William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra

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William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra

Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra is aptly named, not just because the play centers around these two characters, but also because it encompasses the play’s fixation on the lovers’ oppositional relationship. On the surface level, Antony embodies the Roman ideals of a good, noble man, while Cleopatra represents the hyper-sexualized, dangerous Eastern woman. However, upon further examination both Antony and Cleopatra display complicated internal conflicts that effectively reverse these polar positions repeatedly throughout the play. In this way, the opposition between Antony and Cleopatra that exists on a simple, interpersonal level is echoed by more complicated, internal conflicts within each of these characters on a deeper, more individual level. The tension between the title characters creates the love that draws them together at the same time as it drives them further apart, thus establishing yet another layer of antagonistic relationships within the play. The importance of these oppositional relationships is underlined most starkly in Act II.2. In particular Enobarbus’ speech describing Cleopatra’s beauty functions as one of the greatest statements of the play’s conflicting themes. This speech reflects the antagonistic nature of the play’s central relationships through the invocation of equivalent antagonistic relationships between the violent descriptors used to depict Cleopatra.

Throughout the play, Shakespeare establishes a love-hate relationship between Antony and Cleopatra. In doing so, there are times when the lovers are characterized as stark opposites of each other as well as instances where these characterizations are reversed. The Romans, represented b...

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...defining Antony and Cleopatra’s equally oppositional relationship. The battles within her reflect Antony’s personal struggles, as well as the greater wars within their relationship. Thus, the dualities within Enobarbus’ speech reflect the oppositional relationships both within the play as a whole and within the greater context of Act II.ii. Antony and Cleopatra struggle to define themselves on intra- and inter-personal levels as well as within the greater societal sphere. Ultimately, they can never fully resolve the polar oppositions that exist both within and between them. This results in the physical and emotional violence that is both reflected and predicted in Enobarbus’ speech.

Work Cited

“Beggared”. Oxford English Dictionary. Accessed 10/17/05

Shakespeare, William. Antony and Cleopatra. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.
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