Greco-Roman Influence in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra

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Greco-Roman Influence in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra

Greco-Roman mythological images seem to dominate Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Ever since the humanist revolution started, Renaissance writers, including Shakespeare, systematically tried to revive Greek literature and Greek mythology. It was an attempt to establish an alternative authority to Catholic scholastic dogma that has the stamp of antiquity.

Shakespeare's knowledge of mythology was almost exclusively Roman, especially in relation to love and war. As a matter of truth, the Romans did not have created gods of their own, because '' They were a people of deep religious feeling, but they had little imagination.'' In fact, the influence of Greek art and literature were powerful in Rome. Thus, they adopted Greek gods, and the Greek mythological figures turned into Roman mythological figures to suit their society. For example, Ares, who is the Geek deity of war, turned into Mars, the Roman god of war. ''The Roman liked Mars better than the Greeks liked Ares,'' because Ares was not a typical deity of war, so Mars became the embodiment of military virtues and the defender of Rome.

In fact, a thorough understanding of the mythological figures and images in Antony and Cleopatra like Phoebus, Furies, Venus, Mars, Hercules and Bacchus, can be the best guideline to a perceptive interpretation of the play. These mythological figures can be mirrors which reflect the nature of a specific character or the culture of a society. Therefore, the function of these myths is very important in Antony and Cleopatra being one of the ways to approach the play.

The values and culture of the Egyptian societ...

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...while once she seems to help him in putting his armor on. Hence, Cleopatra gives him the spiritual support when he goes to war.

Obviously, the previous mythological figures are not accidentally mentioned in the play. They are another source which enables the reader to understand the characters and the cultures of Rome and Egypt in Antony and Cleopatra. Therefore, these myths are very important in an indirect approach to the play.


Hamilton, Edith. Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. New York: Warner Books, 1969.

Miles, Geoffrey. Ed., ''A Rough Guide to the Gods''and ''A Mythical History of the World,'' Classical Mythology in English Literature: A Critical Anthology. London: Routledge, 1999.

Shakespeare, William. Antony and Cleopatra. London: Longman, 1981.

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