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‘Antony and Cleopatra’.
The simplicity of the Jacobean Stage and its lack of scenery focused the audiences’ attention on the actors. Discuss how Shakespeare created the grandeur of the Worlds of Rome and Egypt, and the magnificence of the protagonists, through his use of imagery in ‘Antony and Cleopatra’.
The play of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ was written in 1606, and is mainly set in their respective worlds of Rome and Egypt. ‘Antony and Cleopatra,’ like Shakespeare’s other plays was written to be performed on the Jacobean Stage. In Shakespeare’s time there was a lack of scenery and stage props, but he compensated with his use of language that he gave to the audience, to assist them, bring to life the characters, plot and the setting in their own minds.
That was the past, here and now in the present, we go to the Cinema, which is full of special effects, computerised graphics, and exciting camera shots, which all goes towards creating a typical Hollywood blockbuster film. With ‘Antony and Cleopatra this is not necessary as it is still more effective on the stage than on screen, which is due to the elaborate language used, which tests our imagination.
Shakespeare’s plays are written in dramatic verse and his use of imagery is very effective, as it engages the audiences’ attention, to give them a deeper meaning and reality to each and every character.
In order to analyse how Shakespeare uses imagery to describe Antony and his world of Rome, and Cleopatra and her world of Egypt, it is necessary to look at how he breathes life into their larger than life personalities by the use of powerful, vivid language.
The opening speech raises the audiences’ awareness of the Roman view towards Antony and Cleopatra’s relationship. “You shall see him The triple pillar of the world transformed into a strumpet’s fool,” which ultimately means that Antony is Cleopatra’s jester, that would do anything for her and that his imminent downfall is due to Cleopatra the “Strumpet”.
Mark Antony’s character at the beginning of the play, is that of a great, powerful, triumvir whose heart has been entrapped by Cleopatra’s enchanting personality. The audience hears many good things about Antony’s character, which is shown through his great past, “It is reported thou didst eat strange flesh which some did die look on,” which informs us that he was a great warrior which evoke feelings of respect towards him.
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There is much mythological imagery related to how Antony used to be a great God-like character, “Have glowed like plated Mars,” which shows he is a strong and admired character which is almost like a super-being. This is a powerful piece of imagery, as Mars was the God of War, therefore we feel that Antony must be a great warrior and a loved hero, so Antony’s warrior status is depicted by the mythological imagery. “...Now bend, now turn,” shows us how Antony has lost his respectable god like imagery through his obsession with Cleopatra, which emasculates him. He also believes that Hercules is one of his ancestors and acts as his guardian angel, which relates Antony to the God’s making him seem more of a super-human and reinforces the image of his strength, bravery and indestructible personality. However, when the soldiers fearfully say that Hercules has left Antony, we feel that this is a sign that Antony’s end is near, “Tis the God Hercules who Antony loved now leaves him.” In his death we see Antony’s strength brought through by Cleopatra, “The demi atlas of this Earth,” which not only shows his importance in the world, but also the respect she finally shows his god like position.
At many points of the play we feel pity towards Antony, as his doom seems so inevitable. This sword is a very important image and is a constant symbol throughout the play, which can be traced to tell the story of his life and how it will come to an end, “When valour preys on reason it eats the sword it fights with.” The sword is a strong symbol of Antony’s power as it shows his status and strength, “Now by my sword,” as well as being a constant reminder of his previous victories. The sword is the weapon, which will eventually kill Antony, “Draw thy sword and give me sufficing strokes for death,” which shows his change in character, now he has changed into a desperate suicidal figure. This is shown when Antony’s sword is given to Octavius after his death, “This is sword, I robbed his wound of it.” This is a powerful image as his sword represented his progress and manliness therefore, when it is taken away and given to Octavius, it shows his loss of manhood, and position and that he had been defeated. The sword is also phallic, showing how Cleopatra emasculates Antony, which has a dramatic effect on his life. “My sword made weak by my affection,” shows how Antony has lost all his self-control and responsibility due to his obsession with Cleopatra, which allows her to have so much control over him. Antony also seems frustrated at himself for allowing Cleopatra’s influence to destroy his status and control.
Antony is a powerful character. His power is shown through height imagery, which is important to him as height represents status, authority and achievement. Antony is a determined and aware character who realises that he needs to be in a strong, high position to secure his success. Antony’s struggle for height and rank is shown through his power struggle with Octavius, “Sit, sit sir,” as neither character wants to sit down first, as this will show that he is the weakest. We can also link the lower imagery with falling, as Antony begins to physically sit down, he begins to be defeated. It not only shows his loss of position but also his loss of self-belief. We can also see the height and rising imagery brought together through Cleopatra’s attempt to raise Antony to immortality; “We must draw thee up.” When Antony is dying, Cleopatra praises his character, “The greatest prince o’th the world, the noblest,” and believes that he should be raised up in death as he used to be in life when he was powerful. Also, by raising Antony from the Earth, she is taking him away from his troubles and failures to be amongst God to resume his status, she is almost giving him back, what she had caused him to lose.
The imagery used to depict Antony really brings his character to life. It shows his change from a God-like triumvir to a lovesick hedonist through Cleopatra’s influence. Like all tragic heroes Antony has flaws in his character, he enjoys the luxury and the soft, sensual life, of Cleopatra’s court, but his biggest flaw is Cleopatra. He is bewitched by her beauty, intelligence, sexuality and her sense of fun. His character flaws make his tragic end seem so inevitable and does not evoke sympathy in the end from the audience.
Cleopatra is a sensual, sexual woman which is shown through her exotic, Egyptian character. Cleopatra is sexually hypnotic and uses this to entice Antony, which allows her to have so much control over him, “If it be love indeed, tell me how much.” She is a manipulative, childish character, who at the beginning tests Antony, which totally emasculates him. However, at the end she appears to have grown up and has transformed into a loving, caring partner to Antony, “Quicken with kissing.”
Cleopatra is the dramatically, enchanting Queen of Egypt as well as the queen of Antony’s heart. Her dramatic, extravagant mood swings, makes her character enjoyable to watch, “The most infectious pestilence upon thee! Strikes him down,” and her magnificent ability to charm any man who sets eyes on her, “That she did make defect perfection.” Cleopatra is a fine actress who enjoys dressing up as famous goddesses’ to attract the attention of men, “O’er-picturing that Venus,” which the mythological imagery helps to show the godly, dramatic, magnificent side of her character. She also does this to show the power she has, “In the habiliment of the goddess Isis,” which shows she has a lot of confidence and pride in herself. “Go fetch my best attines: I am again for Cyndus to meet Mark Antony,” the imagery here shows that even in death, Cleopatra is desperate to look enchanting. It is as if she is going to recreate their first meeting in their spiritual world, hoping that this time it will last. The irony of Cleopatra dressing up as Venus before she commits suicide, is that she dies a bride and it is almost as if she is ready to trap Antony in the spiritual world, “As I draw thee up, I’ll think everyone an Antony and say ‘Ah ha! Y’are caught,” which is linked to the serpent imagery.
Cleopatra has had many lovers and is sexually experienced. “Food is like sex – a natural appetite.” – Spark notes, Which she indulges in a lot. Food imagery is associated with Cleopatra as it a pleasurable activity, - like she is for Antony. “But she makes hungry where she most satisfies,” but like food, too much of her is dangerous. Antony uses food imagery to insult Cleopatra and to express his disgust in her, “I found you a monsel cold upon dead Caesar’s trencher, nay you were a fragment of cruel Pompey’s.” This informs the audience of Cleopatra’s past and that she has worked her alluring powers on other powerful men all of which were taken in by her, like Antony. Here we also see that Cleopatra is a clever woman, who uses the only thing she has to survive in a male-dominated world – her ability to evoke love from powerful men. We also see that Cleopatra has a famous history with Julius Caesar, “She made Caesar lay his sword to bed: he ploughed her and she cropped.” This derogatory sexual image again reinforces the idea that she has to be in a sexual relationship with powerful men to survive.
Cleopatra’s status relies on her ability to attract the desire of great men. This means she has to be passionate, “The silken tackle swell with the touches of these flower soft hands,” and desirable, ”Purple the sails and so perfumed that the minds were lovesick with them,” as well as magical, which shown through her mythological imagery. She is also a great actress and is described as being famous for making spectacular entrances, which are very important to her as they caught the attention of all that were close, “Her people out upon her.” “When she first met Mark Antony, she pursed up his heart, upon the river Cyndus,” This again reinforces her enchanting and entrapping appearance. She appears as rich to present the idea of royalty to help her attract the attention of powerful men, “The barge she sat in like a burnished throne burned on the water,” and it would seem that she was an amazing woman. Her entrances are sensuous and enchanting much like she is, attracting all the senses. Cleopatra does this to evoke the feeling of burning desire within Antony, which makes her irresistible to him. From this image we can understand how she appeared and why Antony was so attracted to her and also that she was a very manipulative woman who made all situations work to her best advantage.
Cleopatra is manipulative and argumentative, “fie wrangling Queen,” all of which she uses to stay in control with Antony, which is probably why she is referred to as the serpent. “Where is my serpent of old Nile for so he calls me,” presents the image that Cleopatra is deceitful, evil and temptuous as these are the things that snakes are associated with. This imagery also echoes the idea that she likes to trap her men. Cleopatra is like a snake, as once they have their ‘victim’ they are in total control until the ‘victim’ is destroyed, much like Antony by her. All of the serpent imagery in the play is associated with evil and destruction of things. “So half my Egypt were submerged and made a cistern for scales snakes,” which not only makes it appear that is related to the end of all good things but also reminds us that she dies by a poisonous Asp at her breast.
Cleopatra is often referred to as ‘Egypt’, which ties in with the serpent imagery, “This foul Egyptian has betrayed me,” it is as if Cleopatra is the personification of Egypt, where they like pleasure and mystery. ‘Soothsayer,’ which is what she represents to Antony, “I’th East my pleasure lies,” and “Egyptian dish,” which emphasises her sexual, desirable qualities. However in Antony’s death we see how he feels that Cleopatra and Egyptian life has destroyed him, “O this false soul of Egypt,” much like the snake and its victim/prey.
Cleopatra’s character also represents Egypt and the exotic with its sensuous, fun, magical lifestyle with Antony and the Roman, logical realistic beliefs, the total opposite. The values of Rome and Egypt were in complete contrast to each other. Antony and Cleopatra seemed to symbolise these values. In the end Antony abandons his Roman duties for his love of Cleopatra, but he is still proud to be Roman, “A Roman by a Roman, valiantly vanquished.”
As Cleopatra is ‘Egypt’, Rome is represented by Caesar, with Antony torn between both worlds, but it is Rome, the modern world which triumphs in the end.
These two protagonists are tragic figures that died, with their tragedy being of their making. Their characters are very much human as they are well rounded and we can sometimes see ourselves in them. They had to die because, they came from two different worlds and neither would have survived in the other’s world. Antony and Cleopatra escape to their own spiritual world, as they will exist forever in the world of great lovers. So, it is not only Rome that triumphs, Antony and Cleopatra too is triumphant as they will be together, forever, and will live for eternity on stage.