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 figurative devices in Act 1, Scene 5 of Antony and Cleopatra highlight the theme?

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Although Shakespeare makes use of metaphor, personification, and apostrophe in this scene, his main element of figurative language proves to be hyperboleAntony and Cleopatra, after all, is a love story.  What better way to highlight this theme than with a scene of Cleopatra doting on her absent lover, Antony.  This is exactly what is happening in Act 1, Scene 5 of the play.  Shakespeare uses many metaphors here, such as when Cleopatra says, "Now I feed myself / With most delicious poison" as she speaks of Antony calling Cleopatra a "serpent of old Nile."  Cleopatra even ventures into personification and apostrophe (not to mention more metaphor) as she speaks to the absent horse that carries Antony:  "Do bravely, horse, for wot'st thou whom thou mov'st?  The demi-Atlas of this earth, the arm / And burgonet of men."  However, the main figure of speech used here is hyperbole.  In fact, it is hard to find a line of Cleopatra's speech that does not contain hyperbole in this scene.  (The last example is also a metaphor of hyperbole regarding Antony's strength.)  When Cleopatra is told that she thinks of Antony too much, she replies, "O, 'tis treason."  When told that Antony is "nor sad nor merry", Cleopatra replies, "O well-divided disposition! . . . O heavenly mingle!"  Cleopatra quickly adds, "Who's born that day / When I forget to send to Antony, / Shall die a beggar."  When someone compliments Caesar, Cleopatra insists, "By Isis, I will give thee bloody teeth, / If thou with Caesar paragon again / My man of men."  Ah, sweet infatuation, . . . always coupled with hyperbole.

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This scene is rich with metaphors and figurative language, and they foreshadow later actions in the play and the predict the end.  Cleopatra talks the entire time of Antony and how she misses him and loves him.  The references and metaphors, however, are not necessarily those of happy or hopeful love, but rather of a desperate love, with all the distraction and agony that is attendant upon this kind of emotion.  The scene begins with Cleopatra's rather cruel jests to the eunuch Mardian, asking him if he has sexual thoughts, and if he can perform sexual acts.  Mardian's answer is "Not in deed" (a pun on her question "Indeed") and he tells her he has "fierce affections, and thinks/What Venus did with Mars" (I.v.17-18).  Bringing up this immortal couple, who might have been the epitome of femininity and masculinity (Venus was the goddess of love, and Mars of war) but were hardly the picture of marital accord, draws the obvious parallel to the epic but troubled love of Antony and Cleopatra.  There are other figurative passages in this scene, but perhas the most important one occurs at the end.  Cleopatra is scolding her servant Charmian for talking so much about the "brave Caesar" (ln 68), Cleopatra's former lover, and Cleopatra brings up her "salad days". (ln 73)  This image, of one's youth as a salad "green in judgment, cold in blood" (74) is surprisingly powerful, for it shows that Cleopatra has grown older and her passions more intense.

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