The Play Shakespeare - Sample Essay

Where earlier Agrippa describes her as a “Venus”, she is now called a “royal wench”. Cleopatra’s power as a leader, as it is shown in the play, is not military or political, but sexual and passionate. Indeed there is little said to imply that Cleopatra participates much in the running of her country at all, apart from her whimsical desire to fight at Actium. The only strain we can see in Cleopatra is that of her love for Antony being totally unviable due to their positions on the world stage.

We see the disastrous effects on Cleopatra’s personality, when she believes that Antony has fallen out of love with her (such as when he returns to Fulvia). At points in the play we see her in the deepest depths of depression, sobbing and wailing over Antony. At other points she is overcome by total elation. Indeed throughout history, Cleopatra has often been viewed as a volatile, fickle figure. In the Play Shakespeare has depicted both Antony and Cleopatra being totally overcome by their love for one another.

These great leaders of the world are taken off their pedestals and shown to be just as vulnerable as the rest of us, to be normal people. We see that because of the responsibilities their position carry, they are not free to have their love affair. As well as these three central leadership roles in the play, there are also the characters of Lepidus and Pompey Lepidus, though a peaceful and diplomatic figure, is the weakest of the triumvirate. He becomes a figure of fun at the banquet and through the continual comments of Agrippa and Enobarbus.

In act 3, scene 2, Enobarbus comments disparagingly: “They are his shards, and he their beetle”. There is also an innocence about Lepidus in his defence of Antony: “I must not think there are/ Evils enough to darken his goodness” This could however, just be an example of generous tolerance. Even so, neither generous tolerance, nor any other of the humane qualities that Lepidus shows, are seen (at least in Shakespeare’s eyes) to be insignificant on the grand scale of events. Our last image of him, is the sight of the third “pillar of the world” being carried out drunk.

Lepidus’s eventual imprisonment by Caesar acts as an example that, in the world of politics and power, benevolence will always be crushed by ruthlessness. Pompey, like Lepidus is another slightly mediocre leader. His reputation and power stem from the esteem in which his father Pompey the Great was held. Indeed the strong position he is in only exists because of the total disarray that the triumvirate is in. Despite this he accepts the terms he is offered by them very readily (largely due to Antony’s presence), a decision that causes Menas to doubt his judgement: “the father, Pompey, would ne’er have made this treaty”.

Pompey’s refusal to sanction the murder of the triumvirs, whilst admitting that he would have welcomed its being done without his knowledge, reveals a lot about Pompey. It shows at once a cowardice and lack of ruthlessness that, (like Lepidus) means that he can never be a truly successful leader. Through the characterisation of the different leaders mentioned above, Shakespeare manages to demonstrate the different strains that those in positions of power must tolerate, and we see that in the end there is no room for romantic compassion or weakness, if one wants to become a successful leader.