Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Daniel's Cleopatra Part II

My first note is unintelligible now so I hope it wasn't good.

The structure of this work, which it seems was never intended to be performed as a drama, is that the different characters alternate long soliloquies, often alone, with the commentary of a chorus wrapping up each act. One interesting choice in light of the many interpretations of the story that followed is that the action begins when Antony is already dead and Cleopatra's cause already lost. This means there is a great emphasis in the play on her acknowledging and confessing the faults that led to her downfall.

Some sample lines (Act I, 105-112):

"Luxuriousnesse in me should raise the rate
Of loose and ill-dispensed libertie.
If it be so, then what neede these delaies?
Since I was made the meanes of miserie:
Why should I strive but to make death my praise,
That had my life but for my infamie?
And let me write in letters of my bloud
A fit memoriall for the times to come..."

As we can see, early in the play Cleopatra is still aiming low. The poetry is certainly more than passable, it strikes me. Besides the technical proficiency of the meter and word choices there is a very nice expression of character embedded in these eight lines, as the speaker starts on the subject of her own extravagance, in the middle seems to seek to adopt a more moderate plan of action, and then swings back to extravagance at the end.

(I, 163-4) Cleopatra's lust played up:

"My vagabond desires no limites found,
For lust is endlesse, pleasure hath no bound."

The implication in this play is that Cleopatra did not really *love* Antony, certainly not in the ideal sort of way in which love is defined in pastorals and other "romances". Much is made of the heroine's age as well, as if she were one of the "cougars" so infamous in our own time, preying on a hapless victim, though in reality he was around 14 years older than she was and she was around 28 when they first became involved with each other. (II, 262-8) (Octavius) CAESAR:

"Free is the heart, the temple of the minde,
The Sanctuarie sacred from above,
Where nature keeps the keies that loose and bind.
No mortall hand force open can that doore,
So close shut up, and lockt to all mankind:
I see mens bodies onely ours, no more,
The rest, anothers right, that rules the minde."

I thought the temple image was well-expressed, and shed some clarity to me as well on the psychological importance of sacred places to men.

(II, 331-4) PROCULEIUS (a messenger quoting Cleopatra to Caesar, regarding the latter's all-conquering instrusiveness):

"What, must he stretch foorth his ambitious hand
Into the right of Death, and force us heere?
Hath Miserie no covert where to stand
Free from the storme of Pride, is't safe no where?"

Caesar credits her refusal to surrender her person to him, a point of emphasis in all the older versions of the story, to the influence of her noble blood, and after admonishing his lackey not to try to fathom the hearts of princes, explains (II, 390-4):

"Princes (like Lions) never will be tam'd.
A private man may yeelde and care not how,
But greater hearts will breake before they bow.
And sure I thinke sh'will never condiscend,
To live to grace our spoiles with her disgrace..."

Act III features a dialogue between two philosophers, Philostratus and Arius, remarking on the various human frailties that have brought the situation depicted in the play to such a dire pass. Philostratus finds the failure to face the reality of death and the overvaluing of life and its illusionary pleasures to be at the heart of the matter, and he is certainly not alone among commentators on the life of Cleopatra. He does get off one of my favorite Britishisms though in line 485, "And yet what blasts of words hath Learning found/To blowe against the fear of death and dying." I love that expression, "blasts of words". He goes on to add, in lines 499-500, perhaps obviously but disapprovingly nonetheless, "Who doth not toile and labour to adjourne/The day of death, by any meanes he can?"

(III 514, 519-20) Arius takes over:

"What feeble footing pride and greatnesse hath...
How nothing with our eie but horror meetes,
Our state, our wealth, our pride and all confounded."

The syntax here is very reminiscent of Shakespeare.

(III 545-6; 49-54) Some lines on one of my favorite topics, the rise and fall of nations:

"That no state can in height of happinesse,
In th'exaltation of their glory stand...
Thus doth the ever-changing course of things
Runne a perpetuall circle, ever turning:
And that same day that hiest glory brings,
Brings us unto the poynt of back-returning
For sencelesse sensualitie, doth ever
Accompany felicitie and greatnesse."

There is a second scene in the third act where Augustus Caesar and Cleopatra have a face to face confrontation, at which time Caesar refers to Cleopatra's people--whether he means the Greeks or the Egyptians is not made clear--as having long harbored enmity towards the Romans, which they are reaping the reward of now. Well, here is the quote (III. ii 629-30):

"Love? alas no, it was th'innated hatred
That thou and thine hast ever borne our people..."

I had never much considered that such a degree of enmity--and innate enmity at that--existed between these particular peoples; at least in the literature I have read one doesn't get the same feel for it as that between, say, the Romans and the Carthaginians, or the Celts, or the Veians, or between the Sicilian Greeks and the Carthaginians/Phoenicians, everybody and the Persians, etc. I wonder if this emotion is something Daniel gleaned from his deeper studies in these matters, or if he was trying to embellish the always elusive character of Augustus Caesar.

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