Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Problem of Scope

I realized that both of my recent dilemmae (concerns about cast size and the number of soldiers onstage, and concerns about sets and geographic distances) are issues of scope. Not the mouthwash; I mean "the sweep or reach of mental activity, observation, or outlook."

Most of Shakespeare's tragedies are both microcosmic and macrocosmic at once with respect to social events and their consequences. In Lear, family squabbles (macrocosmic society) lead to the collapse of a kingdom, and maybe the end of civilisation (microcosmic social order).

I don't think Antony & Cleopatra really has much in the way of microcosm, though. It's all big. In this play, relationships that we tend to think of in small, intimate terms are still writ large: Antony and Cleopatra's adulterous relationship, for instance, never seems like a "quickie" or a dalliance, or anything remotely small and sordid. Similarly, Antony's remarriage to Octavia is a political maneouvre, and everyone acknowledges it as such; it's not designed to provide Antony with domestic bliss, it's designed to lend Rome some stability.

I'm reminded of the Greek gods, whose smallest gestures can level mountains or demolish cities. These characters have either deluded themselves into thinking that they are the earthly equivalent of gods...or else they really are the earthly equivalent of gods. Even though Shakespeare is quick to point out their mortal foibles and shortcomings, I think he still inclined towards the latter. After all, isn't Zeus a randy bastard, and isn't Hera a jealous and vindictive wife?

So, one way or another, the play needs scope. So far I've been thinking about it in fairly realistic (if impractical) terms: scope equals lots and lots of soldiers, scope equals vast exotic settings... you know, Lawrence of Arabia-style scope. But I don't think it's gonna happen. So I need some other way to convey scope, and the macrocosmic sweep of the play. What are some metaphors for "big"?

(I just had an image of a stage floor shaped like the apex of a globe, curving down in all directions, with the continents and oceans painted on. "His legs bestrid the ocean"...)

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