The Only Thing Worth Pursuing Love

MAY 26 IS A DAY THAT WILL GO DOWN IN THE HISTORY OF TURKISH THEATER. FOR ON THAT DAY ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, WITH HALUK BİLGİNER IN THE LEAD ROLE, IS GOING TO BE THE FIRST PLAY STAGED IN TURKISH BY A TURKISH CAST AT the SHAKESPEARE GLOBE THEATER. WE TALKED WITH BİLGİNER ABOUT THE PLAY, WHICH WAS LAST STAGED IN TURKEY IN 1947. AND OF COURSE THE PREDOMINANT THEME WAS LOVE.

As your character says in the play, “There’s beggary in the love that can be measured.”
There are many things like power and war in the background of the play, but in fact it is a very great love story that is depicted. Indeed, some people say it’s the greatest love story in world literature - perhaps the greatest in history. It is a magnificent love. A love to the death. Antony’s line, “Then must thou needs find out new heaven, new earth,” refers to their union in death. If Cleopatra had lived on after Antony died, that love would not have been a legend today. The reason it is is that the two of them meet in eternity. And precisely for that reason we find this love worth telling, playing and writing about.

When Antony says, “Then must thou needs find out new heaven, new earth,” is he challenging Cleopatra?
What he means is that there is no answer on earth to Cleopatra’s question. And what if I try to measure it, she asks. In fact, Cleopatra is measuring Antony’s love in every scene. Let’s see what you’ll do now? I’m fleeing war. Are you going to follow me? Or are you going to stay there? Antony follows her. Ha, thinks Cleopatra then, this man lost the war, he must love me. The empire is gone. Money, property, power, none mean a thing. Love is all.

Does Antony really follow Cleopatra to prove his love? Or simply without thinking?
Antony leaves.for love. Wouldn’t you? Have you ever been in love? One leaves for love. For what other reason would one go? Is there any other reason to go? Is not love in any case finding oneself? One goes after oneself. The other is not love: Oh I really like that girl, oh I really like that guy. Love is something else. It involves finding yourself. There is no him and me. There is only us. If he goes, then I go too. If he dies, I die too.

How does a person realize that?
By trying to understand yourself. By being honest with yourself. If you are honest with yourself, there is no way you will make a mistake. There’s no one else you need account to. Only yourself. In my view you should answer every question in life when you are alone, by yourself. When you answer to someone else, other concerns come into the picture. I might talk differently to make you happy, but I can’t lie to myself. This is also the place for frankness and authenticity. If you are frank and authentic, it’s easy to find answers to your questions. Why do you think life is difficult? It is difficult because we all wear masks.

And yet, right up until he learns she has died, Antony clashes with his own ego...
Why? Because the original title of the play is The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra. Why ‘tragedy’? The tragedy lies in the fact that Antony is in a dilemma. He is both very much in love with Cleopatra, and he has responsibilities awaiting him in Rome. Yet, if he had said at the start, ‘Take your Rome, I’m staying here,’ that would have been the end of it. No tragedy.

And what about his throwing honor to the wind and fleeing from war?
Up to that point it was Rome that had made Antony who he was. But in Egypt he sees men like himself. Egypt is different. It has nothing to do with Rome. Egypt is a place unto itself. In any case when Antony describes the crocodile he sees in the Nile, he is describing Egypt. Life in Egypt. That crocodile is sui generis. It has a characteristic color and appearance. How can I explain that crocodile to your Roman mind? You, who try to understand everything in categories. What is the crocodile like? Why is it sui generis? Come and see Egypt. If I say grey, what will it mean to you? You are Rome, you are stone and marble; you all right angles and power. You enjoy power and hierarchy. You say: I’m the commander, you’re a mere private. It’s not like that in Egypt.

Could we say then that the conflict between love and power is the reason for the tragedy?
Antony’s struggle with himself and the dilemmas he faces prepare the ground for his end when he stays where he wants to be and ignores everything else… The minute he would have said, “I’m a responsible person. There’s a war going on over there, I must go and lead the troops,” it would have all been over.  What is the one thing that could make you drop everything and go after it? Love. What is this thing called love? Does it still exist today? If it does, then how is it experienced? What is love like in the 21st century? There is something in the play that makes us think about these things.  

THE ART OF THE THEATER PLAY
The version of Antony and Cleopatra to be staged at Shakespeare’s Globe is slightly different from that staged in Istanbul. Haluk Bilginer has this to say about the production, which will be staged without using light or decor: “The theater is in the open air. There is no lighting, no stage set. So, you are going to see who is an actor and who is not. The actor is the sine qua non of the art of theater. If you’re not an actor, there is film, for that is the director’s art. Only theater is the art of the actor.”