"Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety; other women cloy
The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry
Where she most satisfies."
So. The preconceptions I had about Antony and Cleopatra were that, it would basically be a tragic, Romeo and Juliet style love story, very dramatic and sexy and, you know, with loads of Antony and Cleopatra together time. And obviously they're the two most important characters, and they are together some of the time, but it felt like their story actually took a back seat to the power struggles between Antony and Caesar (not that Caesar. The other one. A new one) and their battles and skirmishes and whatnot. This isn't exactly a problem (although, as we all know, I don't like things that include war!) and it's not something that really devalues the play at all, it's just that my preconceptions of the thing held me back from fully appreciating what it actually was about. Which is a shame, but it's something that I do a LOT, not just with books but with movies too, so I should probably work on that. I happen to know that, when I read this again, I'll like it and appreciate it much better, but the first time around? It didn't really work for me.
The thing with reading plays is, as good as they are, their intention is always to be performed, and so reading them doesn't really give you a proper or full representation of what they actually are. I actually found that with Antony and Cleopatra, I got really confused about who was on whose side at each point, and when various battles were happening, which I'm sure is something that I wouldn't be able to miss onstage. It doesn't help that I was also reading the battle scenes/bits where Antony was in Rome whilst half of my mind was going 'but when will he go back to Cleopatra?!' and this is why I say I'm sure I'll be able to appreciate it better next time around. But anyway, I found the political side of things confusing, and didn't really know who was friends with whom at any given time, but it's entirely my fault for basically not wanting there to be a political side to things, if you know what I mean.
So, was the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra really all that? Well, it was... Interesting. Actually, I don't mean ...interesting, I just plain mean interesting. I never really got any sense that theirs was a 'can't possibly be without each other' love, since, on the contrary, they spend the majority of the play apart, and much of their relationship seems to be based on sex and desire- Cleopatra is clearly this figure of great desire just, historically, but for it to be so... out there was something I wasn't really expecting! Now, obviously there's nothing wrong with their sexual desire, but the problem is that there doesn't really seem to be anything deeper there, and so when called upon to prove their dedication to each other, they're more into looking out for their own, separate interests, rather than for each other.
See, interesting right?! I guess that, since Cleopatra is the ruler of Egypt, and Antony the joint ruler of the Roman Empire, their top priorities are not each other, but their respective countries/Empires. So, basically, they're grown ups who love each other and sexing each other, but are mature enough to realise that their passions are not necessarily as important as entire countries/empires full of people. It's not so romantic, but it sure is practical, and I think realistic. It's not that they don't love each other enough, it's just that they love their people more. Or something. Until they do love each other, right near the end, and that's all good. And also, Cleopatra is a wicked awesome feminist:
"Charmain: Madam, methinks if you did love him dearly,Ok, not really a feminist so much as a master manipulator of Antony/men in general, but still! She won't be all subservient so that he can be in charge, and that's just great!
You do not hold the method to enforce
The like from him.
Cleopatra: What should I do that I do not?
Charmain: In each thing give him way: cross him in nothing.
Cleopatra: Thou teachest like a fool, the way to lose him."
So basically I've just given the Antony and Cleopatra more post time than it gets in the play. But that's ok since I get extremely bored and tired out by battles, even when Shakespeare does them. I suspect those parts are much better/clearer when they're being acted out and you're properly paying attention, but for the casual reader, the thing to really stay for in this is the central relationship which is, I say again, really interesting and intriguing and worth sticking around for.