Antony and Cleopatra's “love” is not really about love at all. Their interaction can only be considered a sort of immature lust-power relationship. Their relationship is shallow, self-centered, irresponsible and destructive. Their attraction for each other centers around infatuation and a sort of egoistic rush that they are more important than the world. Just as a man or woman of today may attempt to control the desires of his or her intended, Cleopatra wants to manipulate Antony into wanting her:
Cleopatra. See where he is, who's with him, what he does:
I did not send you: if you find him sad,
Say I am dancing; if in mirth, report
That I am sudden sick. Quick, and return.
Romeo and Juliet's relationship was sweet and beyond life. Cleopatra and Antony's relationship is a very worldly one (we do not even know if Cleopatra "applied the asp" because she wanted to be with Antony in death or if she simply could not stand being left with Caesar in life).
G.W. Knight of the Aesthetic school of critics says of Cleopatra that she is "a metaphysical, not moral, good--a good of totality. She is good in the same large way one might say life is good, or the universe is good, not because it contains no suffering or bad times, but because from restropect even these experiences are worth having. Her perfection flowers from totality, not exclusion." You end up liking Cleopatra in this play because she is so robust and sensual and unpredicable and capable of so many strong emotions. Here she bursts out at the messager after he reported that Antony had married:
Cleopatra. What say you? Hence,
Horrible villain! or I'll spurn thine eyes
Like balls before me; I'll ...
... middle of paper ...
...and the first stone
Drop in my neck: as it determines, so
Dissolve my life! the next Caesarion smite!
Till by degreees the memory of my womb,
Together with my brave Egyptians all,
By the discandying of this pelleted storm
Lie graveless, till the flies and gnats of Nile
Have buried them for prey!
The hand of death hath raught him.
. . . let Patient Octavia plough thy visage up
With her preparéd nails.
. . . fill our bowls once more:
Let's mock the midnight bell.
A 1759 quote about a performance of this play stated that it "did not seem to give ye Audience any great pleasure or draw any applause." I can imagine that. It is not one of the best of Shakespeare's plays, but it does give you a fair share of history, tragedy, and poetry. I think this play would be perfect for a more modern reinterpretation analyzing destructive power relationships.
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