Comparing Eliot’s Parody and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra
The first major difference between Eliot’s Parody and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra comes with the very first simile. In Shakespeare’s original the barge in which Cleopatra sits is compared to a burnished throne burning on the water, whereas in Eliot’s parody it is only a chair that she fills like a throne, glowing on the marble. Eliot’s character comes across, therefore, as far less ‘enormous’ and larger than life than Shakespeare portrays Cleopatra who seems very great, even in comparison with her barge, which she fills as if it were a throne - her majesty makes the barge seem tiny in comparison; Eliot’s character only makes a chair look like a chair. Again, with the water on which Cleopatra’s barge floats burning, and the marble on which the chair stands glowing, Shakespeare’s image if far greater than the one Eliot creates, being strange and somewhat mystical, as opposed to Eliot’s chair’s entirely possible glow.
Cleopatra, in the same way, has ‘pretty dimpled boys’ fanning her, ‘like smiling cupids’, whereas in the passage from The Wasteland, there are merely golden Cupidons, observing the scene, one peeping out at her, another hiding his eyes behind his wing - instead of serving an immediate, yet subtle purpose, as Cleopatra’s are, fanning her.
Other images of Eliot’s, in contrast, are much larger than Shakespeare, but again succeed in making Eliot’s character look small and insignificant in comparison. Eliot describes the enormous amount of adornments around the room, including her ‘vials of ivory and coloured glass’, which contain many perfumes, which are described as ‘drowning the sense in odours’ and again it is the lack of subtlety t...
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...speare tends to prefer the use of metaphor to that of simile - whilst Homer often used extended simile to illustrate his point, and often went off on very distinct tangents, Shakespeare tends to prefer the more modern construction of metaphor, rather than having to protect himself as an author with words like ‘like’ or ‘as’.
Eliot may well have chosen this passage for its eccentricities, and it succeeds in creating a powerful and provoking parody, as well as being a very good contrast to other parts of The Wasteland, poetically, including the very next part, which is more modern, and simple. It is also interesting that Eliot chose to almost blend the Shakespeare in with other more ordinary bits of literature - the passage begins with only slight changes to the words of Enobarbus’ speech, but soon becomes considerably different to the original Shakespeare.