How does William Shakespeare treat love in two of his plays, Othello and Antony and Cleopatra?
William Shakespeare's "Othello" and "Antony and Cleopatra" both take similar approaches to the theme of the destructive power of overwhelming love. There are many similarities between the characters and plot elements, but some differences as well.
The first similarity is that in both plays the lovers had radically different cultural backgrounds. Othello is a Moor and Desdemona a Venetian. Antony is a Roman and Cleopatra descended from the Macedonian rulers of Egypt. Both men are substantially older than the women, and successful and active military leaders.
In both these pairings, the love stories end tragically, with the deaths of both of the lovers. In part, the reason for the unhappy endings has to do with the nature of the relationships. Othello describes himself as:
[O]ne that loved not wisely, but too well.
In both cases, the men were irrationally infatuated with the women, nearly to a point of madness, leading them to various self-destructive acts, Othello's murder of Desdemona and Antony's suicide.
The main difference between the treatments of love in the plays resides not in the men, but the women. Cleopatra is clever, powerful, rich, and worldly, using her sexuality to manipulate some of the most powerful men in her world to do her bidding. Desdemona, on the other hand, is chaste, and deeply loves Othello. In the case of Cleopatra and Antony, there is a sense of intense sexual attraction and infatuation between two rather manipulative and unscrupulous people. In the case of Desdemona and Othello, we have what could have been a good marriage between two people who genuinely loved and cared for each other, destroyed by the machinations of the evil Iago.