Shakespeares Anthony and Cleopatra: an Essay

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English Antony and Cleopatra essay
Topic 1: ‘It is hardly surprising that Antony and Cleopatra has at times been read as a parable about empire and duty conflicting with folly and lust.’ (René Weis, in her introduction to the Penguin Antony and Cleopatra, (London, 2005), page xxii.)

William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra is, in Rene Weis’ words a “parable about empire and duty conflicting with folly and lust”, and we see this through the two main characters of Antony and Cleopatra who both struggle with the pressure that comes with ruling an empire and the conflict of the overwhelming desire that follows their love for one another. We will explore this by looking at how the other characters in the play speak of Antony and Cleopatra and of their actions, then we will examine the actions and words spoken by the couple, and lastly we will look at the outcomes which have occurred due to Antony and Cleopatra’s actions. Throughout the play the characters of Antony and Cleopatra, each in their own way show attachment to their duties as rulers of parts of the worlds, but both hold more favour towards the finer living in life, that being of feasting, drinking, and pleasure. Both lack the ability to find a balance between work and play, resulting in these conflicting areas of their lives causing the inevitable deaths of the choice-torn lovers. The character of Antony and his actions as well as the other characters comments regarding Antony will be paid more attention in order to prove the above mentioned statement more thoroughly. From the beginning of Antony and Cleopatra we are shown how Weis’ words can be seen as true regarding evidence given in the form of how others talk about the two. We see that others notice and speak about the couple, and their words reflect that folly and lust are conflicting with empire and duty as an existing theme of the play. There are accusations placed on Antony by the character of Philo, one of two present soldiers at the start of the play. Philo sets up the theme of Weis’ quote by blatantly describing the struggle that Antony goes through, when his inner conflict consists of pleasure and responsibility being at odds with each other. He goes on to discuss how Antony, a once honorable general has turned his back on his political duties as one of the three leaders ruling the Roman Empire and has been enchanted by the Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra. The soldier Philo opens with saying that the “dotage of our general’s O’erflows the measure” (I.i.1) , accusing Antony of having uncontrollable infatuations with Cleopatra. He then goes on to compare Antony to how he used to be – a strong leader who was proud of his army – but now he is devoted to Cleopatra and to pleasing her. We are shown through the words of this soldier that it is clearly evident to others how Antony has turned his back on his empire and duty as a triumvir because he has become foolish due to his overwhelming lust towards the Queen. Further in we hear from another outsider how Antony’s actions have been perceived, this is the character of Caesar, who thinks of Antony as a man who has abandoned his responsibilities and who has disgraced himself by focusing solely on pursuing his lustful longings towards Cleopatra. Caesar despises Antony’s behavior for it is known that his irresponsible actions in the way “he fishes, drinks, and wastes the lamps of night in revel” (I.iv.4-5) are what the Romans see as discreditable. We are then shown to see this statement as true when Antony and Cleopatra come in and she is asking him to describe to her the extent to which he loves her, saying, “If it be love indeed, tell me how much.” These actions reflect how idiocy and lust is apparent in the two characters. They are foolish requests but because Antony is overpowered by his desire towards her, he is more than willing to comply with her wishes. This shows us how the reasoning he once possessed as a powerful leader is now disputed due to his aim...
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