ENGL - 210 - Shakespeare - Antony and Cleopatra - 6

ENGL - 210 - Shakespeare - Antony and Cleopatra - 6 - Conor...

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Conor Cook English 210 December 7, 2007 The Deceptive Nature of Roman and Egyptian Cultures in Antony and Cleopatra The central thematic conflict in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra evolves from the opposing claims of Rome and Egypt that are placed on Antony. The two worlds embody bi-polar values, the differences between which are emphasized by the extraordinary pace at which the play bounces between the two settings. Egypt, represented by Cleopatra, characterizes an emotional, highly sexualized, feminine, and passionate mindset. In contrast, Rome, represented by Octavius Caesar, signifies power, duty, masculinity, and reason. These black and white contrasts are readily apparent from the beginning of the play, however they obscure some of the underlying similarities between the two opposing camps that are essential to understanding Antony’s internal conflict. Before observing the similarities, it is important first to flesh out the ways in which Shakespeare creates a stark contrast between Egypt and Rome. First, Shakespeare paints a landscape of Egypt as a place of splendor and excess. Enobarbus depicts the hedonistic nature of Egypt in Act II, Scene ii when he describes his stay in Egypt to Maecenas: “We did sleep day out of countenance and made the night light with drinking” (II.ii.213). This exchange takes place directly after a heated political discussion between Antony and Octavius, thus accentuating the disparity between the serious nature of Rome and the frivolous nature of Egypt.
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Cleopatra’s marked contrast to Octavia also serves as a microcosm for the differences between Egypt and Rome. Cleopatra is self-absorbed, prone to violent mood swings, and is known for her intimate relationships with various powerful men. She gives over the top performances to a myriad of roles and personalities throughout the play, embodying everything from beauty to ugliness, and from virtue to vice. As Antony notes, she is a woman whom “everything becomes-to chide, to laugh / To weep; whose every passion fully strives / To make itself, in thee, fair and admired” (I.i.48-51). Soft spoken, polite and submissive, Octavia could not be more different. She is a pawn in Roman politics, as is exhibited when her brother Octavius marries her off to Antony, whom Octavius dislikes, to form a military alliance. When peace is threatened, Octavia travels to Rome to attempt to calm her brother, only to learn upon arriving that Antony has returned to Egypt to be with Cleopatra. Her relationships are motivated strictly by politics, whereas Cleopatra’s are motivated more by her own whims. A messenger describes to Cleopatra the way Octavia walks, saying “She creeps. / Her motion and her station are as one. / She
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This note was uploaded on 04/24/2008 for the course ENGL 210 taught by Professor Lambbakerschwartzgirgus during the Spring '08 term at Vanderbilt.

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ENGL - 210 - Shakespeare - Antony and Cleopatra - 6 - Conor...

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