Show how Shakespeare brings out the duality in Antony’s character in Act 1. “Antony and Cleopatra” by William Shakespeare is a play revolving around the destructive duality of Antony’s character. Shakespeare uses Antony’s transformation from Roman to Egyptian to cause constant conflict between the Roman side of Antony, defined by Empire and duty, and the Egyptian side of Antony, defined by folly and lust. “Antony and Cleopatra” is a tragedy involving Antony, one of the triumvirates who rule the world, who falls in love with, and has an affair with Cleopatra: the seductive queen of Egypt.
Throughout the whole of the play Antony is caught in a tug-of-war between Antony the lover and Antony the leader. Shakespeare makes repeated references to Antony’s duality in character through the views of many characters throughout the play. Philo and Demetrius’ views of Antony at the very beginning of the play give the audience their first impressions of Antony’s character. Cleopatra and Octavius Caesar’s comments throughout Act 1 on Antony allow the audience to distinguish between his differing personalities.
Furthermore, Antony’s own statements reinforce his duality.
From the onset of the play, it is not entirely obvious to the audience that there is a duality in Antony’s character, however Antony’s responses throughout Act One give the audience clues of his split character. In Act 1 Scene 1, Antony is approached by a messenger bringing news of Rome. Antony’s initial reply of “Grates me! The sum” suggests that he is uninterested in Rome which highlights his irresponsibility.
Antony’s uninterested view of Rome is further emphasised when he states: “Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch/ Of the ranged empire fall!” Shakespeare is highlighting the idea that Antony has abandoned all responsibility and sense of duty to Rome. From this, it can be deduced that Antony’s Roman side has been tarnished and a new unpatriotic view for Rome has been created. The view that Antony has lost touch with his Roman side is shown further when he declares:
“There’s not a minute of our lives should stretch Without some pleasure now.” Antony seems to be saying all that matters is self-indulgence and love. Antony seems to only be concerned about the pursuit of pleasure. Antony’s character’s loyalties have been split as a result of his infatuation with the Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra. This is made evident towards the end of Scene 1 when Antony proclaims:
“Whom everything becomes – to chide, to laugh, To weep; whose every passion fully strives To make itself, in thee, fair and admired.” Antony’s obsession and infatuation with Cleopatra is made clear here. Antony is describing how enchanting and fascinating Cleopatra is. She is a woman who every emotion becomes. No matter what she does, she does it attractively. Attraction is the absolute essence. Antony follows his description of Cleopatra’s fascination with a request that she and Antony should “wander through the streets and note, the qualities of people.” The audience would view this as a very irresponsible and silly thing to do.
It portrays Antony’s self-indulgence and his “unroman” qualities. Up until scene two, Antony has only been seen as very unpatriotic and irresponsible character. At this point, the audience feel that Antony has abandoned all previously held respect for Rome and his duties. However, scene 2 makes way for a more noble side of Antony’s character to be shown as he says: (aside) “These strong Egyptian fetters I must break, Or lose myself in dotage.” It is surprising to see that Antony is fully aware that his love for Cleopatra could destroy him and his career. He is aware of his obsession for the Egyptian queen and the dangers that that entails. Further evidence is shown of Antony’s realisation of the perils that his relation with Cleopatra involves:
“I must from this enchanting queen break off. Then thousand harms, more than the ills I know, My idleness doth hatch.” Cleopatra’s fascinating attractiveness is emphasised here, yet more importantly, it can be seen that Antony is aware of the damage and the danger that his love could do and of the destructive negative side to love. The duality and depth of his character is emphasised here. Antony is a very profound and confusing character to follow. He regularly changes what he says and means and usually says the exact opposite. Antony is cleared an emotional person which makes Shakespeare’s ability to bring out the duality in his character even more effective.
Later on in this scene, Antony makes reference to the people of Rome, describing them as “our slippery people, whose love is never linked to the deserver”. This shows that Antony has little respect for the ordinary people of Rome and sees them as worthless fools with no loyalty. He believes that they are idiots who are unable to comprehend what is asked of them. This highlights Antony’s contempt for the Roman citizens. Overall, it can clearly be seen that there is a duality in Antony’s character. At first introduction of Antony’s character, his disregard for his Roman responsibilities was prominent. However, it is only further into Act One that his split character’s allegiance is shown.
Antony’s responses throughout Act One show the audience that there is a duality in his character, but a very one sided duality that is heavily focused on his Egyptian, hedonistic lover side. However, Octavius Caesar’s comments and remarks on Antony display him as a more faithful soldier of Rome. Octavius offers strong words of Antony’s past, reminiscing when Antony “thous didst drink the stale of horses”. Octavius is referring to Antony’s past greatness. The act screams the epitome of a great soldier, performing what must be done for self-preservation. It was a show of phenomenal stoicism. This point is further emphases by Octavius when he states how:
“It is reported thou didst eat strange flesh, Which some did die to look on.” This information reinforces the idea of Antony’s past greatness and the lengths he would go to during the times of hardship. It shows that Antony was a great Roman figure and the memories of his acts have never been forgotten. Octavius describes how Antony “was borne so like a soldier that thy cheek/ So much as lanked not.”
This supports Octavius’ argument of Antony’s past greatness as he describes how Antony didn’t even go pale as he endured these horrors. It highlights his bravery and strong natured acts. Octavius recognises Antony’s past prominence and he wants him to recover it. It can clearly be seen that Octavius holds Antony in high regard, heedlessly of the words of his actions in Egypt. He believes that Antony can regain his lost honour and return to his old Roman ways. Octavius’ comments clearly show Antony’s division of character, however, they show that even he believes all is not lost.