About the snake: 2 questions, 5 answers

by Minji Kim

Joe Hodgkin '12, director of HRDC's "Antony and Cleopatra," gave his middle school teacher's class snake a claim to fame when he cast her in "Antony and Cleopatra," playing this weekend at the Loeb Ex. The snake is Sadie, and she is a ball python, which belongs to the non-venomous family of pythonidae. So you don't have to freak out when you see her onstage.

How did you get the idea for incorporating the snake into the play, and how did you make the arrangements?

The idea to do the play came first. "Antony and Cleopatra" is actually my favorite Shakespeare play, and the lavish, baroque language and setting make it both a challenge to stage and an enormously fun show to watch, when done well. I've seen the play staged several times -- at a professional theater in London and at my high school -- and I've never seen the show done without a live snake. So it was always a natural idea to me that I would at least try to get a live snake, and if it didn't work out, I could plan some alternative.

As for her origin, Sadie belongs to Mark Goldner, my 7th and 8th grade science teacher at the Heath School in Brookline. My younger brother Gabe just graduated from Heath in June, and when I said I was looking for a snake for the show, he mentioned that Mr. Goldner keeps two snakes in his classroom: Sadie and Simon, a cornsnake. They didn't live there when I was in middle school, but I thanked Gabe for the lead and contacted Mr. Goldner, who was very excited by the idea. I initially wanted to use both Simon and Sadie, but apparently they have to be kept separate, or else they pose a threat to each other. (Snakes are not great at friendly relationships.) Mr. Goldner came to the show last Friday, and said he was very proud of Sadie.

The other element I should mention is my background. My concentration is organismic and evolutionary biology, and you can kind of guess it by watching the show. "Antony and Cleopatra" is heavy with references to crocodiles, serpents, and antiquated ideas about animals being spontaneously generated from the mud of the Nile River.

Sadie is brought onstage in the climax of the play, and is essentially the tool used by Cleopatra and her attendants Charmian and Iras to kill themselves. The symbolism of this iconic act gives Cleopatra tremendous power -- in her death she is wrapping herself in powerful symbols of sexuality, mythology, and divinity. The ritual that surrounds her suicide allows Cleopatra to achieve a kind of apotheosis at the end of the play, becoming a goddess who is still relevant to us now. Essentially, although she dies at the end, she wins a lasting victory over Octavian, her enemy, who was planning to parade her through Rome in chains.

When I was re-reading the play and planning my application to direct last spring, I was in Costa Rica on an OEB field trip. The class was herpetology -- the study of reptiles and amphibians -- and I was spending mornings and evenings tromping around the jungle looking for snakes, and hot afternoons in the shade reading "Antony and Cleopatra." Rarely have my somewhat scattered interests at college come together so nicely.

Read more about the use of Sadie the Snake in the show.

This interview was condensed and edited for publication.

[Caption: Mark Goldner, Hodgkin's junior high teacher and the snake's owner, holds Sadie after the opening night performance.]