Gender Bending in Antony and Cleopatra

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Antony and Cleopatra is a fable about the destructive duality of Antony's character. Shakespeare uses gender bending as a device to portray Antony's transformation from Roman to Egyptian. This transformation causes constant conflict between Antony the Roman defined by empire and duty and Antony the Egyptian defined by folly and lust. This duality finally proves to be fatal. Antony and Cleopatra is one of Shakespeare’s Roman plays. It is a tragedy about Antony one of the triumvirates who rule the world who falls in love with, and has an affair with Cleopatra the seductive queen of Egypt. Throughout the whole of the play Antony is caught in a tug-of-war between Antony the lover and Antony the leader.

The two different worlds we are introduced to in this play are Rome and Egypt, each with different gender norms and values. Antony represents Rome, a place of law and order, duty and war, and he also represents Roman values such as honor, duty, valor bravery and self discipline. Antony forms part of the Triumvirate and it is expected of him to epitomize masculinity. His Roman nature requires him to disregard all that is sensual and emotional. In Rome, women are insignificant; Octavia is used as a mere business agreement to make amends between Octavius Ceaser and Antony. On the contrary Cleopatra embodies all that is Egypt, a place of decadence and abundance; she is sensual, sexual and exotic. As Rene’ Weis states in the introduction to the Penguin Antony and Cleopatra (2005: xxiv),”Egypt emasculates, and it does so quite literally in the case of Mardian the eunuch, a castrated attendant of Cleopatra;”

From the start of the play there is a direct contrast between the gendered roles of Antony and Cleopatra. Philo says to Demetrius, Antony has a “captains heart” and is a “pillar of the world” (Act 1, Scene 1, lines 6; 12) while Cleopatra is described as a “lustful gypsy” and “wrangling queen” (Act 1, Scene 1, lines 10; 48). However strong these perceptions may seem they are questioned the moment Cleopatra is mistaken for Antony:

ENOBARBUS
Hush! Here comes Antony.
CHARMIAN
Not he. The Queen.
Enter CLEOPATRA
(1.2.76-7)
Cleopatra and Antony’s gender roles start to merge shortly after this confusion (S.Wisdom: 2006).

It is clear that Antony’s heart lies in Egypt although his duty is in Rome. When he hears of Fulvia’s death he says “These strong Egyptian fetters I must break, or lose myself in dotage” (1.2.14-15). He admits that he belongs in Rome, but before he leaves for Rome he contradicts himself and he tells Cleopatra that “my full heart Remains in use with you” (1.3.43-4). When Antony returns to Rome he makes amends with Octavius by marrying Octavia, but soon after the marriage he declares that he will return to Egypt. ANTONY

I will to Egypt;
And though I make this marriage for my peace,
I’ the east my pleasure lies. (2.3.37-9)
This passage clearly demonstrates the fact that Antony cannot resist this pleasure in Egypt although he is aware of his duty to Rome. While in transition from Roman to Egyptian he still sees himself as Roman, but he betrays his own Roman values by proclaiming that he belongs in Egypt, “Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space”. (1.1.33-4).

Onlookers however are aware of this transformation, Philo says, “Nay the dotage of our general’s O’erflows the measure. ; And is become the bellows and the fan to cool a gypsy’s lust. ; Take but good note, and you shall see in him the triple pillar of the world transformed into a strumpet’s fool” (1.11-2, 8-9, 11-13). Philo and Demetrius are observing this change that has come over Antony, his life is being transformed and weakened by this new love, now he is experiencing deep emotions which the Romans consider as a female trait. “Sir, sometimes when he is not Antony He comes too short of that great property which still should go with Antony.”(1.1.57-9).

Ceaser also notes and disapproves of...
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