Shakspere Society of Philadelphia
Maybe not the first, but the oldest Shakespeare club in America or possibly even the world, has kept minutes for over a hundred fifty years.
MINUTES OF THE MEETING OF THE SHAKSPERE SOCIETY OF PHILADELPHIA AT THE FRANKLIN INN CLUB, NOVEMBER 7. 2001:
Dean Wagner in the chair. Other members attending: Ake, Bornemann, Di Stefano, Dobson, Dunn, Fallon, Fisher, Green, Griffin, Madeira, Peck, Pickering, Pope, Simmons, Warden, Wheeler. Guest: J. Goldstein.
The Dean announced the happy news that Messrs. Green, Dunn, and Cramer have volunteered to host the 2002 annual dinner of the Society in honor of the Bard's birthday. We were concerned to hear that Matt Dupee has had to undergo a heart catheterization procedure, but "heartened" to know that all has gone well. An up-to-date directory of the membership is included with these minutes, courtesy of our indefatigable Secretary for Meetings. As we prepared to read after dinner, we welcomed to our midst the current president of the Franklin Inn Club, Jonathan Goldstein.
We began our reading with Act Three, Scene Two of Antony and Cleopatra, and we read through the rest of this long and complex act. The text stimulated one of the most animated evenings of discussion in recent memory, with almost every member present anxious to air his views on one point or another. The Vice Dean stressed the rapid change of scenes and shifting settings of the action. A member recalled hearing in his youth Lord David Cecil's lecture on the play at Oxford, and Cecil's emphasis on the importance of panorama in Antony. In III.ii, we are touched by the painful parting of Octavia from her brother Octavius, who is so cold to all but his sister. Antony and his new bride are off to Greece, but we know where Antony's next travels will take him!
III.iii We are with Cleopatra and her court in Egypt. "Time stopped" while we were in Rome with Antony, commented the Vice Dean: Shakspere continues with the action in Egypt exactly where he left off in the last Egyptian scene in Act Two. The messenger from Rome, whom she beat earlier for unwelcome news, now carefully tells her what she wants to hear: Octavia is short, has a low forehead, is dull in speech, and worst/best of all, she is thirty!
III.iv--- Antony is furious at Octavius for insults to him and loudly tells his new wife that he must defend his honor. Poor Octavia speaks eloquently of her divided loyalties, and of the terrible bloodshed that will follow if Antony does not restrain himself: "Wars ' twixt you twain would be/As if the world should cleave, and that slain men/ Should solder up the rift." She goes to seek her brother and to try to mend the quarrel; Antony has travel plans of his own the minute his new wife has turned the corner. A member commented on the interesting contrast of Octavia, full of moral integrity, to the scheming and selfish Cleopatra.
III.vi---Octavia pleads with her brother to make up the quarrel with her husband, but Octavius is as bitter against Antony as the latter is against him. He tells his naively unbelieving sister that her husband "gives his potent regiment to a troll." Octavius has had Lepidus liquidated, and has seized his possessions; the Vice Dean pointed out that Octavius made no effort to justify this gangland hit against a weaker rival for power. Octavius is "all business, a prig" so we are more sympathetic to Antony than we would otherwise be, despite his petulance and his adolescent emotional impetuosity. Antony has won big battles and has the respect of his veterans; Octavius, his rival, wins no hearts. But Antony is tied to Cleopatra, who to Romans is the very incarnation of moral decadence.
III.vii---Antony makes an irrational, unexplained decision to fight on sea, not on land, where he is the legendary world champion, against Octavius at Actium. Enobarbus eloquently protests, to no avail. Shakspere implies, without explicit statement, that Antony follows Cleopatra' swill in this disastrous decision. He then flees the battle when she does, leaving the field for his rival. Is Cleopatra testing Antony's love? Is she protecting the Egyptian fleet? Is she only interested in protecting Egypt's interests, irrespective of Antony's fate? The Vice Dean commented on the notable contrast between Cleopatra and Elizabeth's brave eloquence addressing her troops when the Spanish threatened invasion when the Armada sailed in 1588. As to Cleo's influence over Antony, a member commented on the parallel to Lady Macbeth's disastrous influence on Macbeth in the play that the Bard probably wrote just before Antony.
III.x---Antony sails after the fleeing Cleo. The Roman Scarus comments that "Experience, manhood, honor, ne' er before/ Did so violate itself." Roman commanders plan to kneel to Octavius. Enobarbus stays with Antony, though reason argues against him.
III.xi---Antony, bitterly ashamed, asks his commanders to divide his gold and be gone to safety. Cleopatra enters to him; Antony condemns her influence over him while acknowledging how completely she commands him. But once she has asked pardon, he is wholly in love again: "Fall, not a tear, I say, one of them rates/ All that is won and lost."
III.xii---Antony in humiliation must send a mere schoolmaster to bargain with Octavius. Octavius will not listen to Antony's requests to retire to Greece to private life, but Cleopatra will be protected if she kills or hands over Antony to his rival.
III.xiii---Thidius, sent by Octavius to Cleopatra, is found kissing her hand by Antony, who has him whipped a shocking offense to Octavius. Antony challenges Octavius to a duel to settle their quarrel, provoking satiric scorn from Enobarbus. But Enobarbus struggles to justify staying true to Antony. As Cleopatra flatters Octavius' agent, Enobarbus declares that he must "find some way to leave" Antony. Cleopatra finds wonderful language to claim Antony's love once again. Antony, swinging from despair to jubilation, calls, "Come,/ Let's have one other gaudy night: call to us/ All my sad captains, fill our bowls once more." But Enobarbus hears only the voice of irrational infatuation, and declares, "I will find some way to leave him."
OUR NEXT MEETING WILL BE ON NOVEMBER 28. WE WILL BEGIN OUR READING AT ACT FOUR, SCENE ONE
Respectfully submitted Robert G. Peck Secretary for Minutes