Antony and Cleopatra
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.
Steadfast Stoicism In Antony And Cleopatra
Antony and Cleopatra is a play of conflicting values and paradoxical ideologies. Its central dynamic is the Roman/ Egyptian dichotomy, with each pole representing a web of associated values and attributes. Egypt is variously associated with “the passions,” fertility, flux and change, whilst Rome represents reason, heroism, endurance and the political sphere.
Shakespeare’s singular presentation of Roman history in Antony and Cleopatra is informed by his knowledge of Roman and Greek philosophy and is influenced by the Renaissance revival of such material. Stoicism is one such strain of ancient philosophy which excited renewed interest during the Renaissance, and which clearly influenced Shakespeare’s conception of Roman civilisation. Amongst the main proponents of Stoicism were Zeno, Seneca, Cicero and Epictetus. It was a philosophy advocating virtuous moral conduct, detachment from the passions and indifference to the changeability of fortune. As Geoffrey Miles proposes in his book Shakespeare and the Constant Romans the concept of constancy was an integral aspect to the Stoic philosophy . Constancy had two main definitions according to the Stoics: consistency, especially to one’s true nature, and steadfastness. The following study will investigate the treatment of this philosophical concept in Antony and Cleopatra. It will be concerned primarily with the contrast between Ciceronian and Senecan varieties of Stoicism as well as Montaigne’s affirmation of the inconstancy of humanity and nature.
The Roman philosopher and orator, Cicero, was somewhat of an ambivalent Stoic, as he was dubious of its most extreme manifestations. Nevertheless, his ideas contributed much to the canonized tradition of Stoicism. Cicero’s Stoicism developed out of Roman morality and the Greek Stoic tradition and proposed moderation, civic virtue, temperance and bravery in the name of Rome. His emphasis on the public sphere as the proper place to exercise such morality was not intended to encourage his followers to ostentatious gestures of virtue for the sake of public approval or glory. However, he does concede that glory can be an agreeable consequence of virtue even though virtue should be its own reward. One of Cicero’s main preoccupations was the notion of constancy. His main interest was in constancy as denoting self-consistency or decorum. This is the virtue of acting only in ways appropriate to one’s true nature, both in the general sense as a human being, and as an individual with a specific role and set of duties within society. Cicero’s insistence on being true to oneself above all could be seen to encourage a kind of moral relativism or egotistical individualism as one’s own nature may not necessarily be intrinsically virtuous. However, he continually asserts that one’s actions should always be directed towards the good of society as a whole and that steadfastness is the most becoming virtue.
The Ciceronian theme of constancy as self-consistency or decorum is prominent in Antony and Cleopatra even if these precise terms are scarcely used in the play. In fact, in the opening scene Shakespeare uses a framing device which highlights the Roman concern with this virtue. The first scene opens and closes with a conversation between two minor characters, Philo and Demetrius, who articulate the Roman attitude to Antony’s negligence of duty and infatuation with Cleopatra. The implication is that his behaviour is inconstant and indecorous because it is so far removed from his former glory as a Roman warrior. The inconsistency in his behaviour is dramatised by the hyperbolic comparison between Antony the soldier and “plated Mars” endowing him with godlike qualities of superhuman courage and honour. This is juxtaposed against his current subordination to Cleopatra and vulnerability to the passions evoked by the image of Antony as “…the bellows and the fan/ To cool a gipsy’s lust”. The violence of the contrast between what he once was and the lowliness of his present state, results from the comparison of Antony first to the superhuman Mars and then to the inanimate and subhuman objects “the bellows and the fan”. The inconsistency of his character is expressed by the verbs “bend” and “turn” whilst his indulgence in the passions is shown by a lexicon associated with incontrollable excess, for example “[o]’erflows” and “burst”. Such passionate excesses are clearly in opposition to the Stoic ideal of moderation epitomised by the term “measure”, and distract him from his true “…office and devotion…”, which ought to be Rome. In the very first passage of the play Antony is therefore shown to be indecorous in his inconstancy to his role as a Roman soldier and “triple pillar of the world” and even to his dignity as a man, by becoming a “strumpet’s fool”.
In the passage which follows Antony seems at least to show consistency and sincerity in his devotion to Cleopatra if not to Rome. This suggests he may show Ciceronian decorum in being true to his own nature, even if it means neglecting his public role and does not benefit society as a whole. Antony hyperbolically claims that to contain his love, Cleopatra must seek out a “…new heaven, new earth” echoing the Book of Revelation. Furthermore, he refutes his devotion to the Roman Empire:
Antony: Let Rome in Tiber melt and the wide arch
Of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space.
Kingdoms are clay; our dungy earth alike
Feeds beast as man. The nobleness of life
Is to do thus…
With his use of apocalyptic imagery, Antony shows the transformative power of his love, which is iconoclastic in its destruction of the concept of empire and redefinition of values such as nobleness. He redefines the term against the Roman model by claiming it is noble to destroy empires rather than to build them and likewise that it is noble to choose love over political life. After the indignity and subordination ascribed to Antony in Philo’s scathing critique, this speech seems to offer the audience an alternative value system in which Antony can once again be endowed with godlike omnipotence.
However, Cleopatra is wary of his grand proclamations of love and suspects he is inconstant by nature. She makes a mockery of Antony’s role as ‘triumvir’ by implying he is Caesar’s lackey:
Cleopatra:…who knows/ If the scarce-bearded Caesar have not sent/ His powerful mandate to you, ‘Do this, or this/ Take in that kingdom and enfranchise that;/ Perform’t or else we damn thee’
Cleopatra undermines Antony’s high estimations of love by noting that he blushes at the mention of Caesar just as she imagines he would when his wife Fulvia scolds him. The mention of Antony’s wife Fulvia alerts the audience to his adultery as his relationship with Cleopatra is therefore extra-marital. This inspires little confidence in his constancy to Cleopatra as there is no reason he should be constant to his mistress any more than he is to his wife. Furthermore, the fact that he blushes at the mention of Octavius Caesar shows that his civic duties lay a greater claim to his attentions than he acknowledges, as his negligence of such duties is clearly weighing heavily on his conscience.
Shakespeare problematizes the notion of decorum through Cleaopatra’s apostrophe which addresses Antony in the third person:
Cleopatra: Excellent falsehood!
Why did he marry Fulvia and not love her?/
I’ll seem the fool I am not. Antony/ Will be himself.
She suggests that Antony will act in a way appropriate to his nature and therefore decorously because he will be himself. However, she also implies that his very nature is inconstant. Her suspicions in this first scene prove to be correct as Antony fluctuates between his devotion to her and the rival clutches of his political conscience whenever he finds that “a Roman thought hath struck him”.
The paradoxical concept of being constant in inconstancy is recurrent throughout the play in relation to the lovers. In Shakespeare and the Constant Romans, Geoffrey Miles asserts:
Antony and Cleopatra…explores an alternative concept of decorum in which truth to oneself is divorced from consistency; Antony and Cleopatra, abandoning the principle that ‘stedfastnes…becommeth most of all,’ claim instead that ‘everything becomes’ them (1.1.51)
Cleopatra herself epitomizes mutability and inconstancy as Enobarbus famously admires her “infinite variety” which, sexual connotations aside, reflects the synthesis of opposites which she embodies. However, in Shakespeare and the uses of Antiquity, Charles and Michelle Martindale make the highly paradoxical suggestion that Cleopatra is the only Stoic “worth the candle” in the play. It is certainly true that in the latter part of the play she demonstrates consistency to her own principles and contempt for fortune. The strength of her inner resolution ultimately leads her to suicide and one could argue that her idiosyncratic model of Stoicism combines both Roman self-assurance and unwavering principles with Egyptian femininity, mutability and an affirmation of the passions. The masculine realm of Rome, rationality, steadfastness and decorum seems to fuse with its binary opposition, which is Egyptian fertility, variety and excess in the character of Cleopatra. Her Stoicism is therefore highly paradoxical and seems to redefine the Stoic ideal rather more than it emulates it, as we shall see when we look at her suicide in greater depth.
Enobarbus claims that the “vilest things/Become themselves in [Cleopatra]” suggesting an almost supernatural metamorphosis. Geoffrey Miles expands this notion of metamorphosis, claiming that in the play we find ourselves in a “…Daliesque or Ovidian world in which things undergo perpetual, grotesque transformations, climaxing in Antony’s comparison of himself to shapes which form and dissolve in clouds (4.15.1-14).”
In Shakespeare’s image of Antony and the clouds, macrocosm and microcosm are united in chaos and mutation. The instability inherent in Shakespeare’s world vision is similar to that of Stoicism. The Stoics believed in indifference to this external chaos and to good or bad fortune, through inner constancy, steadfastness and decorum. However, in Antony and Cleopatra none of Shakespeare’s characters are entirely successful in combining all these elements to achieve Stoic inner harmony.
Octavius Caesar appears to have the most Stoic moral outlook, but the superficiality of his virtues is exposed through comments like “love… left unshown,/ Is often left unloved”. In the same way Caesar believes that virtue is only virtuous if it is seen, the Stoic’s believed steadfastness must be tested by adversity to be proven. In this way Cleopatra is correct to call him “Fortune’s knave” because it is Antony’s demise which facilitates Caesar’s triumph. Paradoxically, it is the inconstant lovers who come closest to achieving the stoic ideal through their suicide. Cleopatra realises it is the “thing that ends all other deeds,/Which shackles accidents and bolts up change…”. It is the only thing they can do to maintain dignity and decorum by refusing to put themselves at the mercy of Caesar or fortune. It is the only way they can achieve constant and eternal inconstancy by capturing the true essence of themselves for posterity.
The lovers’ heroic suicide corresponds closely with Seneca’s notion of “the posture of dying.” Seneca’s Stoicism emphasised the necessity of steadfastness above all else, as the demonstration of indifference to fortune. He advocated a particularly heroic endurance of adversity similar to that described by Caesar in his recognition of Antony’s former achievements:
“Antony… [t]hou didst drink/ The stale of horses and the gilded puddle/ Which beasts would cough at. Thy palate then did deign/ The roughest berry on the rudest hedge.”
But Seneca believed the ultimate way to show disdain for fortune was to take one’s life and therefore to choose one’s own destiny. He believed this to represent true invulnerability, but also in the staging of this definitive act, it is possible to define how one would like to be remembered. If Stoic constancy is defined according to Seneca, it is Cleopatra who is most successful in attaining the ideal suicide through her elaborate and dignified performance. In fact the aesthetic tableau of her death scene is far more successful than that of Antony. Cleopatra has chosen her props wisely, the asp symbolising her native Egypt and ensuring a graceful and painless death, while Antony’s unsuccessful first attempt mars the dramatic impact he strove to achieve. However, the ultimate result of the joint suicide is effective. They succeed in immortalizing their memory like the mythic heroes to whom they aspire in numerous textual references, such as Dido and Aeneas, Venus and Mars. Through death their identities are fixed and dignified so that ultimately they have succeeded in attaining decorum.
However, Montaigne’s affirmation of the inconstancy of human nature seems to bear the closest resemblance to Shakespeare’s world vision in Antony and Cleopatra, as Geoffrey Miles suggests. Montaigne believed that:
Our chiefest sufficiency is, to apply our selves to divers fashions. It is a being, but not a life, to bee tied and bound by necessity to one onely course
Shakespeare seems to assent to Montaigne’s diagnosis that constancy is a “profitable desire…likewise absurd.” The absence of exemplary Stoic characters in Antony and Cleopatra seems to support this opinion. Shakespeare’s characters seem to draw attention to the paradoxes and conflicts of the Stoic ideology more than they support it: the character of Octavius Caesar shows that there is a danger that Cicero’s conception of public life as the proper arena for morality can lead to purely ostentatious displays of virtue. He is also depicted as an unappealing example of Stoic restraint of the passions. Antony and Cleopatra demonstrate that it is possible to be decorous whilst being inconstant, which could be seen to endorse Montaigne’s acceptance of inconstancy. However, the lovers’ death is ambiguous depending on whether we consider Shakespeare to be advocating the Senecan model of heroic suicide or whether we consider the lovers to be indecorously driven to their deaths for lack of any other alternative. They are successful in evading their fate as Caesar’s prisoners but in so doing they allow him to attain exclusive power over the empire. Furthermore, the obvious theatricality of Cleopatra’s suicide seems too morbidly self-conscious to suggest Shakespeare genuinely approved of the Senecan ideal. Perhaps Shakespeare’s explicit references to the Senecan tradition, for example Cleopatra’s ironic desire to stage her death “after the high Roman fashion” could be read as a parody of similar Roman suicides. Whether the lovers’ death is perceived as cowardly or courageous, noble or vain, will depend on the audience as it is not entirely clear what Shakespeare intended.
Antony and Cleopatra reads more like a critique than a vindication of Stoic constancy. This in no way excludes the possibility that Shakespeare saw certain elements of the ideal as appealing, but he certainly highlights the conflicts and paradoxes inherent in the Stoic ideology. As the play itself demonstrates, ideology is an inadequate term to describe Stoicism because it is not a unified philosophy but a configuration of disparate ethical standpoints on the issue of constancy and what it means to be constant.
Controversial Victory: Does Caesar Realize Complete Triumph
By the end of the play, the eponymous, tragic hero Antony has lost the battle of Actium and ultimately kills himself after the defeat. Due to this many would say that Caesar has achieved a complete victory over his rival; however, is it this simple? Whilst Caesar has achieved a military victory in the battle that takes place at the climax of the play, this does not necessarily mean he has achieved a victory that is complete. The play is not just about military conflict and in the same way the overall victor of the play cannot be decided purely based upon the Battle of Actium.
One the one hand, the title of the play refers to both Antony and Cleopatra and makes no reference to Caesar; this is because amongst the political strife and conflict this play is about love. Antony has such a strong love for Cleopatra that for her he would “Let Rome in Tiber melt” and for him she would “unpeople Egypt”. For one another they would give up their title’s and epithets, their power and everything they have previously stood for, Antony has been the epitome of a roman man and Cleopatra’s name has been synonymous her country, in his final moments as he dies in her arms Antony says “I am dying, Egypt, Dying”. To be willing to give up everything for one another goes to show how strong their feelings are yet Caesar has no such connection with anyone. Caesar is shown to be alone; his cold, calculating and Machiavellian nature portrays him as a bureaucrat either highly opposed or even incapable of showing emotion for a large part of the play. His refusal to ever lapse into speaking in prose shows his calculating and economical tendencies and his eagerness to give away his sister to his enemy despite claims that she is a sister “Whom no brother / Did ever love so dearly” can lead the audience to doubt his emotional capabilities. When discussing Antony’s absence with Lepidus says “the ebbed man, ne’er loved till ne’er worth love”, which is in essence complaining that people will always complain about the current leader and hope for a new one until the new leader takes power in which case they will then go on to complain about him, he thinks the people can’t see a good emperor when it’s right in front of them. Whilst this is simply his verdict on how politics works it is expressed in aphoristic language, the repetition of “love” and current anger directed towards Antony can lead the audience to believe Caesar is jealous of the love Cleopatra gives Antony. If Antony has something that Caesar can’t then surely Caesar’s victory cannot be seen as fully complete, furthermore, it could even be said that it is a small victory for Antony if Caesar truly is jealous which is not hard to believe as it is shown not to be uncommon for Caesar to feel envious of Antony.
Caesar has never been given the same respect as Antony and likely never will be. A recurring motif in the play is the mythologisation of Antony both by himself and by others, often choric figures that show the general public’s view of Antony. His eyes are “like plated Mars”, he can “speak as loudly as Mars” and his relationship with Cleopatra is likened to “What Venus did with Mars”. He is repeatedly likened to the Roman God of War yet the only mention of Caesar as being at all mythological is meant as a joke, mocking Lepidus’ eagerness to flatter Caesar when Enobarbus says “Caesar? Why, he’s the Jupiter of men.” To which Agrippa replies “What’s Antony? The god of Jupiter”. Even from this light-hearted joking at Lepidus’ expense the choric figures of Agrippa and Enobarbus show a clear sense of a perceived hierarchy in which Antony is above Caesar. The reason it is funny to Agrippa and Enobarbus to say this is clearly because in their eyes and therefore in the eyes of the masses Caesar is not deserving of such mythologisation or respect. Enobarbus again shows this in his dialogue with Lepidus upon the arrival of Antony and Caesar in which Lepidus says “Here comes the noble Anton.” and Enobarbus then says “And yonder, Caesar”. Antony is given an epithet, as is often the case in the play, but Caesar is not. Whilst Antony is flattered (perhaps undeservingly) throughout the play, Caesar is mocked. In his first mention in the play he is referred to as “scarce-bearded Caesar”, mocking him for his youth and therefore his perceived inability to be emperor, this contrasts the moment in the play when Enobarbus fantasizes about what it would be like to be the “wearer of Antonius’ beard”. Antony is further linked to masculinity whereas Caesar is established as a child-like figure, not deserving of respect or the position he holds. When Caesar rants “He calls me boy and chides as he had power” he is acting like the very thing Antony constantly likens him to, a child, and this outburst represents an abandoning of his Machiavellian principles. Caesar’s victory can’t be truly complete if he never obtains the respect his defeated rival commanded and one could even say that simply by getting Caesar angry with the insults is a small victory for Antony.
What is arguably Antony’s final victory against Caesar is his death. Whilst this seems contradictory it is important to note that he died on his own terms, he is “a roman by a roman valiantly vanquished”. Antony, by wording it in this way, is reliving his glory days as a warrior; he has simultaneously died an honourable death in battle and prevented Caesar from taking his life in battle. His name has become synonymous with the idea of a Roman hero, as put by Philo “when he is not Antony / he comes too short of that great property / which should still go with Antony”. Possessing the quality of being like Antony is to be an almost godlike legend. The only thing greater than ‘an Antony’ would be the vanquisher of ‘an Antony’, and in his final moments he has managed to be both. By removing Caesar from the picture the audience perceives him as irrelevant, both in Antony’s death and generally. It is Antony who triumphs in this moment, whilst Caesar has removed his other potential opponent, lying about the reasoning and saying instead that it was because, “Lepidus was grown too cruel.”; he wasn’t able to defeat Antony as it was Antony himself who took that victory from him. As Cleopatra put it, “none but Antony / should conquer Antony”.
His death is also a triumph in that he dies in the arms of his lover, Cleopatra. Caesar’s sole objective of this play has been to have Antony back in Rome apart from her and so it must be a crushing defeat when Antony not only dies away from Rome, in Egypt but also in the arms of the woman that Caesar was powerless against in the struggle for Antony. Caesar has proven himself to have been unable to destroy Antony’s and Cleopatra’s relationship and since this has been his goal since start of the play, it is obviously a huge failing on Caesar’s part. His original intentions were to regain the help of Antony as he had to bear “So great weight in his lightness” yet instead Caesar has lost both Antony and Lepidus and is ultimately left alone to run an empire that will be far harder to control with no support from those who were once his friends. Not only does this question whether Caesar’s victory is a ‘complete’ one but also whether it can even be seen as a victory at all. Whilst Antony has not won over Caesar as such, this does not necessarily mean that Caesar has won over Antony, it seems that this play instead ends with a situation in which there are no winners. He himself, in the last words of the play, acknowledges it to be a “great solemnity”, after all, can it really be seen as victory for Caesar when the repercussions will go on to directly disadvantage him?
On the other hand, it impossible to deny that Caesar has put him into a position in which he has no rival, he won the Battle at the climax of the play and thus he has secured his position as ruler of the greatest empire in the world. There is no way in which this cannot be seen as a victory in itself, regardless of any other factors. Caesar is shown to have a clear understanding of military tactics as he challenges Antony to battle him at sea which both he and Antony know to be his weakness. Caesar predicts that Antony’s pride will overrule all reason and he is right as Antony proclaims “I will fight at sea.” Antony’s pride and stubbornness are at the root of his downfall, he is begged by a soldier “O noble emperor, do not fight by sea” but even this flattery fails to convince him and “The greater cantle of the world is lost / with very ignorance”. The public opinion of Antony is clearly misguided as he is not the ‘Mars-like’ military hero he once was but a deluded and stubborn old man that has “kissed away / Kingdoms and provinces”. He is said to have “kissed” them away because his ignorance and blind pride is as a result of his infatuation with Cleopatra which is one of Antony’s crucial weaknesses in the play if you are to view it through Caesars’s eyes. The irony is that if we are to base our conclusion on the results of this battle then it is Caesar who is more deserving of the comparisons to Mars, Antony is not the man he once and he is being beaten with relative ease by someone he has previously likened to a child.
Antony is a bathetic character that was once a legendary military hero but has recently become an “old ruffian” and a “strumpet’s fool”, there is no bathos in the character of Caesar however, whilst he never had and perhaps never will have the respect Antony once had in his prime, at least there has been no fall from grace on his part. We can see this by the use of epithets throughout the play, whilst Caesar has rarely been given any at any point in the play, it is noticeable that towards the end of the play the amount they are used when referring to Antony dramatically drops, this represents the public’s realisation that he is no longer ‘an Antony’. This can be shown, for instance, in the lines of one of Antony’s soldiers who is not named. He refers to Antony as his “noble emperor” which is not even true (he is not an emperor) and so goes to show how he respects him and gives in to flattery, however, the same Soldier later removes any epithet and thus any sign of respect and simply calls him “Antony”.
He has lost respect not only because he cannot live up to his own reputation, but because he has betrayed everything he once stood for. Antony was the epitome of what a Roman man should be yet he abandoned his home and his people and in his opening lines of the play expresses his indifference to Rome saying “Let – the wide arch / of the ranged empire fall!” He becomes aggressive and violent, this is shown in his whipping of Thidias, he requests that the whipping does not stop until “like a boy we see him cringe his face and whine aloud for mercy”. The phrase ‘Don’t shoot the messenger comes to mind’ as Thidias is only a mere servant and messenger of Caesar but Antony uses him as a scapegoat and violently takes out all of his aggression out on him when Thidias himself has done no wrong.
By the end of the play, it is impossible to claim that Caesar has not won a victory, yet his triumph is not a complete one. While he has won a complete military or political victory he has not won a complete moral victory. To me for a triumph to be complete it is implied that there is no aspect in which the losing party can be seen as having slight success and equally it implies that the winner has suffered no losses. This is not the case with the play, as there are various ways in which Antony can be seen as having won slight victories over Caesar and Caesar himself has had to give up his sister, for example. To use his own sister as a mere pawn in his political grand scheme means that he has not only given up his sister but also, to a certain degree, he has sacrificed his morality in order to satisfy his unquenchable thirst for power.
The Portrayal Of The Relationship Between Antony And Cleopatra By Shakespeare
Antony and Cleopatra’s love for one another is the prominent theme throughout the play, and although both characters profess to an incomparable “peerless” love, they encourage doubt in the audience by acting in a manner that appears to contradict this. This is demonstrated by Cleopatra’s bullying, manipulative manner and also with the ease with which Antony dismisses their relationship in front of Caesar and his marriage to Octavia. Ultimately, Shakespeare intended for the audience to question the genuineness of Antony and Cleopatra’s feelings, to explore what really makes a loving relationship, and where the lines between love and desire (whether this be for power, sex or adoration) blur.
One of the themes that Shakespeare uses to promote suspicion within the audience as to the genuineness of Cleopatra’s feelings, is the controlling, belittling way in which she treats Antony. This is presented immediately with the introduction of the protagonists onto the stage, as Cleopatra asks Antony “If it be love indeed, tell me how much”. With such an early indication of Cleopatra’s demanding attitude, the audience quickly learns of the dynamics of their relationship, and Cleopatra’s selfish role within this. Shakespeare further prepares the audience for this, by presenting her as egotistical and dominant, “I’ll set a bourn how far to be belov’d”. Bold statements such as this mean that she is likely to be perceived by the audience as an authoritarian figure in a relationship that surely should be equal. A belief that is further supported by her often insulting Antony, “the greatest soldier in the world, art turn’d the greatest liar”, her ability to be so discourteous to her “man of men” perhaps suggests insincerity as to her alleged “love”, and that the attention, adulation and control she gains from their relationship is of greater importance to he than he is. Cleopatra’s manipulative and often game-playing approach to their relationship, allows Shakespeare to demonstrate her total power over Antony, and how she exploits this for her own benefit and entertainment, “If you find him sad, Say I am dancing.” Cleopatra is aware of how her moods dictate Antony’s happiness and appears to take only pleasure in this control, “I laughed him out of patience; and that night I laughed him into patience”. By demonstrating Cleopatra’s understanding of the power she has, Shakespeare makes it obvious to the audience that she is not ignorant of her authority over Antony, but instead exploits it, thus presenting her character as cunning and calculating. It is likely that, in contrast to her proclamations of love, “I might sleep out this great gap of time my Antony is away”, the audience would view her as simply in love with the power that his love brings her.
Another theme that Shakespeare uses to explore the motivation behind Antony and Cleopatra’s relationship is the submissive, passive manner in which Antony reacts to her bullying behavior. Even before he appears on the stage, the audience is forewarned of his weak, emasculated conduct through the exchange between Philo and Demetrius, where Antony is described as a “strumpets fool”. This early portrayal of his weak role within the relationship, emphasizes its importance as a permanent theme throughout the play, as it is the first description the audience hears of him. Their account of the situation is immediately confirmed by Antony’s introduction onto the stage, where he responds to Cleopatra’s demands with simpering devotion, “there’s not a moment of our lives should stretch without some pleasure now.” Even despite Cleopatra’s bullying treatment, Antony appears for the most part totally absorbed in his love for her that he can only respond with a meek, “most sweet queen.” Indeed, he appears to even love Cleopatra’s bad moods, “Every passion fully strives to make itself in thee, fair and admired!” Perhaps a device by Shakespeare to fully demonstrate his adoration for Cleopatra, that even the most unpleasant of qualities, he finds lovable in her.
Shakespeare’s presentation of Antony as the weaker of the couple, is also exemplified when he attempts to inform Cleopatra of Fulvia’s death, and is interrupted in doing so seven times before he finally manages to tell her. At no point during Cleopatra’s constant interjecting does Antony express any annoyance or frustration, perhaps verification of the respect and adoration he has for her. This pattern of behavior continues almost constantly throughout the play, where Cleopatra’s obvious power leaves Antony emasculated and in the shadow of her control, as seen when he acquiescently says “The purposes I bear; which are, or cease, As you shall give the advice”. Through this presentation of Antony, Shakespeare provides support for the suggestion that his feelings for Cleopatra are honest and genuine, and without hidden incentive as there appears to be nothing that Antony could gain that would act as motivation from allowing her to treat him in this disrespectful manner.
Another theme used by Shakespeare to explore the authenticity behind Antony and Cleopatra’s feelings for one another, is the hyperbolic, lavishly complimentary way in which they speak of each other. The audience is made aware of their habit for exaggerated, amorous declarations when Antony rejects his responsibilities in favor of Cleopatra and claims he would rather, “Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch of the rang’d empire fall!” This not only demonstrates his dedication to Cleopatra above all others, but also his dismissal of the typically restricting and inhibiting Roman attitude, as he adopts adorned language typical of the fluidity of Egypt, as seen in the use of the word “melt”. Cleopatra makes similarly histrionic statements when describing Antony’s absence, and professes that she would rather “unpeople Egypt” than have him not receive “every day a several greeting”.
The theme of hyperbolic, exaggerated statements is further developed through Antony and Cleopatra’s complimentary comparisons of one another to gods or cosmological beings. Cleopatra describes a dream where she saw Antony and “his face was as the heavens, and therein stuck a sun and moon.” In this imagery his very appearance is presented as God-like, and he is depicted as bigger and more powerful than both the sun and moon. She continues to describe how he lit “the little O, the earth”, thereby presenting Antony as actually being the cosmos, and the earth as a small, trivial orb in comparison. Shakespeare again presents their relationship as of, at least in their opinions, epic proportions when Cleopatra describes Antony as “the demi-Atlas of this earth”, again presenting him as a superior figure to the Earth.
Their powerfully hyperbolic affirmations of love could serve to convince the audience that their feelings for one another are genuine. Antony’s exaggerated claim that his and Cleopatra’s love is “peerless”, could demonstrate the passionate enthusiasm of one very much in love. The same can be said for Cleopatra’s romanticized, admiring portrayal of her “man of men”. However, it could also be interpreted that Cleopatra’s elaborate descriptions of Antony are not confirmation of love but simply an example of the extravagant, lavish Egyptian lifestyle spilling over into her language. Shakespeare also perhaps attempted to highlight the possible political motivation behind Cleopatra’s role in the relationship, as by presenting Antony as an important, influential figure, she may hope to enhance her status, even though the audience is aware that, as a result of their relationship, Antony is more mocked than respected.
The willingness Antony shows to sacrifice his military career, as Cleopatra becomes his main priority is a theme that Shakespeare uses to present his feelings for her as sincere and not governed by any other motivation. The opening scene shows Philo and Demetrius discussing Antony’s failings as a soldier, and the juxtaposition of “his goodly eyes…have glow’d like plated Mars” with “you shall see in him the triple pillar of the world transform’d into a strumpets fool”, accentuates the change in Antony’s priorities, as he favors Cleopatra over his responsibilities in Rome. The audience is frequently reminded throughout the play of Antony’s once great role as a powerful soldier, demonstrated by Caesar’s description of his gallant, heroic acts, “It is reported thou didst eat strange flesh, which some did die to look on”. The huge change in Antony’s fighting spirit since meeting Cleopatra is made apparent when the previous description is compared with the accusation that he “did pocket up [Caesar’s] letters; and with taunts did gibe my missive out of audience”. By the frequent juxtaposition of such contrasting judgments, Shakespeare makes the audience aware of the huge role that war played in Antony’s life before Cleopatra, and how he has dismissed this in preference of being in love. He also demonstrates the strength of desire and passion over all other responsibilities, and is likely to convince the audience of Antony’s love, as there appears to be no other explanation for why he would voluntarily sacrifice his authoritative position within Rome to be mocked and scorned.
Antony’s visit to Rome, and his unexpected marriage to Octavia is the only obvious example in the play where Shakespeare demonstrates Antony’s awareness of the connection between politics and love, and how it can be used as a tool to satisfy one’s desires. When asked to explain why he had “broken the article of [his] oath” by ignoring letters and calls for aid from Caesar, Antony attempts to alleviate the blame by answering that his time with Cleopatra, was “poisoned”. Shakespeare demonstrates Antony’s attempts to distance himself from Egypt by his use of less evocative, poetic language, as he converses in a much more straightforward, uncomplicated manner. He also reverts back to using distinctively Roman language, when he describes how he had been “bound up from mine own knowledge”. The use of the word “bound” is typical of the constricting, hindering nature associated with Rome.
By presenting Antony as prepared to lay the entire blame for his lack of interest in Rome on Cleopatra, (even though in the opening scene, it is she that encourages him to “hear the messengers”), Shakespeare portrays Antony as cowardly and deceitful. He would rather attribute the blame to Cleopatra than admit to his own mistakes, therefore making his feelings for her seem insincere and he, uncaring. However, it is likely that Shakespeare intended the audience to conclude that Antony is aware that he has more to lose than Cleopatra from confessing to his behavior, as she is already a hated figure in Rome, and that he understands the importance of reconciling matters with Caesar, which would be less likely if he were to know the truth of his anti-Rome attitude whilst in Egypt. Therefore, Shakespeare perhaps intended Antony’s condemnation of Cleopatra to be viewed as a political move to protect their relationship from the battle that would be (and later is) inevitable if Antony and Caesar were not able to set aside their differences.
Shakespeare makes it clear that the marriage proposed by Agrippa between Antony and Octavia was intended purely to resolve the differences between Antony and Caesar and “to knit your hearts with an unslipping knot.” This demonstrates the political motivation and unromantic approach to marriage that so typifies the Romans, and indeed Antony’s response, “The heart of brothers govern in our loves” mirrors this attitude as he makes no mention of either Octavia or Cleopatra, cementing the belief that theirs is purely a marriage of political convenience.
When Antony leaves for Egypt almost as soon as is feasibly possible, Shakespeare again presents the audience with an overlap between politics and love. Although Antony admits that “though I make this marriage for my peace, I’ the east my pleasure lies”, giving weight to the belief that he truly loves Cleopatra as he is prepared to offend and annoy Caesar just to see her, there is also the suggestion that his decision to be with her is politically motivated as he is influenced by the soothsayer’s suggestion that he should “make space enough between you”, when he forewarns of Caesar’s good fortune. Shakespeare does not offer a clear or comfortable answer to Antony’s actions in Rome; he does however continue to raise the question as to how the distinction between love and desire, (which in this case is for Antony salvaging his alliance with Caesar) can become ambiguous.
When Antony and Cleopatra are parted, a previously unseen side of her character is revealed as she begs her servant for “mandragora”, so that she “might sleep out this great gap of time my Antony is away”, showing her utter despair at being apart from him, that she would rather sleep than have to live through it. However romantic her complimentary talk of Antony appears, it is, on a literary level, a device by Shakespeare to juxtapose her devoted yearning for him with his thoughtless behavior in Rome in the next following act. Cleopatra muses over Antony at length, and her restless behavior as she flits between wanting music, billiards and fishing in the hope that this will distract her from missing him is perhaps an example of Cleopatra’s “infinite variety”, and also demonstrates the melodrama and passion associated with Egypt. Although her behavior could be argued as proof of love for Antony, I believe that her reputation as self-gratifying and over-the-top, and also that she has never been presented as so openly in love before, may go against her in the audience’s eyes, and her behavior viewed as an indication of her loving the attention and excitement of the situation.
Shakespeare offers the audience clues as to how genuine Cleopatra’s feelings are when she learns of Antony’s marriage to Octavia. Tellingly, her first request is to hear reports of the details of Octavia’s appearance; “her years, her inclination”, even “the colour of her hair”. It is peculiar, but very revealing, that Cleopatra barely mentions Antony in the aftermath of learning he’s married, but instead focuses on Octavia, perhaps the suggestion by Shakespeare that it is not ‘losing’ Antony that upsets her, but ‘losing’ him to another woman, and with this the loss of authority and control that she once enjoyed. When the messengers return, Cleopatra takes great comfort in learning Octavia is “dull of tongue, and dwarfish!” but again makes no reference to the man she is supposed to love. The anger she expresses when she learns that Antony is married could be viewed as proof of the strength of her feelings, though it is more likely that the audience will construe her behavior as shallow and trivial, and in support of the idea that she is upset over another woman having any sort of sway over Antony.
The most powerful and emotionally charged section of the play, and which demonstrate the strongest evidence for their love shows Antony and Cleopatra’s suicides. After Antony accuses her of betraying him and threatens to “let patient Octavia plough thy visage up with her prepared nails”, Cleopatra orders Mardian to “tell him I have slain myself”, in a plot to ensure he still loves her. In a manner that typifies Antony’s rash and thoughtless attitude he naively trusts her and his mood shifts immediately from anger to heartbreak, “all length is torture, since the torch is out”. Shakespeare presents Antony as loyal and devoted, although it is an uncomfortable scene for the audience as dramatic irony is rife as Antony condemns himself to lacking “the courage of a woman”, yet the audience is aware that Cleopatra is still alive, and through her characteristically tactical and plotting approach to their relationship she has caused tragic consequences. When Antony learns that Cleopatra has lied in a bid to protect herself from his anger, his reaction is typically forgiving and docile and he demonstrates his love for her as he begs death to delay, “until of many thousand kisses the poor last I lay upon thy lips.” Shakespeare also promotes support for Cleopatra’s love for Antony as she is presented as equally heartbroken and without hope when faced with her dying lover, “Shall I abide in this dull world, which in thy absence is no better than a sty?” Indeed, even the emotion of the situation is so great as to cause Cleopatra to faint with grief. It is a deeply moving scene, which Shakespeare prevents from becoming absurd as Antony is hoisted to meet her through the use of such poetic and emotionally charged language that lends the sequence dignity and power. Through this Shakespeare provides strong evidence that Antony and Cleopatra are truly dedicated to one another, a belief that is further supported through Cleopatra’s subsequent suicide.
Although the motivation behind Cleopatra’s death varies from Antony’s as she ends act four vowing to defy Caeasar’s plans to be his captive, she does die with Antony at the forefront of her thoughts, “I am again for Cydnus, to meet Mark Antony.” Throughout this scene, Shakespeare presents her as open, in control of her fate yet pitifully wretched at her loss as illustrated when she pleads, “Where art thou, death? Come hither, come; come, come”.
Shakespeare’s presentation of Antony and Cleopatra’s relationship, and whether their feelings for one another are genuine is ambivalent. There is no certain answer by which to trust or discredit what one or the other claims, but I believe Shakespeare’s ambiguous presentation of them was intentionally used to allow the audience to reach their own conclusions as to the sincerity of their affection. I think it is likely that Antony, by Shakespeare’s portrayal of him as weak and desperate to please Cleopatra, will have his marriage to Octavia excused by the audience as a political move and be deemed as entirely genuine in his love for Cleopatra. However, I believe that Cleopatra is unlikely to be so well trusted by the audience. Although she makes very bold statements as apparent proof of her feelings, I think her changeable moods and game playing attitude, will make the audience more likely to reason that it is the drama, passion and conflict of the relationship that she loves, and not Antony himself. Like the hazy, mysterious nature of Egypt, Shakespeare’s exploration of Cleopatra’s true feelings is ambiguous, and without definite conclusion, though he does furnish the audience with enough information to allow them to come to an informed decision themselves, and one that is likely to see Antony viewed as sincere in his love, and an uncertainty surrounding Cleopatra’s declarations.
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.
Antony and Cleopatra: Tension
In his play Antony and Cleopatra, William Shakespeare develops a constant theme of clashing duty and desire that can be seen throughout the entirety of the work; this theme is most potently exemplified through the actions of the main characters, and the overall characterization of said characters. Shakespeare wastes no time establishing this theme, as it is seen in the very first line of the play. The play opens on a monologue from Philo, a character who is critical of the actions of Mark Antony, referring to him as “a strumpet’s fool.” Through this monologue, Shakespeare introduces to the audience that Antony’s “heart which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst” has now “ become the bellows and the fan to cool a gypsy’s lust.” With this statement, Shakespeare reveals to the audience that Antony used to be fond of war, but is now more fond of Cleopatra. Philo’s criticism of Mark Antony establishes a precedent that is seen throughout the entirety of the play and through this, the audience is made aware that the clash between duty and desire is most prevalent in the character of Mark Antony. Shakespeare’s presentation of this feud is more concerned with the tension itself, rather than one aspect winning over another.
The first act of Antony and Cleopatra plays a crucial role in developing this tension between duty and desire. This is most prevalent through the character of Mark Antony, as he is torn between these tensions in a multitude of ways. This is first introduced when news “from Rome” arrives. While conversing about this news from Rome with Cleopatra, Antony proclaims that Egypt is “my [his] place.” Because of this scene, the audience is also given insight that Mark Antony has a wife, and due to his status in Egypt, Antony is unable to uphold his duties as a husband, therefore succumbing to his desires with Cleopatra. In doing this, Shakespeare presents Antony as being an disloyal character. Soon after this, Antony exclaims that he wishes “Rome in Tiber melt” and that the “empire fall.” The reason that this is significant is because Antony rules over one third of the Roman Empire. Through this, the audience is made aware that Antony is so consumed by this pursuit, that he is willing to watch his fortune “melt.”
The presentation of duty and desire in Antony and Cleopatra ultimately provides the basis for the major conflict of this play. This is first noted in Act 1 Scene 4, when Octavius Caesar is having a conversation with Lepidus. In this conversation, Caesar reveals that he feels “hate” in the fact that Mark Antony “hardly gave audience, or vouchsafed to think he had partners.” In this sense, Caesar feels betrayed in Antony’s prolonged stay in Egypt In doing this, Shakespeare is able to quickly lay the foundation for the main conflict of the play. Moreover, Caesar continues that Mark Antony chooses “to confound such time” in a manner that it jeopardizes “his [Mark Antony’s] state and ours.” Through this, Caesar reveals that he is upset by the fact that Mark Antony is wasting time and resources vital to their cause, therefore endangering the position of Rome. This further develops main conflict of the play, and thus adds to the omnipresent feud between duty and desire in the play.
In an attempt to restore his authority in Rome, make amends with his fellow triumvirate members, and begin to pursue duty as opposed to desire, Mark Antony decides to return to Rome and marry Octavia Caesar, the sister of Octavius. The motivating factor behind this undeniably diplomatic move was to unite Caesar and Antony, as “brothers,” with Antony claiming that their “their heart of brothers govern in our [their] loves, and sway our [their] great designs.” The marriage occurred primarily for Antony to solidify his responsibilities to Rome. With this, Shakespeare is able to temporarily restore the friendship of Antony and Caesar, and demonstrate Antony’s choice to place duty above desire. Soon afterwards however, Antony wrongs Caesar by returning back to Egypt. Thus abandoning his duty in two manners: to his new wife, and to his country. Because of this intentional decision, Caesar goes to war with Antony and Egypt. The battles of this war are another example of Shakespeare presenting duty and desire in this play. Shakespeare makes both Cleopatra and Caesar present in the battles, therefore placing duty and desire in direct conflict. The play makes several mentions of Antony’s superiority as a soldier over Caesar. Once Antony’s forces begin to take an advantage over Caesar’s navy, all sixty of the Egyptian ships began to “fly and turn the rudder.” Here, Antony chooses to follow Cleopatra into retreat, again symbolizing his choice to pursue desire over duty. The two countries being representative of Antony’s two choices Egypt being desire, and Rome representing duty. At this point, even Enobarbus who is Antony’s most loyal soldier begins to blame Antony for this defeat. Claiming that the defeat was the fault of “Antony only”, due to his decision to “make his will lord of his reason.” Through this, Shakespeare is able to make it evident that even the people who are most close to Antony see that he continually chooses desire over duty.
Although Shakespeare makes it evident that the tension between duty and desire is most prevalent in the character of Mark Antony, it is not limited to his character alone. The suicide of Enobarbus is a direct consequence of Antony’s lack of self-control, and serves to augur the suicide of Antony himself. As the war wages between the two forces, the odds do not appear to fare in the favor of the favor of Mark Antony, Enobarbus deserts Antony and goes to the side of Caesar. By doing this, Enobarbus betrays his duty to Antony. After Enobarbus realizes his fault, he decides to kill himself. At this point, Shakespeare makes it clear that Enobarbus has realized his sense of duty, and ultimately chooses this sense over his desire to flee. Shakespeare also uses the character of Pompey to convey duty and desire. Although Pompey is presented with an opportunity to be “lord over the whole world,” he declines because he feels that it “tis not my profit that does not lead mine honor.” In this case, Pompey’s inclination to be true to his honor indicates that he has chosen duty over desire. Cleopatra is another example of Shakespeare’s presentation of duty over desire. Throughout the play, Cleopatra puts her country at risk in an attempt to follow Mark Antony into battle. Furthermore, she is willing to watch her soldiers die so that she may be with Antony. Ultimately by ending her own life, Cleopatra is choosing her desire to be with Antony, and to not be a war trophy over her duty to her country.
In these ways, William Shakespeare develops a constant theme of clashing duty and desire in his play Antony and Cleopatra; these instances are a few of the manners that Shakespeare is able to accomplish creating this theme. Through the utilization of characterization, along with the deliberate actions of the characters, Shakespeare is able to effectively establish a continual pattern of clashing duty and desire that is seen throughout the entirety of the play.
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.
The Role Of Enobarbus In Shakespeare’s “Antony And Cleopatra”
In ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ Enobarbus is a trusted follower and close friend of Antony’s, who has the freedom of speaking openly about personal issues that Antony confides in him about. Although he has limited influence over Antony when compared with the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, overall Enobarbus has an extremely important role in the play, acting as the face of the audience, as well as being used by Shakespeare to build tension through the subtle foreshadowing in Enobarbus’ dialogue.
Enobarbus’ most important role in the play is taking the job of a narrator whilst continuing to be a character which Shakespeare does skillfully and successfully. Enobarbus is the voice of reason and explains what is going on in certain scenes. In Act 4 Scene 2, Cleopatra speaks aside to Enobarbus, questioning what Antony is doing. Enobarbus explains that he is trying “to make his followers week”. Of course, Enobarbus isn’t really explaining to Cleopatra what is happening (unless she hadn’t read the script beforehand), he is actually informing the audience of Antony’s real intensions. The fact that Enobarbus uses the word “followers” to describe Antony’s crying servants, and he himself isn’t crying, reinforces the idea that Enobarbus is more than just a follower. As Enobarbus is a friend of Antony’s as well as a follower, he is able to voice his own opinions, and, due to the fact he is not infatuated with a female or the idea of ruling the Roman Empire, he gives us a clear overview of each character’s personalities. Enobarbus is also used commonly by Shakespeare for dramatic irony, increasing the effectiveness of the play further.
Along with the soothsayer in ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, Enobarbus occasionally creates a lighter atmosphere within the play when Shakespeare cleverly uses humor to allow the audience a break from the politics, love and war that fills the rest of the performance. Shakespeare uses satire when Enobarbus mocks Lepidus for being intoxicated in Act 2 Scene 7 when he ironically calls him a “strong fellow” and in Act 3 Scene 2 when he and Agrippa ridicule Lepidus, expressing “how he loves Caesar!” and “adores Mark Antony!”. To both a Shakespearean and modern audience this is a humorous scene in the play. In the past, critics have disapproved of Shakespeare commonly giving this feature to his secondary characters: in 1710, Charles Gildon wrote “Grief and Laughter are so very incompatible that to join these two wou’d be monstrous”. Nicholas Rowe also wrote in 1709 that “the generality of our audiences seem to be better pleased with it than with exact tragedy” however “the severer Critiques among us cannot bear it”. Despite critics often finding fault with it, it does make Enobarbus an extremely important character in the play as, by making the audience like him through his sense of humor and his relatability, he sets himself up as a minor tragic character which heightens his downfall and therefore increases the effectiveness of the tragic play, ‘Antony and Cleopatra’.
Shakespeare skillfully foreshadows future events such as the fate of the hero and heroine of the play, Antony and Cleopatra, through Enobarbus. This makes Enobarbus an essential character as through him the audience receives subtle hints to what is going to happen next. Enobarbus is aware of the fragility of the marriage between Antony and Octavia, which is also tying the friendly relationship between Antony and Caesar together. From this he recognizes that “the band that seems to tie their friendship together will be the very strangler of their amity”, due to the fact that Antony “will to his Egyptian dish again”. The use of the disrespectful words ‘Egyptian dish’ imply that Cleopatra is simply a meal that will not last forever, possibly referring to her past lovers, none of whom had stayed. Before Antony’s first fight against Caesar, in Act 3 Scene 7 Enobarbus explains to Cleopatra that her presence in the camp will be a distraction to Antony: “If we should serve with horse…a soldier and his horse”. Through imagery of a male a female horse, Enobarbus foreshadows the fact that Cleopatra being involved in his fight will sacrifice Antony’s triumph. Moreover, Enobarbus also hints at the upcoming Battle of Actium, which takes place after Caesar declares war against Cleopatra, when he says Antony and Caesar will “grind the one the other”.
Roman views on friendship are based on multiple critics. Aristotle recognized that a friendship is based on certain terms: pleasure, utility or virtue, whilst others believed that friendship only survived if there is something to be rewarded with from it, and it is over when it is no longer useful to/pleasant for the ‘participants’. Enobarbus is an indispensable character for proving the existence of true friendship. By doing this, he also sets himself up for an intensified downfall, despite being a secondary character. In spite of Enobarbus’ betrayal of Mark Antony in Act 4 Scene 6, he dies in Act 4 Scene 9 from guilt and heartbreak. Although Shakespeare never clarifies why Enobarbus sinks to the floor and dies, we are able to infer that he ended his life due to the culpability of abandoning his friend. Enobarbus’ last words are “O Antony! O Antony!” which reinforces the poignant moment of his death and alludes to Antony being the last person on his mind. The repetition of Antony’s name also draws attention to Enobarbus’ desperation for forgiveness. The tragic passing of a likable character would have affected the audience in a negative manner and also begins the downfall of Antony – Shakespeare uses Enobarbus to foreshadow future events even through his death.
Enobarbus is vital in expressing certain Roman views. Shakespeare communicates female ideals through the character of Enobarbus, specifically in Act 1 Scene 2. Having found out his wife, Fulvia, has died, Antony reveals the news to Enobarbus. His most valuable soldier then explains that this is fortunate for Antony, that “when old robes are worn out, there are members to make new”. Enobarbus then proceeds to describe Fulvia as an “old smock” and Cleopatra as a “new petticoat”. This metaphoric representation of Antony’s deceased wife and Egypt’s Queen as items of clothing that are easily removed suggests women are simply objects that men can discard of whenever they like. A Shakespearean audience would not have reacted as though this was such a terrible attitude towards women – they experienced women getting married as young as 12 years old and believed wives belonged to their husbands. However, a modern audience would not react so kindly to this as, in the present day, women are equal to men. Furthermore, Enobarbus reports to Menas that Octavia is “of a holy, cold and still conversation”. Octavia is an obedient and therefore ideal wife (despite later being illustrated as lifeless due to her statue-like physicality), however Enobarbus openly insults her, calling her quiet and gentle, however also dull.
Despite the harsh descriptions of Fulvia, Octaiva and Cleopatra, in Act 2 Scene 2, Shakespeare quotes almost directly from Plutarch through Enobarbus’ character to describe his and Antony’s first meeting with Cleopatra after she arrived sitting on the barge like it was a “burnished throne”. Enobarbus explains to Agrippa and Maecenas how the “pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids” fanned Cleopatra and how the Queen made even the winds fall for her. These two juxtaposing descriptions of Cleopatra highlight Enobarbus’ importance in displaying Roman ideas on woman, however it also shows how, when Cleopatra travelled up the river Cydnus, she was a goddess, not a woman.
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.