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A Comparison Between Henry Iv and Antony and Cleopatra

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Critical comparison between “Henry IV, 2” and “Anthony and Cleopatra”

In “Henry IV Part Two”, we see a dying king who does not want a large fuss to be made over him in terms of the proceedings that will occur after his death. However, in “Anthony and Cleopatra”, we see the two powerful figures, Anthony and Cleopatra, clearly displaying their wealth. In “Henry IV Part Two”, Shakespeare uses mise en scène to focus on the characters and dialogue whereas in “Anthony and Cleopatra”, the scenery is the main indicator of the fortune of the two rulers. The differences in portrayal of the desirable characteristics of a ruler, those being respect and support of the people, allow Shakespeare to invite the audience to imagine their ideal ruler.

King Henry appears to be a good ruler from the way that he has his nobles thronging around him in the stage directions. His apparent politeness when he says, “I pray you take me up,” seems to place him on the same level as his nobles which is a quality which wins him favour as the ideal ruler. We also see this when Henry refers to his nobles as “my gentle friends.” The King seems to want no fuss when he says, “Let there be no noise made.” This is another display of Henry’s humility. Shakespeare, through his lack of narrator, allows King Henry to gain the audience’s approval by himself, rather than having their perception altered.

When it comes to the portrayal of Anthony, Shakespeare is far less complimentary. In the opening scene, Philo, supposedly one of Anthony’s friends, is undermining him and saying that Anthony’s love “o’erflows the measure,” which is to say that he thinks that a general’s focus should be on the battlefield and not a woman. Shakespeare uses Philo as a narrator, which is useful when it comes to understanding what it is that the subjects of Anthony think about him. We can observe that he is a narrator when he says, “behold and see,” as he invites us to witness evidence to support his opinions. The use of an internal narrator increases the proximity of the audience to the opinions of the people because they believe that what they are hearing is unaltered and real. Philo continues to insult Anthony as he seems more than unimpressed at Anthony turning from “the triple pillar of the world” into “a strumpet’s fool.” By calling Anthony this, Philo implies that Anthony should be embarrassed that he has allowed himself to become so infatuated with Cleopatra. All of this seems rather unfair on Anthony as the audience is not allowed to decide for themselves how to view Anthony because of Philo’s opinion.

Cleopatra appears equally unlikeable from her description. We are led to believe that before Cleopatra, Anthony was a strict general. The extent of the pompous arrival that Cleopatra makes, of which Anthony is forced to be a part, seems very unnecessary. The stage directions include music on stage, Cleopatra with a crowd of young ladies, a train, which presumably implies a litter being carried by strong young men and eunuchs fanning her. Shakespeare adds all of these features into the stage directions to emphasise how uncharacteristic of Anthony the lifestyle that they are living is. Cleopatra then demands attention, rather than earning it. She says, “If it be love indeed, tell me how much”, to which Anthony replies, “There’s beggary in the love that can be reckoned.” This exchange does not appear to be free and easy, but very forced and uncomfortable for Anthony.

The respect and love that King Henry has is highlighted by the long soliloquy that he has after discovering the death of his father. Initially, it takes the prince a while to come to terms with the fact that his father has dies. Upon hearing that the king is “exceeding ill,” the prince asks, “Heard he the good news yet.” This denial is touching for the audience as we can see that the prince cannot begin to imagine the death of his father, which is perhaps why he cannot instantly digest the news. Having apparently understood what is going on, the prince tries to create a positive scenario which works together with all of the news that he does know. With the knowledge that the king is ill and made happy by the good news, the prince dreams up a story in which the king is “sick with joy,” and therefore he will recover quickly. It is at this point where Warwick, one of the very honourable nobles, says that the King is “dispos’d to sleep.” This euphemism confirms the audience’s suspicions and finally brings the prince’s mind to terms with what has happened. The prince addresses the crown as if it is responsible for his father’s exhaustion. He calls it a “troublesome bedfellow” that keeps his father awake at night. This is another example of the prince using the crown as a metaphor for the burden of kingship.

In these two passages, we see a comparison between three different rulers. King Henry is described as a humble, respected, reserved King. Anthony is described as lacking respect, foolishly in love with Cleopatra and thus distracted from his duty. Cleopatra is described as a diva who needs to be in the spotlight and have all of the material possessions that display power and produce fear. Whilst my preferred leader of the three is King Henry, I think that, despite my initial opinion that his lack of support from his subjects was enough to write him off as a good king, Anthony is not given a chance to demonstrate any qualities that might redeem him from his unpopularity as a result of his relationship with Cleopatra.

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A Comparison Between Henry Iv and Antony and Cleopatra. (2018, November 05). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from
“A Comparison Between Henry Iv and Antony and Cleopatra.” GradesFixer, 05 Nov. 2018,
A Comparison Between Henry Iv and Antony and Cleopatra. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 23 May 2022].
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