Antony and Cleopatra is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. The play was performed first circa .. The relationship between Egypt and Rome in Antony and Cleopatra is central to understanding the plot, as the dichotomy allows the reader to. Shakespeare portrayed Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, as a commanding presence. Cleopatra's disruption to relationships affected Antony and his followers. Antony and Cleopatra is a tragic play by William Shakespeare first performed in Read Antony and Cleopatra alongside a modern English translation.
In traditional criticism of Antony and Cleopatra, "Rome has been characterised as a male world, presided over by the austere Caesar, and Egypt as a female domain, embodied by a Cleopatra who is seen to be as abundant, leaky, and changeable as the Nile". The straightforwardness of the binary between male Rome and female Egypt has been challenged in later 20th-century criticism of the play: One example of this is his schema of the container as suggested by critic Donald Freeman in his article, "The rack dislimns.
An example of the body in reference to the container can be seen in the following passage: Nay, but this dotage of our general's O'erflows the measure. Which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst The buckles on his breast, reneges all temper And is become the bellows and the fan To cool a gypsy's lust. Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch Of the ranged empire fall!
Here is my space! Conversely we come to understand Cleopatra in that the container of her mortality can no longer restrain her. Unlike Antony whose container melts, she gains a sublimity being released into the air. In general, characters associated with Egypt perceive their world composed of the Aristotelian elements, which are earth, wind, fire and water. These differing systems of thought and perception result in very different versions of nation and empire.
Shakespeare's relatively positive representation of Egypt has sometimes been read as nostalgia for an heroic past. Because the Aristotelian elements were a declining theory in Shakespeare's time, it can also be read as nostalgia for a waning theory of the material world, the pre-seventeenth-century cosmos of elements and humours that rendered subject and world deeply interconnected and saturated with meaning.
Explore how Shakespeare presents the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra.
Critics also suggest that the political attitudes of the main characters are an allegory for the political atmosphere of Shakespeare's time. Essentially the political themes throughout the play are reflective of the different models of rule during Shakespeare's time. The political attitudes of Antony, Caesar, and Cleopatra are all basic archetypes for the conflicting sixteenth-century views of kingship.
His cold demeanour is representative of what the sixteenth century thought to be a side-effect of political genius  Conversely, Antony's focus is on valour and chivalryand Antony views the political power of victory as a by-product of both. Cleopatra's power has been described as "naked, hereditary, and despotic,"  and it is argued that she is reminiscent of Mary Tudor's reign—implying it is not coincidence that she brings about the "doom of Egypt. Cleopatra, who was emotionally invested in Antony, brought about the downfall of Egypt in her commitment to love, whereas Mary Tudor's emotional attachment to Catholicism fates her rule.
The political implications within the play reflect on Shakespeare's England in its message that Impact is not a match for Reason. While some characters are distinctly Egyptian, others are distinctly Roman, some are torn between the two, and still others attempt to remain neutral. Rome as it is perceived from a Roman point of view; Rome as it is perceived from an Egyptian point of view; Egypt as it is perceived form a Roman point of view; and Egypt as it is perceived from an Egyptian point of view.
According to Hirsh, Rome largely defines itself by its opposition to Egypt. In fact, even the distinction between masculine and feminine is a purely Roman idea which the Egyptians largely ignore.
The Romans view the "world" as nothing more than something for them to conquer and control. They believe they are "impervious to environmental influence"  and that they are not to be influenced and controlled by the world but vice versa.
Rome from the Egyptian perspective: The Egyptians view the Romans as boring, oppressive, strict and lacking in passion and creativity, preferring strict rules and regulations. The Egyptian World view reflects what Mary Floyd-Wilson has called geo-humoralism, or the belief that climate and other environmental factors shapes racial character.
Egypt is not a location for them to rule over, but an inextricable part of them. They view life as more fluid and less structured allowing for creativity and passionate pursuits.
Egypt from the Roman perspective: The Romans view the Egyptians essentially as improper. Their passion for life is continuously viewed as irresponsible, indulgent, over-sexualised and disorderly. This is demonstrated in the following passage describing Antony. Boys who, being mature in knowledge, Pawn their experience to their present pleasure, And so rebel judgment. Yet, it goes beyond this division to show the conflicting sets of values not only between two cultures but within cultures, even within individuals.
Instead he oscillates between the two. In the beginning of the play Cleopatra calls attention to this saying He was dispos'd to mirth, but on the sudden A Roman thought hath strook him. Orientalism plays a very specific, and yet, nuanced role in the story of Antony and Cleopatra.
A more specific term comes to mind, from Richmond Barbour, that of proto-orientalism, that is orientalism before the age of imperialism. This allowed Shakespeare to use widespread assumptions about the "exotic" east with little academic recourse.
It could be said that Antony and Cleopatra and their relationship represent the first meeting of the two cultures in a literary sense, and that this relationship would lay the foundation for the idea of Western superiority vs.
This plays into the idea that Cleopatra has been made out to be an "other", with terms used to describe her like "gypsy". Feminist criticism of Antony and Cleopatra has provided a more in-depth reading of the play, has challenged previous norms for criticism, and has opened a larger discussion of the characterization of Egypt and Rome. However, as Gayle Greene so aptly recognises, it must be addressed that "feminist criticism [of Shakespeare] is nearly as concerned with the biases of Shakespeare's interpretors [ sic ] — critics, directors, editors — as with Shakespeare himself.
Through his language, such scholars argue, he tends to characterise Rome as "masculine" and Egypt as "feminine. The feminine categorization of Egypt, and subsequently Cleopatra, was negatively portrayed throughout early criticism.
The story of Antony and Cleopatra was often summarised as either "the fall of a great general, betrayed in his dotage by a treacherous strumpet, or else it can be viewed as a celebration of transcendental love. Once the Women's Liberation Movement grew between the s and s, however, critics began to take a closer look at both Shakespeare's characterization of Egypt and Cleopatra and the work and opinions of other critics on the same matter.
Jonathan Gil Harris claims that the Egypt vs. Rome dichotomy many critics often adopt does not only represent a "gender polarity" but also a "gender hierarchy". Early critics like Georg Brandes presented Egypt as a lesser nation because of its lack of rigidity and structure and presented Cleopatra, negatively, as "the woman of women, quintessentiated Eve.
In more recent years, critics have taken a closer look at previous readings of Antony and Cleopatra and have found several aspects overlooked. Egypt was previously characterised as the nation of the feminine attributes of lust and desire while Rome was more controlled.
However, Harris points out that Caesar and Antony both possess an uncontrollable desire for Egypt and Cleopatra: Caesar's is political while Antony's is personal.
Harris further implies that Romans have an uncontrollable lust and desire for "what they do not or cannot have. There's a great spirit gone! Thus did I desire it: What our contempt doth often hurl from us, We wish it ours again; the present pleasure, By revolution lowering, does become The opposite of itself: The hand could pluck her back that shov'd her on.
Fitz outwardly claims that early criticism of Antony and Cleopatra is "colored by the sexist assumptions the critics have brought with them to their reading. This claim is apparent in Brandes argument: Themes and motifs[ edit ] Ambiguity and opposition[ edit ] Relativity and ambiguity are prominent ideas in the play, and the audience is challenged to come to conclusions about the ambivalent nature of many of the characters.
The relationship between Antony and Cleopatra can easily be read as one of love or lust; their passion can be construed as being wholly destructive but also showing elements of transcendence.
Cleopatra might be said to kill herself out of love for Antony, or because she has lost political power. A major theme running through the play is opposition. Throughout the play, oppositions between Rome and Egypt, love and lust, and masculinity and femininity are emphasised, subverted, and commented on.
One of Shakespeare's most famous speeches, drawn almost verbatim from North 's translation of Plutarch's Lives, Enobarbus' description of Cleopatra on her barge, is full of opposites resolved into a single meaning, corresponding with these wider oppositions that characterise the rest of the play: The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne, Burn'd on the water In her pavilion—cloth-of-gold of tissue— O'er-picturing that Venus where we see The fancy outwork nature: Theme of ambivalence[ edit ] The play is accurately structured with paradox and ambivalence in order to convey the antitheses that make Shakespeare's work remarkable.
It may be perceived as opposition between word and deed but not to be confused with "duality. All is lost; This foul Egyptian hath betrayed me: My fleet hath yielded to the foe; and yonder They cast their caps up and carouse together Like friends long lost.
Bid them all fly; For when I am revenged upon my charm, I have done all. Bid them all fly; begone. Fortune and Antony part here; even here Do we shake hands. All come to this?
The hearts That spaniel'd me at heels, to whom I gave Their wishes, do discandy, melt their sweets On blossoming Caesar; and this pine is bark'd, That overtopp'd them all. O this false soul of Egypt! Give me a kiss. Even this repays me"  3.
Antony and Cleopatra: Critical History
Antony's speech conveys pain and anger, but he acts in opposition to his emotions and words, all for the love of Cleopatra. Literary critic Joyce Carol Oates explains: Moreover, due to the flow of constant changing emotions throughout the play: Another example of ambivalence in Antony and Cleopatra is in the opening act of the play when Cleopatra asks Anthony: At one time or another, almost every character betrays their country, ethics, or a companion.
However, certain characters waver between betrayal and loyalty. This struggle is most apparent among the actions of Cleopatra, Enobarbus, and most importantly Antony. Antony mends ties with his Roman roots and alliance with Caesar by entering into a marriage with Octavia, however he returns to Cleopatra. Kleiner points out "Anthony's perceived betrayal of Rome was greeted with public calls for war with Egypt". It is twice Cleopatra abandons Antony during battle and whether out of fear or political motives, she deceived Antony.
When Thidias, Caesar's messenger, tells Cleopatra Caesar will show her mercy if she will relinquish Antony, she is quick to respond: I kiss his conqu'ring hand. Tell him I am prompt To lay my crown at 's feet, and there to kneel.
Enobarbus, Antony's most devoted friend, betrays Antony when he deserts him in favour for Caesar. He exclaims, "I fight against thee! I will go seek some ditch wherein to die"  IV. Although he abandoned Antony, critic Kent Cartwright claims Enobarbus' death "uncovers his greater love" for him considering it was caused by the guilt of what he had done to his friend thus adding to the confusion of the characters' loyalty and betrayal that previous critics have also discovered.
The characters' loyalty and validity of promises are constantly called into question. The perpetual swaying between alliances strengthens the ambiguity and uncertainty amid the characters loyalty and disloyalty.
A Roman bust of the consul and triumvir Mark AntonyVatican Museums As a play concerning the relationship between two empires, the presence of a power dynamic is apparent and becomes a recurring theme. Antony and Cleopatra battle over this dynamic as heads of state, yet the theme of power also resonates in their romantic relationship.
The Roman ideal of power lies in a political nature taking a base in economical control. Those his goodly eyes, That o'er the files and musters of the war Have glowed like plated mars, now bend, now turn The office and devotion of their view Upon a tawny front. His captain's heart, Which in the scuffles of greatness hath burst The buckles on his breast, reneges all tempers, And is becomes the bellows and the fan To cool a gipsy's lust.
She embodies the mystical, exotic, and dangerous nature of Egypt as the "serpent of old Nile". For her own person, It beggared all description.
She did lie In her pavilion—cloth of gold, of tissue— O'er-picturing that Venus where we see The fancy outwork nature. As a center of conversation when not present in the scene, Cleopatra is continually a central point, therefore demanding the control of the stage.
Antony remarks on Cleopatra's power over him multiple times throughout the play, the most obvious being attached to sexual innuendo: Both utilise language to undermine the power of the other and to heighten their own sense of power. Cleopatra uses language to undermine Antony's assumed authority over her. Cleopatra's "'Roman' language of command works to undermine Antony's authority. In their first exchange in Act I, scene 1, Cleopatra says to Antony, "I'll set a bourn how far to be beloved.
Antony's language suggests his struggle for power against Cleopatra's dominion. Cleopatra plays with gender, not in order to overcome social or familial obstacles but to transform conventional definitions, roles and boundaries" Cook He has emphasized the influence and possibilities that a woman in control can possess. During patriarchal time periods men were rulers and they held a disproportional share of power.
Shakespeare portrayed Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, as a commanding presence. She controlled Egypt, Antony and even Caesar. Her feminine capabilities affected love, relationships and the decisions that governed both Rome and Egypt.
The theatrical part of Cleopatra challenges patriarchal conduct and questions the dynamics of gender equality as she steps beyond her female role.
From the opening of Shakespeare's play we are introduced to Cleopatra's domination over Antony. Her upstaging of Antony "in theatrical terms, in military terms, and ultimately in sexual terms" Dusinberre 57 confirms the upset of equality in the play, and we consider Cleopatra the character with the most control. In act 1 scene 1, Philo, one of Antony's followers, describes his concerns that Antony, once a great soldier, is now being led by his heart and jeopardizes his place as an officer.
In act 2, scene 5, Cleopatra brags of her control over Antony. My bended hook shall pierce their slimy jaws, and as I draw them up I'll think them every one an Antony, and say, "Aha! Cleopatra's power continues throughout the play as Antony continues to make political decisions based on his feelings for Cleopatra. He follows her into a battle by sea, after being warned by Enobarbus that their efforts would be stronger on land. He withdraws from the sea battle inappropriately and in doing so discards his responsibilities as commander and male.
Rocking the balance of gender, Cleopatra fills the role of a dominant male by being assertive in her decision making while Antony follows her like a love-sick school boy. Social dynamics between men and women were further influenced by Cleopatra. Her hold on Antony's heartstrings led to the disarray of his ability to uphold the position of husband and his affections for his wives suffered.
Both Fulvia and Octavia fulfilled the role of stereotypical renaissance wives, who wait patiently for their husbands return. Antony spent most of his time in Alexandria with Cleopatra, so each wife was left alone and uncared for. His first wife Fulvia dies and Antony believes it is because he spent too much time away.
Cleopatra's sexual control over Antony conflicts with what is considered the unimportant role of women during the time. Enobarbus supports the lesser role of a female by adding that there is no reason to be sad at his wife's death because there are more women to be found. Caesar notices Antony's desertion and complains that his sister Octavia is not getting the attention she deserves, that as "the wife of Antony [she] should have an army for an usher and the neighs of horse [should] tell of her approach" Bevington Social appearances were especially apparent during the time period considering the wife of a soldier would have been placed at a higher social level than wives belonging to commoners.
Cleopatra's disruption to relationships affected Antony and his followers. Many of his men joined forces with Caesar when they began realizing that Cleopatra's decision making caused Antony's concern for Rome to fade. His attentiveness to Caesar and the country became unreliable random acts. Antony's men claim that his "vacancy is so profound that it extends even into his self" Baker By act 3 scene 11, Antony realizes his ineffectiveness and is ashamed of his performance as a soldier, his reputation is gone.
Antony and Cleopatra - Wikipedia
Along with the followers, the hierarchy's stability was challenged by Cleopatra's ascendancy. Historically we know that "Cleopatra was a strong-willed Macedonian queen who was brilliant and dreamed of a greater world empire. Whether her way of getting it done was for her own desires or for the pursuit of power will never be known for certain [but] many believe that she did what she felt was necessary to try to save Alexandria, whatever the price" Dunn 1.
Shakespeare conveys this not only from the character interaction but also by the directness of Caesar's words admitting to Cleopatra's political control in act 3, scene 6.
Caesar's hatred was based on a personal vendetta against Cleopatra, mentioned in only one line of the play. Cleopatra initially gained control of the three countries because Caesar's father had given them to her after they had a son named Caesarion together.