|Cleopatra and the Dying Mark Anthony by Pompeo Batoni, 1763|
Despite the fact that the action picks up in ancient Rome, more or less where Julius Caesar left off, there is a lot that is remarkably modern about Antony and Cleopatra. You’ve got a guy blowing off work to make time for his mistress, people getting married carelessly without bothering to get to know their spouses, and a husband-stealing diva who creates all kinds of drama for her already remarried widower boyfriend because she can’t ever really be sure that he’s any more committed to her than he has been to any of his poor, dead wives. Of course, this kind of thing is just fodder for daytime talk shows when it involves the lower classes, but it is primetime news when it involves royalty or heads of state. The infidelity of England’s Prince Charles to Lady Diana became more than just countless front pages; it became a part of world history. Imagine how much more scandalous it would be, then, if the unfaithful party was actually expected to be in charge of running his country, and carelessly placed his people at risk in order to pursue the continued pleasure of his mistress’s company. This is exactly where Mark Antony begins in Antony and Cleopatra.