According to Hegel, true tragedy presents a conflict between differing and opposed aims, which are based on equally valid moral powers. One-sidedness and specific aims lead to dramatic conflict and...
According to Hegel, true tragedy presents a conflict between differing and opposed aims, which are based on equally valid moral powers. One-sidedness and specific aims lead to dramatic conflict and the subsequent loss of wholeness or universality. For this reason, the tragic reconciliation which comes in the end should be the working of the Divine, which strips away from the conflicting individuals their false one-sidedness to achieve an affirmative harmonization and reveal the eternal substance of things. Please interpret Dryden’s "All for Love" in accordance with Hegel’s theory on tragedy explained above.
It has been argued that Hegel's theory of tragedy encompasses a dialectical model: a proposition (thesis) opposed by another proposition (antithesis) and eventually reconciled by some combination of the two dueling propositions (synthesis).
Hegel's theory of tragedy follows this model in the sense that the hero or tragic character is a divided self, in conflict against the universal. Thus, reconciliation can only occur when Providence strips the individual of his one-sidedness and reconciles within him the earthly and the divine. In Hegel's theory of tragedy, however, reconciliation doesn't always result in a positive denouement. Sometimes, as in All For Love, reconciliation is negative. What Hegel did propose was that tragedy involved a conflict between differing and equally valid aims, aims that would not be contradictory if circumstances were different. Hegel's concept of tragedy involved the idea that capitulation to one aim often infringed upon the claims of the other.
This is exactly what happens in All For Love. Antony is torn between his domestic bond (to his wife, Octavia, and his two daughters) and his sensual bond to Cleopatra. Yielding to the demands of one bond would constitute a violation of the other. This tragic conflict ends in Antony's suicidal death. The reconciliation is negative in nature. Torn between the two bonds, Antony chooses death or self-annihilation. Providence does strip Antony of his one-sidedness (his predilection for Cleopatra over Octavia), but it also exposes Antony's failure to reconcile the opposing claims in his life.
In Act One, Ventidius offers Antony help in his war against Caesar. He tells Antony that "twelve legions" await his orders as "chief." However, there is one stipulation: these battle-hardened warriors won't fight for Cleopatra. Antony balks at the idea of relinquishing his sensual bond to Cleopatra in order to achieve military victory. In the end, however, he relents and agrees to leave Cleopatra, even though he loves her "Beyond life, conquest, empire, all, but honour." Of course, Antony's rejection of Cleopatra is temporary. He's too smitten with her to renounce his erotic bond permanently.
In Act Two, Antony wavers, and Ventidius begs him for "manhood's sake" to reject Cleopatra's gifts. However, Antony answers that Ventidius grows "too cynical" and that "A lady's favours may be worn with honour." In Act Three, Octavia and Antony's two daughters make their appearance. Octavia is Caesar's sister, and we are told that Antony wed her in "her pride of youth,/ And flower of beauty." Ventidius argues that Antony's bond with Octavia must take precedence over his bond with Cleopatra. Through Ventidius, we see Antony's practical side struggling for dominance.
However, through Cleopatra, we see Antony's sensual nature wrestling for preeminence. In the play, Cleopatra asserts that she doesn't want Antony's "respect" as "respect is for a wife," for someone like "cold Octavia." What Cleopatra wants is Antony's adoration. The implication here is that Antony's life with Octavia is devoid of the sensual passion he shares with Cleopatra. In Act Three, the argument between Octavia and Cleopatra further reinforces Antony's irreconcilable desires.
Octavia is the "injured wife," banished from Antony's bed and driven from his home. Yet, she will not beg for Antony's love. So, even though her brother, Caesar, makes Octavia's happiness the price of peace, Octavia is unwilling to force Antony's hand. Essentially, she refuses to beg for Antony's love even though her claim as a wife is more valid than a lover's (Cleopatra). Antony's words characterize his private anguish, but Ventidius' answer is noteworthy:
ANTONY. I find a secret yielding in my soul;/ But Cleopatra, who would die with me,/ Must she be left? Pity pleads for Octavia;/ But does it not plead more for Cleopatra?
VENTIDIUS. Justice and pity both plead for Octavia;/ For Cleopatra, neither./ One would be ruined with you; but she first/ Had ruined you: The other, you have ruined,/ And yet she would preserve you./ In everything their merits are unequal.
So it is that, by the time Antony kills himself, we understand why our hero chooses this course of action. Capitulation to the claims of the marital bond would violate the claims of the sensual bond. The two are antithetical in nature. Antony's death is a negative reconciliation of the two opposing claims, reinforcing Hegel's theory of tragedy. However, it can also be said that Antony's final choice reveals the "eternal substance of things," in that there can be no harmony between disloyalty and loyalty.