Anthony and Cleopatra Essay

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Shakespeare Uses As His Source For The Play Plutarch’s Lives Of The Noble Grecians And Romans. Plutarch, Along With Other Greek And Roman Authors, Saw An Opposition Between The Conquering West Standing For Moral And Political Virtue And The Conquered East Representing Luxury And Decadence. How Does Shakespeare’s Play Present These Positions?

Throughout William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, there is the dichotomy of the hard-working political life of Rome and the luxury and pleasures of Egypt. The effect of the difference between the two places on the main characters, and on the plot, is a key theme throughout the play.

It is common in Shakespeare’s plays for characters to talk about themselves in the third person, which gives them an elevated and important status. This is used to show the difference between the relaxed and indulgent Egypt, and the more formal ways of Rome. Octavius Caesar refers to himself in the third person often in the play,

“It is not Caesar’s natural vice to hate our great competitor”

This gives Octavius an air of importance, as he takes a tone of superiority over Antony because he is enjoying the luxuries of Cleopatra’s palace.

Dance, music and song are commonly used in Shakespearean comedy, for example in plays like a Comedy of Errors or As You Like It. They often act as an uniting force, bringing together different groups or individuals. In Antony and Cleopatra,a tragedy, they are presented differently. They are used to indicate Egypt as a place of frivolity. Cleopatra remarks “give me some music, moody food of us that trade in love.” Music is never played in Rome, and there are certainly no comical characters (such as the eunuch Mardian) and little banter. The presence of music and dance, with an entertainer such as the Eunuch, shows Egypt to be a place of fun and frivolity in direct contrast to the serious political business of Rome.

Shakespeare also displays the contrast between the two places by his use of jocularity, particularly puns and sexual innuendo. These are prevelant in the Egyptian scenes, particularly in the exchanges between Cleopatra and her courtiers.

Charmian: “My arm is sore. Best play with Mardian.
Cleopatra: As well a women with a Eunuch played as with a woman…”

This short exchange presents Egypt as a place of sexual innuendo and entertainment. Such conversations never tak...

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...eir attractions, but they also have a tragic consequences.

At the end of the play as Antony and Cleopatra both commit suicide. While Cleopatra’s death is symbolically romantic, Antony cuts a pathetic figure in death. There is a great sense of waste at the end of the tragedy, as a great man has come to nothing because he abandoned his sense and reason for the luxuries of Egypt.

Throughout Antony and Cleopatra there is a sharp contrast between the bawdy humour and entertainment of the east and the stern morality and politics of the West. This is best seen in Antony’s downfall; his death is caused by a romantic but illogical attempt at conquering Rome, and the battle of Actium shows the decadent Egypt destroyed and the sensible Rome victorious. In Rome Antony was at his best as a man a soldier and a statesmen, whereas as Antony says “in the East my pleasure lies”, as does his downfall.


William Shakespeare, Antony & Cleopatra, Edited by Emrys Jones, New Penguin Shakespeare Edition

York Notes Advanced, Antony And Cleopatra, Robin Sowerby

Richard Gill, Mastering English Literature  


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