One joy of directing Antony and Cleopatra has been finding moments haunted by Julius Caesar. I directed Julius Caesar for Portland Actors Ensemble in 2008 and it is among my favorite plays. Yet, I had out of hand dismissed its influence upon Antony and Cleopatra as minimal.
I have faint recollections of accepting a teacher’s caution that the Antony of Julius Caesar need not be the Antony of Antony and Cleopatra and extended that caution beyond its logical conclusion. It is more that one can no more read the plays for faithful dramatization of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans than one can turn to Shakespeare’s English monarch plays for Tudor History. Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra are creative acts written at very different periods of Shakespeare’s career. Fine. So stipulated. Freed from my former excess of caution, I can now hear the reverberations of Julius Caesar throughout Antony and Cleopatra and will share a few of these here.
Pompey’s reminder to the triumvirate of his father’s place in history along with the fall of Brutus and Cassius constitutes the most direct and sustained reference back to the action of Julius Caesar:
To you all three,
As the actor playing Lepidus pointed out the speech reads like an advertisement for the prequel. The you that is laboring can be Antony or Octavius or both. The use of honor is pointed, if one recalls that Brutus entreats the crowd “believe me for mine honor, and have respect to mine honor, that you may believe.” (JC – 3.2) His pitch is undone, of course, by Antony’s rhetorical flourish of juxtaposing Caesar’s greatest achievements with the avowed honor of his killers. Pompey justifies his insurrection in righting an even older wrong than that of Julius Caesar’s fall of which the main beneficiaries stand before him.
Another moment Julius Caesar’s ghost is felt is in Antony’s astonishment after the loss at Actium in Octavius new-found skill. Antony says to Eros:
Yes, my lord, yes; he at Philippi kept
Antony takes credit for the victories that drove Cassius and Brutus to suicide and wonders how Octavius has gained experience enough to effectively challenge him now.
These references are fairly straightforward – the deeper resonance between Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra that I have come to cherish is the character’s sense of a divinity that shapes their ends; of their being a time which is ripe for their designs and times that doom them. Before Brutus presses on to Phillipi, he tells Cassius:
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
These lines are among the best Brutus utters. And their sense is riddled through Antony and Cleopatra as Cleopatra stays Antony’s time or when Octavius orders that his army:
Strike not by land; keep whole: provoke not battle,
Learning of Antony’s death, Octavius calls back to another critical moment in Julius Caesar: the thunderstorm scene in which Casca, Cicero, and Cassius attempt to divine the meaning of the strange sights encountered about the Roman streets. Casca has passed a lion and a hundred women who swear to have seen men ablaze wander the street. Octavius expects such a scene and tells us so:
The breaking of so great a thing should make
One need not have read or seen Julius Caesar to enjoy Antony and Cleopatra, however, a great many moments are made richer with that play’s remembrance.