thing I have to a natural reasonably attractive, opposite-sex peer group, always held me off at such a great distance that I am not sure I managed to get the ball even past midfield in my entire youthful career.

ACT V SCENE ii, CLEOPATRA: (Good example of poetic power) "...If your master
Would have a queen his beggar, you must tell him,
That majesty, to keep decorum, must
No less beg than a kingdom: if he please
To give me conquer'd Egypt for my son,
He gives me so much of mine own as I
Will kneel to him with thanks."

Later in the same scene, more good lines, also from Cleopatra:

"...saucy lictors
Will catch at us like strumpets , and scald rhymers
Ballad us out o' tune: the quick comedians
Extemporally will stage us and present
Our Alexandrian revels; Antony
Shall be brought drunken forth, and I shall see
Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness
I' the posture of a whore."

I am guessing that Shakespeare, being an actor and writer of dialogue, would have spoken in a somewhat similar manner to that in which he wrote. One of my great mistakes in undertaking to be a writer was to completely discount the relation between one's talking, in which area by the way I am wholly incapable, and one's writing. Given enough time--weeks, months--one can untangle and hammer out one's impressions and thoughts enough on the page to make a somehwat coherent idea, but the problem of course is that the person in the real time of life who requires such an amount of time to make any sense of the impressions he has and the people who speak with him is simply going to have a very constricted experience of life and other men, and certainly cannot be a novelist, which requires its practitioners to comprehend and record the world at a rate somewhat akin to the pace at which it actually happens. The person such as myself who carries single assertion or exchanges from much larger and forgotten conversations about in his mind such as I do, and in some instances comes upon a potential response to an assertion made by the other 20 years--20 years!--after the actual assertion was made in real time is going to be at a real handicap in trying to create a fictional world that has enough life and fullness in it to be interesting to any reader.

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