Wealth and it’s relationship to poverty figures in heavily in two of the plays we have read thus far in class. In both Antony and Cleopatra and The Tempest we are treated to characters and situations that deal with wealth and poverty. Specifically however, both plays have visions of an abundance of wealth that seems at times both corruptible and foolish. In Antony and Cleopatra we have their excessive behavior and flaunting, which proves to be a vice that grips them much to tightly. In The Tempest, characters stranded on a deserted island have their own unique versions of achieving that said abundance. Shakespeare treats the topic similarly in both plays, and uses it to expose the very nature of abundance.
For example, in Antony and Cleopatra we are treated to many scenes describing the level of excess the title characters are involved in. In Act 3, scene 6 Shakespeare writes,
Here’s the manner of’t:
I’th’ market-place, on a tribunal silver’d,
Cleopatra and himself in chairs of gold
Were publicly enthron’d. At their feet sat
Caesarian, whom they call my father’s son,
And all the unlawful issue that their lust
Since then hath made between them. Unto her
He gave the stablishment of Egypt, made her
Of lower Syria, Cyprus,Lydia,
Absolute Queen (2-10).
With that passage, Shakespeare (through Caesar) is criticizing the lavishness and public showings of both Antony and Cleopatra. He seems to think it grotesque to have them sitting in front of everyone in “chairs of gold”.
Even earlier, Antony’s abundant behavior is made obvious. Shakespeare writes, “he fishes, drinks, and wastes/The lamps of night in ...
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... riches? His want of this abundance is like the others, made worse by the fact that he at first had no idea what it was. He had something better (although some would view him as poor), and now a glimpse of wealth has changed him.
In the end, by looking at these two plays, we can see that wealth can indeed be a corrupting force in Shakespeare’s world. Although wealth may not necessarily be just money. It can come in many forms; power, idleness, etc. And in today’s world where money-winning game shows are what pass for culture and entertainment, it seems all the more relevant.
The Riverside Shakespeare: Second Edition Houghton Mifflin Company Boston/New York G. Blakemore Evans and J.J.M Tobin eds.
Shakespeare’s The Tempest: World’s Classics The Oxford Shakespeare. Oxford University Press New York/London. Ed. Stanley Wells
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