Anthony and Cleopatra

This is part of Diane’s Literature Course II Series

In January this year, I started on a “Read Shakespeare in a Year” plan. I made it until about March, by which time I had learned something about myself. There is a lot of Shakespeare I just don’t enjoy.

That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate Shakespeare’s genius. I love several of his plays. However, one of my personal standards for enjoying literature is that there needs to be at least one character I care about. While struggling through the Henrys, the Richards, and the likes of Titus Andronicus, I kept thinking, These are despicable people. There is no one to root for! At the end of a tragedy, I want to be sad that everyone is dead.

I hoped for better when I started Antony and Cleopatra. Somehow I’d never read it before, and neither had my girls.  That, and the fact that the story fit with our ancient literature section, was the main reason I chose it for this year’s course.

We divided the play so we could finish it in three weeks.  For the first section, I read studiously, checked all the notes in my book so I wouldn’t miss any allusions or history, and consulted online helps. Ugh! I can’t stand these people. For the second section, I read a modernized version beside the original so I could move through it more quickly. Hmm, still don’t care. For that last section, I skimmed a detailed summary. Whew! That’s enough for now.

My students had the same reaction to this play, though I’m sure they were more diligent than I and didn’t resort to a summary. Each of the girls has read at least one other of Shakespeare’s plays that she did enjoy, so I’m satisfied that they weren’t prejudiced against Antony and Cleopatra simply because it’s Shakespeare. We will content ourselves, this time, with having crossed one of The Bard’s plays off our list and try another later. I did encourage the girls to remain open to the possibility of trying this one again later if time and opportunity arise.

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