Preserving the Spirit of Antony and Cleopatra Abstract
Tracing the treatment of breath and the lungs in early modern receipt books, this essay argues that breath, in the text and performance of Antony and Cleopatra, becomes a means of dynamic preservation of characters’ bodies and relationships, of time and place in situational irony, and of on-stage actors and their audience. In the vein of scholars examining breath in Hamlet as an entity that not only connects texts to readers or actors to audiences, but also the means by which texts alter their embodied audiences, I argue that breath in Antony and Cleopatra connects and preserves the stage performance and filming of the 2014 Stratford Shakespeare Festival production of the play. Perceived as both emblematic and literal, breath, or spiritus, is a metonym for a both/and relationship between theatre and film and how their network of influences together creates the phenomenon of the text. Breath as it is both physiologically and metaphorically understood in a Galenic and early modern discourse offers a respite from the binary opposition of post-Enlightenment perspectives of body and spirit, allowing us to reimagine breath’s materiality and its entanglement with the body’s internal and external environments as a process of preserving life.