Monday, June 6, 2016

Name of the Blog, Antony and Cleopatra

Why did you name your blog Smells Like Pirates?  Why?  Do you know what pirates smell like?  Have you ever been a pirate?

I have never been a pirate, but do have a pretty good guess what pirates smell like, mostly based on how other people smell when they do the sort of work pirates do.  As to why I gave the blog this name, I answered that (more-or-less) in the first post, but I will give a little backstory that should make it clearer.

Several years ago I was teaching that class, and during that class we were talking about sewage systems.  I don't remember why, but that was a topic of discussion.  I pointed out that in places where the sewers depend on gravity to bring the sewer waters to the treatment plant, it is not unusual for a clog to cause the sewage of people living in the hills to flood into the houses of people living in the valleys.  Most of the students understood instinctively, but somebody wanted me to draw a picture.  I drew a house on a hill and said it was Matthew Padgett's, and a house in the valley and said it was mine.  I drew the sewer lines under the house and showed where the clog was.  I then said, "At first it is not a big problem, but as the sewage gets more and more backed up it will eventually start to fill up my bathtub and sinks.  One day I will come home, open the door, and say 'It smells like Padgett in here.'"

As a result of this story, the phrase "It smells like Padgett" became one of the catchphrases of that class.

When I submitted my proposal to travel to museums to study how pirates are portrayed, I remembered how catchy the phrase about Padgett was, so I just replaced "Padgett" with "pirates."  The name does cause some confusion, but it has proven to be rather memorable.

Is the story of the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra in Shakespeare historically accurate?

I think what the student is wanting to know here is related to Cleopatra's motivation in telling Antony that she is dead.  In the play Antony and Cleopatra, Antony becomes angry at Cleopatra after he is abandoned by his cavalry.  He believes it is a result of Cleopatra betraying him.  Cleopatra runs to a mausoleum and locks herself in.  There here servant Charmian tells Cleopatra that she should send a servant to tell Antony that she (Cleopatra) is dead, so she does.  She then wants the servant to return to tell her how Antony took the news.

The clear implication is that Cleopatra is trying to see if Antony still loves her.  She wants to know if he will mourn her or callously claim that he is relieved.  Cleopatra's insecurity was previously seen when she was taken aback that Antony did not mourn more passionately for his wife Fulvia; she wonders if he will act the same when she herself dies.

The historical records we have, even those used by Shakespeare, do not make such a clear case for her wanting to test his love.  Shakespeare's main source for the play was Plutarch's Life of Antony.  Shakespeare's description of the death of Antony is very similar to the one in Plutarch.  The main difference is that Plutarch does not make it clear that she is trying to test his love.  In fact, Plutarch implies that she sends the message so that Antony, who believes he had been betrayed, will stop pursuing her.  In other words, she is lying to him to save her own neck.

I think the notion that Cleopatra wants to see if Antony still loves her is mainly Shakespeare's idea, and I can't find it clearly stated as a motivation in any of the historical documents.  On the other hand, it seems at least - which is why that is how I wrote it into the puppet show that I created to review this story.

As an interesting side note, almost all of the people who wrote a summary of the story of Antony and Cleopatra for the final included the detail that Cleopatra did it to test to see if Antony still loved her, even though I barely mentioned it in class.  The puppet show seems to have been influential on how my students viewed the historical event.  It is always best to look stuff up for yourself, and not to trust a puppet show too much. 

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