What are the symbolic differences between Rome and Egypt in Shakespeare's Antony And Cleopatra?
In this play, Rome represents the world of the rational, the logical, the carefully practical, and the puritanical. It is the world of the strong, heroic male warrior. Egypt, on the other hand, symbolizes the land of sensuous pleasure, of the irrational, the enchanting, and the deceptive. As Antony is seduced by this feminine world, whose chief representative is the queen, Cleopatra, he loses power as a warrior. He is symbolically held by Cleopatra in "strong Egyptian fetters" (Act I, scene ii) that he cannot break, even after his marriage to Octavia. He has become a "strumpet's fool," (Act 1, scene 1) losing his Roman discipline and clearheadedness in the process. Cleopatra's power over him represents the disorder and sensuous intoxication of Egypt.
If Antony is enslaved by everything Egypt symbolizes—passion, pomp, luxury, ease, and beauty—Octavius Caesar embodies the rigid duty and austerity that Rome symbolizes. As a dedicated warrior, he would drink, if necessary, "the stale [urine] of horses," (Act I, scene iv), he attacks his enemies only when he cold-bloodedly calculates that he can win, and he manages his supplies with careful frugality, thinking it a "waste" to offer his army a feast (Act IV, scene i). He, like Rome, represents the logical, the hardheaded, and the practical.