illustration of Antony and Cleopatra facing each other with a snake wrapped around their necks

Antony and Cleopatra

by William Shakespeare

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Summarize the article "Antony & Cleopatra; Gorgon or Mars, Whore or Goddess" by Gillian M. E. Alban. What are some of the main points and ideas about characters in the play that an essay based on this article could discuss?

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Alban's main point in the article "Antony and Cleopatra; Gorgon or Mars, Whore or Goddess" is that Shakespeare presents an oxymoronic interpretation of the characters in this tragedy. Antony and Cleopatra present a variety of qualities that were both human and divine. The author uses various illustrations within the text to show this contrast.

Antony and Cleopatra

Alban examines the analysis of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra in Ted Hughes' "Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being." Antony and Cleopatra, much like Romeo and Juliet, commit suicide because of a tragic misunderstanding. Cleopatra's identity exists on two levels, both as the "whore" and the goddess. She is both Isis, a goddess of motherhood, and Venus, the goddess of love and female empowerment. Antony's identity is also twofold as both a libertine or a Gorgon and a demi-Atlas, or the pillar of the world. His identities are echoed in the deities Dionysus, Adonis, Hercules, Osiris and Mars. Throughout Shakespeare's work and Hughes' analysis, the dualities of each character are contrasted with their relationship roles.

As Antony and Cleopatra progresses, other characters begin to acknowledge the title characters' contrasting natures. Philo, one of Antony's followers, is disgusted that his leader has "abased" himself by consorting with Cleopatra, a woman who is known for her sexuality and mysticism. Pompey also focuses on the perceived lecherous side of Cleopatra, lamenting her "witchcraft, joined with beauty, lust with both" that made her a weakness for "ne'er lust-wearied Antony." Throughout her essay, Alban shows that racism and sexism play significant roles in how other characters view Cleopatra. Antony falls in love with the Queen of Egypt, and while he has a more nuanced understanding of her character, it is clear that he primarily sees her as a goddess rather than the whore archetype. Meanwhile, his men only see her through a lens tinted with prejudice towards women in power.

Alban also explores the duality of Antony's identity as Gorgon and Mars through his relationship with Cleopatra. As a Gorgon and as a libertine, there is a chaotic element to Antony's personality. As Mars, he resembles a conquering god, as evidenced by his desire to redeem his honor through victory in battle. Antony remarks, "By sea and land I'll fight. Or I will live,/ Or bathe my dying honor in the blood/ Shall make it live again."

In summary, the author argues that Antony and Cleopatra have withstood numerous claims and accusations from other characters only to remain ultimately unchanged in their dual natures. While the outside claims made against them seem outlandish, the claims the lovers make about themselves are often equally absurd and conflicting. Cleopatra both longs for Antony and mistrusts him. Antony is captivated by Cleopatra while entertaining a sense that she is his undoing. Each deifies and worships the other while bringing out his or her human, mortal qualities. In the end, Antony and Cleopatra remain both human and immortal, and they retain all the complications that accompany those dueling identities.

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