Cleopatra, Rome and Antony’s part - Sample Essay

Cleopatra has a very dominant personality, she is referred to as “flamboyant” and “gregarious” by critics, this draws attention away from Antony to reveal the character who captures everyone’s hearts, it is Antony who proclaims how fascinating Cleopatra is, “Whom everything becomes, to chide, to laugh, / To weep, whose every passion fully strives / to make itself, in thee, fair and admired”. This quotation does not apply to everyone’s perception of Cleopatra, the other characters intertwined in this love story perceive her in a different light. Antony is seen “To cool a gipsy’s lust.” This would indicate to the audience of the impact of Cleopatra on others.

The power of language here is used by Shakespeare to deliberately implant the ideas of trickery, sorcery, promiscuity and dishonesty, therefore it is not surprising that a Jacobean audience would see Cleopatra as a witch and distrust her as it was in the nature of the Jacobean audience to be suspicious of women like Cleopatra as it was still widely believed that witches existed. Antony regards Cleopatra as central to his life but it is only her dominant character and unusual actions as an Egyptian woman, such as skipping down the streets of Egypt, which demands the attention of the audience so much, leaving them feeling that this play is centred on Cleopatra, her effect on Antony serves to be his downfall, and therefore Cleopatra being central to this play not Antony.

When this issue is considered further, it becomes more apparent that without Antony, her character would pale into insignificance, “The crown o’th’earth doth melt” when without Antony. She had been the lover of both Caesar and Pompey before Antony, although these links are rarely referred to by Shakespeare, her past is intertwined with her present, but it is the love between her and Antony which makes both vulnerable. One of the few times the audience is shown Cleopatra to be vulnerable is when she has news of Antony’s marriage, the audience would pity her as she shows her desperation, “Say ’tis not so, a province I will give thee / And make thy fortunes proud”.

Another side to Antony is only seen because of the strong feelings he has for Cleopatra, he is most patient with her, but we see Antony break when she causes him to lose a battle that the former great soldier, Antony, would have won with ease. although it is Cleopatra’s fault, Antony blames himself for being a fool, “Egypt, thou knew’st too well / My heart was to thy rudder tied by th’strings”. Proved by his reactions to Enobarbus betraying him, Antony was unlikely to lose his temper but Cleopatra is his raw nerve and shows him a side to himself that angers him, seeing Cleopatra’s unhappiness hurts him, “Fall not a tear”. Antony is ruler and Roman, “an amorous surfeiter” with animal instincts and nobility, proven by his reaction to the thought of living without Cleopatra, suicide was seen as a brave, noble act. Throughout the play Cleopatra tests Antony to the limit and is ultimately the ruin of him but the audience is brought closer to them as empathy builds up.

Shakespeare wrote this play based on real events and people, this is why it is not a play just about Cleopatra, it is romantic tragedy and the audience realises that Antony and Cleopatra are inseparable. This causes great tension once Antony has died. In Cleopatra’s eyes, Antony becomes heavenly in death, but curiously appears to be overcome by the realisation that Caesar will become the dominant ruler. This shows how Cleopatra only felt safe when protected by Antony’s power therefore a lot of her actions centred round Antony, to ultimately secure herself. The only reason Cleopatra is the dominant is that Antony is there to be dominated.

The relationship between Antony and Cleopatra is one of lust and passion, as Bradley said, “She intoxicates his senses, her wiles, her taunts, her furies and meetings, her laughter and tears, bewitches him alike.” The traditional view of this play is that Cleopatra’s love destroys Antony, to make Cleopatra the main focus of the play would mean that this play would no longer be about lovers but how Cleopatra manipulates others.

Shakespeare uses very powerful language and imagery to portray his characters often in celestial terms but it is Cleopatra who receives the ‘coloured mosaic of terms’. Cleopatra possesses “infinite charm”, and Enobarbus describes her using such rich language, focusing on the impact she made just by arriving on the Nile, “The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne, / Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold; / Purple the sails, and so perfumed that / The winds were lovesick with them;” Many critics feel such language used by Enobarbus could have only been provoked by his own strong feelings for Cleopatra.

“She did make defect perfection” but Shakespeare contrasted with her being referred to as a “Triple-turned whore”, this may be the only way Shakespeare could portray the depth of Cleopatra’s character and how she was perceived by others. Without such a strong character as Cleopatra it is unbelievable that Antony would be drawn to love and passion over politics and Rome in any other circumstance. His future very much depended on how he acted, a noble soldier was not expected to risk his empire, flee a battle scene and act on the emotions, as Emrys Jones said, “By committing himself to a life of sensations rather than thoughts, Antony is choosing to live his life precisely as a succession of moments”, he lived for the moment and for Cleopatra’s love.

If the play were to be renamed Cleopatra, Rome and Antony’s part to play in the political side would possibly not be included. If Shakespeare had called the play ‘Cleopatra’ he would have been stretching the boundaries further than making her more dominant but by emphasising the emasculation even further would have been highly implausible. Men held the power and position, when Shakespeare wrote ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ women were definitely a lot further from equality than we are today. Cleopatra does play a huge part, her larger than life character, supernatural powers and life is vibrant but changing the title would also change the focus of the play, it would swing the emphasis away from the effect she has on Antony to a more general view of men and her life. Manipulation would be the focus of the whole play and, the story, if still intended to represent a part of history which interested Shakespeare, would be based on Cleopatra’s fortune and whether her fate was of her own making.

Although Cleopatra would be seen as deserving the central role of the play, the play does not revolve around her but Antony. It would change the fact that the play revolves around the fate of Rome and Antony being decided by love to a lighter-hearted look at the strength of sexuality women possess. The title of a play is an important decision for a playwright, Shakespeare will have used the title to sum up the play and therefore if he had believed that his play was all about Cleopatra, he would have named this play Cleopatra. The consequence of calling the play ‘Cleopatra and Antony’ would be that it was not taken seriously. This play is not a comedy and it would have lost credibility to a Jacobean audience. Whether Cleopatra is overpoweringly dominant in the play and also her true intentions remains with the audience to decide.