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The Portrayal of The Relationship Between Antony and Cleopatra by Shakespeare

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Words: 3055 |

Pages: 6.5|

16 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Words: 3055|Pages: 6.5|16 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Cleopatra's Controlling Behavior
  3. Antony's Submissive Reaction
  4. Hyperbolic Affection and Complimentary Comparisons
  5. Sacrifice and Political Motivations
  6. Suicides of Antony and Cleopatra
  7. Conclusion

Introduction

The love shared between Antony and Cleopatra serves as the central theme in Shakespeare's play. Despite their claims of an unparalleled affection, their actions often cast doubt on the sincerity of their emotions, leading the audience to question the authenticity of their love amidst conflicting behaviors. Shakespeare's intention is to provoke contemplation regarding the nature of genuine love and the blurred boundaries between love and desire, whether it be for power, sex, or adoration. This essay delves into the exploration of love in Shakespeare's play through the lens of Antony and Cleopatra's relationship.

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Cleopatra's Controlling Behavior

Shakespeare employs Cleopatra's controlling demeanor to sow seeds of doubt within the audience regarding the authenticity of her feelings. Right from their introduction on stage, Cleopatra's demanding inquiry to Antony, "If it be love indeed, tell me how much," sets the tone for their relationship. This early glimpse into Cleopatra's assertive nature hints at an unequal dynamic, with her assuming a dominant role. Her egotistical declarations, such as "I’ll set a bourn how far to be belov’d," further reinforce her authoritative stance, painting her as an authoritarian figure. The audience witnesses her disrespect towards Antony, whom she belittles as "the greatest soldier in the world, art turn’d the greatest liar." This behavior implies a lack of sincerity in her professed love and suggests that she values the control and admiration she derives from their relationship more than Antony himself. Cleopatra's manipulative tactics, like using her moods to dictate Antony's happiness, highlight her awareness of her power over him, portraying her as cunning and calculating. Despite her declarations of love, such as "I might sleep out this great gap of time my Antony is away," the audience may perceive her as more enamored with the authority her love affords her.

In essence, Shakespeare uses Cleopatra's behavior to invite the audience to question the authenticity of her feelings, suggesting that her love may be overshadowed by a desire for control and dominance in the relationship.

Antony's Submissive Reaction

Shakespeare delves into Antony and Cleopatra's relationship dynamics further by portraying Antony's submissive and passive response to Cleopatra's bullying tendencies. Even before Antony's appearance on stage, the audience is introduced to his perceived weakness through the exchange between Philo and Demetrius, labeling him as a "strumpet's fool." This early depiction emphasizes the significance of Antony's submissive role, setting the stage for a recurring theme throughout the play. Antony's initial portrayal confirms this characterization as he responds to Cleopatra's demands with unwavering devotion, expressing that every moment of their lives should be filled with pleasure. Despite Cleopatra's domineering behavior, Antony remains steadfast in his love for her, responding with endearing terms like "most sweet queen." His apparent affection for Cleopatra's bad moods suggests a deep adoration, even in the face of her unpleasant qualities.

Moreover, Shakespeare underscores Antony's submissive nature through his attempts to convey important news to Cleopatra, such as Fulvia's death. Despite multiple interruptions from Cleopatra, Antony maintains his composure, expressing no annoyance or frustration. This unwavering patience serves as a testament to his respect and adoration for Cleopatra, showcasing his willingness to endure her dominance. Throughout the play, Cleopatra's evident power over Antony leaves him emasculated and under her control, as demonstrated when he acquiesces to her decisions without hesitation, stating,

"The purposes I bear; which are, or cease, As you shall give the advice."

Through Antony's portrayal, Shakespeare suggests the sincerity of his feelings for Cleopatra, devoid of any hidden motives, as there is seemingly nothing for Antony to gain from tolerating Cleopatra's disrespectful treatment.

Hyperbolic Affection and Complimentary Comparisons

Shakespeare delves into the authenticity of Antony and Cleopatra's feelings through their use of hyperbolic and extravagant language to express their affection. The audience witnesses their penchant for exaggerated declarations, such as Antony's dismissal of his responsibilities in favor of Cleopatra, proclaiming,

"Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch of the rang’d empire fall!"

This statement not only underscores Antony's unwavering devotion to Cleopatra but also signifies his rejection of Rome's conventional restraints, adopting the ornate language characteristic of Egypt.

Similarly, Cleopatra employs histrionic language when lamenting Antony's absence, expressing her preference to "unpeople Egypt" rather than endure a day without greeting him. Their exaggerated statements extend to comparing each other to divine or cosmic entities, elevating their love to celestial proportions. Cleopatra describes a dream where she beheld Antony, likening his face to "the heavens" with a sun and moon embedded within, portraying him as larger-than-life and surpassing celestial bodies in significance. Furthermore, she depicts Antony as "the demi-Atlas of this earth," presenting him as a superior being to the Earth itself.

These hyperbolic declarations may sway the audience towards believing in the genuineness of their love. Antony's assertion that their love is "peerless" reflects the passionate fervor of someone deeply in love, while Cleopatra's adoring portrayal of her "man of men" reinforces this sentiment. However, it is possible to interpret Cleopatra's lavish descriptions as more reflective of Egypt's extravagant lifestyle rather than genuine love. Moreover, Shakespeare subtly hints at Cleopatra's potential political motives in the relationship, as her association with an influential figure like Antony could serve to elevate her status, despite Antony's diminished reputation due to their relationship.

Sacrifice and Political Motivations

Shakespeare delves into the sincerity of Antony's feelings for Cleopatra by portraying his willingness to sacrifice his military career for her. The play opens with Philo and Demetrius discussing Antony's transformation from a revered soldier to a "strumpet's fool," highlighting the stark shift in his priorities as he prioritizes Cleopatra over his duties in Rome. Throughout the play, reminders of Antony's former glory as a formidable warrior contrast with his newfound devotion to Cleopatra, emphasizing the profound change in his life since meeting her. Despite Caesar's recounting of Antony's heroic exploits, Antony's diminished fighting spirit and neglect of his military responsibilities underscore the dominance of his love for Cleopatra over all else.

Antony's visit to Rome and his unexpected marriage to Octavia exemplify Shakespeare's exploration of the intersection between politics and love. When questioned about his disregard for his oath to Caesar, Antony attributes his behavior to being "poisoned" by his time with Cleopatra, adopting a more straightforward and Roman manner of speech. By shifting away from the poetic language associated with Egypt, Antony attempts to distance himself from Cleopatra and reconcile with his Roman obligations. However, his willingness to shift blame to Cleopatra rather than admit his own faults portrays him as deceitful and cowardly, raising doubts about the sincerity of his love.

The proposed marriage between Antony and Octavia, orchestrated by Agrippa to mend relations between Antony and Caesar, underscores the political motivations behind Antony's actions. Antony's response, emphasizing the importance of brotherly bonds over romantic love, further reinforces the transactional nature of the marriage. Despite Antony's professed desire for peace, his decision to return to Egypt suggests a complex interplay between political strategy and personal affection, as he prioritizes his relationship with Cleopatra over his alliance with Caesar.

Cleopatra's reaction to Antony's marriage to Octavia provides insight into the depth of her feelings. Her obsessive focus on Octavia's appearance and her anger at being supplanted by another woman suggest a fear of losing control over Antony rather than genuine love. Despite her professed despair at Antony's absence, Cleopatra's melodramatic behavior and self-indulgence cast doubt on the authenticity of her emotions, portraying her as more concerned with maintaining her power and influence than with true affection.

Shakespeare masterfully navigates the complexities of love and politics in Antony and Cleopatra's relationship, highlighting the blurred lines between genuine affection and strategic maneuvering. While Antony's sacrifices and conflicts reflect a genuine attachment to Cleopatra, her manipulative behavior and self-interest raise questions about the sincerity of her feelings. Ultimately, Shakespeare leaves the audience to ponder the true nature of love amidst the political machinations of ancient Rome and Egypt.

Suicides of Antony and Cleopatra

The most powerful and emotionally charged section of the play, and which demonstrate the strongest evidence for their love shows Antony and Cleopatra’s suicides. After Antony accuses her of betraying him and threatens to “let patient Octavia plough thy visage up with her prepared nails”, Cleopatra orders Mardian to “tell him I have slain myself”, in a plot to ensure he still loves her. In a manner that typifies Antony’s rash and thoughtless attitude he naively trusts her and his mood shifts immediately from anger to heartbreak, “all length is torture, since the torch is out”. Shakespeare presents Antony as loyal and devoted, although it is an uncomfortable scene for the audience as dramatic irony is rife as Antony condemns himself to lacking “the courage of a woman”, yet the audience is aware that Cleopatra is still alive, and through her characteristically tactical and plotting approach to their relationship she has caused tragic consequences. When Antony learns that Cleopatra has lied in a bid to protect herself from his anger, his reaction is typically forgiving and docile and he demonstrates his love for her as he begs death to delay,

“until of many thousand kisses the poor last I lay upon thy lips.”

Shakespeare also promotes support for Cleopatra’s love for Antony as she is presented as equally heartbroken and without hope when faced with her dying lover,

“Shall I abide in this dull world, which in thy absence is no better than a sty?”

Indeed, even the emotion of the situation is so great as to cause Cleopatra to faint with grief. It is a deeply moving scene, which Shakespeare prevents from becoming absurd as Antony is hoisted to meet her through the use of such poetic and emotionally charged language that lends the sequence dignity and power. Through this Shakespeare provides strong evidence that Antony and Cleopatra are truly dedicated to one another, a belief that is further supported through Cleopatra’s subsequent suicide.

Although the motivation behind Cleopatra’s death varies from Antony’s as she ends act four vowing to defy Caesar’s plans to be his captive, she does die with Antony at the forefront of her thoughts, “I am again for Cydnus, to meet Mark Antony.” Throughout this scene, Shakespeare presents her as open, in control of her fate yet pitifully wretched at her loss as illustrated when she pleads,

“Where art thou, death? Come hither, come; come, come”.

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Conclusion

Shakespeare's portrayal of Antony and Cleopatra's relationship is nuanced and multifaceted, leaving room for interpretation regarding the authenticity of their feelings. While Antony's unwavering devotion is evident, Cleopatra's motives remain enigmatic, characterized by her fluctuating emotions and strategic maneuvers. The ambiguity surrounding Cleopatra's intentions invites the audience to form their own conclusions, with Antony's sincerity contrasted against Cleopatra's perceived complexities. Ultimately, Shakespeare presents a narrative rich in emotion and intrigue, allowing audiences to grapple with the complexities of love, power, and loyalty in the ancient world.

References:

  1. Greenblatt, S. (Ed.). (2018). “Antony and Cleopatra”. The Norton Shakespeare (3rd ed.). W. W. Norton & Company.
  2. Shakespeare, W. (2019). “Antony and Cleopatra”. In B. Mowat & P. Werstine (Eds.), Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra (Folger Shakespeare Library). Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.
  3. Bloom, H. (Ed.). (2010). Antony and Cleopatra (Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations). Infobase Publishing.
  4. Bevington, D. M. (2005). Antony and Cleopatra (Arden Shakespeare: Third Series). Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare.
  5. Neill, M. (Ed.). (2017). “Antony and Cleopatra”. The Oxford Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra (Oxford World’s Classics). Oxford University Press.
  6. Vaughan, V., & Vaughan, A. T. (2016). Shakespeare’s Caliban: A Cultural History. Cambridge University Press.
  7. Dollimore, J. (2017). Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (2nd ed.). Palgrave Macmillan.
  8. McAlindon, T. (2003). The Tragic Knot: Antony and Cleopatra as a Problem Play. The Review of English Studies, 54(215), 241-261.
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The Portrayal Of The Relationship Between Antony And Cleopatra By Shakespeare. (2018, Jun 17). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-does-shakespeare-present-antony-and-cleopatras-relationship/
“The Portrayal Of The Relationship Between Antony And Cleopatra By Shakespeare.” GradesFixer, 17 Jun. 2018, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-does-shakespeare-present-antony-and-cleopatras-relationship/
The Portrayal Of The Relationship Between Antony And Cleopatra By Shakespeare. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-does-shakespeare-present-antony-and-cleopatras-relationship/> [Accessed 29 Feb. 2024].
The Portrayal Of The Relationship Between Antony And Cleopatra By Shakespeare [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Jun 17 [cited 2024 Feb 29]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-does-shakespeare-present-antony-and-cleopatras-relationship/
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