In the play Antony and Cleopatra, the character of Cleopatra is one of many dimensions and be seen a person of complex diversity. Her personality is mainly about taking life as one big celebration most of her time in Egypt. Cleopatra loves the richness of her own queen status and loves the celebration that comes with it. Her personality varies because she can change from being a woman with dignity to a woman acting insane. Her sudden changes in behaviour are often difficult to predict or comprehend and happen frequently throughout the play.
You can never guess what Cleopatra is going to next. This is why Enobarbus observes Cleopatra as if she has ‘infinite variety’. Whether it is an accurate observation is what people question when looking at the famous Enobarbus speech of Cleopatra.
She mainly deserves this famous tribute from Enobarbus for many reasons.
“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale/Her infinite variety”(2.2.235-236).
There are many reasons that Enobarbus’ observation of Cleopatra’s infinite variety is an accurate observation.
Firstly Act 2:Scene 2 sees Enobarbus talking openly to Agrippa and Maecenas about Cleopatra’s wild and wonderful ways. He describes in intricate detail the barge she sailed to the harbour in and how even the air would gaze upon her if it could.
‘Whistling to th’air, which, for vacancy, /had gone to gaze on Cleopatra too,/ And made a gap in nature’.
This portrays her queen-like status and beauty and it is easy to see why Antony falls in love with her. Is the romantic perception of Cleopatra made my Enobarbus a realistic one? You hardly ever see her being romantic so therefore Enobarbus’ perception of Cleopatra may not be an accurate perception of Cleopatra.
However this famous tribute in which Enobarbus uses to describe Cleopatra may not be an accurate observation because Enobarbus’ speech is very romantic and lyrical.
The way Shakespeare uses paradoxes within this famous tribute is to try and show the variety within her personality.
“To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool”
This paradox of fire and water (glow and cool), portrays that, is this the reality of Cleopatra? , Or is it just an imaginative perception of Cleopatra. Is this the infinite variety Enobarbus is talking about, to some extent this is not an accurate perception of Cleopatra’s personality because Enobarbus is under the influence of the Egyptian delights and enjoyments, in which Cleopatra has influenced him into.
Enobarbus’ speech follows with a less lyrical and exotic description of Cleopatra. This as a whole is something of a paradox. This prepares us for greater paradoxes of Cleopatra’s ‘infinite variety’, where she is contrasted with other women in making people ‘hungry’, where she most satisfies, the vile things in her are becoming and developing.
“Where she most satisfies; for the vilest things, Become themselves in her”
The vile things in life are suited to her, so therefore the vilest things are a variety of Cleopatra’s satisfaction of life.
Enobarbus believes that Cleopatra can never be satisfied and will always be looking for more. He believes that Cleopatra can never be satisfied and will always be looking for more.
‘Other women cloy the appetites they feed, but she makes hungry’
Cleopatra is a woman who is never satisfied with what she has got in her life, she is not like most women who appreciate what they have, Cleopatra feeds on what she can have which is more substantial than she already has got and keeps following this pattern. The more she sees the more she wants. When the vile things are becoming in her, priests bless her when aggressive and bad tempered. This is because the priests respect her for whom she is and that they want what she has got. Therefore the conception of her character therefore is grounded upon a paradoxical union of opposites.
Another variety of Cleopatra is when talking about what sort of hold Cleopatra has over people, Enobarbus puts across that he believes Antony can never leave her completely.
‘Never. He will not’ (line 244).
This is another variety that Cleopatra holds within her.
Another variety of Cleopatra is that she has a great love for drama and acting, sometimes teasing Antony by pretending she is angry, upset and even ill.
Cleopatra plays with his feelings when she finds out that Antony’s wife Fulvia is dead. Antony expects her to feel happy as she was her enemy, but instead she is cruel to him.
“Oh most false love!” (1.3.64)
Cleopatra is accusing that Fulvia is pretending to be dead so Antony will go back to Rome. Cleopatra is trying to make Antony stay in Egypt with her and when this does not work she pretends to be ill so she gets sympathy off him.
“I am quickly ill and well, so Antony loves”(1.3.72-73)
Cleopatra is playing with Antony here because if her ‘illness’ does not keep him in Egypt, her accusation of that his love is fickle will. She can maintain this by acting and making situations a drama when actually situations are not as bad as they are. Therefore making her accusations of herself being ill, false.
Charmian tells her that she should not play games with Antony if she loves Antony before Antony arrives.
Antony replies to her is as if he is trying to calm her down but this still shows that Cleopatra has got a very strong hold of Antony because he always answers to her demands.
‘Now my dearest queen’
However this time he does not meet to her demands and say that he is going to leave her.
Cleopatra is not that ill because she keeps on talking and manipulating, reminding him about the past. She is trying to make him feel guilty so he will not leave her. This portrays Cleopatra as selfish and what she wants is what she gets.
She even mocks Antony about fertility and the affair they had. She is pretending to feel sorry for Fulvia. This is rich because she is the one who caused the affair between herself and Antony.
Dramatic irony is used because Cleopatra says that Antony has been lying, when ironically she is the one who is lying about her illness.
There is a total change within her when Antony says he is leaving. She recognises that she has lost the battle. She becomes for dignified and queen like again and therefore forgives him.
“And I am all forgotten” (1.3.91)
Cleopatra in short space of time changes mood dramatically, from being playful, angry and unloving to a dignified queen. This infers that the infinite variety within her can vary at any time depending on the situation she is put in.
On the other hand, Cleopatra can be genuine about her feelings as we see towards the end of play when she commits suicide to be with her ‘beloved Antony’. Although Cleopatra plays childish games, she is devoted to Anthony. When the messenger comes from Rome she is worried he will go back to his wife. She finds all her fulfilment in the relationship with Antony, doesn’t want him to go and would do anything to lure him in.
“I would I had thy inches, thou should know / There were a heart in Egypt” (1.2.40-41).
This quote may represents two things, her love for Antony and the fact that she is all Egypt.
This is starkly contrasted with her behaviour at the beginning of the play when she only tormented him, took him for granted and played mind games with him. Even in the beginning of the play Cleopatra plays games with Antony. She wants to know how much he loves her when she already knows this.
“If it be love indeed, tell me how much”(1.1.14)
The ‘if’ part of what Cleopatra says infers that she is playful, she wants to know how much he loves her, but she will not let him know what she feels for Antony. Cleopatra sets Antony back when he says he loves her by saying that she will set limits on how far to be loved. Cleopatra here is playing games with Antony’s feelings about her. This may be because she hates not being in control of a situation and the only way she can control it is by playing with Antony’s feelings and having a very strong hold of Antony.
Cleopatra is also playing games further on in the play, telling Antony that she has committed suicide. Actually this was Charmian’s idea to fake Cleopatra’s death.
“Lock yourself and send him word that you are dead” (4.13.5)
However Cleopatra is hiding in her monument so that it looks like to Antony that she has committed suicide. She wants Antony to feel guilty because he called her a “foul Egyptian” and he accused her responsible for the war they had lost.
She wants to know how Antony has reacted to her death so she tells Charmian to tell the news and report back on how he reacted.
“Bring me how he takes my death!” (4.13.10)
Cleopatra here is still playing games with Antony so she can achieve what she wants. This portrays a variety within her in which she changes to suit what she wants.
Cleopatra not only likes playing games with Antony but also she has a pleasing delight in mischief; Enobarbus accompanies his description of her magnificence with an account of when she put aside regal dignity and hopped gaily through the streets. Her beauty is enrapturing, and she has in abundance the intoxicating sexuality essential to the successful courtesan; as Enobarbus puts it, ‘vilest things Become themselves in her’ (2.2.238)
This way of contrasting Cleopatra to her queen-like variation, shows that she loves and lives on the vilest things in life and that she creates them within her, in which people would never dream of practising themselves and puts them across in the public, almost making a mockery of the public people when she hopped through the streets.
This shows that Cleopatra has great diversity in her personality therefore shows infinite variety within her.
The way Shakespeare uses snake imagery across Cleopatra is done so that Cleopatra’s personality can be linked with snakes.
“Their slimy jaws; and as I draw them up, I’ll think them every one an Antony, and say ‘Aa Ha! Y’are caught!”
“Their slimy jaws” are inferred as snake’s jaws catching their prey. She sees many snakes and sees them as her prey, like her ‘beloved Antony’. She sees them all as her Antony. She loves the chase and catch of life, like she does with Antony. Cleopatra always uses snakes to her advantage. She even uses snakes to commit suicide at the end of the play.
“Come thou mortal wretch, Be angry and dispatch” (Act 5 scene 2)
Cleopatra believes that she has control with snakes. She compares then to her Antony, so therefore has control over him and uses them to control the death of her life. You could say that the poison of Cleopatra’s tongue is as poisonous as a snake’s venom, because she has always managed to trap Antony where she wanted him.
Although Enobarbus’ speech of Cleopatra may be lyrical and over the top and you may not believe his observation because of many reasons, however in the play there are many varieties in which are within Cleopatra. These include her use of playing games to get what she wants, how she is compared to snakes within the play, the way she loves drama and acting, her need to fill her satisfaction and the genuine side of Cleopatra, her true feelings for Antony.
These varieties show that Cleopatra has infinite variety and she uses it accordingly when the time is appropriate. Sometimes these variations within her can bring out the vilest things in her which she does not realise she is doing until after the event like when she betrayed Antony. So therefore from finding out that Cleopatra has many variations of her personality, that Enobarbus’ observation of Cleopatra is an accurate one because she has infinite variety within her personality.