June 17 – November 27, 2015

One of history’s most famous love stories, Antony and Cleopatra is Shakespeare’s most expansive play, full of all the colliding opposites that make life rich: work and play, war and peace, East and West, and – in the title characters – man and woman. The kaleidoscopic language and action of the play gives us a story which is simultaneously a tragedy and a comedy, both sublime.

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Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens before the play
  • Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (playing at the Blackfriars in 2015/16).
  • Senators Brutus and Cassius lead a group of conspirators to assassinate Julius Caesar.
  • Mark Antony, Octavius Caesar (Julius’s nephew), and Lepidus join forces to battle and defeat the conspirators.
  • Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus divide the Roman empire into three parts and rule as a triumvirate.
  • Even though he is married to Fulvia, Antony chooses to live in Egypt with Cleopatra.
Stuff that happens during the play
  • In Egypt, a Roman in Antony’s army complains that Cleopatra has changed Antony: “you shall see the triple pillar of the world transformed into a strumpet’s fool.”
  • Messengers bring bad news to Antony: his wife Fulvia and his brother have joined forces to battle Caesar, and Fulvia is now dead from illness. Antony tells Enobarbus about Fulvia’s death and that the son of Pompey the Great has “given the dare to Caesar and now commands the sea.” After telling Cleopatra the bad news and enduring her response, Antony returns to Rome.
  • In Rome, Caesar rails on Antony to Lepidus when they receive word that Pompey’s son is “strong at sea.”
  • In Egypt, Cleopatra is happy to receive word from Antony and asks her women if she ever loved Julius Caesar as much as she loves Antony.
  • At sea, as he prepares for war, Pompey is discouraged to discover that Antony has unexpectedly returned to Rome from Egypt.
  • In Rome, after Caesar and Antony have harsh words for each other, Agrippa suggests that Antony marry Caesar’s sister, Octavia, to help heal their rift; Antony agrees after being chided about Cleopatra. While Caesar takes Antony to see Octavia, Enobarbus tells the other Romans of Cleopatra’s “infinite variety.”
  • After seeing Octavia, Antony hears the warning of the Soothsayer about Caesar: “if thou dost play with him at any game, thou art sure to lose.”
  • In Egypt, a messenger tells Cleopatra that Antony has married Octavia; Cleopatra beats the messenger.
  • Antony, Caesar, and Lepidus broker a peace with Pompey and celebrate their truce aboard Pompey’s ship.
  • The peace does not last; Caesar imprisons Lepidus and battles Pompey without consulting Antony; Antony agrees to Octavia’s request that she go to Caesar as the “go between”; Antony then returns to Cleopatra and prepares to battle Caesar.
  • Antony and Caesar fight three battles. In the first, Antony yields to Cleopatra’s wish for a naval assault and loses shamefully when he chases after her retreating ship. Fed up with such behavior, Antony’s friend and lieutenant, Enobarbus, defects to join Caesar.
  • More fighting, comedy, tragedy, and new heaven ensue.
Notes from the Director

EPICadjective ep·ic \’e-pik\

  1. extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope
  2. telling a story about a hero or about exciting events or adventures

With its first known performance in 1608, Antony and Cleopatra is one of Shakespeare’s last tragedies and his first movie. Ok, it may have pre- dated the first motion picture by a few centuries, but the cinematic scope of the play is undeniable and epic: more scenes than any of his other works (40-ish scenes, depending on how you define the breaks); jumping back and forth to/from the Mediterranean locations of Rome, Egypt, Greece, and sea battles in between; along with starring one of history’s most famous pair of powerful lovers.

IMAGINATIONnoun imag·i·na·tion \i-‘ma-j -‘nā-sh n\

  1. the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present
  2. the ability to form a picture in your mind of something that you have not seen or experienced

The production history of A&C has been challenged by the shifting theatrical norms of the day. When big sets and some sort “realism” or “naturalism” dominated the production choices of an era, theatre companies have battled to stage the breadth and reach Shakespeare gives us. If we build a set for Rome, another set for Cleopatra’s court in Egypt, a set for Pompey’s boat, another set for Ceasar’s camp outside of Cleopatra’s court, then we’re going to have great difficulty switching back and forth as the story demands. The outdoor and indoor Elizabethan and Jacobean theatres for which Shakespeare wrote were far more open and easy to navigate. Shakespeare’s company didn’t need a special lighting cue and set change to switch locations. When he wanted the action to shift locale, all he had to do was start a scene with the line “Welcome to Rome,” and then the audience knew to make the jump without an electronic revolve revealing a new set. Shakespeare used language to create the settings for his audience to imagine. Modern set designers either struggle to create multiple locations in a play or they build something that doesn’t match Shakespeare’s words.

Here at the Blackfriars Playhouse, the theatre itself is the set. We sometimes embellish the stage with tables or thrones or cushions or curtains or whatever’s called for in the text. But we believe wholeheartedly that Shakespeare’s writing creates Theatre of the Imagination, which allows us to go globetrotting at the blink of an eye. A&C is filled with infinite variety. We hope you will build the sets with your imagination, that you will allow our inhabiting of Shakespeare’s language to empower your senses, touch your heart, and tickle your funny bone.

So welcome to Rome. And Egypt. And Pompey’s Boat. They will look like whatever we imagine; and together we’ll take this epic journey where Shakespeare leads us.


Artistic Director and Co-founder