Antony and Cleopatra Essay

1843 Words 8 Pages
Joseph Innes
How does Shakespeare present the sense of opposites or polarities
And what is the importance of these to the play?

William Shakespeare wrote Antony and Cleopatra around 1606, during the reign of King James ². The play is a history, set in the time of the Roman Empire many centuries before it was written and based on the well-documented history of Octavius Caesar, Marc Antony and Cleopatra. These characters and their lives were contained in primarily one document: Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, which was translated by Sir Thomas North in 1579. In the creation of the play, Shakespeare kept very close to the plot of North’s history although some characters such as Enobarbus are largely Shakespeare’s
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Although at the end of the play Rome seems to conquer Egypt, Shakespeare is presenting something much deeper. Cleopatra’s suicide is an example of the defiance towards the west, a triumph in its own right as the spirit and freedom of the East which will live on eternally as the counterpoint to the West, and its ideals.
Shakespeare also presents the clash between east and west through his presentation of female sexuality. Cleopatra is presented as the exotic, who seduces passing generals and turns them away from their duties. The way that Cleopatra is discussed in Rome is in terms of danger and beauty, such as a siren in Greek myth. Caesar and his men condemn Antony for his irresponsibility but ultimately put the blame on Cleopatra’s enchanting prowess. When not describing her as a whore, they worship the ground she walks as shown in the way Enobarbus describes her, and how the other men listen with awe “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety. Other women cloy”(2.2.225–245). Octavia is presented by Shakespeare to be the Roman opposite of Cleopatra, in beauty and temperament although the Roman men are still obsessed with her sexuality. They believe that she has the power to mend the triumvirs damaged union by marrying Antony, they expect her to “knit their hearts / With an unslipping knot” (2.2.132–133). In this way the women of the play are given the responsibility for the
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