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Both sides asked for Egyptian support, and after some stalling Cleopatra sent four Roman legions stationed in Egypt by Caesar to support the triumvirate. According to the story recorded by Plutarch and later dramatized famously by William Shakespeare , Cleopatra sailed to Tarsus in an elaborate ship, dressed in the robes of Isis. Antony, who associated himself with the Greek deity Dionysus, was seduced by her charms.

Cleopatra returned to Egypt, followed shortly thereafter by Antony, who left behind his third wife, Fulvia, and their children in Rome. He spent the winter of B. Antony again met with Cleopatra to obtain funds for his long-delayed military campaign against the kingdom of Parthia. They again became lovers, and Cleopatra gave birth to another son, Ptolemy Philadelphos, in 36 B.

In a public celebration in 34 B. In late 32 B. On September 2, 31 B. He fell on his sword, and died just as news arrived that the rumor had been false. On August 12, 30 B. The means of her death is uncertain, but Plutarch and other writers advanced the theory that she used a poisonous snake known as the asp, a symbol of divine royalty. We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us! Subscribe for fascinating stories connecting the past to the present.


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The Roman politician and general Mark Antony 83—30 B. His romantic and political alliance with the The characters' loyalty and validity of promises are constantly called into question. The perpetual swaying between alliances strengthens the ambiguity and uncertainty amid the characters loyalty and disloyalty. As a play concerning the relationship between two empires, the presence of a power dynamic is apparent and becomes a recurring theme. Antony and Cleopatra battle over this dynamic as heads of state, yet the theme of power also resonates in their romantic relationship.

The Roman ideal of power lies in a political nature taking a base in economical control.

Antony and Cleopatra: Language and Writing

Those his goodly eyes, That o'er the files and musters of the war Have glowed like plated mars, now bend, now turn The office and devotion of their view Upon a tawny front. His captain's heart, Which in the scuffles of greatness hath burst The buckles on his breast, reneges all tempers, And is becomes the bellows and the fan To cool a gipsy's lust. Cleopatra's character is slightly unpin-able, as her character identity retains a certain aspect of mystery. She embodies the mystical, exotic, and dangerous nature of Egypt as the "serpent of old Nile".

For her own person, It beggared all description. She did lie In her pavilion—cloth of god, of tissue— O'er-picturing that Venus where we see The fancy outwork nature. This mysteriousness attached with the supernatural not only captures the audience and Antony, but also, draws all other characters' focus. As a center of conversation when not present in the scene, Cleopatra is continually a central point, therefore demanding the control of the stage.

Antony remarks on Cleopatra's power over him multiple times throughout the play, the most obvious being attached to sexual innuendo: Manipulation and the quest for power are very prominent themes not only in the play but specifically in the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra. Both utilise language to undermine the power of the other and to heighten their own sense of power. Cleopatra uses language to undermine Antony's assumed authority over her. Cleopatra's "'Roman' language of command works to undermine Antony's authority.

In their first exchange in Act I, scene 1, Cleopatra says to Antony, "I'll set a bourn how far to be beloved. Antony's language suggests his struggle for power against Cleopatra's dominion. Antony's "obsessive language concerned with structure, organization, and maintenance for the self and empire in repeated references to 'measure,' 'property,' and 'rule' express unconscious anxieties about boundary integrity and violation.

He also mentions losing himself in dotage — "himself" referring to Antony as Roman ruler and authority over people including Cleopatra. Cleopatra also succeeds in causing Antony to speak in a more theatrical sense and therefore undermine his own true authority. In Act I, scene 1, Antony not only speaks again of his empire but constructs a theatrical image: Yachnin's article focuses on Cleopatra's usurping of Antony's authority through her own and his language, while Hooks' article gives weight to Antony's attempts to assert his authority through rhetoric.

Both articles indicate the lovers' awareness of each other's quests for power. Despite awareness and the political power struggle existent in the play, Antony and Cleopatra both fail to achieve their goals by the play's conclusion. Antony and Cleopatra is essentially a male-dominated play in which the character of Cleopatra takes significance as one of few female figures and definitely the only strong female character.

Cleopatra and the Boy Actor", "Cleopatra constantly occupies the centre, if not of the stage, certainly of the discourse, often charged with sexual innuendos and disparaging tirades, of the male Roman world". What is said about Cleopatra is not always what one would normally say about a ruler; the image that is created makes the audience expect "to see on stage not a noble Sovereign, but a dark, dangerous, evil, sensual and lewd creature who has harnessed the 'captain's heart".

Phyllis Rackin points out that one of the most descriptive scenes of Cleopatra is spoken by Enobarbus: It is in this way that "before the boy [playing Cleopatra] can evoke Cleopatra's greatness, he must remind us that he cannot truly represent it". Rackin points out that "it is a commonplace of the older criticism that Shakespeare had to rely upon his poetry and his audience's imagination to evoke Cleopatra's greatness because he knew the boy actor could not depict it convincingly".

The constant comments of the Romans about Cleopatra often undermine her, representing the Roman thought on the foreign and particularly of Egyptians. From the perspective of the reason-driven Romans, Shakespeare's "Egyptian queen repeatedly violates the rules of decorum". And yet she is also shown as having real power in the play. When threatened to be made a fool and fully overpowered by Octavius, she takes her own life: Scholars have speculated that Shakespeare's original intention was to have Antony appear in Cleopatra's clothes and vice versa in the beginning of the play.

This possible interpretation seems to perpetuate the connections being made between gender and power. Jones elaborates on the importance of this detail:. Such a saturnalian exchange of costumes in the opening scene would have opened up a number of important perspectives for the play's original audience. It would immediately have established the sportiveness of the lovers. It would have prepared the ground for Cleopatra's subsequent insistence on appearing "for a man" III.

The evidence that such a costume change was intended includes Enobarbus' false identification of Cleopatra as Antony:. Enobarbus could have made this error because he was used to seeing Antony in the queen's garments. It can also be speculated that Philo was referring to Antony cross-dressing in Act 1, scene Sir, sometimes, when he is not Antony, He comes too short of that great property Which still should go with Antony.

If Shakespeare had indeed intended for Antony to crossdress, it would have drawn even more similarities between Antony and Hercules, a comparison that many scholars have noted many times before. The Omphale myth is an exploration of gender roles in Greek society. Shakespeare might have paid homage to this myth as a way of exploring gender roles in his own. However, it has been noted that, while women dressing as men i. Antony and Cleopatra also contains self-references to the crossdressing as it would have been performed historically on the London stage.

Many scholars interpret these lines as a metatheatrical reference to Shakespeare's own production, and by doing so comments on his own stage. Shakespeare critics such as Tracey Sedinger interpret this as Shakespeare's critique of the London stage, which, by the perpetuation of boy actors playing the part of the woman, serves to establish the superiority of the male spectator's sexuality.

It is in this manner that the London stage cultivated in its audience a chaste and obedient female subject, while positioning male sexuality as dominant. Shakespeare critics argue that the metatheatrical references in Antony and Cleopatra seem to critique this trend and the presentation of Cleopatra as a sexually empowered individual supports their argument that Shakespeare seems to be questioning the oppression of female sexuality in London society. The boy actors portraying female sexuality on the London stage contradicted such a simple ontology.

Critics such as Rackin interpret Shakespeare's metatheatrical references to the crossdressing on stage with less concern for societal elements and more of a focus on the dramatic ramifications. Rackin argues in her article on "Shakespeare's Boy Cleopatra" that Shakespeare manipulates the crossdressing to highlight a motif of the play—recklessness—which is discussed in the article as the recurring elements of acting without properly considering the consequences.

Shakespeare, utilizing the metatheatrical reference to his own stage, perpetuates his motif of recklessness by purposefully shattering "the audience's acceptance of the dramatic illusion". Other critics argue that the crossdressing as it occurs in the play is less of a mere convention, and more of an embodiment of dominant power structures. Critics such as Charles Forker argue that the boy actors were a result of what "we may call androgyny". The textual motif of empire within Antony and Cleopatra has strong gendered and erotic undercurrents.

Antony and Cleopatra - Wikipedia

Antony, the Roman soldier characterised by a certain effeminacy, is the main article of conquest, falling first to Cleopatra and then to Caesar Octavius. That Cleopatra takes on the role of male aggressor in her relationship with Antony should not be surprising; after all, "a culture attempting to dominate another culture will [often] endow itself with masculine qualities and the culture it seeks to dominate with feminine ones" [74] —appropriately, the queen's romantic assault is frequently imparted in a political, even militaristic fashion. Antony's subsequent loss of manhood seemingly "signifies his lost Romanness, and Act 3, Scene 10, is a virtual litany of his lost and feminised self, his "wounder chance".

By the time Antony tries to use his sword to kill himself, it amounts to little more than a stage prop". Having failed to perform Roman masculinity and virtue, Antony's only means with which he might "write himself into Rome's imperial narrative and position himself at the birth of empire" is to cast himself in the feminine archetype of the sacrificial virgin; "once [he] understands his failed virtus , his failure to be Aeneas, he then tries to emulate Dido ". James J Greene writes on the subject: He is incapable of "occupying the Her mastery is unparalleled when it comes to the seduction of certain powerful individuals, but popular criticism supports the notion that "as far as Cleopatra is concerned, the main thrust of the play's action might be described as a machine especially devised to bend her to the Roman will But instead of driving her down to ignominy, the Roman power forces her upward to nobility".

Little, in agitative fashion, suggests that the desire to overcome the queen has a corporeal connotation: Antony and Cleopatra deals ambiguously with the politics of imperialism and colonization. Critics have long been invested in untangling the web of political implications that characterise the play. Interpretations of the work often rely on an understanding of Egypt and Rome as they respectively signify Elizabethan ideals of East and West, contributing to a long-standing conversation about the play's representation of the relationship between imperializing western countries and colonised eastern cultures.

Life and reign

Indeed, Cleopatra's suicide has been interpreted as suggesting an indomitable quality in Egypt, and reaffirming Eastern culture as a timeless contender to the West. Octavius Caesar is seen as Shakespeare's portrayal of an ideal governor, though perhaps an unfavourable friend or lover, and Rome is emblematic of reason and political excellence. More contemporary scholarship on the play, however, has typically recognised the allure of Egypt for Antony and Cleopatra ' s audiences. Egypt's magnetism and seeming cultural primacy over Rome have been explained by efforts to contextualise the political implications of the play within its period of production.

The various protagonists' ruling styles have been identified with rulers contemporary to Shakespeare.

For example, there appears to be continuity between the character of Cleopatra and the historical figure of Queen Elizabeth I , [78] and the unfavourable light cast on Caesar has been explained as deriving from the claims of various 16th-century historians. The more recent influence of New Historicism and post-colonial studies have yielded readings of Shakespeare that typify the play as subversive, or challenging the status quo of Western imperialism.

The critic Abigail Scherer's claim that "Shakespeare's Egypt is a holiday world" [80] recalls the criticisms of Egypt put forth by earlier scholarship and disputes them. Scherer and critics who recognise the wide appeal of Egypt have connected the spectacle and glory of Cleopatra's greatness with the spectacle and glory of the theatre itself.

Plays, as breeding grounds of idleness, were subject to attack by all levels of authority in the s; [81] the play's celebration of pleasure and idleness in a subjugated Egypt makes it plausible to draw parallels between Egypt and the heavily censored theatre culture in England. In the context of England's political atmosphere, Shakespeare's representation of Egypt, as the greater source of poetry and imagination, resists support for 16th century colonial practices. England during the Renaissance found itself in an analogous position to the early Roman Republic.

Shakespeare's audience may have made the connection between England's westward expansion and Antony and Cleopatra ' s convoluted picture of Roman imperialism. In support of the reading of Shakespeare's play as subversive, it has also been argued that 16th century audiences would have interpreted Antony and Cleopatra ' s depiction of different models of government as exposing inherent weaknesses in an absolutist, imperial, and by extension monarchical, political state. One of the ways to read the imperialist themes of the play is through a historical, political context with an eye for intertextuality.

Many scholars suggest that Shakespeare possessed an extensive knowledge of the story of Antony and Cleopatra through the historian Plutarch, and used Plutarch's account as a blueprint for his own play. A closer look at this intertextual link reveals that Shakespeare used, for instance, Plutarch's assertion that Antony claimed a genealogy that led back to Hercules, and constructed a parallel to Cleopatra by often associating her with Dionysus in his play. For instance, the quick exchange of dialogue might suggest a more dynamic political conflict.

Furthermore, certain characteristics of the characters, like Antony whose "legs bestrid the ocean" 5. Furthermore, because of the unlikelihood that Shakespeare would have had direct access to the Greek text of Plutarch's Parallel Lives and probably read it through a French translation from a Latin translation, his play constructs Romans with an anachronistic Christian sensibility that might have been influenced by St.

Augustine 's Confessions among others. As Miles writes, the ancient world would not have been aware of interiority and the contingence of salvation upon conscience until Augustine. So, Shakespeare's characters in Antony and Cleopatra , particularly Cleopatra in her belief that her own suicide is an exercise of agency, exhibit a Christian understanding of salvation. Another example of deviance from the source material is how Shakespeare characterises the rule of Antony and Cleopatra.

While Plutarch singles out the "order of exclusive society" that the lovers surrounded themselves with — a society with a specifically defined and clear understanding of the hierarchies of power as determined by birth and status — Shakespeare's play seems more preoccupied with the power dynamics of pleasure as a main theme throughout the play. Pleasure serves as a differentiating factor between Cleopatra and Antony, between Egypt and Rome, and can be read as the fatal flaw of the heroes if Antony and Cleopatra is a tragedy.

For Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra , the exclusivity and superiority supplied by pleasure created the disconnect between the ruler and the subjects. Critics suggest that Shakespeare did similar work with these sources in Othello , Julius Caesar , and Coriolanus. Antony and Cleopatra was never intended to be a tragedy; instead, Shakespeare gave the illusion of the tragedy as the two protagonists set out to become the heroes of the play and neither succeeded.

Antony and Cleopatra are seen to have a passionate love for each other up till their demise as both are seen ending their lives for the other. Although the couple was seen as a pair that could not live without the other, it does not take much to be able to point out that the basis of their relationship lies on manipulation and lust.

Enobarbus was able to see this as he never believed their love was true but instead a contradiction. Cleopatra always wanted Antony to be in the palm of her hands, to always be in control of his emotions and would thus manipulate him by dancing whenever he was sad or fake a sickness if he were to be happy. This makes Antony only chase after Cleopatra even more in a never-ending cycle. They both try to be much more than they are and show their enemies and the world that they are invincible. Rather than them sacrificing themselves for the other, the two protagonists set out to become the hero of the play and to show that being the last one standing, no hand will bring them down but their own.

They did not die for love but for the fame that would come behind that sacrifice and in the end are seen as being noble and self-sacrificing. It does not end in a tragedy but in a bittersweet and almost happy ending. Both of the lovers' fates are interwoven yet they deceive the other in a fight for dominance that Cleopatra wins for a while as the audience and other characters throughout the play know completely what is going on in the play filled with dramatic irony. Enobarbus once again knows of Antony's unrelenting attachment to Cleopatra and Cleopatra's mind games while the audience knows Cleopatra isn't dead as Antony kills himself over her.

They both spent their whole lives trying to achieve higher fame than the other and became notorious for their lust. They are their own Gods and live separate from those that they call normal and watch. The play progresses into the protagonists decline in fame, leaving them to pursue a sure way into that immortality they coveted.

They become immortals in death along with even more fame and has as well achieved their goal from the beginning. They die in the name of their love when they really die in the name of fame.

Cleopatra through the ages

A status of nobility higher than us and pity for the tragedy that is their relationship. The tragedy is Antony and Cleopatra's own happy ending as death was a small price to pay to become real gods. They proved that the only death that could touch them were by their own hand, further increasing that godly power they received from the people. Now they are apart from those they watched, now they are above them, and now they will be worshipped as gods.

The concept of luck, or Fortune, is frequently referenced throughout Antony and Cleopatra , portrayed as an elaborate "game" that the characters participate in. Shakespeare represents Fortune through elemental and astronomical imagery that recalls the characters' awareness of the "unreliability of the natural world". Antony eventually realises that he, like other characters, is merely "Fortune's knave," a mere card in the game of Chance rather than a player.

The manner in which the characters deal with their luck is of great importance, therefore, as they may destroy their chances of luck by taking advantage of their fortune to excessive lengths without censoring their actions, Antony did. While Fortune does play a large role in the characters' lives, they do have ability to exercise free will, however; as Fortune is not as restrictive as Fate. Antony's actions suggest this, as he is able to use his free will to take advantage of his luck by choosing his own actions.

Like the natural imagery used to describe Fortune, scholar Michael Lloyd characterises it as an element itself, which causes natural occasional upheaval. This implies that fortune is a force of nature that is greater than mankind, and cannot be manipulated. The 'game of chance' that Fortune puts into play can be related to that of politics, expressing the fact that the characters must play their luck in both fortune and politics to identify a victor. The motif of "card playing" has a political undertone, as it relates to the nature of political dealings.

Although Caesar and Antony may play political cards with each other, their successes rely somewhat on Chance, which hints at a certain limit to the control they have over political affairs. Furthermore, the constant references to astronomical bodies and "sublunar" imagery [94] connote a Fate-like quality to the character of Fortune, implying a lack of control on behalf of the characters.

Although the characters do exercise free will to a certain extent, their success in regard to their actions ultimately depends on the luck that Fortune bestows upon them. The movement of the "moon" and the "tides" is frequently mentioned throughout the play, such as when Cleopatra states that, upon Antony's death, there is nothing of importance left "beneath the moon. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other uses, see Antony and Cleopatra disambiguation.

Mark Antony — Roman general and one of the three joint leaders, or "triumvirs", who rule the Roman Republic after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B. Not he; the queen. Cultural depictions of Cleopatra. Politics and Generic Form from Virgil to Milton. In Smith, Gordon R. Penn State University Press.


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  • Cambridge University Press, Cleopatra's distinctive qualities are emphasized by Shakespeare as he compares her to Venus, Goddess of Love, and details the aroma of her perfume reaching the people as she sits on the barge described in act 2 scene 2. Cleopatra's path "made a gap in nature" Bevington and if Shakespeare believed she had such an effect on nature, is it no wonder that he also depicted her as having the ability to affect everyone she came in contact with.

    Although she is portrayed as being a self-assured female, there are still times when Cleopatra needed to verify her level of control. Her frustration at the possibility of loosing control of Antony is displayed through her temper as she hits the messenger that brings news of his marriage to Octavia. Her violence is another predominately male trait, which exemplifies her role crossover and her authoritive nature.

    Cleopatra: Early Life and Ascension to Throne

    Her position prompted her to be kept abreast of everyone's location, including Antony's whereabouts, if he was not with her. When Antony remarries, Cleopatra also needs to confirm the looks and stature of his new wife Octavia. Cleopatra's concerns of female competition give us insight into her need to control both genders.

    She seems to have conquered the males with her sexuality and the females emotionally with their devotion. This was shown in her control over her servants who were willing to die for her; in fact they use an asp to kill themselves immediately after Cleopatra's death because of their loyalty and respect. Historically the control of Antony by a woman of power was not accidental.

    She knew about his limited strategic and tactical abilities" and she chose him to help her social position Dunn 3. Knowing she had power over a triumvir not only raised her social status but her ability as a queen to make decisions beneficial to her Egypt. Cleopatra needed to control both males and females in her attempts at retaining her position as Queen of Egypt.


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    As the play comes to an end, Cleopatra's decision-making has led her to loss, but she remains in control of her situation. Unwilling to be made a spectacle of, she chooses to plan her own death rather than be placed on display in Rome. With her suicide she places herself equal with men yet retains her feminine control. Caesar's initial thoughts of bragging to Rome of the capture of Cleopatra are changed to admiration resulting from the manner in which she was willing to kill herself. Caesar's respect for her in the last scene of the play allows Cleopatra to "be buried by her Antony" Bevington Usually literature written by men portrays women as an object of either servitude or distraction in reference to the goals of the male protagonist's character.

    In this case Cleopatra was neither; she was a self-defined woman who led Egypt and was an inspiration to her people. She caused instability and destruction of love, relationships and government, but her leadership and social level was of utmost importance to her. She lost the sea battle, but as she reveals in the last act she is in control" Dusinberre Antony and Cleopatra is a culmination of romance, comedy and finally tragedy. Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, manipulated relationships, governmental decisions and death through her captivating power.