Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Mars, Hercules, Antony


The characters in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra regularly associate Antony, the greatest general of his age, with Mars, god of war, and also with the demigod Hercules, his supposed ancestor. In the opening of the play, Philo laments that Antony is no longer the man whose “goodly eyes . . . Have glowed like plated [that is, dressed in armor] Mars.” Since Cleopatra identifies herself with Venus, it’s only fitting that she has an affair with the latter-day Mars – although in this case, he’s the one being unfaithful (to Fulvia). After learning about Antony’s marriage to Octavia, Cleopatra reveals the combined anger and longing she feels toward him:

Though he be painted one way like a Gorgon [that is, a monster],
The other way’s a Mars [that is, a heroic, godlike figure].

Hercules, son of the supreme god Jupiter and the mortal Alcmena, was noted for his strength and, at times, for his lack of judgment. His mythology includes a year-long servitude (a penalty for murder) to Omphale, a queen of the east. During his time as one of Omphale’s slaves, Hercules was compelled to wear feminine clothing and to do chores, such as spinning, associated with “women’s work.” Some ancient vases and mosaics depict Omphale wearing the skin of the Nemean Lion (killing it was one of the Twelve Labors of Hercules) and carrying Hercules’s club.

The image shows Omphale and Hercules with emblems of each other’s gender – the club and the distaff – by 18th-century painter Francois Lemoyne.

Shakespeare alludes to this myth when Cleopatra recalls how

Ere the ninth hour, I drank him to his bed;
Then put my tires and mantles [headresses and robes] on him, whilst
I wore his sword Philippan. [The sword he used in the battle against Brutus at Philippi.]

When Cleopatra succeeds in angering Antony at his departure for Rome she calls him “this Herculean Roman.”

Hercules continued as a military hero during his service to Omphale. In some versions of the myth, Omphale rewards him at the end of the year with marriage.

In one scene, Shakespeare calls for music to be heard: the mysterious sound and its disappearance is interpreted by Antony’s own men as Hercules withdrawing his divine patronage of Antony.


FLATWATER SHAKESPEARE'S ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA

OPENS TOMORROW NIGHT, SEPTEMBER 9, 7:30


SWAN THEATRE AT WYUKA, 3600 "O" STREET, LINCOLN


CALL 473-2897 FOR TICKETS

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