Article Title

Celebrating Idleness: Antony and Cleopatra and Play Theory


Abigail Scherer


Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra celebrates characters whose idle ways would surely rally support for early modern polemicists who call for the closing of public theaters. The application of play theory, specifically the three essential themes discussed in Eugen Fink’s theory of play, will help us to understand the lovers’ singular will to play, and why Roman figures find Egyptian play so provocative. First, Fink conceives of play as an autonomous adventure. Real time and space, with its flurry of deadlines and inveterate communal duties, do not penetrate the realm of play.Second, Fink writes that play’s “internal multiplicity of meaning” is not always“recognized” by “common sense,” for which “play means only frivolity, artificiality, unreality,idleness.” Finally, it is the play of the real world that Fink claims is transitory, even senseless, and because play can liberate us from reality’s “precipitate rush of successive moments,” play promises to elevate us. If we allow, Egypt can transport us to a realm of pure imagination,unconcerned with bounded space or time-propelled venture. To applaud Cleopatra’s transcendence is to give over completely to aesthetic impulses, to embrace the notion (the nightmare for many early modern polemicists) that idleness serves no greater purpose than its own creative ends. Yet rather than begetting a world of chaos and vice, as many had forecasted, in idle abandon Shakespeare’s lovers spawn a higher,enchantingly playful and timeless world that subsumes all clayey conquests.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.