Anthony and Cleopatra was written in 1607, following the incredible period that gave us Hamlet, Orthello, King Lear and Macbeth. Although sometimes hard to categorise, some put this play with Julius Caesar and Corialanus, the Roman plays: all three use Plutharch’s lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans as their primary source and all three have concerns steeped in historical and political questions. Shakespeare shows an impressive ability to assimilate the classical world in his own terms and this is partly a tribute to the strength and vitality of Plutarch’s writing.
Yet, although Shakespeare alters Plutarch freely to match his own dramatic purposes, Plutarch’s power to speak for his time and place shines through Shakespeare’s adaptations while Shakespeare remains true to the essence of his source, he also deepens what he finds there. Anthony as a tragic hero poses a problem for criticism. Typically, the hero of a tragedy is engaged in a search for meaning that ultimately about more awareness of the world and of the self, while the unquestioning hero belongs more to the world of comedy.
Anthony however, is not the tortured soul who, like Hamlet feels divided between his public and private selves : he feels comfortable as both soldier and lover, but his tragedy turns out to be that the world will not allow him to live in the genial atmosphere of comedy where he belongs. The world as it exists in the play is too narrow and self-limiting to contain Anthony, both Rome and Egypt want to lower him to their levels and he resists.
Only a “new heaven new earth ” a world beyond this one offers him a chance of harmony.
Anthony comes across as a man who knows the world and has experienced the whims of fortune. His main aim is not to conquer the world, and he doesn’t question the gods as most tragic heroes do. He is aware that he has responsibilities and along with these as a reward comes pleasures. He is the voice of maturity. He rightly asks “my being in Egypt Caesar, what was’t to you ? ” Anthony does however contain some characteristics of Aristotle’s tragic hero: he is a great man and noble leader , this is shown through the loyalty that all those who served him had towards him.
We feel pathos towards him and he has hubris that we are aware of when he will not admit his mistake in his decision to battle Caesar at sea , but the characteristic that presents Anthony as a tragic hero is his hamania his passion for the sovereign of Egypt ! He realises that the root of his downfall is his uncontainable attraction to Cleopatra. “I must from this enchanting queen break off “ Tragic heroes usually die at the end of the play in the last few lines, where as Anthony dies in act four, leaving Cleopatra to take her own life in act five.
Anthony and Cleopatra was categorised as a tragedy in the first folio but Anthony and Cleopatra tends to be more uplifting than tragic. It is sad both our protagonists fall victim to suicide and end their own lives but they do this for love and each other and through their deaths they will possess “new heaven new earth “which they longed greatly for at the start of the play. Anthony and Cleopatra isn’t one of the four tragedies of Shakespeare, even the very title of the play emphasises this fact. Each of the four tragedies have titles containing a sole name where as Anthony and Cleopatra contains two names , setting them further apart.
Anthony and Cleopatra can be seen as a travisition play between the four great tragedies and Shakespeare’s four final plays that contain ideas of renewal and rebirth , with regards to Anthony he doesn’t fit into the narrow category of a tragic hero. At the opening of the play, the attitude of the Romans towards the Egyptians is expressed through the dialogue between Philo and Demetrius. These two characters do not feature in Plutarch but Shakespeare uses their introduction to show Romes disgust at Anthony’s action in Egypt with Cleopatra.
There is a huge contrast in what the Romans expect from Anthony and how he behaves. Their derogatory language towards Anthony helps to assert Rome’s authority and shows Rome’s opinion on Anthony’s affair. Philo and Demetrius call Anthony a “strumpets fool “and refer to Cleopatra as “a gypsy “ Further on in the play Anthony refers to Cleopatra as “a triple turned whore” and furthermore “a royal wench” the choice of insulting and derogatory language used by Shakespeare shows the strong views of the Romans towards Anthony and Cleopatra’s relationship.
The Elizabethan audience at the time would have had the same views on the lovers. The audience is reminded that Anthony and Cleopatra’s affair is adulterous by the continual mention of Fulvia’s name countless times in the opening scene. The scene is structured from a roman perspective and framed with disapproval. A messenger arrives from Rome and Anthony turns a deaf ear to him. The messenger reminds Anthony of his political duties that he has been neglecting because of Cleopatra.
His irritable reaction of “gratis me” the sum shows the conflict he is feeling between Roman duty and Egyptian pleasure. From the beginning , Anthony and Cleopatra’s relationship is shown to be under pressure from the trials and tribulations of the world. Their relationship eventually succumbs to these pressure . In parts of the play his love for Cleopatra dominated his duties in Rome. “Let Rome in Tiber melt and the wide arch of the Empire fall “ The dismissive tone he uses shows his disregard for the empire in comparison to his love for his Egyptian dish .
I must from this enchanting queen break off or lose myself in dotage “ Despite the passion we hear in this statement Anthony gives in and agrees to listen to the messenger, showing us the conflict in Anthony’s mind. Even with this conflict, Shakespeare perfectly depicts Anthony’s love and dotage of Cleopatra. Shakespeare uses language to contrast the cultures within Rome and Egypt. The Roman characters speak in balanced, ordered blank verse which suggests the regularity and order of their way of life .
When speaking of Fulvia’s death Anthony’s speech changes to perfect cambic pentameter when he says “The opposite of itself, She’s good being gone “implying his shocked reaction and mixed emotion. He should be happy that she is dead so now he can spend his life with his “enchanting queen “, Cleopatra but he is not . He seems shocked at word of her death. The same rhythm is taken up in a greatly relaxed manner by the teasing of Anthony and Cleopatra. Cleopatra taunts “If it be love indeed, tell me how much “ and Anthony replies with “there’s beggary in the love that can be reckoned “.
In Egypt the characters speak mainly in phrase, showing their casual, relaxed and sensous approach to life. The conversation is frivolous, sexual and scattered with gossip . “Not now to hear thee sing. I take no pleasure in alight a eunuch has. Tis well for thee that, being unseminar’d thy freer thoughts may not fly forth of Egypt. Has thou affections? ” The language that Anthony uses towards Cleopatra is sensual and laden with metaphors like: “many thousand kisses, the poor last/ I lay you thy lips “Language is used to uplift Anthony and exult him when he is lifted onto Cleopatra’s monument.
The cosmic imagery like “the strong wing’d Mercury should fetch thee up” This uplifts Anthony and also the physical lifting of Anthony onto the monument further exults him. “Eight wild boars roasted whole at breakfast “ Cleopatra makes a statement suggesting that there are more pleasures in Egypt and Rome is a place of business. Anthony was disposed to mirth , but on the sudden a Roman thought struck him. Furthermore Shakespeare juxtaposes the contrasting worlds by showing both societies within the same scene.
To begin we have the scene where Caesar and Anthony are trying to arrange a political marriage in a cold and empty manner, followed by the immaculate description of the barge scene with sensous imagery , “along with pretty dimpled boys like smiling cupids “ Caesar’s characterisation in the play is the cause for the majority of our sympathy towards Anthony. Shakespeare uses this method to manipulate his audience in favour of Anthony. On occasion Caesar talks in the third person, showing that he is pompous , arrogant and self righteous. It is not Ceasar’s natural vice to hate.
The attitudes that Anthony and Caesar have towards Pleticus are vastly different Caesar speaks towards them in a pompous and derogatory tone “like a vagabond flag upon the stream goes to and back, tackeying the varying tide “Caesar regards his army as a waste where as Anthony is shown in stark contrast to this when he tells his servants to be “bounteous at our meal” Anthonys generosity and warm heartedness are referred to countless times. He orders the servants to “scant not my cup “ and Enobarbus refers to Anthony as a “mine of bounty “. In contrast to this Caesar seems cold and uncaring.
He loves Octavia yet he is willing to marry her off to Anthony for political peace. Caesar is an effective military leader but ruthless, “Plant those that have revolted in the vaults so that Anthony may seem to spend his fury upon himself “. Both Anthony and Caesar are vastly different and the monosyllabic words used in their first meeting show the tension that was building between them. “thank you sit sit sir” Caesar recognises Anthony as his great competitor. He resents the Roman peoples support for Anthony that is due to Anthony’s warm loyal generous character as opposed to his political competence.
Caesars annoyance about Anthony’s being in Egypt might be my question adds to the tension between the two. The clash in character and differences between Anthony and Caesar are prominent throughout the play. One man is cold and political, the other passionate, considerate and warm hearted. Cleopatra is determined to keep Anthony in Egypt and will go to ant lengths to do so. The short fragmented lives before Anthony’s entrance highlights her agitated, nervous and panicky nature.
She is measuring her attempts to win him “if you find him sad… Dramatic irony is employed by Shakespeare to create humour ; Cleopatra says “tempt him not so far “.. “in time we hate that which we often fear “. Cleopatra uses improvision to draw on Anthony’s attention becoming childlike underlined by her change to prose. She continues to tease him , claiming she is unwell and then turning provocative and infantile , her jealousy of Fulvia prevails and we are aware of it towards Fulvia whom Anthony is mourning for as she sadly passed away; all in a bid to manipulate Anthony to stay in Egypt.
Military imagery is used to highlight Anthony’s military powers, Burgonet, “his captains heart “. Although great there are parts in the play where Anthony’s powers fade . Anthony the” triple pillar of the world” was transformed into a “strumpets fool “ Anthony’s sword is an even more powerful emphasis of his power. The sword symbolises his valour as a soldier. There are countless references to Cleopatra’s influences on Anthony’s political demise. She recalls cross dressing with Anthony where she” wore his sword”.
Anthony admits his affection for Cleopatra after his first defeat in battle. He claims that she made his sword “weak” and after his second defeat he claims that “she has robbrd me of my sword” thus emasculating him. Anthony is compared to the Gods such as Atlas and Love but particularly Hercules. Along with this Anthony is described with cosmic imagery. After his death he is referred to as a star and in Cleopatras dream she says that his face was as the heavens and therein struck a sun and moon.
This remarkable dream that Cleopatra has for Anthony emphasises their feelings towards each other and their immense passion through her exalted tone and poetic language. Anthony is elevated to the status of the gods through the cosmic and godly imagery used to describe him.. Shakespeare’s aim was to uplift the audience and prevent the closing scene from being one of death and devestation. Anthony cannot live between Rome and Egypt falling victim to the cklash of the two cultures and ultimately ending his own life.
In so many ways Anthony nd Cleopatra contribute to their own downfall instead of being two victims caught between two cultures. He cannot be the soldier that he once was along with his devotion to Cleopatra. Aristotle states “A man does not become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall” Anthony realises that his hubris is his fatal attraction to Cleopatra but he isn’t a tragic hero. Anthony chooses to fight by sea against the advice of others. He gives no reason for this decision and refuses to listen to arguments against doing so.
Despite Anthony’s hubris, Shakespeare’s use of stage craft and language conjures up the sympathy of the audience . Regardless of Anthony’s hamavtia due to his generosity the way he treats soldiers and magnanimity , we still feel sympathy for him. Both the Jacobcan and modern audiences realise only under Caesars command would “a time of universal peace” be attained. As far as the amorous pair they have achieved their “new heaven new earth “which they so longed for ultimately through death “where souls do couch on flowers”.