Antony and Cleopatra

William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra: Antony and Octavian Caesar Character Comparison

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

The War between Antony and Octavian Caesar

In Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare, we are introduced to a young man who is struggling in a way of what he values more, duty and honor or his love for Cleopatra. The story portrays Antony as a sympathetic character which means a character “with whom we associate, forming a bond through which we vicariously share their experiences. We also get a sense of their attributes which we would perhaps like to have more of for ourselves”. (“character types”). I will be comparing and contrasting two characters to prove the points on how I personally believe that Antony is more a sympathetic character vs Octavius Caesar who an unsympathetic character because he is mostly all duty and responsibility.

While reading the play I personally could understand some of his choices because I could see myself making some if I were in his shoes. Which is what being a sympathetic character means for me as the reader to understand his motivation and can share. For instance, sometimes love is more important than duty and responsibilities as Antony seems to portray in some parts of the play. For example, (Act I Scene I) he received a letter from Rome right when he was going to express his love to Cleopatra and instead of reading it and answering it, he just ignored it. She was the one who convinces him to read it because it might be important but he explains that his duty is here in Alexandria and his love for her. In this case, Antony is choosing to stay and love her which might not have been the best decision but I saw it as, him not wanting to deal with his responsibility to the triumvirs because he was enjoying his day with Cleopatra. I believe he would have answered it later on the next day if she hadn’t pushed him to do it then. Even a warriors deserve a break even if it is just for a day. Antony has a sense of duty and he is a great warrior so he would have answered the letter eventually.

On the other hand, Octavius Caesar is not a sympathetic character because he is all duty and responsibility all the time. While yes duty and responsibility are important, I don’t believe it should overpower love because love is an important part of life. We learn many wonderful things when we love someone not just about the person we love but about ourselves too. As well as sometimes family and the people we love are more important than duty, we do what is best for our family’s or in this case what Antony does for the women he loves. In choosing Cleopatra over Rome. Which Octavius Caesar did not agree with. Octavius Caesar is more of an “unsympathetic characters which mean he “represents qualities that we dislike” (“character types”). Which Octavius Caesar has a few qualities I don’t like. For example, he is a little cold hearted towards Antony when Antony was choosing love over his duty to Rome. Octavius just couldn’t understand the change that Antony underwent when he fell in love with Cleopatra.

In act I scene II, Antony decides it is time to go back to Rome when he finds out his wife is dead and that Pompeii is raising an army against the triumvirate. For Example, “the business she hath broached in the state cannot endure my absence” (Shakespeare). We see Antony finally taking responsibility, like the true warrior he is. Which we all can relate to because we have all put important stuff on hold to go out and enjoy ourselves but once we realize it is time to take responsibilities we also become the warriors to get that A, we want on a paper and we sacrifice sleep and going out to get it done. Just like Antony does, he sacrifices leaving the women he loves, Cleopatra, to go talk things through with Caesar. Antony understands that he has a responsibility to Rome, but he also has a duty to what is in his heart which is why he is such a relatable character. We have all been in that predicament on what is more important to us is the duty to our family and friends or duty to do what makes us happy and smile. Caesar is the type of guy who already answered that question for himself, unlike Antony who, throughout the play we see struggle with what is in his heart and his responsibility to Rome.

Caesar, throughout the play, makes decisions that he believes is best for Rome and to keep the triumvirate at peace. He does not have any conflict in the play having to do with love or anything besides his responsibility to Rome. He didn’t even approve of Antony’s love for Cleopatra. For Instance, in act II scene II, when Antony goes to Rome, one of Caesar’s men suggest that Antony marries Caesar’s sister, Octavia. For example, “Thou hast a sister by the mother’s side, Admired Octavia: great Mark Antony, is now a widower.. To hold you in perpetual amity, to make you brothers, and to knit your hearts with an unslipping knot” (Shakespeare). This was supposed to bond the men’s affection for and alliance with one another. Which of course Antony agreed to for the sake of peace and being the warrior he was he wanted to win back his trust and honor. I do not like how he used his sister to try and manipulate Antony into an alliance that everyone knew was not going to last because true love wins over everything. In life, we all have to make tough choices for the sake of what we believe to be the right thing to do. Antony accepted because he is an honorable man and does not what to be in Caesar’s bad graces anymore. Antony knows it will hurt Cleopatra but sometimes we must hurt the people we love in order to protect them.

In Act III Scene I, Antony has a conversation with his new wife Octavia. For instance, Spoke scantly of me: when perforce he could not But pay me terms of honor, cold and sickly He vented them; most narrow measure lent me: when the best hint was given him, he not took’t, Or did it from his teeth” (Shakespeare). Antony was explaining to Octavia that he did not like how her brother Caesar was belittling him in public. Caesar had no respect for Antony and he was expressing it to others. Which is not something a good leader would do, if he had a problem with Antony he should have spoken to Antony privately. I do not agree with how Caesar is handling his issues with both Antony and Lepidus (part of the triumvirate). Antony sends Octavia to Rome to try and smooth things over with her brother. This proves that he is trying to honor his arrangement with Octavia and with being part of the triumvirate.

As we get deeper in the play we see that Caesar start to get paranoid. For instance, in act III scene V, after the war against Pompeii, we see a conversation between Enobarbus and Eros, that speak about Caesar locking Lepidus up for trying to overpower him. For example, “and not resting here, accuses him of letters he had formerly written to Pompeii; upon his own appeal, seizes him: so the poor third is up, till death enlarge his confine”(Shakespeare). Which is proof that he was losing it and was starting not to trust anyone but a few of his people. Caesar was only thinking of his greatest priority which is his position and power. Lepidus threatened that. Antony does not want power. He simply wants Cleopatra, his priorities are completely different than that of Caesar. We can see this as him becoming an even less likable character because he sent Lepidus to prison after he helps defeat the enemy

In act III scene VI, Caesar threatens Antony because he went back to Egypt to sit as Cleopatra’s king because that is where his heart is. We will always go back to the place we feel at home. Antony just wanted to live in peace in Alexandria with Cleopatra and govern over the land he should have gotten from winning the war against Pompey. Later on in Act III, Antony goes into war with Rome and Cleopatra is determined to be by his said. Because she loves him so, she will be there to fight against the people that speak ill of their love for one another. In the middle of the war, she leaves and Antony follows because his heart belongs to her. For example, he says “Egypt, thou knew’st too well My heart was to thy rudder tied by the strings, And thou shouldst tow me after:”(Shakespeare). He followed her because he loved her even though they lost to Caesar and he was ashamed that they lost because of his love for her. The reader can still sympathize with him because we have all done things for someone we love that we are not proud of that does not make us bad people but makes us human and able to love another deep enough to not care about something like reputation or duty to get in the way of our happiness.

In closing, the play was about a man trying to find what mattered more to him love or duty. We have all had that same question once or twice in our own life. That is why I believe Antony to be a sympathetic character because he is relatable and we have all ask ourselves that question and more often than not we choose love because it is a way better feeling then any kind of responsibility is. Antony dies a hero’s death; he was not about to be humiliated by Caesar just because he chooses love over his responsibilities to Rome. In the play, readers can see the differences between Caesar and Antony. In my opinion, I think Anthony is more of a man because he knows how to love a women and Caesar seems to not care about anyone but his ambitions. It is not till the very end, he sees and believes in the love Antony and Cleopatra share for one another. We see how Anthony is more a sympathetic character than Octavius Caesar because of not approving of Antony’s love for Cleopatra, starting to think people were against him when they are not, Caesar starting a pointless war and last but not least Antony still choice honor and love over his obligation to Rome.

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Is Cleopatra A Mere Snippet For A Monarch?

October 23, 2020 by Essay Writer

Cleopatra, “Egypt’s Queen,” is arguably Shakespeare’s most resilient and enchanting female protagonist. She is personified as the embodiment of her country, ‘the soul of Egypt’, and defies the reductive Jacobean “most monster-like” perspective of women. The Renaissance stereotype of the subordinate and inferior female is in total juxtaposition to the possessive and shrewd characteristics that Cleopatra possesses, as she is in fact “a wonderful piece of work.”

Cleopatra manipulates her associates and subordinates through her alluring sexuality and ‘infinite variety,’ transforming Antony into a ‘strumpet’s fool’ and a metaphorical ‘doting mallard.’ Antony is irrevocably devoted to and captivated by her, exposed through entrapment imagery, ‘tied to thy rudder.’ In turn, he neglects his Roman duties. Antony, like many of Cleopatra’s inferiors, is ultimately a victim of Cleopatra’s insatiable lust and magnetic personality, since ‘her passions are made of nothing but the finest part of pure love’. The superlative of “finest” also exposes that, through her divine beauty, ‘that beggared all description’ and “breathless” enticement, she exercises complete domination over her subordinates. Consequently, Cleopatra is most emphatically not a “morsel for a monarch’ but an “enchanting queen.”

Firstly, through the choric commentary of Philo in the opening scene, Cleopatra’s ability to emasculate Antony is captured through the mythological imagery of “Mars.” Antony embodies “Mars” as he fought valiantly in battle; however, he has transformed his military past into lustful enthrallment, as a result of his “dotage” for “Egypt’s Queen.” Philo despairs of Antony neglecting his Roman duties, and reveals his captive existence under Cleopatra’s command. His “goodly eyes” that “glow’d like plated Mars, now bend, now turn,” upon the “tawny front” of his “captains heart.” Accordingly, this paradoxical simile is evocative of Antony’s fatal flaw and is prophetic of his demise due to the life of decadence that has now become fundamental to his existence. The universal imagery of Antony’s association with Mars foreshadows his submission to Cleopatra, as she is a physical representation of Venus, and reincarnation of “sweet Isis,” “the fancy outwork of nature.” Philo and Demetrius’ choric function and classical allusions draw attention to Antony’s oscillation from “this Herculean Roman” to a disparaging “warrior,” who has been deprived of all military qualities to metaphorically become “the bellows and the fan/ To cool a gipsy’s lust.”

Furthermore, Antony’s humiliation is portrayed through stage directions, as Cleopatra “enters alongside [eunuchs fanning her],” indicating his effeminized status. Cleopatra admits through a bawdy, phallic innuendo that she has “no interest in anything a eunuch can do,” and that it is “a good thing being Castrated” so they can “concentrate better on her needs.” Therefore, the depiction of this “Eastern Star” as “a morsel for a monarch” is utterly unjust, as her excessive power challenged the patriarchal society. Furthermore, Cleopatra’s sovereignty is exemplified in “Alexandria,” a predominantly feminine sphere, where she can establish her omnipotence. Elizabeth I, the “virgin queen of England,” herself employed phallocentric imagery to express power and supremacy. In the famous “Tilbury Speech,” Elizabeth confessed that although she had the “body but of a weak and feeble woman” she had the “heart and stomach of a King and a King of England too.” Comparable to Cleopatra, the two domineering female leaders use the imagery of a masculine transfiguration to symbolize supremacy.

Consequently, Shakespeare’s antithetical structure allows the audience to interpret the heavily contrasted empires of Rome and Egypt. Cleopatra’s incredible emotional vicissitudes and at times barbaric style, “I will give thy bloody teeth,” allow Cleopatra to embody the stereotypical attributes of a wanton Egyptian. Furthermore, the employment of the plosive “bloody” indicates her loquacious speech, which Shakespeare created to represent her antithetical nature. Her satirical scorning of Antony challenges his military ability through the paradoxical use of the superlative of “the greatest soldier in the world,” who she claims has “Art turn’d the greatest liar.” Cleopatra’s hyperbolic language and imperative questioning “where is he?” force Antony to speak in short, succinct, stichomythic sentences – “Most sweet queen” – evocative of his failure to express any form of political conviction. Furthermore, he depicts himself as “thy soldier servant” using sibilance to draw attention to Cleopatra’s political and emotional domination, as she actively tries to usurp Antony’s control.

In even more ways, Cleopatra can be compared to Elizabeth I, who manipulated the prospect of royal alliance and internal leverage to her convenience. Elizabeth remained constantly alert to the frequently changing European instability, and furthermore capitalized on opportunities that arrived, such as Queen Mary Stuart’s papal opposition to the Anglican Church. Elizabeth I transformed Catholic England into a more reformed, Protestant country. Yet Cleopatra’s shrewdness supported a very different values system, at least for Shakespeare: the Egyptian culture of decadence, self pleasure and unfettered passion is viewed as a threat by Caesar and his disciplined army of political strategists. Cleopatra’s passionate rage challenges Caesar’s militant ability, and ironically she alludes to his effeminacies, undermining his authority in a satirical tone by describing “the scarce bearded Caesar.” This metaphorical language is also characteristic of her scathing stratagem to “play one scene/ Of excellent dissembling.” Cleopatra uses the imperative language “do this, and this”, employing repetition as a means of primarily conveying negative connotations surrounding the inferior and subsidiary leader.

Cleopatra is unquestionably not a “morsel for a monarch.” Contrastingly, she possesses the power to “overtop them all,” influence her fellow rulers, and subsequently control the audience through her unrelenting tenacity and emphatic character. Her subversive nature contrasts to the docile and obedient women constituted in the “Homily of the State of Matrimony,” the Elizabethan central statement on the duties of Husbands and Wives, in which women are erroneously ridiculed as the “weakest vessel”, “for the woman is a weak creature, not endued with like strength and mind” of a man. Moreover, Cleopatra is a metaphorical “thunderbolt,” whose lack of temperance and moderation simply conveys her deceptive and cunning political personality. Ultimately, Cleopatra is precocious actress who uses her emotions as a metaphorical weapon as a means of gaining control.

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An Analysis of the Foreshadowing of Cleopatra’s Betrayal in Antony and Cleopatra, a Play by William Shakespeare

October 23, 2020 by Essay Writer

Foreshadowing Betrayal

Cleopatra’s betrayal is not unexpected at all if one closely reads the text in Antony and Cleopatra. There is ample foreshadowing of Cleopatra’s corrupted morals and sense of self. Antony’s infatuation with Cleopatra leads him to overlook her behavior and forgive her almost instantly. His love is ultimately blinding and had Antony been more aware and focused with his brain rather than his heart, he would have understood what Cleopatra is truly like. What struck me as interesting were all of the little instances that warn of Cleopatra’s future betrayal that could easily be brushed over not only by Antony, but also by readers.

Cleopatra’s behavior is brought to light when Enobarbus and Antony are speaking to each other in Act I, Scene II. The way Enobarbus speaks of Cleopatra implies that he had been close to her once before. As narrated, “Alack, sir, no, her passions are made of // nothing but the finest part of pure love // We cannot call her wins and waters sighs and tears; they are // greater storms and tempests than almanacs can // report. This cannot be cunning in her; if it be, she // makes a shower of rain as well as Jove.” (Act I, Scene II). Enobarbus paints Cleopatra to be this dramatic picture of a woman that he recognizes and wants Antony to acknowledge. Regardless of her “tempestuous” personality, she is also suggested to be gentler when she is associated with “showers of rain”. In effect, Enobarbus recognizes both Cleopatra’s harshness along with her ability to seduce and show affection. If one reads closely, one can also notice that Enobarbus speaks of Antony’s woman as though she was once his as well. Antony doesn’t seem to catch on to this or think of Enobarbus possibly having sexual encounters with Cleopatra. However, if the two did have prior relationships together, this foreshadows her disloyalty. Antony’s heart lies directly with Cleopatra and we see this as he refuses to listen to Enobarbus.

As one can see, the foreshadowing of Cleopatra’s betrayal links the simple words of Shakespeare’s texts to the bigger consequences that Antony faces. Whether it is through Cleopatra’s behavior or her actions, with the help of inference and close reading, one can see the direction the play was headed towards from its opening pages. With the speech that Enobarbus provides, we gain insight on what other characters besides Antony think of Cleopatra and their own unique ways of describing her, eventually becoming embodied in her actions.

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Rome Vs. Egypt in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra

October 23, 2020 by Essay Writer

How and why does Shakespeare create two distinct worlds of Rome and Egypt in the first two acts of the play?

Antony and Cleopatra is set predominantly in Egypt and Rome and Shakespeare organises the plot around the conflict between East and West. However, it is not only plot that contrasts the two places but also language and structure. Rome is portrayed as masculine, rational and political, and Roman characters’ lines are measured and calculated. Egypt is depicted in a more feminine light, based around emotion, passion and physical sensation. The lines of Egyptians flow and are more poetic in content. It is these two distinct worlds between which Antony crosses, and in forming more Egyptian ideals and neglecting his Roman values he brings about his downfall. This essay aims to examine how Shakespeare creates two separate worlds and his reasons for doing so.

The primary method Shakespeare uses to distinguish between the two worlds is his crafting of language, with stark differences in the speech of Romans and Egyptians. As Philo and Demitrius talk of their captain’s decline they immediately establish the opposition between the two worlds. They talk of Antony serving as “the bellows and the fan/ To cool a gipsy’s lust,” indicating a divide between a world that is governed by reason, discipline, and militaristic ideals, and another ruled by passion, pleasure, and love. They see lust and passion as a negative attribute and think of Antony as weak to have succumbed to the allure of Cleopatra. The measure of a man is based on his “soldiership” and Antony is viewed as weaker due to his neglect of political matters in favor of sex.

Militarism and honor are of utmost importance to the Romans. They frequently use military and cosmic imagery in their speech, such as “musters of the war” and “like plated Mars.” Pompey’s comments that his “powers are crescent” and “will come to th’ full” reveal the typical fixation on power and control. His resistance to Menas’ desire to kill the inebriated Triumvirs demonstrates the Romans’ high esteem for honor and moral duty.

The Egyptian world is more concerned with leisure and sex than war and might. Lines such as “Give me some music” and “Let’s to billiards” show how the Egyptian women indulge themselves. They dine luxuriously on “moody food” and “Egyptian dish” brought on demand, as with “Give me to drink mandragora,” where as the Roman men never demanded food and did not dine lavishly while at war.

The Egyptian women seek sexual gratification and enjoy holding power over men. Charmian and Iras joke about an “inch of fortune” “not on my husband’s nose.” Their phrase “Must charge his horns with garlands” references a man who has been betrayed by his wife and stripped of his masculinity. Cleopatra uses the image of fishing to talk of her power over men: “My bended hook shall pierce their slimy jaws.” She teases the highly masculine Antony when she talks of wearing his “sword Philippan,” a phallic symbol of his strength, and mocks the Eunuchs by saying she “take(s) no pleasure in aught a eunuch has.” Also, whereas Romans use cosmic imagery to depict military power, Egyptians use it to connote sex and passion in lines such as “What Venus did with Mars.”

A passage that exemplifies Shakespeare’s use of language to distinguish Rome from Egypt occurs in Act 1, Scene 4. Caesar talks of Antony mixing militaristic language such as, “judgement”, “noble”, “strong”, “fear’d”, “flag”, “serve” and “blood” with language associated with Egypt such as “too indulgent”, “voluptuousness”, “pleasure”, “daintily”, “patience” and “idleness.” These words demonstrate the contrast between Rome and Egypt, men and women, and how the two different views cannot comfortably coexist.

Another way in which Shakespeare creates the two worlds is through line structure. Lines spoken in Egypt or by Egyptians are often long, drawn out and flowing, such as: “Lord Alexas, sweet Alexas, most anything Alexas, almost most absolute Alexas”. This repetition is needless and indulgent. By contrast, Antony talks quickly and in a strict tone: “Against my brother Lucius?”, “Ay.” The Romans’ lines are sharp and to the point, based on relevant information and not glorified in any way. Their lines create tension, while the relaxed Egyptians’ words create a very different feel.

The worlds are also symbolised by the characters within them. Caesar embodies the militaristic duty of the West, while Cleopatra, in all her theatrical grandeur, represents the free-flowing passions of the East. Caesar is strict and practical, as when he realises the drunken state of his soldiers on the barge: “Let me request you off. Our graver business frowns at this levity.” Using powerful, direct language he chooses duty over pleasure. Cleopatra, on the other hand, is dramatic, extravagant and passionate, as in: “Help me away, dear Charmian! I shall fall!” Unlike Caesar, she gains her power and controls the situation via drama, grandeur, and sexual allure.

Throughout the play Antony tries to strike a balance between the two worlds, but the effort leads to his downfall. Shakespeare needed to create the distinct worlds in order to conclude the play in this way. We clearly see Antony becoming more Egyptian in his ways as time goes on. He is seduced by the Egyptian lifestyle and queen, which leads him to start changing his language and ideals. “I’th’ East my pleasure lies” shows that he has lost the key Roman value of control. With “The beds i’th’ East are soft” he reveals that Egyptian sexuality has begun to tear him away from his duties, though he reverts to his Roman self when Ventidius enters with a sharp, “O come Ventidius.” He had not yet entirely neglected his Roman ideals or duties. When Antony is talking with Cleopatra he is more Egyptian, using grand gestures and hyperbole to declare his love: “Let Rome in Tiber melt.” He mirrors Cleopatra’s drama and moves further away from Caesar’s judgment, neglecting martial duties in favor of self-indulgence.

In conclusion, Shakespeare creates two distinct worlds through his use of language, line structure, and character. The differences between Rome and Egypt are very clear to the reader and audience. Shakespeare needed to polarize the worlds both to highlight the conflict of opinions between the two and to show how Antony declines from one clear set of beliefs to another.

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Western versus Eastern Values in Antony and Cleopatra

October 23, 2020 by Essay Writer

In Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare constructs conflicts between world empire and human passion. The sensual and wasteful opulence of the East, where ‘the the beds are softer’ is juxtaposed to the cold, bare efficiency of the West. Egypt stands for passion, sensuality, and decadence, Rome for duty, politics, and austerity: the world of pleasure against the world of reason. The play in its totality embraces a paradox, the two dualities of opposing world views are affirmed, boundaries of binaries dissolved and the political at once is rendered transient through the lyrical flights of verse. It is a play fraught with conflicts and contrasts—or, perhaps more accurately, of contrasts leading to conflicts between individuals, but against a larger background. That background pits West against East, opposing Rome (symbolized by Octavius Caesar) and Egypt (embodied by Cleopatra), with Antony caught in the middle, as it were.

Cleopatra, referring to herself often as “Egypt,” is the emblem of the fertile, rich, and fluid country. Her first appearance is monumentalizing in its essence; she enters in a ‘flourish,’ with ladies holding her ‘train’ and ‘eunuchs fanning her.’ The imagery of gender inversion, as the males are subservient and emasculated in her presence, compels the audience to be in awe of her stature, and also to sympathize with Antony’s folly of falling in love with this lascivious and grand character. In her world, males come and go at her disposal. The lines “She looks like sleep, as she would catch another Antony/In her strong toil of grace” assert the magnificence of Cleopatra once more, exalting her position and stature in the play.

The stage directions ‘Enter Demetrius and Philo’ are then rendered utterly colorless in comparison, making apparent of the differences between Roman and Egyptian culture. The challenge Cleopatra poses as a cultural other is obvious from the beginning through Philo’s description of her bearing a ‘tawny front,’ implying the difficulty Romans experience in trying to understand her character. Philo further attempts to limit and quantify Cleopatra in a manner that the Romans can easily delineate by referring to her as a ‘strumpet’ and ‘gypsy’; such descriptions succumb to the Roman patriarchal archetype, which, limited in its very nature, scathingly dismisses Cleopatra’s complexity with a term that reduces her to an object of masculine desire. Thus, the folly and sinfulnesses of Antony’s infatuation with such a character is rendered palpable to the audience.

The dignity and the powerful, purposeful drive of Octavius Caesar and the Roman values he represents emerge as a source of dominating influence. The language of Caesar is short, sharp and overpowering—“declare,” “speak,” “bring”—and his speeches are articulated with absolute authority and confidence as he pursues that unswerving, single drive towards supremacy. In Caesar’s first speech of the play, he refers to Antony as “not more manlike /Than Cleopatra’, ’nor the queen of Ptolemy/More womanly than he’. On the surface, this speech prompts the audience to denounce Antony as he forgoes the notions of Roman valor and discipline. However, the language itself breaks down and dissolves the gender binaries, suggesting that man and woman, the Roman soldier and the Egyptian Queen, have become one. More importantly, the martial pre-eminence of Antony (“his captain’s heart…burst the buckles on his breast”) and the incorporeal, entrancing nature of Cleopatra (who is ‘enough to make the winds sick’) have become one.

Thus, the resolution to the conflict in Antony, who is constantly confronted with the choice between his infatuation with Cleopatra and his loyalty to the political and moral dignity of Rome, becomes clear. Enobarbus’ lilting description of Cleopatra, “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale/Her infinite variety” restores the audience’s sense of Antony’s grandeur and magnanimity, as falling in love with such a woman seems inevitable. The sinfulness and folly of betraying his duties as a Roman general (“let Rome in Tiber melt”) is diminished by the absolute lyricism and enticing impression that is associated with Cleopatra— at their first meeting he ‘barabered three times o’er’.

Of course, the opening from Philo sets up reason as the victor over passion. Yet the flights of lyrical, transcendent verse in the final death scene undermine the power and triumph of Roman rationality, instead favoring passion and Egyptian values as the ultimate liberation. Thus, the tension in Antony and Cleopatra is ultimately between two views of the world, the Roman and the Egyptian, the cold Machiavellianism of those who deal in lieutenantry and the unfixed, pulsating, undignified voluptuousness of those to whom passion has become a world. However, there is never any doubt about the impending victory of reason.

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Antony and Cleopatra: A Purview of Duty and Desire

October 23, 2020 by Essay Writer

In his play, Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare presents duty and desire on a metaphorical spectrum through the individual narratives of several characters including Antony, Cleopatra and Pompey. When presenting duty and desire in Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare does so in such a way where duty is an expression of honor and desire is an expression of selfishness. In order to present this spectrum, then, Shakespeare uses Cleopatra to exhibit desire, Pompey to exhibit duty and Antony to exhibit the confliction when duty and desire are simultaneously exercised.

Cleopatra is representative of desire in the form of her constant selfish pursuit of power and affirmation. One instance Shakespeare reveals this to the audience is when Cleopatra demands Antony to “tell [her] how much,” he loves her, “if it be love indeed.” Her demanding Antony to prove his love shows the audience Cleopatra’s tendency to act upon her desires, and in this example, for the purpose of affirmation. Another way Shakespeare shows Cleopatra’s desire is her interactions with one of her attendants wherein she demands them to “see where he is, who’s with him, what he does,” and if he, Antony, is particularly happy to report that she is “sudden sick,” or if he is particularly sad to report that she is “dancing.”

By ordering someone to psychologically manipulate Antony and report of his exact status, Shakespeare shows the audience Cleopatra’s desire for power and affirmation, as she wants to affirm that whatever Antony may be feeling or doing it is a direct consequence of something she herself has initiated. Shakespeare also makes a point to show the audience just how little Cleopatra values duty and shows this through Cleopatra’s reaction to Antony’s marriage to Octavia. Cleopatra erupts in dialogue saying, “melt Egypt into Nile,” and beckons the inhabitants of Egypt, her followers, to “turn all to serpents.” This presentation of Cleopatra solidifies her representation of desire as she curses and condemns her own people and land (symbolic of her duty) simply due to the assumed failure of her own personal relationship – the dissatisfaction of her desires.

Antithetical to Cleopatra, Shakespeare presents Pompey as a character completely centralized around duty and thus honor. Early on in the play, Shakespeare reveals Pompey’s beliefs to the audience when Pompey proclaims that “if the great gods be just, they shall assist the deeds of the justest men.” Pompey’s beliefs are a significant piece of information to the audience because they outline Pompey’s duty – to follow and honor his beliefs at all times. With the revelation of Pompey’s beliefs as a basis, Shakespeare continues to elaborate the ideal of duty through the character of Pompey when Menas approaches him during their celebratory dinner with the triumvirates. Menas asks Pompey to “let [him] cut the cable,” giving him the chance to kill the “three world-sharers,” so that once they cease to exist “all there is thine.” Shakespeare uses Menas in this scene as a temptation to try to persuade Pompey against his moral beliefs, thus testing his honor and furthermore his value of duty. Shakespeare allows Pompey to reveal his temptation to the audience when he replies “this thou shouldst have done and not have spoke on ‘t,” and if Menas had done so he would have “found it afterwards well done.”

The theoretical pleasure that Pompey suggests through analyzing how he would have reacted to Menas if he had done so without asking consolidates the temptation. However, the temptation that Pompey exhibits does not necessarily make him appear as less dutiful, but the stark opposite. Shakespeare uses the temptation as contrast for when Pompey says “but must condemn it now,” thus turning down Menas’ offer. By revealing how Pompey would have found pleasure in taking up Menas’ offer but ultimately declining it, Shakespeare shows the audience Pompey acting according to his beliefs and thus placing his duty before his desire.

In Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare illustrates both extremes of the spectrum of desire and duty through Pompey and Cleopatra; however, he continues the presentation of desire and duty through Antony whom struggles with the confliction of both motivations. Shakespeare reveals Antony’s motivation of desire when Antony is heard saying “let Rome in Tiber melt,” followed by “here is my space,” in reference to Egypt. This piece of dialogue shows how Antony relinquishes his duty to Rome by condemning it while proclaiming that his place is with Cleopatra, thus satisfying his desires as opposed to his duties – enveloping selfishness as opposed to honor. However, Shakespeare also shows the audience a moment where Antony shifts his priorities to his duties whereas his desires are the latter. Antony admits that residing in Egypt with Cleopatra creates “ten thousand harms, more then the ills,” he knows and that he must “break off,” his relationship with Cleopatra and “with haste from hence.” This particular scene, although ultimately shows Antony valuing his duty more than his desires, begins to reveal to the audience the conflict that Antony endures in attempts to satisfy both simultaneously.

To further elucidate this conflict, Shakespeare explores so explicitly through Antony’s dialogue. Antony, before journeying back to Rome, admits to Cleopatra, and thus to the audience, that “the strong necessity of time commands,” him, thus his duty is summoned by Rome, while his “full heart remains in use,” with Cleopatra, thus is desire is summoned by Cleopatra. This quote embodies the entire conflict of juggling both motivations. Shakespeare presents Antony to the audience caught in a web somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of duty and desire and it is this very tug-of-war relationship Antony has with duty and desire (the virtues of honor versus the vices of selfishness) that prevents him from being successful in either aspect of his life: his duty to Rome or his desire to Cleopatra.

Using the narratives of each of the aforementioned characters: Cleopatra, Pompey and Anton, Shakespeare explores the spectrum of duty and desire, showing the audience total immersion of duty, desire, and the conflicts that result from imploring both simultaneously and how each point on the spectrum shapes the characteristics, actions and interactions of each representative character. It is through this elaborate exploration of the spectrum, then, that Shakespeare presents duty and desire throughout the entirety of Antony and Cleopatra.

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Literary explication of Virginia Woolf’s William Shakespeare

October 23, 2020 by Essay Writer

Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” offers a major piece of literary analysis with an eye towards the ever evolving role of the female author. During Woolf’s discussion of past and present writers, she repeatedly refers to the work of William Shakespeare, specifically his play Antony and Cleopatra, as a model for an “ideal” writing style that authors should revere. In her essay, Woolf is clear in her contention that Shakespeare possessed a rare form of authorial style that few could match, on multiple occasions referring to Shakespeare’s writing as “incandescent” and “free of impediment.” His writing was truly successful, Woolf claims, because of his ability to express true creative genius without allowing his personal beliefs, prejudices or agenda to interfere with the integrity of his work, and thus permitting an ultimate interpretation that stems directly from the reader. By viewing specific passages from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, readers can witness his use of deliberately indistinct word choice in character description as well as the utilization of metaphor that serve to exemplify this incandescent and “unimpeded” style that Woolf holds in such a high regard throughout the course of her own writing.

To begin to analyze Shakespeare’s unique writing style, readers must first identify Woolf’s advocacy of it as well as how she goes about describing it in “A Room of One’s Own.” For example, while describing to readers the “ideal” circumstances under which successful literature is produced, Woolf employs Shakespeare as a prime example. She states:

. . . The mind of an artist, in order to achieve the prodigious effort of freeing whole and entire the work that is in him, must be incandescent, like Shakespeare’s mind. . . The reason perhaps why we know so little of Shakespeare . . . is that his grudges and antipathies are hidden from us. We are not help up by some “revelation” which reminds us of the writer, All desire to protest, to preach, to proclaim injury, to pay off a score, to make the world a witness of some hardship or grievance was fired out of him and consumed. Therefore his poetry flows from him free unimpeded. If ever a human being got his work expressed completely, it was Shakespeare. If ever a mind was incandescent, unimpeded, I thought . . . it was Shakespeare’s mind” (Woolf, 56).

These lines directly serve as the foundation for Woolf’s opinion of Shakespeare as an author; however, they also open a broader door to readers, as Woolf fails to reveal how Shakespeare’s writing is construed as “incandescent” or “without impediment”—it is left to the reader to delve into the specifics of Shakespeare’s plays in order to seek evidence of these terms that Woolf so often refers to.

To find examples of this writing style, readers can simply look to specific descriptive passages embedded within the text of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. One major method Shakespeare utilizes in his verse is his purposeful ambiguous characterization of key players within the play. In other words, Shakespeare deliberately uses terms that can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Woolf praises Shakespeare’s ability to show no prejudices in his writing; thus, his character descriptions are highly laced with careful wordplay so as to not promote one specific view or characterization over another. This aspect of Shakespeare’s writing works to allow his own views or preferences to remain latent in his writing. For example, by utilizing specific wordplay to depict his characters as constantly changing in Antony and Cleopatra, they, as a result, cannot be defined one dimensionally; and shift as with readers’ views from scene to scene. Through this androgynous-type of character description, Shakespeare ensures that readers can use a multitude of lenses to view his characters through, rather than one single dimension.

Particularly noticeable in Antony and Cleopatra, the resulting opinion on how certain characters should be defined is ultimately left to the reader’s own literary devices and interpretations, as Shakespeare’s language makes it increasingly difficult to gauge how he feels about the characters as an author – the signifier, according to Woolf, of a successful writer.

For example, in Act I sc. i, Cleopatra, a character who demonstrates her particular ability to morph into new personalities throughout the play, makes a comment to Antony on the topic of becoming his future queen, stating, “But sir, forgive me, / Since my becomings kill me when they do not / Eye well to you” (Shakespeare I.i.52-53). Though this line can be read as a simple commentary on Cleopatra’s ability to suit Antony as a new queen after the death of his former wife, the word “becomings” produces multiple meanings, additionally referring to Cleopatra’s own fluid transformations within the play, her constantly shifting moods and the many versions of herself she presents to readers. Though it can be easy to view Cleopatra as a manipulative seductress in one scene, it is just as easy to view her as star struck lover for in the next, accenting her uncanny ability to constantly shift and transform, and additionally proving the ability of Shakespeare’s language to do so. It is for this reason Shakespeare’s language becomes so important—it assists in promoting his characters in a variety of manners, rather than through a single accepted definition, even if the language appears a single way on the surface.

Another example of Shakespeare’s deliberately ambiguous wordplay occurs in Act II, during Enobarbus’s description of Cleopatra’s personality. Enobarbus states, “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety. Other women cloy / The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry / Where most she satisfies. For vilest things / Become themselves in her, that the holy priests / Bless her when she is riggish” (Shakespeare II.iii.276-281). The phrase “infinite variety” in this passage also warrants further interpretation. Through the insertion of this phrase, Shakespeare assures readers that there is more to Cleopatra than a singular definition. The word “varieties,” for example, does not carry with it one accepted connotation and can instead be interpreted at readers’ discretion. Shakespeare’s continued focus on the shifting “varieties” of his characters from scene to scene allows readers to make their own determination as to how these characters should be characterized. It is for this reason that Woolf describes Shakespeare as being without prejudice, or writing about impediment. Readers do not get a sense of Shakespeare’s personal viewpoint through his characters, and by adding words that attest to their mutability and fluidity, the play is able to take on whatever form a reader interprets, rather than one single viewpoint or specific sympathies that Shakespeare wanted to push across: her personality exists and is shaped through the eyes of the reader.

In addition, Shakespeare also uses this wordplay to describe Antony’s ever-changing personality and actions as well. In Antony’s final lines of the play he states, “Here I am Antony, / Yet cannot hold this visible shape, my knave” (Shakespeare V.xv.13-14). Again, Shakespeare’s decision to use the phrase “hold this shape” assists to define Antony as, so to speak, indefinable. Throughout the play this pattern holds true for both Antony and Cleopatra: neither could hold a definite “shape,” allowing readers’ viewpoints and analyses to likewise change shape from scene to scene. This ambiguity creates a broader definition of his characters, leaving them a product of their always changing and unpredictable actions and how readers interpret them, rather than how the author does. By allowing Antony and Cleopatra to have such a variety of representations, Shakespeare artfully puts their final characterization into readers’ hands, not his own. By the end of the play, it is up to the reader to determine whether Antony dies as a war hero or love stricken fool, or Cleopatra as political tactician or overzealous actress. Shakespeare does not allow any personal gospel or grudge to “shape” his characters, proving his ability to check his prejudices and sympathies at the door. His characters speak for themselves, rather than Shakespeare speaking for or through them.

In combination with Shakespeare’s tactfully presented wordplay to allow for the shifting of his characters, his use of metaphor to assist in their description also demonstrates Woolf’s portrayal of his writing as purely “incandescent.” Shakespeare utilizes the form of metaphor as a both a descriptive tool that allows for a reader-based interpretation of specific characters or scenes, in addition to offering a more unique form of writing compared to a free verse description of the same event or character.The fact that Shakespeare casts his characters in such different lights throughout the play is bolstered by his use of metaphor to describe and assist in this very phenomenon, thus, giving his writing its creative or ‘incandescent” quality. Shakespeare uses the form of metaphor as a unique perspective that allows readers to form their own interpretation of a character, based off of an individual and personal interpretation or a metaphor.

For example, Antony’s lines in Act V serve not simply to describe Cleopatra as his character intends to, but can also be applied in a broader sense to the thematic shifting of characters’ actions and emotions from scene to scene as well. Antony, through a statement about clouds, also works to describe the heart of the play’s major characters, stating:

Sometime we see a cloud that’s dragonish, / A vapor sometime like a bear or lion, / a towered citadel, a pendant rock / A forked mountain, or blue promontory / With trees upon’t that nod unto the world / And mock our eyes with air. Thou hast seen these / signs. / They are black vesper’s pageants. [ … ] That which is now a horse, / even with a thought / The rack dislimns and makes it indistinct / As water is in water. / (Shakespeare IV.xiv 3-14)

It is through metaphorical description such as this that allows Shakespeare to permeate boundaries. Allowing readers to understand that they may see a “dragonish” Cleopatra in one scene and a “lioness” in the next, attest to her character’s flexibility from scene to scene. This use of metaphor to describe the variability of his characters is key in Shakespeare’s profound ability to not limit the lenses through which readers can view his characters; thus presenting his writing’s unique form, or what Woolf calls “incandescence,” as a result. Like clouds, some readers may see Antony as a “citadel,” while others may interpret his personality and actions as a “forked mountain.” It is Shakespeare’s use of metaphor that assures readers that both descriptions are correct, though, and that there is no single lens to use, but rather a variety of acceptable ones. The use of metaphor as a device which relies on reader interpretation highlights the fact that Shakespeare’s writing allows readers to see their own creation of character, not a latent sympathy or agenda of the author.

Another example of this occurs with Cleopatra’s similar short metaphorical statement at the end of the play as she refers to herself as “fire and air,” (Shakespeare V.ii.344) before she breathes her last. Operating on the same level as Antony’s clouds, it is up to the reader to apply the metaphor in a way that suits their personal analyses. Readers can offer various interpretations as to what constitutes “fire” and likewise “air,” again serving as an example to Shakespeare’s own writing—the definition and interpretation stems from the reader’s view, not the author’s. Cleopatra’s words and actions could be interpreted in a variety of manners, and Shakespeare ensures that readers have the option to do such, leaving the description of “fire and air,” in readers’ hands; as it is hard to define exactly what Shakespeare himself meant by the metaphor.

Through Shakespeare’s utilization of metaphor and carefully chosen word choice, readers are left with varying interpretations of his play and characters even after the play concludes. Was Antony’s suicide honorable? Was Cleopatra simply an actress? Shakespeare’s writing style proves to have the same mutability as his characters, as readers can turn to metaphor and single words to highlight multiple meanings in a character’s personality or actions, thus showing Shakespeare’s ability to allow his readers to have the final judgment, not his own authorial personal views or prejudices. The mere fact that the play leaves readers with questions and shifting views rather than a single interpretation is a testament to Shakespeare’s brilliance—or as Woolf puts it: his incandescence and capability to rise above impediment. Shakespeare’s ability to write without prejudice—allowing his words to hold power over his person—leave his writing with a successful complexity. Left in the hands of his readers, Shakespeare proves that his work is pure, powerful and ultimately shaped by its very readers, which according to Woolf, is how the ideal author ought to operate.

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Instances Where Stagecraft Has Been Employed In Antony And Cleopatra

October 23, 2020 by Essay Writer

Shakespeare uses stagecraft in a number of different ways to create dramatic effects in ‘Antony and Cleopatra’. Jacobean stages were very simple, not much more than an empty wooden platform thrust into the middle of spectators with no scenery to raise or lower. The sheer emptiness of Shakespeare’s stage and the absence of scenery focused the audience’s attention on the actors. This creates dramatic effect as the audience is focused on the dialogue of the play without being distracted, which allows the play to be concentrated on entirely.

The actors were presumably dressed in a combination of contemporary and ‘classical’ costumes, which helps the audience to visualize the nationality, rank and gender of the characters. Although Cleopatra’s command to Charmian, ‘cut my lace’, indicates that she wore the kind of tight bodice favoured by Queen Elizabeth, there was some attempt to provide her and her entourage with ‘Egyptian’ clothes as well as the ‘divers coloured fans’ held by the eunuchs who attend her on her first entrance.

Antony and Cleopatra’s exchange of clothing, which she recalls with amusement during his absence in Rome, in Act 2 Scene 5, is, to Caesar, a sign of their degeneracy. Dress conveys information as well as creating spectacle and it is important that Philo and Demetrius, with whose conversation the tragedy begins, should be identifiable as Roman soldiers commenting on their leader’s enslavement by an Egyptian queen.

Though there were no visual impressions created by the scenery, the play is full of expressive groupings of characters on which the audience could concentrate on without distraction, most notably when Cleopatra and her gentlewomen raise Antony aloft into the temporarily private haven of her monument. Shakespeare is, moreover, quite specific in his stage directions, as when Pompey and Menas enter ‘at one door with drum and trumpet’ and the triumvirs and their supporters come on ‘at another… with Soldiers marching’, in Act 2 Scene 6. The sounds and sights of war thus accompany this first encounter between the opposing sides. In their next, and last, meeting, Act 2 Scene 7, the representatives of both sides, placed ‘hand in hand’, join in the singing of a drunken song before helping one another to stagger off Pompey’s galley. This portrays the unity between the characters as they rejoice.

Again, the entry direction in Act 2 Scene 3 specifically instructs Antony and Caesar to come on with Octavia ‘between them’, a visual expression of divided loyalties, which are to trouble her more deeply as the action develops. Eugene M. Waith argues that the Longleat manuscript, which appears to depict a performance of Titus Andronicus, “gives us a more vivid impression of the visual impact of Elizabethan acting”. The illustration shows the two Roman soldiers to the left and the two captive sons to the right of the principal characters, which suggests that the stage groupings were kept symmetrical as much as possible. Such normally symmetrical arrangements would have highlighted occasional asymmetries, as at the end of Pompey’s feast when a conference, which has begun formally, concludes in disorder.

To be present at a performance of this tragedy is an aural as well as a visual experience created not simply by the counterpointing of the various voices but by the musical accompaniment, which Shakespeare’s stage directions require. The initial entrance of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ is heralded by a ‘Flourish”, which ironically in its context proclaims the imperial theme; as does the exit of the triumvirs at the end of their conference in Act 2 Scene 2. Drums and trumpets are brought playing onto the stage after the initial flourish, which signals the arrival of Pompey, Menas and the triumvirs in Act 2 Scene 6.

The music not only creates a suitably martial impression but also provides bridges, which link these short, swiftly moving episodes together. Hence, although the resources of the Shakespearean playhouse were limited, Shakespeare used them with an expressive variety, which nevertheless did not prevent the performance from moving quickly and without interruption.

The dramatic construction of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, with its constant shifts of location, is one, which Shakespeare as already used in the two parts of ‘Henry IV’ with their oscillations between the court, the tavern, and the battlefield and their excursions into Wales and Gloucestershire. In ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ Shakespeare created a similar kind of structure but used it with greater complexity and carried its implications further. Throughout the play, Roman attitudes and principles, expressed mainly by Octavius Caesar, are placed in opposition to the Egyptian, represented chiefly by Cleopatra. As Maurice Charney says, Rome and Egypt ‘represent crucial moral choices and they function as symbolic locales in a manner not unlike Henry James’ Europe and America’.

With the closing of the theatres by Act of Parliament in 1642 the kinds of playhouses for which Shakespeare wrote were obliterated. The Globe was demolished in 1644 and the Blackfriars was pulled down eleven years later in order to make way for ‘tenements’. When, after the restoration of Charles II new theatres were built, they were of a different design and served audiences of different tastes.

After the Restoration, criticism of the drama, and especially of the tragedy, was still dominated by respect for the ‘rules’ or ‘unities’, often attributed to Aristotle but fully formulated in the late sixteenth century by the Italian scholar Castelvetro. The drama, he declared, ‘cannot represent places very far apart, while the narrative method joins together places which are widely separated’. With its constant shifting from one part of the Mediterranean to another and its time-span of ten year, ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ clearly violated these principles and thereby offended contemporary educated tastes.

Furthermore, critics in the twentieth century continued to say that the play lacked unity. Bradley singles out Antony and Cleopatra as the first of Shakespeare’s ‘real defects’, with his tendency to ‘string together a number of scenes in which the dramatis personae are frequently changed’. Like Castelvetro he finds such a method acceptable in a narrative but not in a play, and particularly ‘where the historical material [is] undramatic, as in the middle part of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’. While admitting that the play might create a different effect on the Jacobean stage, he still seems to visualize it in terms of the realistic theatre of the late nineteenth century where ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, ‘the most faultily constructed of all the tragedies’, ‘imposes the necessity of taking frequent and fatiguing journeys over thousands of miles’.

In conclusion, Shakespeare uses stagecraft in a number of ways to create dramatic effect. The most criticized of this stagecraft is the shifts in location as critics view it as violating the principles of a play, after the restoration. I believe Shakespeare to be successful in his dramatic use of stagecraft, especially through his use of groupings, which can either show unity or opposition between the characters. Finally, the use of stagecraft portrays the trajectory ending of the play as it shows the love that Antony feels to Cleopatra, through grouping and stage directions, as well as his disregard for Rome.

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Antony And Cleopatra Act 2 Analysis: Character Development

October 23, 2020 by Essay Writer

With six of its seven scenes set in the West, Act Two of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ by William Shakespeare largely concerns the politics of Rome. Act Two is important in further developing the characters of Antony, Octavius, Cleopatra and Enobarbus. Within this Act, we find, overall, a more negative portrayal of the eponymous characters through their own words and actions. We find similar pictures of Octavius and Enobarbus to Act One: of men characterised by their stoicism and wisdom respectively.

The change in setting from Egypt to Rome brings with it a change in Antony: we witness more clearly his ‘Roman’ side. From Antony’s perspective, this Act is one dominated by the concerns of power. Shakespeare places him in a political context and allows the audience to determine in greater depth his political identity and status through his interaction with the fellow triumvirates.

The most interesting and, ultimately, crucial portrayal in these scenes is that of his relationship with Octavius. It is through this relationship that Shakespeare explores Antony’s thirst for power, with the friction between the two men indicating that they both desire the same thing: supremacy.

It has been argued that the following words subtly imply this underlying tension, spoken as the two men meet once more in Act 2 Scene 2:

Octavius: “Sit.”

Antony:”Sit, Sir.”

These lines depict the struggle between the two men as petty and egotistical – their quarrels do not concern Rome, but have the potential to harm it. This potential is recognized by Enobarbus later in the scene, when he urges them to momentarily forget their differences in order to tackle Pompey. This indicates that the true source of the struggle between Octavius and Antony is not differing opinion on Roman politics, but personal pride.

It is through Antony’s interaction with Octavius, and the political hunger that it betrays, that Shakespeare suggests the true reason for his return to Rome, and, in turn, his reluctance to permanently yield to Egyptian hedonism. Where Egypt provides him with pleasure, it does not provide him with the reputation he values; ultimately, he seems to prefer the Roman side of himself. The importance of reputation to Antony is emphasised in the following words, where he feels grateful to Pompey for forcing him to return to Rome:

“…I must thank him, only

Lest my remembrance suffer ill report”

These lines indicate that, while he wants Egypt, he want the image of Rome. It seems, then, that it is not Rome or its people that Antony returns for – he does not relish the responsibility, but, rather, the name and status it grants him.

Indeed, this is an Act which presents Antony as a character who does not care much for responsibility. This can be seen most evidently when he agrees to marry Octavia in an attempt to solidify his relationship with Octavius, a pledge rendered illogical and irresponsible when we learn of his plans to return to Egypt at the end of Scene 4.

“…I will to Egypt;

And though I make this marriage for my peace,

I’th’ East my pleasure lies.”

Here, Antony makes no attempt – or pretence – at upholding any kind of fidelity. To the audience, Antony’s lack of foresight is astonishing. It is clear that the marriage to Octavia is designed to repair his weak relationship with Octavius, but that being unfaithful to Octavius’ sister would only damage it further; Antony does not seem to realise that in returning to Egypt, he completely undermines his ‘peace’. However, where these lines serve to seriously question Antony’s judgement, the audience cannot help but recognize the sheer adoration that underlies his actions: he simply cannot resist the pull of Egypt.

Antony’s marriage to Octavia is also fundamental in exploring the character of Octavius in Act 2. Octavius’ account of the function of the marriage and Octavia herself in Act 2 Scene 2 is particularly indicative:

“…Let her live

To join our kingdom and our hearts; and never

Fly off our loves again!”

Here, Octavius clearly uses his sister as a political tool, an intention which seriously challenges his assertion that she is a sister ‘whom no brother/Did ever love so dearly’. Octavius uses these words in an attempt to convey the depth of his investment in the political relationship, but the investment only serves to challenge the validity of the words. Octavia’s role as pawn within the play is supported by her distinct lack of physical description – she seems faceless and characterless in comparison Cleopatra, on whom Shakespeare expends great speeches and soliloquies. The role of Octavia within the play helps to illustrate the all-encompassing nature of the Roman political game in the lives of its players, with public life bleeding into the personal and vice versa.

Octavius is a character, more than all others within the play, fixated by this game. Politics is his primary and singular concern, contrasting starkly with Antony’s duality. This allows him the authority to criticize Antony regarding his neglect of state duty, something which he tells him ‘you shall never /Have tongue to charge me with.’

Octavius lacks the inclination for hedonistic pleasure of many of his fellow characters, shown most clearly in Act 2 Scene 7 when he refuses to partake in the drunken festivities of his peers. When Antony encourages him to ‘Be a child o’th’ time’, he replies that he would rather ‘Possess it’, illustrating Octavius’ need for control. The graceless formality to Octavius’ language throughout the Act helps to further convey his rigid, rational nature.

In direct contrast with the rigidity of Octavius, our impression of Cleopatra as a character who embodies pure emotion and passion is only strengthened. Through her actions in this Act, however, we view these traits from a more consistently negative angle, particularly in Scene 5, where her emotion seems to overpower any sense of reason or nobility.

This lack of rationality, which sets her distinctly apart from the Roman characters, is exposed on the arrival of a messenger. Rather than rewarding him for telling her the honest truth, Cleopatra vows that should he give her good news she will ‘set thee in a shower of gold and hail’ and should he give her good news she shall ‘strike thee ere thou speak’st’. This contrasts starkly to Antony’s insistence upon truth in Act One; where Cleopatra wants to hear only that which will fulfil her emotional desires, Antony tells his messenger to ‘mince not the general tongue’ when he is told of Fulvia’s death. This illustrates the great, irresolvable divergence and conflict of the rationality of Rome and the emotion of Egypt, and both explains and ensures the play’s tragic end.

It is in Cleopatra’s response to truth in this scene that Shakespeare paints his most damning portrait of her thus far, climaxing when she declares ‘Rogue, thou hast lived too long!’ and ‘draws a knife’. Here, her lack of self-control is inexcusable; where in certain circumstances Cleopatra’s emotion can seem a refreshing change to the stiffness of Rome, in this scene it renders her merely spoilt and out of touch.

Her immediate regret at her tempestuous actions, shown through her assertion that ‘These hands do lack nobility that they strike/A meaner than myself’, indicates that passion is not so much a character trait, as a force which drives and consumes her. However, her declaration that she would rather ‘half my Egypt were submerg’d’ than her lover be married to another suggests that it is not merely her temper, but her attitude which is objectionable. In line with many other characters, including Antony, Cleopatra seems to have little regard for the well-being of her people, presenting once more a certain political cynicism and scepticism within the play.

Where Act 2 casts many of the central characters in a negative light, Enobarbus continues to come across as a man of wisdom and foresight, traits which render him an important commentator on events. In particular, within Act 2 Enobarbus demonstrates a deep understanding of the people around him, especially of the two eponymous characters.

Where his speech in the latter half of Act 2 Scene 2 is renowned for its primary function of depicting Cleopatra’s exceptional nature, it also reflects favourably upon the speaker. The following words prove that Enobarbus recognizes the extent of the language necessary to describe her:

“…For her own person,/It beggar’d all description: she did lie

/In her pavillion, cloth-of-gold of tissue,/O’erpicturing that Venus…”

In the words ‘beggard’d all description’, Enobarbus appreciates the difficult, near impossible nature of his own task: a character who tends to speak in prose, the illustrative, colourful verse he employs marks a stark change, showing his recognition of Cleopatra’s sheer rarity. In this way, Enobarbus is essential in presenting and reminding the audience of a Cleopatra whom her own actions and words in this Act do not do justice.

However, Enobarbus’ wisdom is most clearly demonstrated in discussion of the character he knows best: Antony. In conversation with Menas, he predicts the following of Antony’s marriage to Octavia:

“If I were bound to divine of this unity, I would not prophesy so.”

Where Antony fails to recognize the damage his marriage to Octavia could have, Enobarbus’ foresight means he is fully aware of its potentially disastrous consequences. This suggests that Enobarbus knows Antony as well as, if not better than, himself.

To conclude, within Act Two, Shakespeare further develops the characters of Antony, Cleopatra, Octavius and Enobarbus. Most of the Act is dominated by the political posturing of the Roman characters, with Scenes exploring the power balance and fractious relationship of Antony and Octavius and depicting them as men absorbed in a battle for supremacy. Conversely, the scene set in Egypt is dominated by emotion, with Cleopatra losing any sense of self-control and rationality. Where the audience undoubtedly views the protagonists from a more negative perspective in this Act, we are still forced to recognize the role of love as motive; Cleopatra’s undignified attack on her messenger and the irresponsibility of Antony’s resolve to return to Egypt are both undeniably fuelled by their adoration of one another. Indeed, it may be the purity of their love which redeems the eponymous characters in the eyes of the audience.

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The Mutable And Puzzling Nature Of Cleopatra As Presented By Shakespeare

October 23, 2020 by Essay Writer

Of Shakespearean representations of women, it is perhaps the inexhaustible character of Cleopatra that is the most elusive of classification, which seems fitting given Antony and Cleopatra’s own defiance of dramatic genre with its tragic, comedic and historical elements. Shakespeare explores the paradoxical and constantly mutable world in which we live through this play and through the quicksilver Cleopatra herself, a woman of “infinite variety”. While she appears for much of the first act as an archetypal enchantress, politically astute and manipulative of Antony, forays into a more human Cleopatra hinder the ability to label her character as a mere wanton whore or harlot queen of the East. “My salad days / When I was green in judgement, cold in blood” may seem an uncharacteristic utterance of Cleopatra given its air of wistful regret. Cleopatra appears to be mourning her loss of innocence in becoming a leader and bewitcher of men, yet such introspection is infrequent in Antony and Cleopatra. Furthermore, the lack of asides and soliloquies makes this play stand out from the oeuvre of Shakespeare, and is perhaps indicative of the playwright’s shift towards realism in his later years.

As part of this increasing inclination to more realistic literature, Shakespeare uses a greater focus on the interconnectedness of the political and domestic lives of Egypt and Rome. Rapid scene transitions between the extravagance of the sensual Egyptian court and the militaristic Rome shows the audience exactly how vast the story of Antony and Cleopatra is, suggesting that, just like in reality, people do not have time to soliloquise. It is in this rapidly shifting world that Cleopatra is at home. Adapted to the ebb and flow of life, Cleopatra’s mutability and versatility means that she can readily change between affectionate, shrewd and lascivious. This is evident in the final lines of act one. “He shall have every day a several greeting / Or I’ll unpeopled Egypt”, while in itself antithetical, closes a scene of playful and erotic banter and introduces a scene at Pompey’s headquarters involving men “in battledress” discussing military affairs. The following exchange between Antony and Caesar remains in Rome and in the domain of politics. Caesar, using rigid Roman language resembling iambic pentameter, takes an accusing tone, utilising often second person pronoun “you” to accuse Antony of abandoning his duty to the Empire – “Yet if you there / Did practise on my state, your being in …” and “you were the word of the war”, for example. This cut and parry of political machinations in a play of aggrandised love and the constant, unnatural juxtaposition of realpolitik with the erotic is used by Shakespeare to show how interconnected the political and domestic spheres are, thereby reminding contemporary English audiences of the effect of politics on everyday lives across the country. The aforementioned speed in moving across the Mediterranean sea between Rome and Egypt between scenes also shows that this play, unlike many of Shakespeare’s other works that explore the human in a tragic hero, has a primarily public concern and thus Antony and Cleopatra may be a far more obvious criticism of contemporary English politics.

Although herself manipulative and often mocking, as seen in her goading of Antony two scenes previously – “play one scene / Of excellent dissembling”, upon being playfully mocked by Charmian, Cleopatra displays her volatility and capriciousness by threatening her “good” (as Cleopatra endearingly says) servant to “give thee bloody teeth.” The deliverance of this line with a tone of grave severity, in contrasting to a more amorously and admiringly delivered “O heavenly mingle!” provides the audience with a glimpse into the mutability and complexity of Cleopatra’s character. It is Enobarbus who is able to provide the audience with the greatest picture of the vast character of Cleopatra. His lengthy explanation of Cleopatra (Act II, Scene II) testifies to Cleopatra’s bewitching powers, alluding to her ability to turn “the vilest things” into things of beauty. Recurring throughout this description of Cleopatra are the transcendent beauty and almost supernatural powers of the Egyptian queen. Cleopatra exists on such a cosmic scale that the natural elements are at her mercy – “so perfumèd that / The winds were lovesick with them” and “the water…amorous of their strokes”. This defiance of nature is followed by “O’erpicturing that Venus”, likening Cleopatra to the goddess of love. Only by such allusions to her almost supernatural, cosmic nature could Enobarbus explain such paradoxes as “age cannot wither her” and “make defect perfection”. Thus the conception of the character of Cleopatra is grounded upon a paradoxical union of opposites. Mingling of opposing elements “Burned on the water” also suggests Cleopatra’s control over the natural world. Agrippa’s own interruptions of oxymoronic nature – “Rare Egyptian!”, “Royal Wench!” – serve to add a further appreciative dimension; given Agrippa’s background as a hard-bitten soldier, the effects Cleopatra’s magnetism across all men are made evident. Moreover, Enobarbus uses subtle eroticism in “silken tackle / Swell with the touches of those flower-soft hands” and “perfume hits the…wharfs” draw the audience’s attention to her magnetism and bewitching allure. Enobarbus’ account, having begun with mysterious allusions to water – “The barge she sat in…burned on the water” – and spanning across all the classical elements, finally ends with the word “riggish”, an earthy and connotative word, further indicating the vastness and bewitching power of Cleopatra.

Depiction of a Cleopatra of “infinite variety”, with a multitude of contrasting characteristics and an antithetical and paradoxical nature serving to be exemplary of a world in which political affairs directly affect personal, has been well cemented as one of greatest of Shakespearean characters.

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