Playing at Christianity
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AbstractShakespeare’s late play Antony and Cleopatra has the distinction of having not one but two characters (Enobarbus and Iras) die on stage from undetermined causes, perhaps more specifically as the result of excess emotions. In both cases, moreover, attention is drawn to these moments; “Have I the aspic in my lips?” asks Cleopatra (5.2.292), as surprised as an audience by Iras’s sudden collapse.

Enobarbus’s words as his death approaches (4.9.15-18) suggest a Christian perspective on such death. He refers to his heart about to be broken, which involves a Christian metaphor, one particularly favored by Protestants, concerning the hard heart of stone (symbolizing the 10 Commandments) replaced by the soft heart of flesh (capable of bearing the imprint of Jesus). Yet in an era prior to Jesus, such a transformation is not possible, and so the breaking of hard hearts results in death.

In such ways, the proximity of the setting of Antony and Cleopatra (31 BC) to the onset of Christianity suggests a tantalizing yet frustrating condition for the play’s characters, so close to the onset of redemption yet unable to perceive or attain it. This conference paper explores this predicament in Antony and Cleopatra and other plays such as King Lear. It also aims to think of the situation in the light of Shakespeare’s own historical position, one characterized by a recent and dramatic Reformation – yet one that might nonetheless have been seen by Shakespeare and his contemporaries as incomplete, and on the verge -- as in Enobarbus’s time -- of even more momentous developments to come.
All Author(s) ListJason Gleckman
Name of ConferenceAustralia and New Zealand Shakespeare Association (ANZSA) conference
Start Date of Conference08/02/2018
End Date of Conference10/02/2018
Place of ConferenceMelbourne, Australia
Country/Region of ConferenceAustralia
LanguagesEnglish-United States

Last updated on 2018-04-07 at 12:10