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Caesar & Cleopatra Broché – 1941
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This was great. Instead of a love affair, we get a high-stakes game of chess with Cleopatra making calculated moves to secure the throne of Egypt, but her opponent, Caesar, excels at the game as well. Shrewd takes on Wise in this excellent battle of wits, giving us a refreshingly original story that portrays Cleopatra as a crafty politician seeking power rather than a romantic siren interested in an affair of the heart.
This story was smart and funny. I loved it and wanted more when it was over. I'll have to buy another one of his books. I just love his style.
This story takes place when Caesar has occupied Egypt. Cleopatra wants to steal the throne out from under her brother and realizes that Caesar has the power to give it to her. The lengths she goes to in order to gain Caesar's favor or even stand in his presence are zany. She even goes so far as to roll herself up in a carpet that's to be delivered to him.
Shaw is my favorite of the Victorian playwrights. His works were revolutionary in many ways. Use of humor was rare and exceptional for playwrights during that era, but Shaw was not afraid to make audiences laugh. He also tackled serious moral, political, and social issues in his plays at a time when sappy dramas were all the rage. He was truly bold and innovative and greatly contributed to dramatic art. He had an amazing gift, the ability to make people think while simultaneously making them laugh.
Reading Shaw's works are a genuine treat. All of his plays are fabulous. His characters are memorable, and his humor is brilliant.
This is a wonderful book, charming, significant, and insightful. I can't recommend it enough.
This is a fine edition of the delightful Shaw play. Shaw's Caesar is a man of self-doubt and good humor, a vivid counterpoint to the haughty, aristocratic Caesar of Shakespeare.
How could Shaw portray people who lived in a different culture close to two thousand years ago? Shaw tells us that despite the passing of so many centuries, people do not really change. Thus he can portray the people in his comedy and their reactions as if they were living today. Thus, also, in reverse, he is able to show the folly of the English people of his own age in his portrayal of the ancients. At the outset of the play, for example, the Egyptians speak of themselves as if they are the descendants of the gods. Is this any different than humanity today, who also act as if they are the greatest beings of creation and that they can do to the world as they see fit.
Cleopatra is depicted as a kittenish, childish, immature, frightened, young girl who is also afraid of her servants and who wants to hide from the Romans. Caesar is shown as a seasoned warrior, afraid of nothing, yet with a sense of humor, a womanizer who is fascinated and charmed by the kittenish Cleopatra.
The play has a slow overall narrative flow with less emotional depth than one might expect from Shaw. Reading the text of this play exposes characters which are rather flat and difficult to care deeply about on first reading. In order to bring this off in the theater, Shaw needs to rely on depth added by the actors. Although plays such as Candida and Mrs. Warren's Profession are witty, clever and a joy to read, some of Shaw's plays, well, drag. Although this is not as much of a snoozer as St. Joan, clever repartee is not a driving force.
There are some redeeming strengths of this play. The majesty of Shaw's recreation of the streets and people, the superstitions and passions, of Alexandria in 48-7 BC is a treat to experience. Most notably, the character of Caesar is a personification of Roman Stoic virtue. He possesses emotional reserve guided by rational thinking and a deep understanding of human motivations. Caesar responds to the emotions of others with the agitation due to a natural phenomenon such as the blowing of the wind or a chilling rainstorm. All are seen as natural forces to which an emotional response would be a peculiar and maladaptive method of coping. This is an accurate reflection of the Stoic philosophy which was prominent in ancient Rome. At the same time, Caesar is human and has a sly and playful sense of humor and deep compassion for others. Shaw presents a ruler who leads without punishment, without revenge and without vindictive judgement. His is a strong and compelling dramatic lead, an exemplar of what humans should aim for in avoiding the worst acts of revenge and brutality which can characterize politics of war, certainly a voice which could be listened to with benefit.