Anthony and Cleopatra was written in 1607, following the incredible period that gave us Hamlet, Orthello, King Lear and Macbeth. Although sometimes hard to categorise, some put this play with Julius Caesar and Corialanus, the Roman plays: all three use Plutharch’s lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans as their primary source and all three have concerns steeped in historical and political questions. Shakespeare shows an impressive ability to assimilate the classical world in his own terms and this is partly a tribute to the strength and vitality of Plutarch’s writing. Yet, although Shakespeare alters Plutarch freely to match his own dramatic purposes, Plutarch’s power to speak for his time and place shines through Shakespeare’s adaptations while Shakespeare remains true to the essence of his source, he also deepens what he finds there.
Anthony as a tragic hero poses a problem for criticism. Typically, the hero of a tragedy is engaged in a search for meaning that ultimately about more awareness of the world and of the self, while the unquestioning hero belongs more to the world of comedy. Anthony however, is not the tortured soul who, like Hamlet feels divided between his public and private selves : he feels comfortable as both soldier and lover, but his tragedy turns out to be that the world will not allow him to live in the genial atmosphere of comedy where he belongs. The world as it exists in the play is too narrow and self-limiting to contain Anthony, both Rome and Egypt want to lower him to their levels and he resists. Only a “new heaven new earth ” a world beyond this one offers him a chance of harmony. Anthony comes across as a man who knows the world and has experienced the whims of fortune. His main aim is not to conquer the world, and he doesn’t question the gods as most tragic heroes do. He is aware that he has responsibilities and along with these as a reward comes pleasures. He is the voice of maturity. He rightly asks “my being in Egypt Caesar, what was’t to you ?” Anthony does however contain some characteristics of Aristotle’s tragic hero: he is a great man and noble leader , this is shown through the loyalty that all those who served him had towards him. We feel pathos towards him and he has hubris that we are aware of when he will not admit his mistake in his decision to battle Caesar at sea , but the characteristic that presents Anthony as a tragic hero is his hamania his passion for the sovereign of Egypt ! He realises that the root of his downfall is his uncontainable attraction to Cleopatra. “I must from this enchanting queen break off “ Tragic heroes usually die at the end of the play in the last few lines, where as Anthony dies in act four, leaving Cleopatra to take her own life in act five. Anthony and Cleopatra was categorised as a tragedy in the first folio but Anthony and Cleopatra tends to be more uplifting than tragic. It is sad both our protagonists fall victim to suicide and end their own lives but they do this for love and each other and through their deaths they will possess “new heaven new earth “which they longed greatly for at the start of the play. Anthony and Cleopatra isn’t one of the four tragedies of Shakespeare, even the very title of the play emphasises this fact. Each of the four tragedies have titles containing a sole name where as Anthony and Cleopatra contains two names , setting them further apart. “Anthony and Cleopatra can be seen as a travisition play between the four great tragedies and Shakespeare’s four final plays that contain ideas of renewal and rebirth , with regards to Anthony he doesn’t fit into the narrow category of a tragic hero.
At the opening of the play, the attitude of the Romans towards the Egyptians is expressed through the dialogue between Philo and Demetrius. These two characters do not feature in Plutarch but Shakespeare uses their introduction to show Romes disgust at Anthony’s action in Egypt with Cleopatra. There is a huge contrast...
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