September 2: The Fall Of The Inimitable Livers

Dryden says Cleopatra killed herself with aspic. I don't like the stuff either, but geez.

Sure, Antony and Cleopatra's legend was stoked by their high life of their glorious Scott-and-Zelda days; but today, via Dryden (via Shakespeare via Plutarch, really -- in our day this artistic practice is seen in successive covers of "Louie Louie"), we learn that what becomes a legend most is dual suicide.

Antony comes in about a third of the way through the act, and after that he gets two love scenes. The first is with his lieutenant Ventidius; it is about manly Roman death (emphasis added for a tiny bit of extra gayness) :
Vent. ... if death be your design,—
As I must wish it now,—these are sufficient
To make a heap about us of dead foes,
An honest pile for burial.

They are enough.
We’ll not divide our stars; but, side by side,
Fight emulous, and with malicious eyes
Survey each other’s acts: So every death
Thou giv’st, I’ll take on me, as a just debt,
And pay thee back a soul.

Now you shall see I love you. Not a word
Of chiding more. By my few hours of life,
I am so pleased with this brave Roman fate,
That I would not be C├Žsar, to outlive your.
When we put off this flesh, and mount together,
I shall be shown to all the ethereal crowd,—
Lo, this is he who died with Antony!

Then Antony learns of Cleopatra's death -- falsely, as it turns out -- and, after much back-and-forth about whether and how they should kill themselves, finally we get this:
Vent. Give me your hand.
We soon shall meet again. Now, farewell, emperor!— [Embrace.
Methinks that word’s too cold to be my last:
Since death sweeps all distinctions, farewell, friend!
That’s all— I will not make a business of a trifle;
And yet I cannot look on you, and kill you;
Pray turn your face.

I do: strike home, be sure.

Home as my sword will reach. [Kills himself.
Ventidius, you bitch! And, after killing himself, he still has more lines which shows you how tough the Romans were.

Then there's the other love scene, with Cleopatra, which has the unfortunate defect of the two of them having to figure out the plot which all of us in the audience just saw, and which would also have the very probable defect of an actor having a lot of lines after just having stabbed himself. Five will get you ten that said actor hams it up. How could you not? This actually might be fun to stage campily, what with the Ventidius stuff and all.

There remains only the aspics to kill Cleo and the women, and you'd have to have read the whole play, as I obviously have not, to get the sense of whether this is really sad or not. I guess it would add to the general campiness if you actually used aspics under the guise of being true to the text. Student directors, take note!

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