The title characters of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra are difficult to fully understand due to their seemingly illogical actions towards one another. At times, they seem to be in direct opposition to each other’s causes, yet still fully and passionately in love with one another. Their story is one unique to Shakespeare’s canon of works; while parallels can be drawn to the likes of Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra stands alone in its portrayal of the pleasures and pitfalls of love. Antony and Cleopatra’s love is the catalyst that propels them both into and out of power. Their allowance of the relationship to overwhelm and rule their lives eventually leads to their downfall.Antony and Cleopatra’s relationship is at once passionate and fractious because of the weight it carries with the two lovers. It is symbiotic; each relies on the other to further their cause. Antony boasts of his ability to bring assorted kings and despots under his and Cleopatra’s banner. Such a feat would require vigilant attention to ensure loyalty and solidarity in command. The effects of Antony and Cleopatra’s lax leadership are evident towards the close of the play, as their forces fracture and capitulate. The very driving force behind Antony’s alliances and political maneuvering is the love and pleasures of Cleopatra, and yet they are the distractions that prevent him from ruling effectively. For her own part, Cleopatra’s haughty nature demands that her sovereignty from Rome is maintained and her power is not curtailed. She pours her love, her own particular brand of it, on Antony, both as a means of securing such independence and as a mark of her own power to obtain such a high placed consort. Her abilities as a ruler, though, are lacking and require the knowledge of Antony for her to function properly. As such, the two find themselves downward the longer their relationship is maintained. Cleopatra obtains Antony’s loyalty by means of her love, yet it distracts him from his duties. Only by performing his duties, however, are the ever hungry forces of Rome kept at bay, and furthermore draw their ire when Antony abandons their common cause. The two lovers neutralize each other and their goals. They find in one another the ability to rekindle for a time the power and vitality of youth. As such, concerns that rouse them from their fantasy serve to momentarily break the power of their bond, as seen in Antony’s belief of betrayal by Cleopatra’s naval forces. He is a man who exists for the temporary pleasure, and such an event interrupts his revelry and forces him to become a commander of men once again. It can be said that Antony would remove himself from all worldly affairs if he could ensure the continued quality of life that his position as a triumvir and hers as a queen provide. This combination of forces propels their passion as a couple; the higher they rise politically, the more they desire to be removed from the power struggles such a position requires to retain it. Antony follows Cleopatra to the dismay of his captains because his judgment is clouded by his preference for the easy and unconcerned life. It is not that his skills as a commander are weak. Rather, his resolve to put them into action is instead weakened by his absence of willpower in denying himself the pleasures of Cleopatra and concentrating on what must be done. For example, Antony wishes to pursue a sea battle against the superior naval forces of Caesar because of the goading of Cleopatra. He feels compelled to face the challenge Caesar proffers to prove to her the power he still exudes, imagining his own naval forces combined with Cleopatra’s to be invincible, a clear symbol of their relationship. When he sees her forces surrender, it is as if his own fears about her nature have come true; he feels that she would sell his love and throw her lot in with whoever she thought would be victorious. Antony damns her perceived betrayal in a moment of mental clarity, yet it is safe to say that he prefers the occlusion. Shortly thereafter, upon learning of Cleopatra’s supposed suicide, he attempts to kill himself, proving that his prodigal nature and her hold over him lead him to the easiest solution to end his pain. Antony’s main drive is to end all conflict and issues as soon as possible with as little pain or effort as possible. His marriage to Octavia is agreed to almost at once, with little regard for the consequences either for her or his own wellbeing. He is a man adept at the instant strategy required in battle, but one crippled by shortsightedness in long term goals that are not directly related to his continued enjoyment of the finer things in life.The comparison can be easily drawn to the hasty and opportunistic plans of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. They ultimately fail due to an underestimation about the willpower necessary to avoid succumbing to the guilt of the murder of King Duncan. In the same vein, Antony and Cleopatra underestimate the amount of effort their status requires. In the case of Antony, he must be on guard against both outside enemies and the allure of Cleopatra herself. This failure to recognize character flaws does not come from a false sense of superiority, but from a lack of perception to the world around them and its impact on them. Like it or not, the couple is a force to be reckoned with, and such a force comes with responsibilities they seems reticent or unable to fulfill. Cleopatra relies on Antony for more of a political reason than he. Her connection to him, and ultimately her dominance over him, provides her once again the power and security in ruling that she possessed while with Caesar. Her admonition of Charmian for declaring the greatness of the now deceased leader aside, Cleopatra appreciates the lofty status such a match grants her. This is partly why the news of Antony’s marriage to Octavia hurts her so; it once again makes illegitimate her relationship to Antony. It is not as if Cleopatra expected Antony to have stopped loving her and fallen for Octavia. She is aware of the allure, if not power, she possesses in her relationship. Instead, the marriage signifies a perceived loss on her part to become a recognized part of his life, not his lover to languish in Egypt while he deals with affairs of state. Cleopatra enjoys power; she plays with it and wants to exhibit it, even if the results as disastrous. Antony and Cleopatra’s relationship is one that became too powerful and important for those involved in it. Their love ultimately became too all-consuming and replaced the very things they were searching for in life. This is said not to cast criticism on their love itself, for in its own way, it was as valid as any to be found. Neither lover, though, understood nor exhibited the capacity for the maturity required to make such a relationship function as more than a temporary aligning of two very different people.
Tales of women as sorceresses and magic-wielders abound in the literature and mythology of cultures that promote the gendered binary of culture over nature, activity over passivity, and reason over superstition. In these patriarchal societies, women are marginalized from society and have no agency of their own; to get what they want, they must resort to outside-of-society means like magic. Problems arise when what women want has catastrophic results for men: a number of different literary genres, including Greek mythology, Shakespearean plays, and Roman literature, point out that women use magic either to bewitch a man into bed or to revenge an untrue lover. The wrath of wronged women like Medea, Dido, and Phaedra wreak havoc on the lives of men, and the beguiling powers of Cleopatra and the sorceresses of the Odyssey detain men from performing their masculine duties. Because of the negative impact that women’s magic has on patriarchal order, the universal association between women and magic not only creates the perception of women as the “Other,” but also reinforces it: because woman is the Other, she uses magic; because she uses magic, she is the Other.That a good number of sorceresses are also foreigners is not a coincidence; magic emphasizes the alien nature of women, and foreign women are even more alien than native women. Moreover, foreign or exiled women have even less agency and fewer rights than others, and thus the only options open to them are unconventional ones. When Medea is exiled from her native Colchis and then abandoned by Jason in Greece, she is without any lawful means of recourse. Politically and socially helpless, and on the verge of being exiled yet again, Medea resorts to witchcraft, her “natural gift” (Medea 382), in order to punish Jason for his betrayal. By poisoning Jason’s new bride, murdering his sons, and killing the king of Corinth, Medea presents a serious threat to the patriarchal order. In a supreme reversal of power roles, a foreign woman trumps not only her husband, but also a Greek king.Medea draws a clear line between magic that is practiced in civilization and in so-called barbaric lands. Ironically, in Corinth, Medea is feared and reviled for the same skills that won Jason’s heart in Colchis. When Medea’s sorcery helped Jason to win the Golden Fleece, her magical skills were a valuable asset; indeed, they may have been her primary bargaining chip in extracting a vow of marriage from him. Once she is away from her foreign and barbarian land, however, her once-prized talent for magic becomes strange and uncivilized, not only to the people of Greece, but also to her husband. Undoubtedly, part of the reason that Jason so expediently discards his wife is that in Greece, her magic is out of place: indeed, he accuses her of doing things that “no Greek woman would ever have done,” and claims that she is “not a woman at all, but a tigress” (Medea 1342-1345). The play’s dark references to her pact with Hecate, the patroness of black magic, further accentuate the dangerous and subversive nature of her skills seen in the light of civilization. In Corinth, Medea’s sorcery merely emphasizes her otherness, while in her native land, it may not have had such a negative connotation. In this way, Medea makes clear civilization’s horror of women who deal in the occult.Like Medea, Virgil’s Dido is a foreign woman in exile who resorts to “barbarian” forms of magic when she has no other means of expressing herself. Because Dido is the queen of Carthage, whereas Medea is politically at the mercy of King Creon, she seems to have more options open to her. However, a brief history given by Venus at the beginning of the poem reveals that, like Medea, Dido is also a foreign woman in exile who has suffered at the hands of the patriarchy. Originally from Phoenicia, Dido is forced to flee to Carthage after her husband is killed in order to escape her tyrant brother’s persecution. As the queen of Carthage, finally away from the influence of men, she begins to build her own city and is presented as an extremely competent and just ruler. When Aeneas lands on her shore, however, Dido’s life is once again defined by the actions of the men around her. After falling in love with him, she neglects her political duties and allows her city to fall into ruin while she devotes all of her time and energy to Aeneas. Once Aeneas comes to the realization that he must leave to found Rome, however, Dido is swept aside so that he can fulfill his civic duty. Just as Medea is discarded once Jason discovers that he can advance his station in life by marrying the Corinthian princess, Dido’s wishes become secondary to Aeneas’ political priorities. When all seems to be lost, both women resort to magic in a desperate attempt to reassert their own desires.Once she learns of Aeneas’ plan to escape in the night, a desperate Dido calls upon an Ethiopian priestess versed in the magical arts for help. A bizarre and perverse scene ensues as Dido builds a pyre and burns an effigy of Aeneas while the wild-haired enchantress calls upon the dark gods, with venomous herbs and “a love charm torn from the forehead of a newborn foal” (Aeneid 711-715) in hand. The perception of woman as the Other is clear in the stark contrast between the frenzied women chanting their spells over a blazing fire and Aeneas, who is sleeping peacefully on his ship. The subversive and devilish images of disheveled hair, burning effigies, and sinister magical charms combine to create a scene that is more reminiscent of pagan ritual than civilized society. The foreignness and female-ness of both Dido and the Ethiopian enchantress only enhance that sense of otherness.The Aeneid shows that when women like Dido are incapable of wielding magical powers themselves, they will seek out other women who can. This shared female affinity for magic emphasizes women’s otherness and underlines their alienation from the world of men. Like Dido, when Phaedra of Hippolytus is burning with passion for her stepson, she turns to other women for help. Her old nurse offers to give her a “philtre, a soothing charm for love” that she promises will “conjoin one willing love out of two” (Hippolytus 506-512). Both Phaedra’s nurse and Dido’s Ethiopian princess are willing to help their fellow women bend the will of their unenthusiastic lovers. In literature, these women are portrayed as in collusion with one another, forging alliances that pit women’s desires against those of men. The mysterious and conspiratorial nature of the transactions that take place behind closed doors reinforces the male fear that women are plotting against them. Magic is decidedly confined to the realm of women.Unfortunately for both Phaedra and Dido, their potions and spells do not work in the manner planned. In the end, unrequited love drives both women to suicide. Phaedra hangs herself once she learns of Hippolytus’ rejection, and the implication of the Aeneid is that using black magic contributes to Dido’s descent into madness and suicide. The fact that both women resorted to sorcery emphasizes their almost inhuman desperation after being rejected. In particular, the image of Dido shortly before her death is that of a woman completely disintegrated: “eyes bloodshot and rolling, and her quivering cheeks flecked with stains” (Aeneid 889-891), she finally takes her life on top of the burning pyre. Though Dido and Phaedra both pay for their love with their lives, their magic is not completely useless: just as Medea is able to exact revenge on Jason, Dido is finally able to free herself of her love for Aeneas, and Phaedra punishes Hippolytus for his rejection with her incriminating suicide letter.Both Medea and the Aeneid illustrate a prominent lesson of literature and mythology: that relationships with women detain men from doing their duty. By poisoning Jason’s new wife, Medea stops him from fulfilling the ultimate masculine goal of inheriting a throne; similarly, Dido’s spells attempt to charm Aeneas away from pursuing his destiny as the founder of Rome. The ultimate story of a man detained from his goal by women’s magic, however, has to be Homer’s The Odyssey. During his lengthy journey back home, Odysseus is constantly sidetracked by sorceresses who beguile him into staying with them. Two of the most famous are Calypso, the nymph who enthralls Odysseus for seven years, and Circe, the enchantress who turns his men into beasts. Isolated on islands with no men around, both women live on the fringe of society and embody the conception of woman as the Other. Indeed, they are almost inhuman in their total alienation from civilization: as they sing eerily and weave “enchanting web[s]” on their “immortal loom[s]” (The Odyssey 10.244), they resemble nothing more than deadly spiders waiting to ensnare helpless men.It is this very otherness that is both mesmerizing and repulsive at the same time. Circe and Calypso have a brand of frightening seductiveness that captivates Odysseus’ men and renders even the god Hermes “spellbound” (Odyssey 5.84). Unlike Medea, Dido, and Phaedra, who only resort to magic when they are thwarted in love, the two sorceresses use their magical wiles for the sole purpose of bewitching men. Like revenge magic, their enticing charms are portrayed in a negative light because they delay Odysseus from fulfilling his socially-prescribed masculine duty. Instead of reclaiming his kingdom and fending off his wife’s suitors, Odysseus dallies with Calypso for seven years in a sensual but vegetative state of helplessness. Similarly, he surrenders to Circe’s powers for a full year, and is only roused to action when his men start to complain of restlessness.It is interesting to note that, like Aeneas, Odysseus is only able to counter both Circe’s and Calypso’s magic with the help of the messenger god Hermes. While Aeneas is sleeping soundly on his ship as Dido chants her magic spells, it is Hermes who warns him to leave; similarly, it is Hermes who shows Odysseus how to defeat Circe’s magic (through the extremely phallic method of showing her his sword and then sleeping with her), and who tells Calypso that she must relinquish her hold on the king. The theme of men helping men continues when Odysseus fails to disentangle himself from Circe after a year and needs the urging of his shipmates before he can gather his wits and leave. In this manner, both the Aeneid and The Odyssey oppose the world of women to that of men; in both poems, there is little intra-gender interaction that isn’t limited to sex and magic. The only constructive relationships, and the only ones that further Aeneas’ or Odysseus’ political goals, are those between men. The women merely provide troublesome magical traps along the way. For that, they are punished: all of the women involved get short shrift as they and their magical charms are abandoned without a second thought at the bidding of other men and gods. As usual, in the end, women’s magic is defeated by the proper patriarchal order.Centuries after the Aeneid and The Odyssey were written, William Shakespeare would take up the same theme of women using magic to beguile men and detain them from doing their duty in his play Antony and Cleopatra. Unlike Circe and Calypso, who are clearly enchantresses with magical powers, the queen of Egypt is never explicitly attributed with magical skills. However, the numerous references to her as a “gypsy” and the general theme of occultism that runs throughout the play in the form of the soothsayer all reinforce the impression that magic is at work. Antony’s men grumble that she has bewitched their general, and his enemy Pompey rejoices that Cleopatra’s “witchcraft” (Antony and Cleopatra 2.1.22) has made him lazy and forgetful. Indeed, even Antony, when he is far from the charms of Cleopatra, describes the time he spent in Egypt as “poisoned hours” (Antony 2.2.96) during which he neglects his duty to the state.In the end, the unnatural hold that Cleopatra has over Antony costs him his share in the triumvirate. During the pivotal naval battle in Act III, Cleopatra turns tail and, “through the noble ruin of her magic” (Antony 3.10.19), Antony follows her. By doing so, he forfeits the battle. Blaming his defeat on Cleopatra, he refers to her as a “witch” in Act IV (Antony 4.2.37). It is the same theme as in The Odyssey: the bewitching enchantress arrays passion against duty. As surely as if she had drugged him with one of Circe’s magic potions, Cleopatra’s charms make Antony forget all about Roman politics and surrender to sensuality. His very manhood suffers because of Cleopatra’s magic: by dillydallying in her bed and then losing the naval battle, Antony is emasculated in front of his men. The play makes it clear that it is Cleopatra’s influence alone that is having this effect on Antony; whenever he returns to Rome and to the company of men, he reverts to being hard-headed and “masculinized.” Just as Dido would have willingly detained Aeneas from founding Rome, Antony and Cleopatra reveals that women are dangerous sidetracks that end up costing men their masculinity and making them forget their duty as citizens.Like the sorceresses in The Odyssey, it is partially Cleopatra’s open sexuality that makes her so bewitching. Throughout the play, she is depicted as ribald and lusty, just as the sorceresses are “lover[s] all too willing” (Odyssey 5.172). The sensual existence of Antony in Egypt closely parallels that of Odysseus on the isles of Circe and Calypso; for both men, the days are filled with feasting and the nights with sexual pleasure. The fact is, all of the women who use magic place a lot of importance on their sexual lives. Medea’s relationship with her husband trumps her maternal role, Dido’s sex life with Aeneas causes her political prowess to disintegrate, and Phaedra’s illicit lust for her stepson drives her to suicide. Similarly, Calypso seem to exist for the sole purpose of bewitching men into sleeping with her and the only way that Circe can be placated is in bed, while Cleopatra is constantly referred to as “wanton,” “lusty,” “salt,” and a “strumpet” to highlight her strong sex drive. In this way, literature reinforces the male fear of female sexuality by portraying sexual women as dangerous and deadly magic users who ensnare men in their erotic traps.Interestingly, one of the few occasions that a man and not a woman is accused of using magic also occurs in one of Shakespeare’s works. In Othello, the Moorish general is accused of using witchcraft to lure the white Desdemona into marriage. Her father, Brabantio, claims that without “enchant[ing] her” in “chains of magic,” Desdemona would have never consented to marry a black man; instead, Othello must have “practiced on her with foul charms, / Abused her delicate youth with drugs or minerals / That weaken motion” (Othello 1.3.64-74). Othello is the exception that proves the rule: as a black man in a predominantly white society, he is just as much “the Other” as women are. Othello reveals cultural beliefs that people who are differentwhether they are women or men of a minority raceare unable to wield any kind of power without recourse to an outside means of help. To the men who do conform to the societal norm, whenever a person who is marginalized by society accomplishes the same things as male citizens do, they “must be” using subversive magical means.The perceived affinity of women for the dark arts both creates and reinforces the image of women as the Other: operating outside of society, against the gods and man-made laws, the sorceress acts only to fulfill her own agenda. The problem lies in the fact that a woman’s agenda is rarely compatible with a man’s. The real threat of women’s magic lies in its negative effects on men: by either exacting revenge or bewitching men into bed, women are able to rob men of their masculinity and will-power. By poisoning his wife, Medea turns Jason into a helpless exile; similarly, Circe and Calypso reduce Odysseus to a passive sybarite, while Cleopatra clouds Antony’s mind and erases all thoughts of politics. In all of these cases, women succeed in using magic to separate men from the rest of the community, either by robbing them of their political ties or captivating them with their sexual charms so that they can only live for the passion of the moment. Because magic-wielding women take power of men’s hands and put it into their own through revenge or bewitchment, they present a threat to the patriarchal order. This threat is amplified by their interference with men’s civic duty, which has heightened ramifications for Greek and Roman societies in which the State is all-important.Through poison or love philters, these sorceresses are able to turn the tables on men. Because of women’s magic, men become disintegrated from the masculine world; in its place, they are constrained to the same solitude and separation that is a woman’s common lot in society. By thus alienating men from society, women drag their lovers and ex-lovers into “otherness” with them. However, this situation never seems to last long: the bewitched and love-struck men always come to their senses and remember their masculine duties, only to abandon the women who once charmed them. The women, in turn, are always punished for their transgressions: Dido, Phaedra, and Cleopatra are driven to suicide, a male god forces Calypso to relinquish her hold on Odysseus, and Circe is abandoned by Odysseus at the persuasion of his men. Even Medea, who is arguably the most successful of these emasculating and magic-wielding women, escapes to Corinth to live with Aegeus in Athens. Still forced to rely on a man for survival, she is not truly escaping the patriarchal system either. By scripting the repeated abandonment and punishment of female magicians in literature and mythology, patriarchal societies attempt to allay male fears of independent, sexual women who band together to form powerful alliances against men. Although women may temporarily succeed in dragging men into otherness with them, they are always silenced in the end.
The value of loyalty is that it allows its recipient to feel secure in a world where almost nothing is absolute. Under this circumstance, loyalty has become a highly valued quality in today’s society. Unfortunately true loyalty is a difficult quality to achieve, since it requires the servant to have an intense love for their master. Other loyalty is not as effective as there are frequently temptations that can sway it. In Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra the importance of loyalty is most clearly seen through the relationship between Marc Antony and Enobarbus, Antony’s most loyal servant. Although Enobarbus has true loyalty for Antony, his human knowledge forces him to reconsider his loyalty. Enobarbus views Antony as becoming a fool. Antony’s foolishness stems from his relationship with Cleopatra. Enobarbus tries to convince Antony to follow the correct course of action, but Antony consistently does the opposite by heeding Cleopatra. This forces Enobarbus to choose between his loyal duty to Antony and what he views as the correct path. Meanwhile, temptations from Caesar give Enobarbus another master to serve under. The play sees a systematic deterioration of Enobarbus’ ability to remain loyal and in the end, he chooses to leave Antony. Enobarbus’ betrayal hurts Antony dearly, but more importantly it destroys Enobarbus. He does not realize that his loyalty, in being true loyalty, binds him to Antony eternally. Ultimately, his loyalty proves to be absolute, but this is only seen through tragic consequence.In the beginning of the play, Enobarbus is quickly identifiable as Antony’s closest confidant. Enobarbus comforts Antony in conversation. Antony discusses at great length, the most private and important of matters. Enobarbus fits comfortably into the role of best friend since he is Antony’s most loyal servent. At the end of the conversation Antony makes a request and Enobarbus responds with “I shall do’t” (I, ii, 193). The straightforward nature of this phrase shows Enobarbus’ unquestionable loyalty to Antony. This serves to give the highest starting point from which Enobarbus’ loyalty can only fall.The first time that a conflict between Enobarbus and Antony occurs is during the first political meeting with Octavius Caesar. Antony reprimands Enobarbus by saying “Thou art a soldier only, speak no more” (II, ii, 108). Enobarbus, who feels that he was justified in what he had said, responds with “That truth should be silent I almost forgot” (II, ii, 109). This sarcasm does not sit well with Antony since he regards it as a questioning of his authority in front of his greatest rival. Antony more sternly reprimands Enobarbus who then reluctantly concedes. The forced resolution to this conflict leaves Enobarbus slightly bitter and lays the seeds for his loss of loyalty.The catharsis that causes Enobarbus to question his loyalty is fear. Enobarbus becomes afraid of the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra. To him it is clear that Cleopatra is detrimental to Antony, especially because Antony is unable to control his desire for her. In a conversation with Maecenas, Maecenas says, “Now Antony must leave her utterly” to which Enobarbus responds “Never; he will not” (II, ii, 234-235). The realization that Enobarbus obtains from his own words causes him fear since he no longer knows if he can trust the judgment of his master. The logical dilemma that this presents is that Enobarbus must question whether he wants to remain loyal to this master or potentially switch masters.Enobarbus’ encounter with Pompey is the first time that Enobarbus shows respect for another potential master. He responds to Pompey’s praise with “I never loved you much; but I ha’ praised ye when you well deserved ten times as much as I have said you did” (II, vi, 77-79). Enobarbus slips up by giving more respect than formality requires. This admittance of respect for Pompey shows that Enobarbus could have respect for another master. The only saving grace of his statement is that he included never having loved Pompey. An important part of the true loyalty relationship between master and servant is that the servant must love his master.After meeting with Pompey, Enobarbus has a discussion with Menas. In this discussion, Enobarbus reveals that he already knows what the outcome of Antony’s marriage to Octavia will be. He knows that Antony will return to Cleopatra and Caesar will use that as a justification for war. Enobarbus believes that Antony is being foolish in his lustful pursuit of Cleopatra since he is not considering the long-term consequences of it. These consequences include the death of thousands and the loss of an empire. Antony is willing to risk these in order to obtain short term physical gratification. Antony’s selfishness disgusts Enobarbus more and more as they move closer to war.When Antony is finally on the brink of war with Caesar, true to Enobarbus’ premonitions, it is his foolishness, a result of his relationship with Cleopatra that causes his downfall. Cleopatra encourages Antony to engage in a sea battle with Caesar. This is a poor decision because Antony is a great land general and not as good at sea. Even though he knows he should meet Caesar at land, Antony’s ego gives him a desire to impress Cleopatra, and thus he agrees to meet Caesar at sea. The other danger with the plan for war is that Cleopatra intends to go into the battle with Antony. Enobarbus knows that this is extremely dangerous, since Cleopatra is so capable of affecting Antony. Enobarbus must now reconcile that he may be on the losing side. Nevertheless, he retains his loyalty. His tries to deal with this situation by trying to dissuade Cleopatra from partaking in the battle. Cleopatra refuses to listen to him. When this does not work Enobarbus desperately tries to dissuade Antony from partaking in a sea battle by explaining to him the military folly of it. To Enobarbus’ elegant argument Antony responds “I’ll fight at sea” (III, vii, 49). Cleopatra is happy with this and promises her help in what becomes the Battle of Actium.During the battle, just as Antony is on the verge of victory, Cleopatra, regarding the war as merely a game, turns her ships and sails away. Antony, helplessly following Cleopatra, turns around and sails after her, causing him to lose the battle. This causes deep humiliation for Antony and degrades his status as a master. After being told about the battle Enobarbus states “I’ll yet follow the wounded chance of Antony, though my reason sits in the wind against me” (III, x, 35-37). Enobarbus is at a point where he can no longer justify his loyalty. In fact, his human ability to reason tells him that he should no longer be loyal, yet he still feels an inexplicable loyal attachment to Antony. This attachment is the effect of an inseverable loyalty, but Enobarbus does not realize this.When Antony begins to make light of his loss in the Battle of Actium, Enobarbus is livid. He cannot understand how his master can just laugh off such a great loss in respect and pride. He also knows that Antony would not be behaving this way if it were not for Cleopatra. Enobarbus is so disappointed that he places forth a dilemma; “The loyalty well held to fools does make our mere faith folly: yet he that can endure to follow with allegiance a fall’n lord does conquer him that did his master conquer and earns a place i’ th’ story” (III, xiii, 42-46). On the one hand, Enobarbus sees that he is following a fool for a master and that it takes an even bigger fool to follow a fool. On the other hand, he recognizes that if he remains loyal he has a chance for greater recognition. This choice places a fork in Enobarbus’ path. It is significant that at this point, even his choice to remain loyal is to fulfill his desires. This is the first time that Enobarbus outright puts his desires ahead of the needs of Antony.Soon after, a messenger from Caesar comes to Cleopatra tempting her to join him. Cleopatra’s incomprehensible response of “O” (III, xiii, 59) causes Enobarbus to fear that she is ready to betray Antony. His inexplicable loyalty kicks in and he goes straight to tell Anotony this. Antony has the messenger whipped and he scolds Cleopatra. Cleopatra passionately explains that she would never betray him. Antony believes her and places faith in her loyalty, the same loyalty that failed him in the Battle of Actium. Antony is only so easily convinced because of his lustful desire for Cleopatra: “let us have one other gaudy night” (III, xiii, 183). Enobarbus is incredulous in having witnessed this. He finally decides that what is in his best interest is to leave Antony; :”I will seek some way to leave him” (III, xiii, 200-201). Enobarbus chooses the fork in the path that leads away from loyalty. This mistake is made since Enobarbus does not understand the full worth of his loyalty and that he cannot truly leave it. Enobarbus hides his emotions and favors common sense.Even though Enobarbus believes that Antony has lost all sense, Antony somewhat proves him wrong while giving the morale speech to his men. Antony commends all his men for their loyalty. This causes his men to weep. Enobarbus weeps as well, but his tears sting since he has already made the decision to defect. Unfortunately this speech is not enough to have Enobarbus come back since he has already walked down the wrong path.Antony’s decision to fight at sea again finally moves Enobarbus into Caesar’s camp. When Antony finds out that Enobarbus has betrayed him he is heartbroken. He tells Eros, another loyal soldier, to send Enobarbus all his rightful treasure. He regards Enobarbus betrayal as his own failure: “Say that I wish he never find more cause to change a master. O my fortunes have corrupted honest men” (IV, v, 15-17). Even before receiving his treasure, Enobarbus realizes that he has made a mistake, “I have done ill, of which I do accuse myself so sorely that I will joy no more” (IV, vi, 18-20). Enobarbus becomes depressed as he realizes his mistake as well as understanding that he can no longer return to Antony. Once Enobarbus receives his treasure, this seals his fate. Enobarbus regards himself as “the villain of the earth” (IV, vi, 30). Enobarbus realizes that true loyalty, one based on love, is eternal, and cannot be betrayed. He finds that his loyalty for Antony is true loyalty. Yet, he, Enobarbus, did betray his master. The only possible repercussion of defiance of true loyalty is death.Enobarbus wanders in melancholy madness consistently denigrating himself until he dies of grief. In his last moments Enobarbus caries on a fantasy conversation with Antony where he tries to apologize. He does not, however, seek absolution. He completely understands the severity of his actions and he is waiting to die. His last request is “let the world rank me in register a master leaver and a fugitive” (IV, ix, 21-22). Enobarbus hates himself. He feels as if he has committed the most despicable crime known to man. He finds himself to be a detestable individual. Enobarbus is destroyed. He cries out to Antony twice before dying of grief.The term loyalty as a standalone does not allow for the important distinction between regular loyalty and true loyalty. Regular loyalty is not reliable. Under regular loyalty, the servant will only be loyal if the benefits exceed the cost of such loyalty. This makes it very possible for temptations to sway such loyalty, as is exhibited by Cleopatra. True loyalty, on the other hand, is absolute. It is a loyalty grounded in love and thus cannot be diminished. Although Enobarbus has true loyalty for Antony, his human rationality tries to convince him to treat it as regular loyalty. The tradeoff between loyalty and correct action creates such a problem for Enobarbus that it ultimately results in his demise. His human logic does not allow him to continue being loyal to a definite loser. Unfortunately, Enobarbus finds out the hard way that sometimes there are more important things than human logic. Human emotion, for example, is much more powerful in governing the way we live our lives. The most powerful of these emotions is love. The love he had for Antony was incomparable; no amount of logic could counteract the strength of that emotion. Enobarbus attempted to ignore this super powerful emotion and follow what he felt was right. Only after his defection does he find out that his human logic, and not his emotion, was wrong. This realization is accompanied by the revelation that he would live the rest of his life devoid of joy. Antony’s gift of treasure showed Enobarbus that Antony still loved him. Through this act, Enobarbus’ love, which he had desperately tried to hide, was magnified intensely. This magnification of love would only be harmful, for he understood that this love would be a lost love. It was too late for him to return, so the former joy of love was replaced by anguish. In a tragic end Enobarbus dies of grief. No wound damages him, there is no physical suicide; he simply dies of grief. This is an appropriate end for Enobarbus. His betrayal of true loyalty was an attempt to undermine the value of love. When his loyalty proves to be interminable, Enobarbus is left without his master. The lack of master causes Enobarbus to be lost to the world. The only remaining solution to his conflict is death.
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 archOf the ranged empire fall! Here is my space.Kingdoms are clay; our dungy earth alikeFeeds beast as man. The nobleness of lifeIs 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 courseShakespeare 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.
IV.viii of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra is a short scene, less than 40 lines, and an entirely unexpected one. The preceding scenes of Act IV, such as Hercules’ departure and Enobarbus’ desertion, heavily foreshadow Antony’s defeat. When Antony wins his battle against Caesar and returns to Cleopatra in IV.viii, the joy of their reunion contrasts with the despair of Act IV. Antony’s victory is a strike against fate and a tribute, albeit short-lived, to the power of Egypt.The association of royalty and divinity was a common tradition not limited to the Elizabethans’ world picture. In this scene, Antony portrays Cleopatra as a goddess, revealing her connection not only to the macrocosm but also to the more specific functions of the love goddess Isis. Cleopatra is a “great fairy” (IV.viii.12), able to “bless” (IV.viii.13) soldiers with her speech. As the “day o’th’world” (IV.viii.13) who will “ride” (IV.viii.16) in Antony’s heart, she more particularly resembles a sun deity, pictured by the Egyptians as riding in a barge and by the Romans as in a chariot. Cleopatra’s association with the day continues up until her death; Charmian recognizes that “the bright day is done/and we are for the dark” (V.ii.192-3) and Cleopatra sees that her “lamp is spent” (IV.xv.89). In Act V, the connection is morbid, but here it is vibrant and positive. Yet in both death and life, the close relationship of Cleopatra and Egypt to fire and the higher elements is omnipresent; Antony swears “by the fire/that quickens Nilus’ slime” (I.iii.69-70); Cleopatra before her death is “fire and air” (V.2.288); “your serpent of Egypt is bred…by the operation of your sun” (II.vii.26-7) That fire should so often be linked to life is unsurprising, given the common connection between heat and sex, just as the heart where Cleopatra will ride has long been a “bellows” (I.i.9). Also present is an idea of “vital heat”, as when Cleopatra invites Iras to “take the last warmth” (V.ii.290) of her lips before her suicide. Whether fortunate or not, Cleopatra is a spirit of vitality.Even Antony gets a taste of residual divinity, perhaps from Cleopatra’s having dressed him; he is “infinite virtue” (IV.viii.17) and “lord of lords” (IV.viii.16), echoing the prophecy that “the Lamb shall overcome [the ten kings], for he is Lord of lords and King of kings” (Revelation 17:14). In fighting for Egypt Antony momentarily wrests conquering fate from Octavius, whose statement that “the time of universal peace is near./Prove this a prosp’rous day, the three-nook’d world/shall bear the olive freely” (IV.vi.5-7) pins the future of empires upon the outcome of the battle Antony wins. Caesar also bears the charge of a weightier fate; he speaks not only of the Pax Romana but also of the Prince of Peace, who during Octavius’ reign will begin to overthrow Cleopatra’s religion. Both Christ’s death and Cleopatra’s are forms of transcendence, but at this moment in the play Cleopatra’s divinity, though fated to loose, is triumphant.Despite its light tone, however, the scene anticipates Cleopatra’s fall. The Queen’s leaping to Antony “attire and all” (IV.viii.14) is reminiscent of her dressing “i’th’habiliments of the goddess Isis” (III.vi.17) in the public square; both are ostentations of love in which Cleopatra is accompanied by Antony. Here she jumps “through proof of harness” (IV.viii.15) to her lord, an impossible feat, but one that prepares her for her final journey “to meet Mark Antony” (V.ii.228) in her “best attires” (V.ii.227). In more luxurious hours, Cleopatra has dressed Antony in her “tires and mantles” (II.v.22), but now he wins battles in “proof” she has dressed him with, and Cleopatra herself becomes an ornament to him, “chain[ing] [his] arm’d neck” (IV.viii.14).Antony is worthy of such rhetoric. After the fall of Lepidus, he is indeed the “demi-Atlas of the earth” (I.v.24), and when he fights against Caesar, both halves of the world are clashing, literally and metaphorically. Cleopatra is the “day o’th’world”, and Antony is “infinite” in his return from “the world’s great snare” (IV.viii.18). The words imply that Antony’s victory and Cleopatra’s magic have changed the fate of the world; they have merely managed to preserve it for a few moments longer. In the following scene, harshly juxtaposed to this, Enobarbus dies of grief during the night, and on the following morning, upon loosing the battle, Antony turns on Cleopatra, thinking that she has betrayed him. But though the lovers must fall to Rome, they do not go without struggling, nor completely defeated. Caesar’s luck and virtue may be powerful, but they are neither “infinite” nor “great”; the doomed greatness of Antony and Cleopatra is a thing unparalleled.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.