The Theme of Appetite in Antony and Cleopatra
Appetite is explored in many different ways in Antony and Cleopatra, with Cleopatra having an appetite for luxury, destruction , creating tragic inevitability, and sex. There is shifting power dynamics as the characters attempt to seize power for themselves, and this is due to all the characters in the play having a large appetite for power, which increases the gluttony within the play. This theme also taps into the idea of excess, and the contrast between the indulgence of Egypt and the serious nature of Rome.
Egypt appears as a setting of indulgence and pleasure to the audience, and this comes from the vast appetite for pleasure throughout the area. From the first scene of the play there are lines that relate to putting a figure to “love”. Cleopatra begs Antony to tell her “how much” love he has for her, and he replies using the word “reckoned”, deriving from the German word for bill, putting a set amount on love. Cleopatra immediately has an appetite for as much love, and sexual pleasure, as she can possible receive. Cleopatra wants to take Antony’s “inches”, a sexual innuendo, which is common in their relationship, which starts off with two characters who seem driven by lust, and only later in the play does it become clear how they feel for each other, when Antony returns to Egypt. Cleopatra is described as a “gipsy”, which in Shakespearean times were creatures believed to originate from Egypt, this word would have brought up strong images of sexual promiscuity and superstition for the audience. The word “o’erflowing” is a signpost of this excess of pleasure within this country, in comparison to Rome, where the actors are ordered to come on stage “marching”. The sexual appetite of the two titular characters fuels their relationship, and leads to Antony neglecting his duty. He starts the play with a comparison to “plated Mars”, the G-d of War, however as the play goes on he is emasculated, with the images of “honour”, shifting to being “satisfied” when in Egypt. The image of “what Venus did with Mars”, is one of a sexual scene, and after Mardian says this line, Cleopatra is still thinking about where “he is now”.
Many of the characters in the play have a large appetite for power, and this can be seen through the constant conflict and war that occurs throughout the play. Pompey declares war on the Triumvirate; Caesar, Lepidus and Antony, however he is defeated by Caesar’s forces in the play. The key power struggle then occurs between Antony, Caesar and Cleopatra, all of whom are desperate to seize power. Caesar and Antony begin to fued due to their clashing personalities, with the “scarce-bearded Caesar”, cocky in his youth. He consequently has an appetite to prove himself both to the Roman people, but also the other two members of the triumvirate who are older and more experienced. The tensions build up due to the belief that Caesar is neglecting his duties and is being a “fool”, drawn in by the “gipsy”, Cleopatra. This relationship is strained, in large due to the interference of Cleopatra. Cleopatra tells Antony “I have no power upon you”, which whilst she may believe it to be true, is in fact false. Her foreign nature draws Antony in, and it makes him neglect his duty, decreasing his right to have power in the Roman Empire. Caesar ends the play with the power, due to the death of both Antony and Cleopatra, however, despite death occurring, Cleopatra does get some of what she is looking for. Throughout the play, she has a perverse appetite for destruction and death. She shows no remorse when hearing of Fulvia’s death, “can Fulvia die?”, responding with a question of little sense rather than consoling her widow in any way. It shows a lack of morality within the character, but also makes clear to the audience early in the play, that Cleopatra is a person of little remorse who has no fear for the concept of death. She says in the same scene “In Fulvia’s death, how mine received shall be.” She is constantly thinking about how events may affect herself, and this self-indulgence is evident here as she only cares about how her own death shall be received by Antony. She later says “how he takes my death”, she has no fear in dying, but seems to fear being forgotten and ignored after her death. This can be seen when looking into the scene in which she commits suicide. It is an extremely dramatized scene, “Give me my robe, put on my crown”, she wants to look amazing, so that she will be remembered and have a legacy of a great Queen, she has no fear, and almost has “longings” for death to occur.
There are food references in the play which signal gluttony and excess, and is also therefore closely related to the character of Cleopatra as it is an activity that is pleasurable, in particular when done in excess. Enobarbus describes Cleopatra as making Antony “hungry”, and therefore she has the ability to corrupt him. Antony uses food imagery to reference her, “I found you as a morsel cold upon dead Caesar’s trencher nay you were a fragment of cruel Pompey’s.” Antony knows of her past, appealing to the characters of other men and insults her here, letting her know that he understand how she often uses people. Cleopatra asks the Clown in Scene 5 Acts 2, “Will it eat me?”, even when her death is about to occur, she is interested in her status post death. It exacerbates the image of her being compared to food, and how she is like a luxurious commodity for people.
Within Antony and Cleopatra, different characters have an appetite for differing things. There is the common theme with most characters having a large appetite for power, and as such the many wars within the play occur. Cleopatra has a large sexual appetite and becomes a microcosm of Egypt as a whole, which draws in Antony and leads to him neglecting his duty, due to his appetite for Cleopatra, which is characterized by the multiple references made to Cleopatra as similar to a food.
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Appetite is explored in many different ways in Antony and Cleopatra, with Cleopatra having an appetite for luxury, destruction , creating tragic inevitability, and sex. There is shifting power dynamics […]