How Does Shakespeare Construct the Conditions for Tragedy in Antony and Cleopatra?

Powerful Essays
Dramatic tragedy classically explores the downfall and death of a protagonist from a high status. Shakespeare constructs the conditions for tragedy within Antony and Cleopatra through the protagonists’ conflicts.

For example, Antony is pulled in different directions by two competing loyalties: his political duties and his love for Cleopatra. In Act One, Antony, “The triple pillar of the world”, has “become the bellows and the fan / To cool a gipsy’s lust.” Philo’s metaphor presents Antony as “the bellows” and “the fan”. On the one hand, Antony appears to be “cooling” Cleopatra’s lust, breaking free from her. On the other hand, this can be seen as a paradoxical image: where we expect Antony’s metaphorical “bellows” to cool Cleopatra’s lust, we know that “bellows”, in fact, make a fire more ferocious. On a deeper level, Philo’s tragic image suggests Cleopatra’s lust is like a fire, needing to be “cool[ed]”; Shakespeare subtly foreshadows that it is this ‘fire’ that will engulf the couple, triggering their tragic downfall. Frank Kermode has argued that Shakespeare’s use of “little language”, in this case, “become” and its derivatives, acts “to give undercurrents of sense to the dramatic narratives” . It’s in the detail and in the metaphorical texture of the language that we see Shakespeare unfolding the conditions of this tragedy. Moreover, what’s particularly tragic about Philo’s opening speech is that although he is Antony’s servant, he complains about the man Antony has become. If anything Philo should be loyal and humble to Antony, but it is his rejection of Antony that prepares the audience for his tragic dissolution at the end of the play.

Antony and Cleopatra’s competing loyalties are irreconcilable. In Act One “noble” Anto...

... middle of paper ...

... she shares this affair with Antony, they can never truly be together; their association with these Gods are conflicting principles. Furthermore, Shakespeare heightens the tragedy of the two protagonists’ romance; As Venus and Mars are caught in an “invisible net” , Shakespeare suggests Antony and Cleopatra await the same fate.

Shakespeare sets up conflicts within the characters of Antony and Cleopatra that lead to be incompatible: Rome and Egypt, fluidity and rigidity etc... It is the struggle that the two protagonists’ endure to make these incompatibilities compatible that lead to their evitable tragic downfalls.

Works Cited

(n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia:

(n.d.). Retrieved from Art and Pop Culture:

Kermode, F. Shakespeare's Language.

Shakespeare, W. Antony and Cleopatra.

Shakespeare, W. Julius Caesar.
Get Access