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Shakspere Society of Philadelphia
Maybe not the first, but the oldest Shakespeare club in America or possibly even the world, has kept minutes for over a hundred fifty years.

Shakspere Society October 24, 2001


In the absence of Dean Wagner, Dean Emeritus Hopkinson in the chair. Other members present Baird, Bartlett, Bornemann, Cramer, DiStefano, Dobson, Dupee, Fallon, Fisher, Friedman, Green, Griffin, Ingersoll, Madeira, Peck, Pope, Rivinus, Schlarbaum, Warden. Guest: Robert Fallon, Jr.

Your scribe apologized for defective minutes for the last meeting that went out to ten members; a complete minutes for the meeting of October 10, 200l is included with this mailing. Announcement was made of the fact that the Shakspere Festival of Philadelphia (producing its work upstairs at the Lutheran Church at 21st and Sansom Streets) is currently staging the Bard's historically seldom staged but currently rather fashionable late romance Cymbeline (probably written just a couple of years after our current play for reading, Antony). We were informed that our dear fellow member Roland Frye finds it a bit difficult to answer the telephone but would love to hear from his friends by mail. A new address list of members is currently in preparation; if you have not yet informed Secretary for Meetings DiStefano of changes of address or e-mail address or telephone number, please give him a call soon.

Vice Dean Fallon commented briefly before we began our reading of the second act of Antony and Cleopatra. Romantic passion did not express itself on Shakspere's stage by physical embraces and kisses, underscored by surging orchestral accompaniment, in the style of close-ups in Hollywood films. Cleopatra, we must remind ourselves, was a preadolescent boy wearing a dress. (But what an actor he must have been for the bard to dare to write this part for him! Was he the same dazzling talent for whom the master created Lady Macbeth just a few months earlier?) Language creates sex appeal and passion in this play. The Vice Dean reminded us of the importance of the comments of Enobarbus as a shrewd and often sarcastic observer of this love affair: an analyst both repelled by his master's weakness in yielding to Cleopatra's seductive power and fascinated himself by the Egyptian queen's witchery. Cleo must maneuver between Antony and Octavius in order to keep her throne and to keep Egypt from succumbing completely to Roman power. Does love rule in Cleo or political desire? Or is it impossible to separate the two in her motives and actions? --In Act Two, the young Pompey is in rebellion against the triumvirate of Octavius, Antony, and Lepidus, eager to rehabilitate the reputation of his father, once cheered by the Roman mob, killed in battle by Julius Caesar. The young man negotiates tensely with the triumvirs late in the act, after several scenes of tense negotiations between Octavius and his elder political partner and rival Antony. Both episodes end with peace pacts, but peace is clearly superficial and strained in both cases; we wait for explosions to come.

II.Pompey hopes Cleo will keep Antony hypnotized so as to prevent unity and military readiness among the triumvirate: he hopes that the lustful or "salt Cleopatra" will use her "witchcraft" to create "charms of love" so that the veteran seductress's "waned lip" will keep its power to "Tie up the libertine in a field of feasts" spiced by "cloyless sauce" that will endlessly sharpen Antony's appetite and dull his sense of honour. Pompey is then startled to hear that the Roman in fact is in the field, that military duty "Can from the lap of Egypt's widow pluck/ The ne'er-lust-wearied Antony."

II.iiOctavius, reunited with Antony, vigorously attacks him for dereliction of duty and wonders whether the latter did not "practice on my state" while away from Rome. Antony is hotly indignant: "My being in Egypt, / Caesar, what was't to you?... How intend you, practis'd?" Antony's relatives have warred on Octavius in Antony's name against Antony's desires, he insists. Octavius sneeringly replies, "You patch'd up your excuses" and ignored his partner's letters to Egypt "when rioting in Alexandria." Antony admits to a disabling hangover or three, but the attack goes on: "You have broken the article of your oath." "It cannot be," Octavius says a bit later, "we shall remain in friendship." But Antony leaps at the suggestion that he marry his partner/rival's sister Octavia so as to bind up past strife between them. When the great men depart, Enobarbus is grilled by his Roman friends about the orgies of Egypt. He replies with his wonderful speech about Cleo's barge on the Nile, which "like a burnish'd throne/ Burn'd on the water." Cleo conquers nature, which serves her and makes her seem a goddess. She has spellbound Antony with her pageants of beauty and with her intense and endless energy, sometimes expressed in baroque ceremonial, sometimes in its opposite: "I saw her once/Hop forty paces through the public street,/And having lost her breath, she spoke and panted,/That she did make defect perfection,/And, breathless, power breathe forth." Antony will never leave her, since "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale /Her infinite variety. she makes hungry,/ Where most she satisfies."

II.iii Antony shows that Enobarbus is right: "I will to Egypt;/ For though I make this marriage for my peace,/ In th' East my pleasure lies." Antony moves his place, but once moved, yearns to be elsewhere.

II.v---In Egypt, Cleo wonders with her ladies how to keep Antony in the same way as "I will betray/Tawny-finn'd fishes [on] my bent hook." She recalls their erotically playful cross-dressing, he as Queen Cleo, she armed with his sword. She hears the horrid news of Antony's marriage. Cursing the messenger, she "strikes him down" and "hales him up and down," in the wonderfully vivid stage directions of the old Arden edition, saying to him, "I'll spurn thine eyes/ Like balls before me." in Sicily, Pompey parleys and parties with the triumvirs and strikes a deal that avoids battle much to the disgust of his father's old military companion Menas, who had tried to get young Pompey to cut his rivals' throats while he had the chance. The young man would have loved the deed, but honor will not permit him to arrange it himself.

III.i---In this scene in Parthia, always cut in production, Ventidius refrains from gaining too great a victory for Rome over the Parthians glory must be reserved for Antony!


Respectfully submitted,

Robert G. Peck , Secretary for Minutes

Originally published: Saturday, January 26, 2008; most-recently modified: Wednesday, June 05, 2019