Shakespeare, Our Contemporary

The Antony and Cleopatra project is going well. Yesterday, I used the play to help the sixth-grade students make connections to present-day world events.

Antony and Cleopatra takes place in the first century B.C., a time when there was one global superpower in the world. By the time of the play’s opening scene, the Romans had scooped up most of the Hellenistic nations; only Egypt remained independent. However, both Romans and Egyptians were well aware that Egypt was living in Rome’s shadow. Philo has the opening speech of the play, and his racism and entitlement are readily on display:

Nay, but this dotage of our general’s
O’erflows the measure; those his goodly eyes,
That o’er the files and musters of the war
Have glow’d like plated Mars, now bend, now turn
The office and devotion of their view
Upon a tawny front; his captain’s heart,
Which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst
The buckles on his breast, reneges all temper,
And is become the bellows and the fan
To cool a gipsy’s lust. Look! where they come.
Take but good note, and you shall see in him
The triple pillar of the world transform’d
Into a strumpet’s fool; behold and see.

For a rank and file Roman soldier to speak of the Egyptian queen as “tawny” and a “strumpet” sets the tone for a world where there is an unequal balance of power.

Today, there is once again a single global superpower in the world, but that has only been true for the past twenty years. In fact, there have only been a handful of unchallenged superpowers in world history. (The Macedonians and the Mongols are the other two that come to mind. Others?) Therefore, this play offers a unique opportunity to explore power dynamics in our present world community.

How does it affect the world when there is one dominant superpower? What opportunities does that country have? What are its responsibilities in the world? How did Rome handle its power? How does the United States handle its power?

We had a fantastic conversation, and I think the students have a new lens for viewing both the play and world affairs.

There is only one posting to the message board, but I’m patient. And it looks like I am going to be working with an eighth-grade class on As You Like It asynchronously. I’ll be meeting with them the week after next, but most of our interactions will be online. Watch this space for updates!

UPDATE (That was fast): I’ve just added an Antony and Cleopatra category, so you can follow along with the project.

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