Antony and Cleopatra
An Analysis of Ahenobarbus from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra
‘A sturdy Roman, not far past the prime of life, wills his heart to break, and it does.’ What In your opinion, is the significance of Enobarbus in the play.’
Enobarbus is a multi-functional character in the play of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’. Apart from being a ultimately loyal and learned companion to Antony, he also demonstrates his political ability and descriptive passion throughout the majority of the play. But it is he “clarity of judgment” as Richard Melaine describes, that is his most important characteristic. His ability to read and interpret characters in an impartial manner, guides the audiences opinion in a play that “No one interpretation can describe the experience of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’”, as described by Michael Neill. Shakespere took Enobarbus name from a contemporary ally of Antony’s named ‘Gnaeus Domitius Athenobarbus’ who famously switched allegiances to Octavius, prior to the battle of Actium, which echoes Enobarbus’s greatest mistake in the play.
The significance of Enobarbus’s death is his most influential moment in the play, as his earlier attempts to sway Antony’s actions are often ignored. Michael Neill reminds us that “Death by broken heart was a psychological fact in the 17th century”. This is a justification of Enobarbus death, but also emulates his ‘Roman morals’, as in contemporary Roman era, suicide was considered an honorable death, especially if it is by the sword. But his death has a great importance in the play, as the character of Antony is presented as a tragic character whos downfall is deeply flawed. But the intense guilt that Enobarbus goes through, that forces him into suicide, reminds the audience of Antony’s once great military prowess and abilities as a leader that are implied, but not shown in the play. Enobarbus death serves as an important reminder of the once great Antony, to re-imply sympathy for Antony in the audience. Richard Melaine told that “Several 19th century productions avoid the plausibility of Enobarbus death by omitting the scene completely”. This may have been due to contemporary 19th century political issues, however these productions will lack a certain ‘heart’ to the play, the atmosphere we be colder without the intensity of Enobarbus’s final act of loyalty and the play’s characters will lack a certain admiration.
Asides from tempting an emotional response from the audience through his suicide, Enobarbus has much influence on the attitudes and political outcome of Antony’s role as a Roman triumvirate. In the first act of the play, in the first meeting of the triumvirates, Lepidus asks Enobarbus to contain Antony’s attitude so that discussions with Caesar can be productive, in a biased manner, “Small matters must give way to greater things” he says. But seeing through Lepidus’s persuasion, Enobarbus reinstates Antonys’s priority in affairs and says “not of the small come first”, showing loyalty to Antony’s priorities. Shakesperes repetition of “small” in Enobarbus’s reply, has a playful implication, implying confidence in Enobarus, but the meaning of his reply is severe, reminding of his duty to Antony. In the penultimate act of the play, Enobarbus continues to try to enforce the best on Antony, he begs him to stay in control and fight on land, reminding Antony that Caesar is “strong by sea”. This is a demonstration of Enobarbus’s military intelligence and his skill as a political advisor, Antony’s to greatest requirements. In the middle of the play Enobarbus converses with Pompey, attempting to negotiate the political entities of Rome. But before true negotiations, he tells Pompey “I never loved thee much, but ha’ praised thee”. This demonstrates Enobarbus political ability, but showing honesty, which reflects his clarity in judgment “I never loved thee much”, which in turn allows the audience to follow his opinion. And then reflects his artful manipulation through compliment, “but ha’ praised thee” which again shows honesty, but will allow negotiations to flow easily, as Pompey reacts so well to compliments. This statement shows Enobarbus’s honesty in his opinions, which allows us as an audience to trust him, but also is a representation of Pompeys character. Enobarbus’s character judgement is important to the reader, especially in the middle of the play when clarity becomes clouded by dishonesty and manipulation through Antony and Cleopatra.
Enobarbus “provides a break from the dishonesty and unpleasentrys of the primary characters through is elegant descriptions” said critic Margery Garber. As he describes the “purple sails” of Cleoaptra’s famous barge scene, we are blessed by variety in Shakespeare’s writing. Again Enobarbus’s fairly impartial part between the fierce relationship of Antony and Cleopatra allows for a speech that is not loaded with sublte insults or seductive compliments, like Antony and Cleopatra. But he is functionally able to describe Cleopatra’s barge as an observer of the beauty of the scenery and of Cleopatra. Perhaps this is why he is so trustworthy to Antony, as he knows that Enobarbus’s recognition of Cleopatras beauty on “the barge she sits on, like a burnished throne” will not create sexual temptation towards his queen. However the “flame” imagery in describing the waves that the barge creates does have strong seductive implications, but these are being emitted from Cleopatra, and are not from Enobarbus’s personal opinion. ‘Gnaeus Domitius Athenobarbus’ was known to have been charged with incest with his sister ‘Lepidium’, (perhaps a namesake of the character Lepidus). However Shakespere ignores this reputation so that he can create a character who the audience can trust, leaving behind the original Enobarbus’s sexual bias. Shakespere “as usual suppresses historical context for dramatic effect”, as reminded by Michael Neill.
Finally the character of Enobarbus serves as more subtle significance in the play. Firstly his death “by the sword”, has a functional purpose in the play. He proves that death is easy, essentially softening the blow for the audience when Cleopatra’s death scene arrives. Caesar confirms this, as he stands over Cleopatra’s body in the final act and talks about “the ease of death”. He also forebodes Cleoaptra’s death, again softening the blow for the audience, when after the battle of Actium, he says he is to “take off to be buried”, about himself, in a tragically suicidal manner. This is an echo of Cleoaptra’s hyperbolic, yet patriotic plea to Antony, telling of being “buried in the Nail”. Enobarbus’s death is not at all easy, but is emotionally less intense as he has the sense of security that knowing his death by the sword is of honor in the eyes of a fellow Roman. This compliments the death of Cleoaptra, who’s death is “bite” induced, which is a reflection of the hedonistic attitude of her Egyptian people.
Enobarbus serves the role of a loyal warrior who’s mistakes are fatal. His death is one that serves a moral purpose in the play, and is pure in comparison. His political abilities attempt to guide Antony, but Shakespere uses the advice of Enobarbus as an opportunity to reflect Antony’s ignorance by ignoring them. Shakespere also uses Enobarbus as a functional tool in the play, as his “clarity of judgment” helps guide the views of an audience, which in a play of complex morals, is a neccacery device by Shakespeare.
Interpretation of Pride and Political Rebellion in Shakespeare’s Plays (Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus)
Pride and Political Rebellion
While many of Shakespeare’s works use politics and rebellion to conjure tension, pride creates political rebellion by alienating characters in the following three plays: Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus. Pride causes a character to focus inwardly and view oneself as superior to the other characters in the play despite all reasoning or rank. While characters react to pride in a variety manners and situations, every character who struggles with pride ultimately creates tension with those around.
In Julius Caesar, the title character states that he fears Cassius because “he thinks too much” (1.2.195-196). Caesar fears Cassius because his intelligence threatens Caesar. This fear of losing power reappears throughout the plays selected for this essay and subtly illustrates how pride can move an individual to drastic measures. Caesar fears losing his position of power because he feels as though he deserves it due to his superiority. Some may argue that Julius Caesar does not struggle with pride or a thirst for power because he rejects the crown three times (1.2.228-230). However, one could also argue that Caesar refused the crown knowing that the senate would offer it to him again. This way Caesar looked honorable in front of his future subjects.
One can see Julius Caesar’s pride intervene with decisions when he refuses to stay home or feign an illness to avoid going to the capitol for the sake of superstition (2.2.50-69). One sees the influence of his pride again when he refuses to readmit an exiled citizen into Rome because he needs to save face and be as “constant as the northern star” (3.1.65-70). This, of course, comes just before his murder. This man’s pride does not create the political rebellion directly, but it antagonizes the conspirators who envy him.
Cassius in particular struggles with pride both before and after the murder of Julius Caesar. He confesses to Brutus that he could not worship an inferior man. He would rather die instead (1.2.95-98). Even after Cassius has Caesar killed, he feels threatened by Antony, a friend of Caesar and wishes to murder as well (3.1.105). Cassius was willing to go as far as killing an innocent man to keep his potential power because he felt that he deserved the position more than Antony deserved to live.
Within the play, Antony’s character contrasts Cassius in that he does not act out of pride. Ultimately, he continues to live when the conspirators die. Antony works humbly within the existent systems of power rather than trying to create a new system. Through reverse psychology, he begs that the conspirators not kill him after they have killed his friend, Julius Caesar (3.1.67). Antony only asks for permission to speak at the funeral and accepts the condition that he must not speak ill of the conspirators (3.1.238-242). Antony even submits to Octavius and calls him “Caesar” which encourages Octavius to adopt Antony’s battle plan (5.1.24). While Julius Caesar illustrates how pride can manifest itself in the pursuit of power, pride also causes characters to act differently.
Antony in Antony and Cleopatra lets his pride take advantage of him, which prevents him from serving Rome to his fullest capacity. Even lowly soldiers on guard duty know that Antony should spend his time in Rome rather than abroad (1.1.1-10). The play opens describing how he has let himself fall madly in “love” with Cleopatra. If he had not let his pride interfere with his sense of civil duty, he would not have let himself get carried away with his Orientalist fantasies of exotic women. Sadly, Cleopatra faces a stronger challenge with her pride. Cleopatra views herself so highly that she feels the need for excessive amounts of attention which tempt Antony away from Rome. Her vanity causes her to send out servants to call Antony so she can pretend to faint in front of him (1.3.3-17). She even assumes that Antony will cheat on his wife for her simply because his new bride does not live up to Cleopatra’s beauty according to her own servants (3.3.9-42). Because Antony and Cleopatra have preoccupied themselves with one another and left Rome in the hands of the other two members of the triumvirate, Octavius decides Antony should no longer hold his position (3.6.1-11).
While Cassius, Caesar, Antony, and Cleopatra all struggle with pride, Coriolanus easily faces a tougher challenge against himself. His pride almost serves as the entire point of tension in Coriolanus. Coriolanus makes his first appearance in the play to swear at the lowly plebeians who simply want more representation in their government. Instead of treating them with respect, Coriolanus considers himself far too superior to hold a discussion with the peasants (1.1.165-192). But Coriolanus does not only look down on the poor. He also curses his men in the heat of battle for being driven back by the enemy (1.4.29-42). After the battle, Coriolanus does not take any spoils of war because the people have paid him enough by stroking his ego (1.9.36-40). He attempts to have the senate overlook the formality of asking the public to elect him to a position of leadership because he feels he entitled to the position regardless of how the common people view him (2.2.139-143). Despite his position as a servant to the people of Rome, Coriolanus leaves the city after refusing to conform to the mob’s expectations of him (3.2.1-6). He then joins the enemy to fight against his home city (4.4.23-26) until his mother convinces him that both Romans and the Volscians would suffer from combat (5.3.131-150). Now that Coriolanus can avoid a fight without sacrificing his pride, he does so. If he fought Rome after hearing the pleas of his wife and mother, he would have dishonored himself. But because he could show mercy, he does not hand off power to someone else as he would if he succumbed to the wishes of the plebeians.
While Coriolanus took a long path to resolve the issue of political rebellion, the simple and probably most overlooked solution to the question of political rebellion is to do away with a political system altogether. Within any system of power, a hierarchy of power arises. Human nature will create envy of those not at the top of said hierarchy and pride for those content in oppressing those beneath them. While it may seem that Shakespeare rejects this notion with the negative outcome in Coriolanus initiated by giving the plebeians some measure of power, one must also remember that Shakespeare did not write in a closed environment but had to remain aware of his audience. He could not give the audience a positive example of the common people exercising power rather than delegating it to a parliament or trusting in the divine right of kings. Those in power could accuse the bard of treason in order to censor his work to prevent a political uprising.
William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra: Antony and Octavian Caesar Character Comparison
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.
Is Cleopatra A Mere Snippet For A Monarch?
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.
An Analysis of the Foreshadowing of Cleopatra’s Betrayal in Antony and Cleopatra, a Play by William Shakespeare
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.
Rome Vs. Egypt in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra
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.
Western versus Eastern Values in Antony and Cleopatra
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.
Antony and Cleopatra: A Purview of Duty and Desire
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.
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
Literary explication of Virginia Woolf’s William Shakespeare
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.