The Tragedy of Anthony and Cleopatra

Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s) : 97
  • Published : October 21, 2005
Open Document
Text Preview
The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra

Octavius Caesar (later renamed to Augustus Caesar, son of the murdered Julius Caesar), Antony, and Lepidus form the Roman triumvirate that rules the Western world. Lepidus leaves the triumvirate, and Caesar and Antony are left to rule the world. Antony, though married to Fluvia, lives in Alexandria, Egypt with his mistress Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt. Fueled by a disgust at his lifestyle in Egypt and anger over the wars caused by Antony's relatives, Caesar calls Antony home to Rome. Antony agrees, but only after Fluvia dies of an illness. Once in Rome, Caesar and Antony try to make amends through the marriage of Antony to Caesar's sister Octavia.

Antony soon deserts Octavia, however, and returns to live with Cleopatra. Caesar, enraged, vows to attack and regain control of Egypt from Antony and Cleopatra. Caesar's army is more powerful and more skillful, and soon approaches defeat of Antony. Enobarbus, Antony's best friend, deserts him and joins Caesar's army. However, Enobarbus becomes overcome with regret and remorse for leaving Antony, and kills himself near Caesar's headquarters. Antony, facing defeat, asks Eros (another friend) to kill him. Eros cannot, and instead kills himself. Antony then kills himself by falling on his sword. Cleopatra, in grief over Antony's death and determined never to fall under Caesar's command commits suicide by allowing poisonous asps to bite her. Cleopatra's main attendant (Charmian) dies in the same manner, while her second attendant (Iras) dies from stress and grief over Cleopatra's death.

The Tragedy of Imagination: Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra"
Nature wants stuff
To vie strange forms with fancy . . .
—Antony and Cleopatra

Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra shares with Troilus and Cressida the obsessive and self-consuming rage of the tragic figure as he confronts and attempts to define "reality." But, more extravagantly than Troilus and Cressida, this reality is layered with masquerade; forms that are often as lyric as brutal shift and change and baffle expectation. The constant refinement of brute reality into lyric illusion is the work not simply of Antony, Shakespeare's hero, but the lifelong work of Shakespeare himself. Thus there is a curious, rather decadent air in this play of flamboyant desires having as much import - if not ultimately as much political strength - as events themselves. Among the characters of Hamlet there are four playwrights: Claudius, the Ghost, Polonius, and Hamlet. Among the characters of Antony and Cleopatra there is any number of mythologizing poets and/or playwrights, but the most important is Antony. Snared within the net of appearances and forced by politics to break free, Antony's agony is curiously muted for someone who has achieved and lost so much; but this fact can be better understood if we examine the basis of the play and its relationship to "tragedy."

The movement of most works of literature is toward a dramatic confrontation with reality, with objective truth. The hero's downfall (or, in happier works, his conversion or enlighten-ment) is determined by the success with which reality overcomes appearances. If there is any great theme of literature this is it: the destruction of the faux-semblant and attendant illusions by the intervention, bitter or glorious, of reality. Tragedy works with this theme and is inseparable from it, and the problem of Antony and Cleopatra seems to be that the lovers either do not have illusions or, if they do, they never learn to substitute for them other visions of their predicament, in the way Othello and Macbeth do. Orthodox and recognizable tragedy necessarily involves a process of learning and exorcism, which is manipulated by the tragic figure himself, as in Oedipus Rex, or by surrounding characters who may or may not be fragmented aspects of the hero himself, as in The Revenger's Tragedy, or by fate or external social forces, as in...
tracking img