The play of “Anthony and Cleopatra” is that of one many tragedies, of which William Shakespeare famously wrote and crafted. In “Anthony and Cleopatra” Shakespeare explores the themes of love, politics and betrayal. Central to the play are dominant male figures such as Mark Anthony and the mighty Caesar Octavius. The Play centres mostly on Mark Anthony’s divided love for Rome and for Cleopatra. Ironically enough, it is Cleopatra; the only dominant female in the play that maintains all power and control. Especially over Mark Anthony with Caesar Octavius at times seeming subjectable to her charms.
This strange imbalance of power between Masculine brute power and Subtle feminine wiliness seems therefore somewhat of a strange anomaly in the chauvinistic society in which the play is set. In this essay I shall attempt to explore this fascinating power that Cleopatra seems to possess, how she harnesses it and how it perhaps contributes to her death. First and lasting impressions of Cleopatra are mainly centered around her extraordinary beauty. This is most notably displayed in Enobarbus’s speech (Act 2, scene 2). The trance – like beauty of the scene seems to enhance the queen’s superiority, as she is the epicentre of all attention.
Enobarbus’s speech is riddled with examples of hyperbole, exaggeration and paradoxes. Shakespeare uses these literary tools to present Cleopatra’s beauty in an unearthly manner. The whole scene has a very seductive and subtly erotic effect and the description is very sensually based. Cleopatra is imagined as ” o’erpicturing that Venus where we see/ the fancy outwork nature. “2. 2/207-208 As mentioned in Enobarbus’s speech. There is nature, in the sense of naturally beautiful women we know and acknowledge in the real world and everyday life.
Then there is art, through which the imagination of the artist is able to iron out the “imperfections” of nature. The beauty of the resulting picture, would give us for example a classic Venus. What Enobarbus goes on to say is that then there is Cleopatra, who transcends even the classic Venus of the artist’s imagination. Her beauty is thereby made to seem almost supernatural. This might be otherwise an unconvincing exaggeration if we had not already been prepared for something like this in the rich description that had gone before. Then we see that Anthony is left alone as everyone goes to see Cleopatra.
This is extravagant enough, but Shakespeare makes us imagine the impossible, that the very air would have gone to gaze upon her if it could have done so without creating a “vacancy in nature”2. 2/222 an example of personification. This is another exaggeration that verges on the ridiculous but is not because it grows naturally from the whole interpretation of the almost supernatural beauty of Cleopatra. Like the wind and the water, the element of air pays homage to the phenomenal beauty of the scene in which Cleopatra dominates, leaving Anthony completely besotted with her.
Cleopatra is depicted as the envy of all women and someone who is desired by all men ” other women cloy/The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry/Where most she satisfies;” 2. 2/242-245,again another example of a paradox. Within this scene and others throughout the play, she is likened to the goddess Venus and in keeping with this theme, Anthony is likened to Mars. The effect of this is that we see the sheer arrogance to which Cleopatra has become accustomed. It is likely that Cleopatra is more in love with the image of herself than she is with Mark Anthony. Shakespeare portrays her largely as a highly selfish, manipulative narcissist.
Cleopatra leaves Anthony in sea battle causing him to lose the battle and he flees after her. Her only excuse being that she had ” little thought” that he ” would have followed”3. 11/52-53. Whether she does this to test Anthony’s love for her is uncertain. The likely hood is that she had an indication that Anthony would perhaps not win the war and decided to cut her losses and save her own troops.
This example of selfish behaviour especially towards Anthony Is again repeated when she consequently betrays him yet again “I kiss his conqu’ring hand. Tell him I am prompt /To lay my crown at his feet, and there to kneel” 3. 3/ 75-76. This is where she agrees to surrender to Caesar, again to cut her losses. This behaviour is tolerated by Anthony throughout the play and even towards the end, it is Cleopatra who refuses to come down from the monument in which is hiding, for fear of her own life.
This grotesque behaviour of character contrast largely to how physically ” beautiful” she is presented as. Cleopatra is presented as a highly spoilt queen who is perfectly used to receiving what she wants, she is also highly temperamental and often violently protective over Anthony “I will give thee bloody teeth” (1. /70) when someone attempts to compare Caesar with Anthony and she also beats the messenger, who brings her news of Anthony’s and Octavia’s marriage.
She also seems to possess no social inhibitions “ram thy fruitful tidings in mine ears, /that long time have been barren” (2. 5 /23-24) when conversing with Mardian. Shakespeare compares her to that of a “serpent of old nile” (1. 5/25) she refers to herself but in this, there are obvious “Adam and eve” connotations associated with serpents, again another mythical comparison of a couple. Cleopatra as a serpent is evil, clever and she is ultimately Anthony’s poison.
We see at the very beginning the effect Cleopatra has had on Anthony who ” have glowed like plated mars, now bend, now turn/The office and devotion of their view/Upon a tawny front”(1. 1/4-6), the tawny front being of course, Cleopatra’s . He is now totally changed because of his love for her, he has forgotten his responsibilities entirely ” Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch/Of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space” (1. 1/ 35-36). Cleopatra is presented as a force to be reckoned with, as it seems she has turned one of the most powerful men in the world in, if she were to ask it, her slave.
She is a manipulative liar and seemingly very experienced at playing mind games. To Charmian she says ” If you find him sad, /say I am dancing; if in mirth, report/That I am sudden sick. “(1. 3/3-4). This is again repeated when she lures Anthony to the monument provides further evidence that is. She is highly intelligent and has an excellent understanding of how to get what she wants and keep men coming back for more. She says to Charmian in scene 1. 3 ” thou teachest like a fool – the way to lose him. “(1/1. 3/10) The grip that she has over Anthony is at times unbelievable.
After abandoning him at the sea battles, it takes very little for him to forgive her. (He kisses Cleopatra) Anthony: “even this repays me. ” (3. 12/69-70) She also seems to greatly enjoy the sexual power she has over Anthony especially by threatening his manliness – ” “I drunk him to his bed-/Then put my tires and mantle on him, whilst /I wore his sword Phillippan” (2. 5/21-23). At one point in the play she goes so far as to even compare her relationship to Anthony as her having caught him, very much like a fish “and as I draw them up, /Ill think them every one an Anthony, /And say ” ah Ha! You’re caught” (2. 5/12-14) She abuses her grip over him and her betrayal of Anthony is very apparent in the play.
When Cleopatra says, “I kiss his conqu’ring hand. Tell him I am prompt /To lay my crown at his feet, and there to kneel” (75-76 3. 13). I think she does this as she knows that however bad the situation she could, if need be still win over Anthony’s forgiveness. She is a brilliant actress on many occasion and at acting pretending to be sick ” help me away dear Charmian, I shall fall” (1/1. 3/15). Shakespeare also presents her more subtly as a very clever woman.
Her cunning is depicted most notably in the scene 5. 2 with her accountant and Caesar where she apparent has kept some money for herself, but is “exposed”. I think she conducts this charade to furthermore convince Caesar that she is not about to take her own life, a considerably clever thing to do Shakespeare however, injects a little humanity into her as when Mecenas hails the ” beauty, wisdom, modesty” of Octavia, of whom Cleopatra becomes feels initially threatened by. He shows that even the most beautiful of women (as it would seem) would still have very faint feelings of insecurity.
The character of Octavia is clearly juxtaposed to the promiscuous nature of Cleopatra. In doing this, the audience are able to determine that the alternative world that Anthony has apparently embraced in agreeing to marry Octavia, who is described mainly as “modest”. Will shortly crumble. This is because he has been susceptible to Cleopatra, who represents an altogether more exotic and sensuous picture. The two are also represented by the scenery and setting around them. Cleopatra is represented by Egypt and sensuous and lavish place laden with food and sex.
Rome, the absolute antithesis of Egypt, is dominated by politics, war and modest living. It is my belief that Cleopatra her death was merely to spare herself from any undignified behaviour, she has concerns about being brought to Rome and having Octavia look down on her “nor once be chastised with the sober eye /Of dull Octavia” 5. 2/54-55) and being ridiculed “some sqeaming Cleopatra boy my greatness”. (5. 2/220). It is my personal belief that she in fact ends her own life because she finds that nobody is worthy of killing the great Cleopatra apart from herself.
It is also apparent in the play that taking your own life is seen as the nobler thing to do. It is largely possible that she did not commit suicide to be with Anthony at all, but merely to add some understated glamour to her own death. The evidence stands to reason, if Cleopatra had remained alive, she would have become no more than Caesar’s trophy and if she had truly love Anthony she would have not acted in such a selfish and demanding manner. In conclusion Cleopatra is presented by Shakespeare as a cunning, resourceful and most importantly manipulative character.
Her power over Anthony seems effortless as is her beauty and presence. If the play were to be more aptly named it would indeed be ” Cleopatra and Anthony” not ” Anthony and Cleopatra”. This being because Cleopatra seems t o have acted as a catalyst in single handedly Dismantling the triumvirate. Shakespeare creates a visions of beauty and in it encapsulates what power beauty can have over even the most powerful man in the world. If not anything, Cleopatra was simply a talented actress who put her skills to considerable good use.