What are some motifs in Antony and Cleopatra?
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One of the key motifs, or recurring themes or structures, in this play is dominant female sexuality and its power over men. At various points in the play, male characters speak out against the power of Cleopatra and her dangerous alluring sexuality. Whilst Caesar and his men clearly judge Antony as a weak-willed individual because of the way that he has given in to Cleopatra, at the same time they very clearly point the finger at Cleopatra, blaming her for his downfall. She is either referred to in the play as a whore and prostitute or, if not a prostitute, a dangerous sorceress who is able to use her beauty effectively to disempower men. Note, for example, what Enobarbus says about her ability to manipulate the minds of all men, including "holy priests" who she encourages to "bless her" even when she is acting in the most depraved manner.
What is ironic about this fascination with Cleopatra's habit of using her sexuality as a weapon is that, although it threatens the Romans, they seem unaware of the fact that they are just as in thrall to the power of Octavia's sexuality. Caesar's sister in many ways acts as a foil and double of Cleopatra. She is thought of as having great power because of her sexuality to be able to heal the rather fraught relationship between the trimvir. In Act II scene 2, for example, Antony and Caesar place their confidence in her ability to "knit our hearts / With an unslipping knot." Both the figures of Cleopatra and Octavia therefore demonstrate how they were used almost as scapegoats for men. Whether it is to act as a figure of blame for their moral downfall or as somebody who will bear responsibility for political alliances, women are used again and again by men as bearers of responsibility that they are either unwilling or unable to shoulder themselves.
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