Do Antony and Cleopatra Transcend the East-West Divide in Their Relationship? Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Nov 28th, 2019


Antony and Cleopatra is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. The content and the plot of the play show two people in love willing to sacrifice to be together despite great obstacles. It was written at the beginning of the 17th century and it is still remembered and liked by a significant number of people to present times.

The play gives an interesting story of the relationship between Antony Mark and Cleopatra all along from the time when the Parthian War occurred to when Cleopatra finally contemplated suicide (Bloom and Heims 12). This piece of work gives a critical analysis of the play, Antony and Cleopatra, with much emphasis given to the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra. The essay will explore whether the two lovers transcend the East-West divide in their relationship.


Antony and Cleopatra is a vast and tragic drama that is characterized by fatal attraction. The action in the play crosses over the world from Rome to Egypt, a concept that is not common due to the East-West divide that has been created by the differences between the regions, for instance, in terms of culture among other issues. The action is full of both intimate and epic episodes.

Antony and Cleopatra is surrounded by a lot of conflicting events as it occurs in notable military, historical and political contexts. This aspect has contributed to the complication of the play as all the contexts mentioned above have to be integrated strategically to make a smooth unit. The action also captures a lot of diversity taking place both on the land as well as at the sea. The characters in the play exist in all time frames; future, present and past the way they are and the way they are imagined to be.

We can not talk of the love relationship between Antony and Cleopatra without talking of the East- West divide, which is evident. The divide is depicted by the differences between them and the obstacles that come between them. Just like the Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra illustrates a tragedy that is characterized by fatal attraction which is shown by the heights these two individuals go in the name of the love they have for each other.

The beginning of the play sets the tone of conflict where we see an open quarrel brought about by internal conflict. We find Cleopatra being jealous on her realization that Antony wants to go back to Rome. To Cleopatra, the return of Antony to Rome is an indication of leaving her for his wife whom he had left in Rome and so she is not happy at all and tries to resist.

Cleopatra’s jealousy here is pointless since Antony is going back to Rome mainly because his wife is dead, which is an enough justification but Cleopatra doesn’t understand but rather relates it to his ever heightening urge to leave Egypt for his home country, Rome. This jealousy is drawn from the love that Cleopatra has for Antony and the fear that it may be diluted by distance. Finally, Antony goes back to Rome and he is faced with a lot of political difficulties where some alliances have to be formed for the sake of reinforcement.

The issues intensify further and Anthony’s personal life is at stake where he is presented with a Roman wife (Octavia, a sister to Caesar) to marry as she is considered to be a perfect match who is submissive as opposed to the fiery Cleopatra. “Antony reluctantly agrees, not realizing that he has just fallen into a deadly trap” (3. 9. 101). Antony agrees although reluctantly and this is the beginning of his problems since he realizes it was a trap and a political move since there was no love that existed between him and Octavia.

Antony is not satisfied with Octavia and he is sure that his love lies in Egypt with Cleopatra and hence the persistent urge to go back to Egypt to meet with his lover. “He accepted the marriage only to gain time, but in the East his pleasures lie: having tasted a much spicier dish, it is doubtful that a cold, pious and dutiful Roman wife will satisfy him” (4.12 148).

Although Antony seems to be suffering from identity crisis where he is not satisfied in either country; desiring to leave Egypt for Rome and again to leave Rome for Egypt, it is evident that deep within him, and he realizes that his love is in Egypt with Queen Cleopatra.

When war breaks, we find Antony and Cleopatra joining hands to fight the enemies by sea. Antony decides to follow Cleopatra irrespective of the consequences like defeat. “Against all common sense and pleading from his men (his legions are very good on land, the Egyptian navy is a shambles), he chooses to fight by sea, according to Cleopatra’s wish” (5.1. 166- 168).

This confirms the love he has for her and how much the love has influenced his decisions. The two love birds were ready to do anything for love including dying. This action shows a relationship that transpires between two different worlds and the obstacles involved including wars.

From the play, it is palpable that the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra transcends the East-West divide. This is because they do anything to do away with the differences brought about by the divide in order to be together even after objections from various points.

Some of the issues of the East-West divide that Antony and Cleopatra has had to overcome or rather strike a balance include politics in Rome versus pleasure in Egypt, austerity in Rome versus wealth in Egypt, and greatness/imperialism in Rome versus decadence in Egypt among others. Interference by other parties is also an issue that affected their relationship but one which their love tried as much as possible to conquer.


From the above discussion, it is evident that the two individuals in the play, Antony and Cleopatra were in too much love and they went to great heights just to win each other to an extent of death. The love between Antony and Cleopatra is deemed to be unique and extraordinary due to the difference in their origin, one coming from the west, Rome and the other from the East, Egypt.

Even though it is clear there exist strong love between Antony and Cleopatra, it is also apparent from the action that there is much greater tension in their relationship owed to the fact that the two lovers come from two different worlds. All in all, we can strongly state that Antony and Cleopatra have gone an extra mile to overcome the East – West divide in an effort to keep their relationship strong despite the obstacles presented.

Works Cited

Bloom Harold and Heims Neil. Antony and Cleopatra. New York: InfoBase Publishing, 2008. Print

Shakespeare, William. Antony and Cleopatra. UK: Forgotten Books, 1970. Print

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