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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What is the audience's first impression of Cleopatra and her empire in Antony and Cleopatra?

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The audience's first impression of Cleopatra and her empire in Antony and Cleopatra is one of unrestrained emotion, luxury, magnificence, and improvidence. This provides a contrast to the austerity, coldness, and sense of public duty that characterize Rome.

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The first three scenes of Antony and Cleopatra take place in Egypt. Scene 4 is set in Rome, in the house of Octavius Caesar, and offers a contrast as well as a Roman perspective on Cleopatra and her empire.

The very first viewpoint, however, is also a Roman one. Philo, who appears to be an officer in the Roman army, is remarking in disgust on the way in which Antony has been captivated by Cleopatra. He refers to the queen contemptuously as a "gypsy" and a "strumpet" and blames Antony for abandoning the values of Rome for those of Alexandria.

The audience's impression over the next three scenes bears out the general notion of Egypt that Philo has, though the audience may not share his disgust. Rome is the center of stern duty, Puritanism, and austerity. Cleopatra and her empire are, in every way, opposed to this. Cleopatra herself is volatile but charming, a woman who has a bewitching effect not only on Antony, but on everyone around her. She has no Roman sense of public duty and treats the empire as her personal possession.

The Egyptian empire reflects Cleopatra's personality. It is a place of frivolity, luxury, and excess. Huge banquets are held, and there is no shame in gluttony or drunkenness or any other extremes. Everything is on the most magnificent scale, with no thought of counting the cost or planning for the future.

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