As a onetime outpost of Rome, England was greatly influenced by Roman genealogy-ancestors that were god-like (Mars), superhuman (Hercules), fearless warriors (Pompey) who flourished in a patriarchal society (ancient 4). I would like to discuss how Shakespeare uses these characteristics in his Roman tragedy Antony and Cleopatra, as a means to express sixteenth century England's cultural upheavals, one of which was the transformation of masculinity defined in terms of power to masculinity rooted in humanism.
Traditionally, the monarch of a country is the "head of the nobility"(Giddens 2) and skilled in weaponry so as to fight side by side with his soldiers. Queen Elizabeth shattered this tradition with her femininity and physical inability to fight a war. As Eugene Giddens points out, Elizabeth was viewed as "conflict-shy". Because she did not "enter war lightly", a great anxiety arose within the military and the English nobility. After all, their major source of honors and promotion in the monarch's court--great military feats--was constricted by the lack of war (Giddens 2).
Shakespeare's emphasis on Rome's martial society in Antony and Cleopatra addresses the importance that a martial society held for men in England during Elizabeth's reign. Military prowess defined masculinity by power and honor. Giddens highlights a Francis Bacon quote from "Of the True Greatness of Kingdoms and Estates" in which Bacon writes "No body can be healthful without exercise, neither natural body nor politic: and certainly to a kingdom or estate, a just and honourable war is the true exercise . . . for in a slothful peace, both courages will effeminate and manners corrupt" (Giddens 13). Note the same sentiment for the relationship between war, ...
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...age and Literature 15 (1990): 79-107.
Carducci, Jane S. “Brutus, Cassius, and Caesar in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar; Language and the Roman Male.” Language and Literature 13 (1988): 1-19.
Giddens, Eugene. “Honourable Men: Militancy and Masculinity in Julius Caesar.” Renaissance Forum 5.2 (2001): 34 pars. 6 Oct. 2006. http://www.hull.ac.uk/renforum/v5no2/giddens.htm
Shakespeare, William. “ Antony and Cleopatra” The Necessary Shakespeare Second Edition. Ed. David Bevington. New York: Pearson Longman, 2005. 752-800.
Vaught, Jennifer. “Masculinity and Affect in Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale: Men of Feeling from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment.” 1650-1850: Ideas, Aesthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era 10 (2004): 305-325.
Wofford, Susanne L. ed. Shakespeare’s Late Tragedies A Collection of Critical Essays. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. 1996.
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