Act 3 Scene 11 Analysis: Actium And The New Outlook On Antony
The Battle of Actium is one of the more pivotal moments in Antony and Cleopatra. Mark Antony, having lost the battle, undergoes a period of self-reflection and emotional trauma which changes our perception of the character. The analysis of the extract given attempts to discuss the dramatic significance present in the extract and how Shakespeare conveys them to the audience. After the Battle of Actium, Antony undergoes heavy emotional distress and is unlike the Antony in scenes prior, which adds an additional layer to his character for the audience to ponder.
Most notable in this respect is Antony’s admission that “I have fled myself”, which can be literally read as Antony fleeing the battle to follow after Cleopatra, or figuratively as Antony having fled his self as a Roman general, having disregard virtue by fleeing from battle as well as pietas for leaving his navy to the hands of Caesar. Antony’s inner turmoil is also expressed through the use of antithetical imagery in regards to the colour of his hair (“For the white reprove the brown of rashness, and they for fear and doting.”). However, in the midst of his internal turmoil reveals a softer side of Antony. The repetition of the word “friends” he directs towards his followers indicate that Antony genuinely cares about his follower’s well-being by asking them to follow him no longer, which emphasises the foiling between him and Caesar, who has a more clinical approach to leadership. He is also shown to be incredibly generous to his followers during this time, imperatively telling them to take his treasure, (“My treasures in the harbour. Take it.”) as well as writing letters to set them on their way. The repetition of the word “pray” also suggests that he is pleading with his followers on the matter, as he does not want them to follow their master to ruin. The line “I have lost command” has a duality in the meaning of him having lost command of his troops or him losing command of himself, which he uses to persuade his followers to leave him. This along with his earlier repentance towards his mistakes helps to slant Antony as a more likeable character and somewhat redeems him in the eyes of certain people.
The exit of Antony’s followers follows the entrance of Cleopatra. Antony at this point is in utter despair, which can be shown stagecraft-wise by him sitting dejectedly by himself with his head in his hands. Eros, Iras and Charmian’s coaxing of Cleopatra is readily apparent in their lines which contain a high amount of positive diction in regards to Cleopatra(“Gentle madam”, “dear queen”), and function as internal stage directions as well (“Nay, gentle madam, to him, comfort him.”). However, Cleopatra is also self-absorbed in her own dramatic sadness and does not actually seem to regard Antony. Perhaps Cleopatra feels left out as all the attention is focused on Mark Antony and not on her, thus leading to her play-acting of feeling melancholic as well. Her exclamation of “O Juno!” is echoed by Antony through a series of repetitions of the word “no” (“No, no, no, no, no.”).This can be read as either Antony noticing Cleopatra and does not want to be near her due to her betrayal, or that Antony is stuck in his own tempest of negative emotions and has not yet noticed Cleopatra. The latter is more possible as the internal stage directions seem to suggest so, as Eros is repeatedly trying to grab Antony’s attention (“See you here, sir?) while Charmian and Iras also attempt to draw Cleopatra towards Antony (“Madam!, O good empress!”). A director might represent the separation between Antony and Cleopatra by placing them on different sides of the stage while having they each have their own spotlight, suggesting the isolation of the characters while also meta-theatrically giving Cleopatra her time in the spotlight.Another thing of note would be Eros’ name which stands for “Erotic love”, which makes him trying to get Antony’s attention to focus towards Cleopatra a more symbolic gesture.
Antony’s following lines involve recollection of the Battle of Philippi at the height of his glory days; his account of the past is woefully unreliable, perhaps apart from Caesar not being directly involved in combat(“kept his sword e’en like a dancer”), which even then cannot actually be proven. Antony is presented as being slightly delusional as refers to Eros with “Yes, my lord, yes.”, perhaps feeling that even his squire is above him at this point. Figuratively Eros (Erotic love) is also Antony’s lord, as it has led him to follow Cleopatra and abandoning his men. Antony’s claim of “twas I the mad Brutus ended” is also highly untrue as in Julius Caesar Brutus actually committed suicide. This makes Antony seem even more delusional and we begin to worry about his mental state of health. Another important note would be the role-reversal between him and Caesar between the Battle of Phillipi and the Battle of Actium. Antony scorns Caesar as “He alone dealt on lieutenantry’, yet earlier in the play Antony was shown having Ventidius manage the Parthian campaign, which pants Antony as being hypocritical towards Caesar, or perhaps proving further exemplifying the role reversal as he too now dealt in lieutenantry. The peripeteia of his situation is acknowledged by Antony who states.“Yet now- no matter.”. The inconsistencies of his speech and the unreliable account of the past show that the Battle of Actium took a toll on Antony, as he feels as he has betrayed his former glorious self by furling sails to follow Cleopatra.
Returning to the present, Cleopatra is still being unreasonably dramatic in the face of Antony’s true sense of regret and loss (“Ah, stand by.”, “Well then, sustain me. O!”). The antithesis found in Eros’ line (“Most noble sir Aries… Her heads declined”) is significant, for it suggests that Cleopatra is actually more depressed at losing the battle than he is, as well as figuratively representing Antony’s pedestalling of Cleopatra as he looking up towards her while she is looking down on him. Eros’ ability to finally drag Antony out of his self-pity can also be read figuratively as erotic love once again focusing Antony’s attention towards Cleopatra. Antony laments his loss towards Cleopatra, as shown through the negative diction he uses (“Shame”, ‘Stroyed”.“dishonour”) as well as perhaps blaming Cleopatra for his loss. Cleopatra herself also seems to be apologetic. Her repetition of “my lord” seems as if it is compensation for her actions. But she also subtly deflects onto Antony (“I little thought you would have followed.”), which would infuriate members of the audience who think that Cleopatra should be the one to blame for the situation. Antony himself admits to Cleopatra’s control over him. The sailing metaphor used (“My heart was to thy rudder tied by th’strings”) exemplifies the fact that Cleopatra is the superior party in the relationship, as well as showing to the audience Antony’s complete loss of independence and autonomy to Cleopatra. Antony’s usage of hyperbole describes Cleopatra’s command as if it is a bidding of the gods also supports that notion.
The loss at the Battle of Actium had a startling effect on Antony and his character. We learn more of Antony through Shakespeare his personality and attitude during his defeat, from his generosity towards his followers to his lamentation of glory days long gone. We also get more insight into Cleopatra as well, shown through her need for attention and her flair for the dramatic. In conclusion, through this scene, Shakespeare provides viewers with a more stable(or less) platform in which viewers can assess and judge the character based on their merits and flaws
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