Study Guide

Antony and Cleopatra

by William Shakespeare

Antony and Cleopatra Essay - Antony and Cleopatra (Vol. 47)

Antony and Cleopatra (Vol. 47)


Antony and Cleopatra

For further information on the critical and stage history of Antony and Cleopatra, see .

Antony and Cleopatra is often analyzed in dialectical terms, with critics positing Egypt in opposition to Rome. Within this framework, Egypt is equated with love and desire, art and imagination, and comedy, while Rome is the locus of politics and power, reason and restraint, and tragedy. These analyses further cite Cleopatra as Egypt's chief representative, and likewise Antony as Rome's, or, in another version, Caesar embodies Rome while Antony stands with a foot in each realm. What such examinations reveal, according to many critics, is that by the end of the play there is no discernible victor in the war between these worlds, and no consensus has been reached as to which philosophy, mindset, or lifestyle Shakespeare advocated. The dialectical approach remains a popular avenue for a number of critics who use it in order to study topics such as the play's treatment of theatricality, issues regarding characterization, the nature and role of love and desire in the play, as well as the play's comic elements.

In studying the way the play explores theatricality and role-playing, critics demonstrate that Egypt is the land of acting, theatrics, and playing. Sidney R. Homan (1970) and Jyotsna Singh (1989) have both commented on the way in which Antony and Cleopatra reflects the ambivalent attitude toward the theater prevalent in Shakespeare's England. Homan has detailed the way the theater is denigrated throughout the play, from the way Cleopatra draws an association between sex and art, and the way the imagination is viewed as fickle, to the Roman detachment of "passion" from "speech." Yet Homan also has argued that theatrical arts are shown, through Cleopatra, to have the power to transform reality. Similarly, Singh has observed how theatricality is celebrated through the figure of Cleopatra and condemned through the Roman resistance to it. Singh has tied this ambiguous portrayal directly to the late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century polemical attacks on the theater and women both as duplicitous in nature. Like Singh, Robert Ornstein (1966) has located the play's praise of art and acting in Cleopatra. Ornstein has outlined the tension in the play between the imagery and plot and characterization. The play's imagery and plot, Ornstein has stated, both seem to emphasize the way Cleopatra, through her art and sensuality, manipulates Antony into forgetting his Roman duties. Yet, as Ornstein has observed, Cleopatra's own actions appear to valorize love, imagination, and art as the tools that reveal honesty of emotion and reality. Anthony S. Brennan (1978) has noted as well that to Cleopatra, role-playing is not an act of deception but a means of heightening one's self-knowledge.

Critics discussing the characterization in the play often examine Cleopatra as the embodiment of everything Egyptian, and Antony as a representative of Rome, but one who struggles with the conflict between Roman honor and duty and his attachment to Egypt and Cleopatra. Philip J. Traci (1970) has stated that many critics overemphasize the importance of characterization in Antony and Cleopatra. Commenting that too often the protagonists and minor characters alike are examined out of context, Traci has maintained that it is the interaction between Antony and Cleopatra that should be of primary interest. In an analysis of Antony's character, W. B. Worthen (1986) has studied the relationship between the actor, the role of Antony, and Antony's character. Worthen has emphasized that the way Antony is perceived by the audience is affected by a tension between the way Antony is described by other characters in the play, and the way Antony's own actions reveal his character.

In analyses of the play's treatment of love and desire, Egypt holds claim to these emotions and their power, in contrast to Rome's concern with imperial politics and war. Some critics, such as Linda Charnes (1992), have urged that the play's main concern is not love. Charnes has stated that there is little evidence to suggest that the play was popular in Shakespeare's day, or that it was viewed as anything but a thoroughly political play. Charnes has maintained that the attention of nineteenth-century Romantics, followed by a pattern of "critical revisionism" has resulted in the play's being read as a "legendary love story." Explaining further, the critic has argued that the play does make use of rhetorical strategies designed to valorize the love shared by Antony and Cleopatra, but that this discourse is undercut by the play's more urgent emphasis on politics. Evelyn Gajowski (1992) has taken another approach to the focus of love in Antony and Cleopatra. Gajowski has observed that Cleopatra is often seen either as a manipulative courtesan who lures Antony from his Roman values and political and military duties, or as a superhuman figure, the "archetype" of eternal femininity who offers Antony what Rome can never hope to. These readings, the critic has maintained, fail in that they dehumanize Cleopatra. Gajowski has contended that Cleopatra should be seen as a woman whose love for Antony "ennobles" him in the same manner that Juliet's love elevates Romeo.

When critics review the comic elements in Antony and Cleopatra, they often note that Egypt is the realm of comedy, while tragedy reigns in Rome. Barbara C. Vincent (1982) is one such critic. Vincent has traced a movement from the dominance of tragedy to a dominance of comedy at the play's end, noting that despite this shift, Antony and Cleopatra's tragic vision has not been invalidated. Similarly, Martha Tuck Rozett (1985) has discussed the comic aspects at the end of Antony and Cleopatra and has compared them to similar features in Romeo and Juliet. Rozett has shown how both plays demonstrate elements of comic resolution, but has stressed that Shakespeare was more successful in portraying these elements in Antony and Cleopatra than he was in Romeo and Juliet. Rozett has observed that although the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra represent "an extraordinary fusion of comedy and tragedy" in that they occur as the inevitable end to the lovers' "folly and self-indulgence," the deaths also symbolize Antony's and Cleopatra's triumph over Caesar and the release from the pressure of obstacles to their love inherent in the world they inhabited.


Harold Fisch (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: "Antony and Cleopatra: The Limits of Mythology," in Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespearian Study and Production, Vol. 23, 1970, pp. 59-61.

[In the following essay, Fisch argues that the mythic and ritualistic elements in Antony and Cleopatra are more than just components of the dramatic structure of the play, but rather that these elements comprise the play's very subject. Some of the ideas set out in this essay are further elaborated in Harold Fisch, The Biblical Presence in Shakespeare, Milton and Blake: a Comparative Study (Oxford University Press 1999), pp. 35-65.]


When critics speak of myth and ritual in Shakespeare they have in mind chiefly the symbolic structure of the plays. Thus The Winter's Tale which begins in winter ('a sad tale's best for winter', I, i, 25) and ends in high summer ('not yet on summer's death nor on the birth of trembling winter', IV, iv, 80) perfectly corresponds to the fertility rhythm. The accent on fertility in the sheep-shearing in Act IV gives to the structural form its emotional and spiritual content, whilst the symbolic revival of Hermione at the end rounds off the pattern of death and resurrection so basic to 'the myth of the eternal return'. Such an archetypal structure is older than Christianity (in spite of the Christian colouring) and perhaps older than the conscious memory of man.

In King Lear the symbolic structure of the play viewed as myth-ritual is defined by the image of the wheel. Lear speaks of himself as being bound on a wheel of fire (IV, vii, 47); Kent bids Fortune turn her wheel (II, ii, 173); the Fool speaking of the fate of his master bids himself 'let go thy hold when a great wheel runs down a hill' (II, iv, 71); whilst Edmund acknowledges at his death that 'the wheel is come full circle' (V, iii, 174). The circular movement thus intimated has behind it a sense of a cyclical order, the rise and fall of kings ordained as a means of guaranteeing the fertility of the land and the orderly sequence of the seasons. Such imagery, more than it is a statement about Lear as a Nature-god (though he is that too), is a statement about his predetermined fate, and about the structure of the play in which that fate is projected.

In Antony and Cleopatra the myth-ritual pattern is undoubtedly central. But one should add that it is not so much a structural principle (as in King Lear) as the actual subject of the play. Shakespeare is dealing directly in this play with a pair of characters who lay claim to mythological status and who at every turn adopt the posture of figures in a fertility ritual. The first such myth pattern is that connected with the names of Mars and Venus.1 From the first scene the personalities of Antony and Cleopatra are mythologically inflated and presented in terms of the conjunction of the god of war and the goddess of love. Philo in the opening speech of the first scene declares that Antony's eyes 'have glow'd like plated Mars', and Antony's first speeches to Cleopatra introduce an allusion to the goddess Venus:

Now for the love of Love, and her soft hours


—the reference being of course to the 'hours' and 'graces' which wait on the queen of love. It is because they are enacting the archetypal union of the god of war and the goddess of love that they may properly claim:

Eternity was in our lips, and eyes,
Bliss in our brows' bent; none our parts so poor,
But was a race of heaven.

(I, iii, 35-7)

The full miming of this myth-pattern is achieved in Cleopatra's sailing on the Cydnus as described by Enobarbus: 'The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne, / Burn'd on the water' (II, ii, 199-200). The text continues with an explicit reference to Venus:

For her own person
It beggar'd all description: she did lie
In her pavilion—cloth of gold, of tissue—
O'er picturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork nature.

(lines 205-9)

Plutarch, from whom this detail (like so much else in this speech) is derived, develops the link even further and remarks that Cleopatra's ladies were apparelled 'like the nymphes Nereides . . . and like the Graces'; and he continues that on her arrival 'there went a rumor in the peoples mouthes, that the goddesse Venus was come to play with the god Bacchus, for the generali good of all Asia'.2 Antony thus combines in himself aspects of both Mars and Bacchus, the god of war as well as the god of wine, Venus having been at various times the consort of both. The whole scene on the Cydnus naturally recalls the most famous scene associated in mythology with the goddess Venus, viz., her riding on a sea-shell wafted by Zephyrs to the foot of mount Cythera. On that occasion she was accompanied by Nereids, Cupids, and Graces. Since she is traditionally produced by the foam of the sea, it is natural that she should thus first appear before Antony. Enobarbus' conclusion confirms once again the supernal, absolute character of her charms. She is not a lovely woman, simply, but the principle of love itself, love, so to speak, carried to the infinite degree. Hence in sober truth it may be stated that

Age cannot wither her, nor custome stale
Her infinite variety.

(lines 243-4)

Her changeless, timeless character is also clearly marked in her own speech where she asserts her antiquity, her immortal, fixed and absolute quality:

Think on me,
That am with Phoebus' amorous pinches black,
And wrinkled deep in time.

(I, v, 27-9)

Clearly she is not simply 'Miss Egypt', but the eternal feminine, Tiamat, Venus, Aphrodite. She is as old as the race of man, the source of passion, reproduction, and death.

Now whilst Shakespeare very clearly presents his two main characters in this inflated way, and has them claim all the divine honours, the transcendent status which belongs to them in their mythological capacities, he does so not without considerable irony. We may note here the same dialectical syntax as in Homer or as in Troilus and Cressida where the legendary theme of Helen and Paris becomes a subject for barrack-room jokes ('all the argument is a cuckold and a whore'). In the conversation of Agrippa and Enobarbus following the Cydnus passage we have the same deflating tendency. 'Royal wench' Agrippa calls her, whilst Enobarbus with as little sense of awe before the power of the queen of love describes how he once saw her 'hop forty paces through the public street'. Cleopatra's own servants also tend to burlesque the mythological theme:

Cleopatra. Hast thou affections?

Mardian. Yes, gracious madam.

Cleopatra. Indeed?

Mardian. Not in deed, madam, for I can do nothing
But what indeed is honest to be done:
Yet have I fierce affections, and think
What Venus did with Mars.

(I, v, 12-18)

To think of the eunuch aping in his imagination the deeds of Mars and Venus produces the inevitable comic reaction at the expense of the whole mythological construction on which the personalities of the main characters are based.

The Mars-Venus theme is, however, not carried through to the end, and instead, the two main characters merge into another mythological grouping of much greater significance for Shakespeare's purpose, namely the Isis-Osiris-Set triangle with Cleopatra functioning as Isis, goddess of nature and fertility, and Antony as Osiris, the dying Sun-god who is resurrected in eternity.3 Octavius Caesar seems in some sense to function as Set (or Typhon) the brother of Osiris who seeks to replace him with Isis, only to be thwarted by Isis who gathers the mangled remains of Osiris together and thus guarantees that he becomes immortal and reigns as king of the underworld. The blending of the two groups together—Venus-Mars-Bacchus and Isis-Osiris-Set is no accident, since Osiris has a close connection with Dionysus (Bacchus) being also the god of wine, and Isis is the ultimate goddess from whom all the lesser deities including Aphrodite (Venus) are derived. Typhon again is a war-god like Ares (Mars). Shakespeare could have gathered his knowledge of the myth from a number of sources. It seems natural to suppose that he drew on Plutarch's Of Isis and Osiris (still to this day the chief source of our information on the subject) since he had made use of Plutarch's Lives as the chief source for the play as a whole, and Philemon Holland had translated a version of this in 1603. He could also have read an account of the appearance of Isis and Osiris in Spenser. But a particularly tempting possibility is that he had read all about the goddess Isis in Apuleius' The Golden Ass which had reached four editions in the English translation of Adlington by the end of the sixteenth century. It is perhaps worth quoting the epiphany of the goddess as experienced by Lucius in his dream at the end of the book. Since Isis is the moon- and sea-goddess—just as Osiris is the Sun4—it is natural that she should reveal herself to Lucius as he lies on the beach in the light of the full moon, and that her garment should be stuck with fiery stars, with—in the middle—a full moon. It should also be noted that on the boat-like vessel which she holds in her hand 'an asp lifted up his head with a wide-swelling throat'. The association with Cleopatra is arresting. But the account of the goddess's claims are more to our present purpose:

Behold, Lucius, I am come; thy weeping and prayer hath moved me to succour thee. I am she that is the natural mother of all things, mistress and governess of all the elements, the initial progeny of worlds, chief of the powers divine, queen of all that are in hell, the principal of them that dwell in heaven, manifested alone and under one form of all the gods and goddesses. At my will the planets of the sky, the wholesome winds of the seas, and the lamentable silences of hell be disposed . . . For the Phrygians that are the first of all men call me the Mother of the gods of Pessinus; the Athenians, which are sprung from their own soil, Cecropian Minerva; the Cyprians, which are girt about by the sea, Paphian Venus; the Cretans, which bear arrows, Dictynnian Diana; the Sicilians, which speak three tongues, infernal Proserpine . . . and the Egyptians . . . do call me by my true name, Queen Isis.5

Isis is no ordinary goddess. She is in fact the ultimate matrix of nature. She represents what Leslie Fiedler has called 'the huge, warm, enveloping darkness of unconscious life'.6 But as well as her universal aspect she also has a distinct local connection with the Nile waters, the slimy, fertile ooze which through the annual rise and fall of the Nile guarantees life and sustenance to man and beast.

Shakespeare shows himself profoundly conscious of the full implications of the Isis-Osiris myth, and modern students of mythology could, if they were wise, learn of it in both depth and detail from this play. In Act III, scene vi, we are told that in the division of the middle east between their progeny, Cleopatra and Antony had been enthroned in chairs of gold, she enacting the part of the goddess Isis:

In the habiliments of the goddess Isis
That day appeared.

(lines 16-18)

Cleopatra's monument in which the latter part of the play takes place was (according to Plutarch) 'set up by the temple of Isis', and Shakespeare shows himself aware of the ritual framework. Antony's ritual death has all the slow elaborate ceremonial we would expect. His connection with the Sun is made clear. As he arrives in the monument, Cleopatra declares

O sun,
Burn the great sphere thou mov'st in, darkling stand
The varying shore o' the world.

(IV, xiii, 9-11)

And again:

His face was as the heavens, and therein stuck
A sun and moon, which kept their course, and lighted
The little O, the earth.

(V, ii, 79-81)

Mythological enlargement could not be more emphatic. She herself speaks of her own connection with the moon:

Now the fleeting moon
No planet is of mine.

(V ii, 239-40)

And Antony had spoken earlier of her unflatteringly as Our terrene moon' (III, xi, 153).

But all this is of minor interest compared with the vividness of Shakespeare's evocation of the principles of death and fertility as personified by Cleopatra, a conjunction closely tied in with the image of the Nile waters. She is the 'serpent of old Nile' (I, V, 25), and she swears by 'the fire/That quickens Nilus' slime' (I, iii, 68-9), the verb suggesting fertile life but also a swarming and insalubrious abundance, breeding produced by putrefaction. A later speech imaginatively stresses the link between death, putrefaction and fertility:

Rather a ditch in Egypt
Be gentle grave unto me, rather on Nilus' mud
Lay me stark-nak'd, and let the water-flies
Blow me into abhorring.

(V, ii, 57-60)

The vivid sexuality of the image ('lay me stark nak'd') binds together its various components. Cleopatra joins in mythic union the principle of love and death: she represents the Liebestod, the downward drag of nature into unconsciousness and death. And this is entirely in keeping with her archetypal character: Enobarbus humorously remarks at the beginning of the play:

I do think there is mettle in death, which commits some loving act upon her, she hath such a celerity in dying

(I, ii, 152-4)

—whilst she herself testifies at the end to the same phenomenon:

The stroke of death is as a lover's pinch,
Which hurts and is desir'd.

(V, ii, 297-8)

We recall that among the other personae of Isis (according to Apuleius) is the goddess Proserpine, and she is the bride of death ruling with him in the underworld. For Antony too death is 'a lover's bed' (IV, xii, 101). Modern psychologists would have no difficulty in identifying here the archetypal link between the libido and the death-wish which is so central for Shakespearian tragedy as a whole.

But death is only one side of the coin: the other and sunnier side is immortality. For it is the peculiar achievement of the ancient Egyptians that they managed to swallow death in immortality. Osiris is a dying god who dies into eternity. And here at the climax of the play Shakespeare celebrates not so much the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra as their translation into immortal life. Antony himself declares:

I come my queen . . . stay for me,
Where souls do couch on flowers.

(IV, xii, 50-1)

At the very heart of the Osiris legend is this notion of immortality, the mummified remains of the dead man living on eternally in 'the field of peace'. Shakespeare had somehow penetrated into this region of ancient belief; creating for us in the last act of the play a dramatic realization of the active attainment of immortality. It is achieved especially in the speeches of Cleopatra as she mourns over the mutilated Antony-Osiris, in this re-enacting perfectly the classic pose of Isis whose long lament over the dead Osiris is recorded by Plutarch. Behind all this we hear the echo of the lament for all the dead and rising gods, Adonis, Tammuz, and the rest. But here the accent is more especially on the revival of the dead hero. Shakespeare presents in the fifth act a ritual of apotheosis in which Antony and Cleopatra in the most ceremonial fashion put off mortality and announce their union as god and goddess eternally united in the field of peace. She performs a ritual marriage between herself and the dead Antony which is going to be consummated in the afterworld:

Give me my robe, put on my crown, I have
Immortal longings in me . . .
Husband I come:
Now to that name, my courage prove my title!
I am fire, and air; my other elements
I give to baser life.

(V, ii, 281-3; 289-92)

It is an amazing piece of virtuosity, this latter-day dramatization of the most primitive and powerful of fertility myths; the one which holds within itself the key to the entire system of nature religion, linking the inner drives of flesh with the varying seasons of the world, and seeking by ritual and by magic ceremonies to overcome the most dreadful of all terrors—death itself, and convert it into love and sweetness, uniting the most disgusting of its aspects with the most alluring dream of which man is capable, viz., the dream of eternal life.

But Shakespeare is no innocent and ingenuous worshipper of nature and fertility. He holds the entire archetypal pattern in his hand; he displays it to us; he penetrates to its inner heart, but there is no final identification either between us and the displayed forms, or between the author and his characters in their mythic personalities. There is a tonal distance. It is enough to quote Frazer's account of the manner in which the ancient Egyptians received the death of Osiris to realize how far away from such simple beliefs the play of Shakespeare takes us:

In pity for her [Isis'] sorrow the sun-god Ra sent down from heaven the jackal-headed god Anubis, who, with the aid of Isis and Nephthys, of Thoth and Horus, pieced together the broken body of the murdered god, swathed it in linen bandages, and observed all the other rites which the Egyptians were wont to perform over the bodies of the departed. Then Isis fanned the cold clay with her wings: Osiris revived, and thenceforth reigned as king over the dead in the other world. There he bore the titles of Lord of the Underworld, Lord of Eternity, Ruler of the Dead.7

Shakespeare by contrast presents the whole apotheosis of Antony and Cleopatra within a framework of irony.


The entry of the Clown with his basket of figs in Act V, ii and the subsequent conversation in vulgar realistic prose between him and Cleopatra represents more than a comic deflation of the whole mythic hyperbole on which much of the play is based: it brings a Biblical realism vigorously to bear on the dream-world of Paganism. The Clown functions like Edgar the bedlam-beggar in King Lear, or like the Porter in Macbeth, or like the Gravediggers in Hamlet And like the Grave-diggers he makes death real, showing it to us in a handful of dust. His opening words parody the Egyptian myth of immortality in the fields of peace—that Shangri-la escape from the absoluteness of human responsibility—which forms the very essence of the Isis-Osiris legend:

Cleopatra. Hast thou the pretty worm of Nilus there,
That kills and pains not?

Clown. Truly I have him: but I would not be the party that should desire you to touch him, for his biting is immortal: those that do die of it, do seldom or never recover.

The finality of death as in the Old Testament ('shall the dust praise thee?') is here given a comic form—'those that do die of it do seldom or never recover'; and in the phrase 'his biting is immortal' the whole notion of immortality is beheld in the perspective of irony. It is the death-bringing worm which becomes immortal. We are reminded of Isaiah 66:

And they shall go forth and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die.8

But this is not the only Biblical locus which the Clown's immortal worm recalls to us. It is also the serpent of Eve in the garden of Eden: he tells us that he knew of an honest woman 'but something given to lie . . . how' she died of the biting of it, what pain she felt'. And he goes on—

truly she makes a very good report o' the worm: but he that will believe all that they say, shall never be saved by half that they do: but this is most falliable, the worm's an odd worm.

The man who believed what the woman said of the serpent (worm) but could not be saved by what she had done is of course Adam; just as Cleopatra is Eve, no longer the eternal feminine principle of fertility, goddess of love and nature, but the erring female who leads man into sin and consequently forfeits the gift of immortality. Even the fig-leaves fit into place in the new pattern. There is a reversal of values, a sudden refocusing of the whole dream within an archetypal frame entirely different from that which the Isis-Osiris-Set legend had provided. Here man is tested and found wanting within the limits of his brief span of three-score years and ten. Those who die of the worm—that is to say, the whole race of man—do seldom or never recover. A cold, sharp, but morally bracing wind of realism blows through this dialogue. At the end we have Cleopatra reduced to size; she is indeed 'no more but e'en a woman' (IV, xiii, 73)—a woman who might have been 'a dish for the gods' but who has been unfortunately marred by the devil. Here the worm (the serpent of Eve) has been—as in the standard Christian exegesis—enlarged into the devil. He has become the undying worm who preys on mortal man and woman. The whole ritual of apotheosis on which the latter part of the play is based is hereby exploded, and the hero and heroine become, for the moment, actors in the Judeo-Christian drama of salvation and damnation.


But the dialectical syntax is not provided just by this intrusion of Christian terminology in the speech of the Clown: it is there throughout in the juxtaposition of the Roman and Egyptian worlds. Both sides of the plot are Pagan: both the Egyptians and the Romans pursue a mythical grandeur, a cosmic delusion. In the one it is the delusion of an immortal feast of love, in the other, of an immortal feast of power. But there is a sharp distinction in ethical and dramatic content. The one world is timeless, the other is governed by the inexorabilities of time—it is time-ridden. In Egypt, Antony's honour's 'prorogued . . . Even till a Lethe'd dulness' (II, i, 26-7). Cleopatra seeks escape from time; she proposes to 'sleep out this great gap of time/My Antony is away' (I, V, 5-6). Her time is biological; it is the time of Nature; birth, copulation, and death. There is no advance. Lepidus, by contrast, expresses the urgency which characterizes the Roman sense of existence in his words on the forthcoming confrontation with Pompey:

Time calls upon's.
Of us must Pompey presently be sought,
Or else he seeks out us.

(II, ii, 164-6)

And in the race for Mount Misenum between Lepidus and Maecenas there is the careful synchronization of watches that we associate with Roman life. (We recall that Shakespeare's feeling for the Roman obsession with time had led him to his famous anachronism in Julius Caesar II, ii.) After peace is made between Pompey and the triumvirate, Menas makes his infamous proposition: he offers to kill Pompey's enemies now that they are in his power. Pompey's reply is that he is already too late:

Ah this thou shouldst have done,
And not have spoken on't.

(II, vii, 80-1)

Caesar has the same sense of opportunity; he too like Pompey has his finger on the trigger. At Actium he declares that 'our fortune lies/Upon this jump' (III, viii, 5-6). Against the indolence, the drunkenness, and the sleepiness of the Egyptian world (shared paradoxically by the Romans in their Bacchanalian revels on Pompey's barge) there is the pressure set up by the need to act in the heat, the sense of a world in constant motion. It was a Roman poet who wrote 'Carpe diem', a love ditty composed by a man with one eye on the clock.

And behind this sense of the passage of time, its inexorability and quality of challenge, there is an awareness of the vaster historical process by which human life is governed. Caesar urging his active star at Misenum, at Actium, and in Egypt, is obeying a force mightier than himself: thus he knows no rest:

Caesar through Syria
Intends his journey, and within three days
You with your children will he send before:
Make your best use of this.

(V, ii, 199-202)

Against this plan of world-conquest, the life and death of Cleopatra becomes almost an incident, sad, diverting, and remarkable, but hardly more than an incident. The world moves on, as it must, towards the 'time of universal peace' of which Octavius speaks in Act IV, vi, recalling to us Vergil's vision of the ages of the world in the fourth Eclogue. The drama of universal history sets up its rhythm in the play, and the ritual enactments of Isis and Osiris in their temporary incarnations as Cleopatra and Antony are accordingly diminished in size and significance. Their own tragedy observes the mythic unity of place; it is confined to one corner of Egypt: but the play as a whole, as is notorious, bursts the last fetters of classical restraint. The structure of the play does not mirror the 'myth of the eternal return'. In fact it is its opposite. The play lacks the rounded form, the satisfying, self-completed, cyclical rhythm of ancient tragedy which we still respond to in King Lear with its controlling image of the wheel of Fortune. Here in Antony and Cleopatra time and place extend so as to enclose the theme of universal history as it unfolds itself in power upon the vast amphitheatre of the world. The closed myth-world of tragedy is exploded, for the theme of world history has taken its place. And in this new epic context the mimic apotheosis of the two lovers shrinks to a little measure.


This is the phenomenological paradox of the play, and on the whole Shakespeare is content to leave us (as he does in the other Roman plays) with the paradoxes unresolved, and with a sense of mutually contradictory value-systems.9 And yet there is in the final act of Antony and Cleopatra a hint of resolution. As Cleopatra takes the centre of the stage for her final exit she is not only herself rehabilitated in a characteristically Shakespearian fashion, but the world of mythology is rehabilitated too. And this is achieved paradoxically through an injection of Roman 'virtue'. She chooses to die 'after the high Roman fashion'; and she chooses to conceive of her relationship to Antony under the Roman figure of marriage. The marriage between Antony and Octavia in Act II had been a marriage of convenience, another example of the Romans knowing how to seize opportunities and bend them to their will. Yet it had been weighted with moral responsibility, with a sense of the need to further the ends of an historical programme. This had charged it with an almost religious character: it had become an 'act of grace'.

Let me have thy hand.
Further this act of grace: and from this hour,
The heart of brothers govern in our loves,
And sway our great designs.

(II, ii, 152-5)

But the words sound hollowly. The great designs are convincing, impressive, and real, but the brotherly love is not. The Romans lacked the affective content. They had discovered history, but they had failed to discover the individual spiritual force, the quality of human participation, which should give it meaning. They had no notion of dialogue. Cleopatra on the other hand knows what it is to love and be loved: in her relationship with Antony, and especially towards the close of the play, she glimpses a reality which raises man beyond the 'dull world':

Noblest of men, woo't die?
Hast thou no care of me, shall I abide
In this dull world, which in thy absence is
No better than a sty?

(IV, xiii, 59-62)

These words would not have fallen from Roman lips, not even from Antony's. They point to love as a transcendent reality discovered within human relationships. Such love transcends the value-system of Romanism, but it equally transcends the Egyptian myth-world; for within the Isis-Osiris pattern proper there is no room for the marriage of true minds, but only for fertility and death. And yet it is in the notion of a marriage that this new-found transcendence finds its place in the last speech of Cleopatra:

Husband I come:
Now to that name, my courage prove my title.

(V, ii, 289-90)

Mr John Holloway points out that the two lovers in this play always seem to require an audience: when declaring their love to one another they desire to be the cynosure of all eyes.10 This I would suggest is closely bound up with the ritual character of those appearances: they function in a fertility ceremony in which all are vitally concerned. But here at the end, it is surely the private character of the relationship which is uppermost. Cleopatra is withdrawing into that private mysterious world where only the still small voice of true love will be heard. She will deny Octavius his triumph: and she wishes for no more public appearances either of love or state in this 'vile world'.

Cleopatra's death is in one sense a ritual apotheosis: in another sense, it is a deserved punishment for a sinful life (this is the motif stressed in the conversation with the Clown): and in a third sense it is a marriage ceremony, in which Cleopatra rises above her conquerors showing them in the ceremony of love the true human dimension that they had missed. The final words of Caesar underline the religious solemnity of Cleopatra's death:

but she looks like sleep,
As she would catch another Antony
In her strong toil of grace.

(V, ii, 347-9)

The word 'grace' has now a multiplicity of meaning: it suggests the irresistible beauty of Cleopatra, as goddess of love; but it also carries a suggestion of a heavenly and transcendent virtue.11

At this level we may look upon the deaths of the two chief characters not as an event which climaxes a fertility ritual, but as an event which brings the whole orgiastic world of Paganism to an end. It also brings to an end the sterile, world-conquering inhuman conception of time and history which the Romans had achieved, a history which had no room for salvation. If the Romans understood that history drives us on, if they felt its inexorable stress, its purposive direction, they had no means of discovering what that purpose was, to what end the labouring soul of man was striving. The final speeches of Cleopatra suggest not the meeting of Mars and Venus nor of Isis and Osiris, but rather of Cupid and Psyche—'latest born and loveliest vision far/Of all Olympus' faded hierarchy'. And at this point where the soul is born and its grace is discovered, Paganism transcends itself and glimpses those permanent and fundamental relations of love which give meaning not only to all human marriages but to the vast and seemingly impersonal march of history itself.


1 On this aspect, see Raymond B. Waddington, 'Antony and Cleopatra: What Venus did with Mars', Shakespeare Studies, II (1966), 210-27, who also points out the link between Antony and his ancestor, Hercules (p. 216).

2 G. Bullough (ed.), Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, V (London, 1964), p. 274.

3 The link with Isis as a more than casual feature of Cleopatra's personality was proposed by the eighteenth-century editors Capell and Warburton. (See M. R. Ridley (ed.), Antony and Cleopatra (London, 1954), notes to III, xiii, 153 and V, ii, 239.) It is surprising that present-day scholars have not shown more interest in this suggestion. But see M. Lloyd, 'Cleopatra as Isis', Shakespeare Survey 12 (Cambridge, 1959), pp. 88-94.

4 Cf. Spenser's description of the priests of Isis, Faerie Queene, V, vii:

They wore rich Mitres shaped like the Moone,
To shew that Isis doth the Moone portend;
Like as Osyris signifies the Sunne.

Antony is also connected in the play with the sun-god Phoebus-Apollo. Cf. S. L. Bethell, Shakespeare and the Popular Dramatic Tradition (London, 1944), p. 127: '"Deep in time" gives her an infinite age: it does not suggest an old woman, but an immortal . . . she is an immortal lover of the sun-god, of Phoebus-Apollo'.

5The Golden Ass, trans. W. Adlington, with an essay by Charles Whibley (1927), p. 251.

6Love and Death in the American Novel (New York, 1960), p. 13.

7 J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough (London, ed. 1914), VI, 12-13.

8 And see also Mark ix. 44 f.

9 Cf. J. F. Danby, 'The Shakespearean Dialectic: an Aspect of Antony and Cleopatra', Scrutiny, XVI (1949), 196-213, and comments thereon by L. C. Knights, ibid., pp. 318-23.

10The Story of the Night (London, 1961), p. 102.

11 Cf. Bethell, Shakespeare and the Popular Dramatic Tradition, p. 131. On the multiple meanings of grace (though without reference to this particular passage), see also M. M. Mahood, Shakespeare's Wordplay (London, 1965), pp. 150-3, 161.

Janet Adelman (essay date 1973)

SOURCE: "Infinite Variety: Uncertainty and Judgment in Antony and Cleopatra," in The Common Liar: An Essay on Antony and Cleopatra, Yale University Press, 1973, pp. 14-52.

[In the essay below, Adelman maintains that the action of Antony and Cleopatra centers around the characters' attempts to understand themselves and each other, and that the basis for the play's dramatic structure rests more upon the characters' interpretations of actions and events than it does on the actions and events themselves.]

The critical history of Antony and Cleopatra can be seen largely as a series of attempts to assess the motives of the protagonists and to arbitrate between the claims of Egypt and Rome.1 But this search for certainty often encounters the stumbling block of the play itself: at almost every turn, there are significant lapses in our knowledge of the inner state of the principal characters; and we cannot judge what we do not know. The characters themselves continually tell us that they do not know one another, that their judgments are fallible. Nor can we attribute the critics' persistent search for answers merely to their stubbornness: for the play demands that we make judgments even as it frustrates our ability to judge rationally. This frustration is not an end in itself: it forces us to participate in the experience of the play and ultimately to make the same leap of faith that the lovers make. In this sense, our uncertainty is an essential feature of the play.

The moral of recent Shakespeare criticism may be that any tragedy studied long enough reveals that it deliberately provokes uncertainty; and in fact, there are some mysteries of plot, motivation, value, and judgment in all of them. But in other plays, we are usually certain of a few central facts; and we usually have our moral bearings. Despite our doubts about the ghost, we know that Claudius killed old Hamlet. We may question the value of vengeance or of any action in a corrupt state, but our questioning does not usually shake our conviction that the state must be set right. Despite the foolish irascibility of the old king or the foolish credulity of the Moor, we know who is right in King Lear or Othello; despite Macbeth's eloquent grandeur, we are morally satisfied when he is killed by Macduff. But no such satisfaction awaits us in Antony and Cleopatra, where both the presentation of character and the dramatic structure work to frustrate our reasonable desire for certainty. Certainty, even of a limited kind, seems essential to the tragic experience. But Antony and Cleopatra is only partly tragic;2 or at least the tragic vision is subject to the same questioning as everything else in the play.

Character and Knowledge

Not know me yet?


Although the play continually raises questions about motives, it simply does not give any clear answers to them.3 Almost every major action in the play is in some degree inexplicable. Why did Antony marry Octavia if he planned to return to Cleopatra?4 Was Octavius ruthless or merely blind in his plan to marry his sister to Antony?5 Does Antony return to the East for love of Cleopatra or because his spirit is overpowered when he is near Octavius?6 As the play progresses, the questions accumulate around Cleopatra; and they become more urgent. Is Cleopatra merely exercising her powers over Thidias for the sake of the game, or does she really hope to woo Octavius through him?7 Is her scene with Seleucus a cunningly staged device to convince Octavius that she has no desire to die, or does she in fact have hopes of a future life without Antony in which some lady trifles will be useful?8 Even the most critical action in the plot goes unexplained: Antony has won a victory against Octavius and regained the loyalty of his own men (a victory greatly magnified in importance from the account in Plutarch); but in the next encounter, his fleet yields to Octavius and his defeat is certain. Did the ships join with Octavius under Cleopatra's orders, as Antony assumes? If not, then who is responsible for this final betrayal of Antony?9 These questions are not all equally unanswerable; and our preferences and critical ingenuity will usually combine with the text of the play to produce satisfactory answers to most of them. But most of the time the answers will satisfy only ourselves. I for one am as unwilling to imagine a fundamentally disloyal Cleopatra as the most romantic critic and will argue for the best possible interpretation of her actions; but the fact is that the play will support the arguments of my opponents almost as readily as mine. We simply are not told the motives of the protagonists at the most critical points in the action.

Shakespeare was not accustomed to leaving his audience entirely in the dark on central issues in his tragedies. We may not know why Lear chooses to divide his kingdom so arbitrarily; but once we have accepted the initial situation, we are given frequent insights into his mind through his own soliloquies and asides and through a technique of projection called "umbrella speeches" by Maynard Mack, in which the fool, for instance, serves "as a screen on which Shakespeare flashes, as it were, readings from the psychic life of the protagonists."10 But in Antony and Cleopatra, the only major soliloquy is Enobarbus's; and the asides are almost exclusively the property of the minor characters.11 Antony does tell us in soliloquy of his determination to return to the East (2.3) and of his rage and love for Cleopatra (4.12; 4.14); but these speeches are by no means the meditations on his own inner state which we associate with soliloquy in the major tragedies.12 Moreover, the "umbrella speeches" and speeches by other characters which seem to reflect the state of the protagonists accurately often turn out upon examination to be wrong. No play in which the characters remain so essentially opaque to each other and to the audience can satisfy us in the way of Macbeth—in the way, that is, of character revelation and moral certainty.13

There are, of course, moments at which the characters are opaque in the other tragedies, but these mysteries are, I think, of a slightly different order. Generations of critics have argued, for instance, about why Hamlet does not kill the king while he is praying. Is it really because he does not want to send Claudius's soul to heaven, or must we look deeper into Hamlet's character toward those philosophic or psychoanalytic scruples which keep him from action altogether? We must note that Hamlet himself gives us a perfectly good reason for not killing Claudius praying: that heaven is no recompense for hell. Although we may choose (at our peril) to disbelieve his reason, it is at any rate evident that Hamlet believes it. Moreover, we are informed at this critical moment of the process of Hamlet's mind: although we may feel that we have not been told the whole truth, at least the illusion of insight into Hamlet's motivation has been given by the soliloquy. If an aura of mystery persists nonetheless, it is perhaps because the literary figure in this instance creates so absolute an illusion of reality that he breeds all the mysteries of character which we find in real life. The sense of opaqueness comes more from the success of the illusion than from any failure to explicate character: Shakespeare gives us insight into Hamlet's inner state at virtually every turn in the play.

A fully realized character like Hamlet will necessarily appear mysterious at some moments precisely insofar as he is fully realized; a relatively unrealized character like Iago will engender mysteries of another sort. Iago's frequent soliloquies reveal his motives and his machinations: Cassio has got the job he wanted; he suspects both Cassio and Othello of cuckolding him; and the daily beauty of Cassio's life makes his own ugly. But the more motives Iago gives us, the less likely they seem as explanations of his actions. His motives do not seem equal to the deed, nor can they account for that fundamental hatred of life and love of contrivance which rule him. "I hate the Moor," he says, and then explicitly denies that he hates him for any particular reason:

And it is thought abroad, that 'twixt my sheets
He's done my office; I know not if t be true . . .
Yet I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do, as if for surety.


We are not here fundamentally concerned with Iago's character; mere ordinary human motivation is serving as the excuse for some more essential hatred which it surely could not have caused. Our impression, despite the soliloquies and their revelation of motivation, is not that the byways of Iago's character have been revealed to us but rather that essential evil of Iago's sort is a self-perpetuating, self-aggrandizing, and finally self-annihilating machine to which motivation is almost wholly irrelevant after the initial move is made. We become more interested in watching the diabolical principle at work in a human being than in the character of Iago per se and his inconsistent motivation. It is with a similar disinterest in the intricacies of character that we watch the redemptive principle working through Cordelia. Figures like Iago or Cordelia tend to function less as fully realized characters than as embodiments of moral principles. And in proportion as they are less fully human than Hamlet, as they are more purely symbolic, we are less interested in their inner states. They can afford to be opaque because we are not fundamentally interested in them as characters: mysteries of motivation simply evaporate insofar as they take their places as parts of a symbolic action.

But in Antony and Cleopatra, the protagonists neither reveal their motives to us nor are they content merely to take their places in a symbolic action. They create the same sort of illusion of reality that Hamlet creates but do not give us even the partial insights into their souls that Hamlet gives. We are forced to concern ourselves with their characters as we are not with Iago's or Cordelia's; and yet their characters remain opaque. True, a desire to understand character in the play may be dismissed by some modern critics as naïve; and there is little question that Antony and Cleopatra becomes a more unified and explicable whole if it is read as a lyric14 poem or an allegory15 to which questions of character are largely irrelevant. But we may not be able to believe entirely in the play-as-lyric-poem of Knight and Knights or in the character-as-a-bundle-of-stage-conventions of Schücking and Stoll or in the character-as-symbol of Bethell; or at least these theories may not be able to explain away character altogether.16 However convincing they are in part, they do not quite allay the nagging suspicion that the illusion of character is in some measure relevant to drama, and particularly to this one. Critics have persisted in trying to find answers to the questions of motivation and emotion in Antony and Cleopatra; and though questions of character may occasionally be irrelevant, this critical persistence suggests that they are not irrelevant here. If the same questions are continually asked, then I think we must conclude that the questions have been elicited by the play; the search is interminable not because the questions are wrong but because the answers are not given.

To explain character away, and with it the unanswerable questions, is in this instance to explain the play away: for the whole play can be seen as a series of attempts on the parts of the characters to understand and judge each other and themselves. We see Cleopatra dallying with Thidias in act 3, scene 13: Enobarbus thinks he sees Cleopatra betraying Antony and transferring her allegiance to Caesar; Antony thinks he sees the operations of lascivious habit. What have they seen? Do we watch a cunning queen outfox a wily politician in the scene with Seleucus, or a servant betray his mistress? This uncertainty is apparent not only in the critical moments of the play (did Cleopatra's ships join Caesar's on her orders?) but during numerous small scenes. And we are as baffled as the characters; like them, we see only the bare event and are left to speculate upon its meaning.

Throughout the play, the characters themselves question its meaning for us; the. questioning is so habitual that it occurs explicitly even in those relatively minor scenes where the meaning does not seem to be at issue. When the soothsayer tells Charmian that she shall be far fairer than she is, the two women debate his meaning:

Char. He means in flesh.

Iras. No, you shall paint when you are old.


Their debate is poignant because neither can guess the true meaning of his prophecies. The question of meaning is most explicitly raised in the small scene in which Antony bids his servants farewell; there it is raised four times in thirty-five lines. We would expect Cleopatra to know Antony as well as anyone; yet she asks Enobarbus, "What means this?" (4.2.13) and, ten lines later, "What does he mean?" Enobarbus then asks Antony directly: "What mean you, sir, / To give them this discomfort?" (lines 33-34). Antony immediately denies that he meant his words as Enobarbus and the servants have taken them:

Ho, ho, ho!
Now the witch take me, if I meant it thus!
Grace grow where those drops fall, my hearty friends;
You take me in too dolorous a sense,
For I spake to you for your comfort.


Antony's attempt to console his followers by rearranging his meaning explicitly raises the issue of interpretation; even here, we are faced with one of the central dilemmas of the play. Virtually the only way out of this dilemma is the way that Antony takes at the end of the scene, when he in effect plays Horatio to his own Hamlet: "Let's to supper, come, / And drown consideration" (lines 44-45). In the scene which follows immediately, we are shown another farewell embedded in controversy:

Sec. Sold. Heard you of nothing strange about the streets?

First Sold. Nothing: what news?

Sec. Sold. Belike 'tis but a rumour.


The rumor is of course instantly verified: the music of Hercules departing is heard and debated.

Fourth Sold. It signs well, does it not?

Third Sold. No.

First Sold. Peace, I say: What should this mean?

Sec. Sold. 'Tis the god Hercules, whom Antony lov'd, Now leaves him.


Nothing goes unquestioned in this play. In most literature there is a convention that character is knowable as it rarely is in life, that characters act in accordance with certain constant, recognizable, and explicable principles which we and they can know. This convention does not operate in Antony and Cleopatra. There the characters do not know each other, nor can we know them, any more clearly than we know ourselves. In the midst of Antony's rage against Cleopatra and Thidias, Cleopatra asks him, "Not know me yet?" (3.12.157). Antony can scarcely be blamed for not knowing Cleopatra; the question stands as central to the play. From Cleopatra's "If it be love indeed, tell me how much" (1.1.14) to the First Guardsman's "Is this well done?" (5.2.324), questions of motive, of value, and of the truth of the emotions are insistently raised.17 Emotions are unreliable and constantly changing; characters question their own emotions as well as those of others. From the beginning we see Cleopatra stage emotions for Antony's benefit ("If you find him sad, / Say I am dancing" 1.3.3-4; "I am sick, and sullen" 1.3.13). She accuses Antony of playacting his rage ("You can do better yet; but this is meetly" 1.3.81). We know that Antony "married but his occasion" (2.6.128) in marrying Octavia, for he himself tells us, "I make this marriage for my peace" (2.3.38). But what of Fulvia? "Why did he marry Fulvia, and not love her?" (1.1.41). Even Antony muses on his inconstant emotions: "she's good, being gone, / The hand could pluck her back that shov'd her on" (1.2.123-24). Is Antony's emotion love indeed? Cleopatra asks, "Why should I think you can be mine and true . . . / Who have been false to Fulvia?" (1.3.27-29). Why indeed? Antony thinks Cleopatra's passions are feigned: "She is cunning past man's thought" (1.2.143). But Enobarbus answers that "her passions are made of nothing but the finest parts of pure love" (1.2.144-45); and whatever his tone of voice, his words at least contradict Antony's. Enobarbus and Agrippa mock Lepidus's protestations of love for both Antony and Caesar (3.2). Cleopatra idly asks, "Did I, Charmian, / Ever love Caesar so?" (1.5.66-67), and is most displeased with Charmian's teasing answer.

The tears wept by Antony's crocodile are characteristic of this persistent questioning of emotion. Cleopatra assumes that Antony will weep crocodile tears for her: "I prithee turn aside and weep for her, / Then bid adieu to me, and say the tears / Belong to Egypt" (1.3.76-78). "The tears live in an onion, that should water this sorrow" (1.2.167-68), Enobarbus says of Fulvia's death; yet even when Enobarbus is genuinely moved by Antony's farewell to his servants, he calls himself "onioney'd" (4.2.35). When Caesar weeps at parting from Octavia, Agrippa recalls Antony's tears:

When Antony found Julius Caesar dead,
He cried almost to roaring; and he wept
When at Philippi he found Brutus slain.


Characteristically, Enobarbus points the moral:

That year, indeed, he was troubled with a rheum;
What willingly he did confound, he wail'd,
Believe't, till I wept too.


Antony's weeping over Brutus recalls his sorrow over Fulvia; in both instances he grieves for what he himself has helped to destroy. The movement is characteristic of the play: we shall see Caesar too weep at what willingly he did confound when Decretas reports Antony's death ("The gods rebuke me, but it is a tidings / To wash the eyes of kings" 5.1.27-28); Agrippa comments upon the inconsistency of the emotion much as Enobarbus and Antony have already commented ("And strange it is, / That nature must compel us to lament / Our most persisted deeds" 5.1.28-30). During Cleopatra's suicide, Charmian asks in effect for cosmic crocodile tears, for the show of cosmic grief: "Dissolve, thick cloud, and rain, that I may say, / The gods themselves do weep!" (5.2.298-99).

The full acknowledgement of all this uncertainty is in Antony's quiet lines, "I made these wars for Egypt, and the queen, / Whose heart I thought I had, for she had mine" (4.14.15-16). Does Antony have her heart?18 Or does she too discover that Antony is good only when he is gone? In the end, the uncertainty implicates us as well as the characters: we must question Cleopatra's love for Antony as she plans her suicide; Shakespeare's insistence upon her dread of a Roman triumph forces us to question it. But in this play, not even skepticism is a secure position: Enobarbus shows us that. He persistently questions the sincerity of the passions, but when he follows his reason, he dies of a broken heart. At his death, we...

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Drama As Deception

Robert Ornstein (essay date 1966)

SOURCE: "The Ethic of the Imagination: Love and Art in Antony and Cleopatra," in Twentieth Century Interpretations of Antony and Cleopatra: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Mark Rose, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1977, pp. 82-98.

[In the essay that follows, originally written in 1966, Ornstein states that while Antony and Cleopatra is not an allegory of art, it nonetheless uses Cleopatra and Egypt to defend art as the means by which reality and truth are revealed.]

The last scene of Antony and Cleopatra would be less difficult if it were more obviously solemn and serious. There is no lack...

(The entire section is 24158 words.)


Philip J. Traci (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: "The Dancer and the Dance: A Study of Characterization in the Play," in The Love Play of Antony and Cleopatra: A Critical Study of Shakespeare's Play, Mouton, 1970, pp. 23-61.

[In the following essay, Traci argues against many critics' overemphasis on characterization in Antony and Cleopatra and contends that it is the interaction between Antony and Cleopatra that forms the basis of the plot and which should be the main focus of study.]

Attention to Antony and Cleopatra as characters has usually passed for attention to Antony and Cleopatra as play. Whether or not the two have been...

(The entire section is 19589 words.)

Comic Aspects

Barbara C. Vincent (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: "Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and the Rise of Comedy," in English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter, 1982, pp. 53-86.

[In the essay that follows, Vincent analyzes Antony and Cleopatra as a play first dominated by tragedy and later by comedy, maintaining that the movement of the play from tragedy to comedy parallels the movement within the play from Rome to Egypt.]

. . . yet the Alexandrians were commonly glad of this
jolity, and liked it well saying verie gallantly,
and wisely: that Antonius shewed them a comicall

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Love And Desire

Evelyn Gajowski (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: "Antony and Cleopatra: Female Subjectivity and Orientalism," in The Art of Loving: Female Subjectivity and Male Discursive Traditions in Shakespeare's Tragedies, University of Delaware Press, 1992, pp. 86-119.

[In the following essay, Gajowski argues that from a critical standpoint, Cleopatra is alternatively viewed as the Romans see herthe whore responsible for Antony's fall from Roman honor and dutyor as the "archetype of the eternal feminine principle" who presents Antony with a life that surpasses anything Rome can offer. Gajowski rejects both of these views and presents a reading of...

(The entire section is 23686 words.)

Further Reading

Berek, Peter. "Doing and Undoing: The Value of Action in Antony and Cleopatra." Shakespeare Quarterly 32, No. 3 (Autumn 1981): 295-304.

Argues that Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavius Caesar, as well as minor characters in the play, have something in common despite their obvious differences—they all agree "that there are grim limits to the joys one can take in earthly achievements."

Bushman, Mary Ann. "Representing Cleopatra." In In Another Country: Feminist Perspectives on Renaissance Drama, edited by Dorothea Kehler and Susan Baker, pp. 36-49. Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1991.


(The entire section is 606 words.)