« ANTONY & CLEOPATRA », SHAKESPEARE
Act IV, Scene 14
This tragedy, “Antony and Cleopatra”, written by William Shakespeare, was first printed in 1623. The title itself already announces some information: first of all, that these two are great characters; one is a Roman triumvir, the other is the most famous queen of Egypt. The second main information is the duality, which announces a great theatrical theme and the variations between a duel and a duo. Having previously defeated Caesar in a land battle, Antony is again defeated at sea. He blames Cleopatra. Because the play’s dramatic structure suggests that the battle in Act IV will be climactic and probably result in Antony’s death, Antony’s victory in these scenes is surprising and makes the plot much less predictable. After Antony’s flight from battle in Act III, and after Cleopatra’s apparent willingness to betray her lover, all seems lost for them. Indeed, the opening scenes of Act IV confirm and build upon this impression. I – GAME 1: DESPERATE ANTONY COMPLAINS ABOUT TREACHEROUS CLEOPATRA
a) Loss of Antony’s identity as a soldier
In this scene, Shakespeare explores the ultimate deconstruction of Mark Antony’s identity. Eros comes upon Antony, who’s philosophizing on nature – exactly what you might expect from a suicidal guy that’s just lost a great battle and is convinced that the woman he sacrificed everything for has betrayed him to his enemy. Antony likens his shifting sense of self to a cloud that changes shape as it tumbles across the sky. Just as the cloud turns from (l.3) “a bear or lion, a towered citadel, a pendent rock”, Antony seems to change from the reputed conqueror into a debased victim. When he asks Eros (l.1) “thou yet behold’st me?”, he wonders if he is still visible and recognizable in spite of his faded figure. As he says to Eros, his uncharacteristic defeat, both on the battlefield and in matters of love, makes it difficult for him to remain the legendary Antony.
b) Cleopatra described as being THE manipulative queen
Loyalty is central to a lot of the relationships in the play, but betrayal always hangs near as a frightening fact when so much power is at stake. In Antony’s mind, (l.18) “she has packed cards with Caesar” : Cleopatra, supposedly Antony’s partner in the game, is suspected of having arranged and played her cards in such a way as to leave Antony at a loss. “Knave” (l.14), “queen” (l.15) and “heart” (l.16) are card terms that probably suggested the metaphor. She robbed him of his masculinity, took away his prowess as a soldier: (l.23) “she robbed me of my sword”. This indicates that he feels emasculated both politically and psychically. Characters’ loyalty to one another is constantly called into question by their quick betrayals of one another, and the question of whether loyalty is an enduring feeling is raised as a result. When finally, Antony learns that Cleopatra has not betrayed him, he is again betrayed by her supposed suicide. Cleopatra is never loyal to Antony, even though she claims to kill herself over him. Her constant willingness throughout the play to manipulate him is an indicator of the fact that she’d betray him as soon as it was convenient for her, either politically or emotionally.
c) Eros: Antony’s real true ally
At the beginning, Antony uses Eros as a naïve audience for his meditations on dissolution. He points out Eros as he discusses his self-dissolution with the shifting cloud metaphor than (l.10) “even with a thought / the rack dislims”. But as a true devoted knave, Eros would rather kill himself, indeed, than kill Antony or even live to see Antony's death. By killing himself at the end of the extract, Eros thought also about his place in the record of history: (l.98) “by brave instruction got upon me a nobleness in record.” Moreover, the language in which Eros addressees to Antony shows his deep respect for him: “my captain” (l.90), “my emperor” (l.90). II – GAME 2: MANIPULATIVE CLEOPATRA...
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