Taking on a character culled from the skull of Shakespeare intimidates even the best, but, with your permission, I will attempt to find the core concepts behind the role of Mark Antony in the masterwork Julius Caesar and offer possible approaches to bringing that form to life—without having to rely too heavily on pagan worship, sacrifices and the like. Herein, I assemble what appears as the essential backbone of any true Antony. These vertebrae span from lovely to hateful, admirable to despicable and, no doubt, will have us hunching over our own for a glance at his glory.
Firstly, as all proper Romans would, I'll address the populace before the individual. By backbone, I mean the character’s deep motivations behind all said and done. This may seem like an endless phantasmagoria of the psyche, but in fact, after some careful reading of a text, there are always a simple handful of operating factors that appear with consistency. From these few touchstones, an actor can build a skyscraper with confidence and clarity, eventually providing the whirlwind of colors and shades that surround the structure.
Now, let us examine the first knot of Antony’s spine. His most obvious and often referenced attribute is that of the “a masker and a reveler.” To obtain the moniker of a “Reveler” in that era was no small feat. Even the normal people drank wine at eight in the morning! Everyone knows that person with the X Factor, the life of the party, the one who lights up a room…say it as you will as long as you say it about Antony. Antony’s first back bone is fashionable, quick witted, knowledgeable in the arts, lively, and charming. Whether in gesture, appearance, or accessories, Antony's liberal arts edge should be shown and exemplary.
“O world, thou wast the forest to this hart; / And this indeed, O world, the heart of thee” is how Antony describes his beloved Caesar at the time of his death. It is Antony that offers Caesar the crown three times, as Casca relates. Antony sees to all Caesar's needs: “When Caesar says 'Do this,' it is performed.” So strong is the connection between Antony and Caesar that Brutus is moved to think, “And for Mark Antony, think not of him; / For he can do no more than Caesar's arm / When Caesar's head is off.” They are literally inseparable in people's minds. Constant in the heart of Anthony is the beating of another: Ceasar’s. Clink! There’s the second spinal spot taken by the Emperor.
But don't fall in love just yet. Antony has a dark side waiting for its cue. One must pay attention to see how his lies and schemes develop after the death of Caesar. Antony sends his servant with messages of friendship and love to calm the nerves of Brutus’s band. These kind gestures were made on the condition that he would receive an explanation for Caesar's murder, but before he receives any such account, at the very moment he finds himself alone, he burns, “ ... now I do prophesy … Domestic fury and fierce civil strife … ranging for revenge … and let slip the dogs of war.” He never had any intention to listen or hear rationale—he aimed to create a mess and then watch it rot. Many more nasty events follow. He kills his own nephew like a fly, “look, with a spot I damn him.” Throughout the performance, Antony’s third vertebrae expresses itself by being above everyone in stature and status. Everyone but his gods, of course.
No matter how vengeful Antony becomes post-Caesar's passing, there is a Fatalist atmosphere around him. Caesar thought, “What can be avoided / Whose end is purposed by the mighty gods?” These attitudes created Stoicism, for why would you waste emotions over that which you have no control? All is out of their hands. Brutus states, “Set honor in one eye and death i' th' other, / And I will look on both indifferently.” The best a man could do was rely on old superstitions. Antony himself commands the blessing of the Lupercal feast. Caesar tells him, “Forget not in your speed, Antonius, / To touch Calphurnia.” All these whims and airs of the time would no doubt fill Antony’s lungs. For example, a few drops of blood from Caesar's dead body might be collected into a vile and cherished during that closing monologue just as Antony later tells the crowd to, “dip their napkins in his sacred blood; / … And dying, mention it within their wills.” So, Fatalism falls fourth in the bones of his back.
Finally, Antony embodies the finest qualities of logic and persuasion. The famous set of monologues to the crowd display an ingenious knowledge of communication. He manages to stay within Brutus' instructions to “speak all good [he] can devise of Caesar” and “not in [his] funeral speech blame [them]” while still damning the traitors and saying all the nasty negatives he wishes. He cries, “...I rather choose / To wrong the dead, to wrong myself and you, / Than I will wrong such honorable men,” making it clear that to honor these men is to hurt everyone else. Then, he suffers falsely, “I fear I wrong the honorable men / Whose daggers have stabbed Caesar; I do fear it.” He details what he would do instead of overtly doing it: “But were I Brutus, / … there were an Antony / Would ruffle up your spirits … to rise and mutiny,” acting like he himself cannot do it as he achieves it! Another brilliant tactic of Antony's is to build Caesar into a father figure for the people, so they no longer bemoan a king but a daddy: “... great Caesar fell. / ...Then I, and you, and all of us fell down,” and “Tis good you know not that you are his heirs; / For if you should, O, what would come of it?” The depth of thought and cunning it takes to handle a crowd of emotions with subtlety and tact of this level is rare. The “masker and reveler” must remember what is behind all that playful humor and jest: a politician of great reckoning. Bone five.
These five traits make Anthony—our partying, perfumed, pompous, pagan politician—and pose a few vertebrae for him to stand with, but the blood and muscles remain to be seen by each daring volunteer. Shakespeare has mercy on his poor performers and scatters pearls throughout Julius Caesar to give strength to the vexed actor on his journey through his Roman world. Remember, “that you have no such mirrors as will turn / Your hidden worthiness into your eye.” Remember that “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves.” And, of course, remember to “bear it as our Roman actors do, / With untired spirits and formal constancy.” These advices are the guiding lights down the road to comprehending Shakespeare's intentions for Antony, for actors, and for audiences. If these do not work for you, try a Roman diet of red wine at eight in the morning for a week. I guarantee you'll feel differently about Shakespeare after that.