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ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA- Revision Notes

At the very heart of Antony and Cleopatra is a sense of flux. This flux is apparent in the
continuously changing force of politics, the “infinite variety” and surface changeability of
Cleopatra, and in the multi-faceted identity of Antony. Also central is the conflict between
the warring ideals of love and duty, represented by the settings of Rome and Egypt, and this
play seems to question whether these two seemingly contrasting concepts can truly co-
exist. This continuous conflict and change drives the play towards its inevitably tragic
ending.

CHARACTERS:

ANTONY:

 Conflicted between two contrasting aspects of himself, struggles with his sense of identity.
(Donald: “Antony is torn between two irreconcilable yet equally fundamental aspects of his own
personality”)

 Somewhat representative of an earlier time, almost out-of-date in this time. We never truly see
Antony’s greatness, we are just told of it.

 Capable to a fault of making people love him through his power of speech. (Jacobson: “He makes
himself […] supremely unkillable”)

 His lack of soliloquies makes him motives ambiguous. (Jones: “Everyone moves in a mist of
passion, driven by obscure pressures”)

 He cannot commit fully to the idea of Antony as a soldier, nor as a lover, and this is what
destroys him.

CLEOPATRA:
 Cleopatra is powerful, manipulative and defies gender expectations and stereotypes. Her
sexuality is seen as negative and dangerous to the men in the play. (John Knox: “Woman in her
greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man” Turner: “Cleopatra does not fit neatly into
this pattern of submission”)
 She is entirely representative of the values of Egypt (Romance, Freedom and Fun) and so could
be seen as a personification of her country.
 She is of “infinite variety”, and this is what makes her so desirable. (Belsey: “Cleopatra
personifies the elusiveness and mystery that generate desire”) Her devotion to Antony is infinite
too, and her sole motivation in the play concerns him. She does not share the same conflict of
interest as Antony does. (Donald: “all her powers of fascination are directed to keeping him
beside her”)

CAESAR:
 Caesar is most akin to a villain in the play, yet Shakespeare never overtly writes him as such.
(Perhaps influenced by James I, who drew various parallels between himself and the first Roman
Emperor, even having a coronation medal minted depicting James dressed like the emperor with
a Latin inscription proclaiming him Caesar Augustus of Britain- Shakespeare’s compant of players
has been made the Kings Men (the official theatrical company of King James) and so they would
have been careful not to offend the King in any way)
 He is cold, analytical and at time extremely snobbish. Representative of Rome’s cold, business-
like attitude (Tanner: “For Rome, Egypt represents a great waste of time while the ‘business’ of
history is going on”)
 His more emotional and loving side is shown in his interactions with Octavia, but he is even
willing to sacrifice her potential happiness for political gain.
 He seemingly wins at the end, but the death of Antony and Cleopatra does carry with it a sense
of triumph over Caesar as they have escaped having to be led through triumph.

ENOBARBUS:
 Serves as a confidante and alternative viewpoint to Antony. He is honest to a fault, and often
predicts things correctly. He is wise in most situations, but due to his lower social status no one
around him really listens to him.
 He breaks the fourth wall often, and seems to comment on the action at several times
throughout the play.
 His defining characteristic is his loyalty to Antony, and when he loses this sense of identity he
finds himself unable to go on living. His death adds to the “scene of woe” (Bradley) created by
the downfall of Antony and Cleopatra.

POMPEY:
 His leadership style is based on concepts of honour and idealism. He is a noble man, willing to
negotiate with the Roman triumvirs and making a truce with them.
 However, when he responds to Menas’ offer to kill the triumvirs on his boat by saying “Ah this
thou shouldst have done,/ And not spoke on’t”, showing both the precariousness of life and
loyalty, and also Pompey’s sense of honour and willingness to play by the rules.
 Unfortunately, those around him do not play by the same rules and he ends up being killed by
Caesar.
 Reputation is more important than morality.
Love VS Duty:
 Antony is at conflict between two warring factions of his personality, undergoes an oscillation
throughout. Cleopatra does not share this oscillation and is instead single-mindedly fixated on
her love for Antony. (Donald) Contrastingly, Caesar is largely a personification of politics and
duty. (Caesar becoming first emperor, James I)
 The respective settings of Rome and Egypt seem to be largely representative of these conflicting
ideals, and this sense of warring understandings of the importance of love over duty or vice versa
is introduced from the very first scene. (Shapiro, 1606, “If anything, the pendulum had swung
even further against the lovers by the time Shakespeare finished Julius Caesar” Kenneth Muir,
wrote that in “The Faerie Queen (1590) Spenser condemned the lovers for their ‘wastful Pride
and wanton Riotsie.”)
 Large amount of scenes fluctuating from romantic Egypt to largely emotionless Rome,
representative of the two settings at war- the play seems to question whether the two can co-
exist. (Emrys Jones)
 End- duty seemingly wins out over love, but there is also a triumph for love in that Antony and
Cleopatra are able to escape the world of change and are seemingly reunited in heaven for
eternity. (Tanner)

Politics:
 In ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ politics is a rapidly changing force, and this is reflected by the often-
changing nature of power. One moment Lepidus is a trusted (yet ineffectual) member of the
triumvirate and a close friend of Caesar, the next Caesar has him imprisoned and stripped of his
power. Pompey’s boat scene shows the precariousness of politics and conflict. (Defies the unities
of time) (James I context) (Tanner: “the events of the play are indeed of world importance”)
 Politics as a fluctuating force is reflected by the structure of the play, in which rapidly shifting
scenes show change and flux. The “short and circumscribed scenes” leave “no room for the
grander movements of feeling.” “Everyone moves in a mist of passion, driven by obscure
pressures”. Scene with Ventidius and Silius highlights this. “From this angle they look different.”
(Emrys Jones)
 Politics, a concept firmly grounded in the public sphere, is constantly at odds with the private
sphere, represented by the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra. This concept is
introduced from the very first scene. (Tanner: “For Rome, Egypt represents a great waste of time
while the ‘business’ of history is going on.”) (Shapiro and Muir on negative conceptions of the
lovers)
 It seems that whoever is the most manipulative and cunning is the most likely to succeed in
politics, shown by Caesar’s victory at the end of the play. (Further James I- his wording of Thomas
Percy) Through this, Shakespeare seems to convey politics’ capacity for destruction.

Conflict:
 Conflict, external and internal, is central to ‘Antony and Cleopatra’. The main conflict in this play
comes from the warring factions of Rome and Egypt, and their contrasting ideals of duty and
love. The play seems to question if these two concepts can truly co-exist, and this is introduced
from the very first scene. (Shapiro and Muir)
 This sense of conflicting ideals is furthered by the structure of the play, in which “scenes are
short and circumscribed” and switching rapidly between the settings of Rome and Egypt. (Emrys
Jones)
 Antony suffers a conflict of identity throughout, stuck between the diametrically opposed forces
of his duty in Rome and a triumvir, and his passionate and all-consuming love for Cleopatra in
Egypt. Cleopatra does not share this conflict of identity or of intention. (Donald) (Gender
Context- John Knox)
 External conflict, or war, is shown to be a driving force of the action in the play. It is shown to be
underlined by treachery and betrayal, and it seems that whoever is able to betray the others
most effectively is victorious in war. (Augustus, James I context)
 At the end of the play, Antony tries to reconcile his conflict in identity by trying to pin down his
sense of self, “a Roman, by a Roman/ Valiantly vanquished.” However, there is the sense that
this is not enough of a reconciliation of the conflict within him. Cleopatra’s death (Snake context)
contrasts the sense of constant change, movement and conflict throughout, with the image of
her as “marble constant” at the end of the play. (Tanner)

Love:
 Clash between love and duty present from the very first scene with the antithesis between the
Roman perception of Antony and Cleopatra’s relationship as one of “lust” which “O’erflows the
measure”, and the exalted language of the lovers themselves such as “the nobleness of life” and
“new heavens, new earth”. (Muir and Shapiro)
 The structure of the play emphasises these clashing ideals, and the difficulty of love to survive
surrounded by “discontinuity and multiplicity” (Emrys Jones)
 The character largely representative of love is Cleopatra who, unlike Antony, does not suffer a
conflict of interest but instead “all her powers of fascination are directed to keeping him beside
her.” (Donald) Her only defining character motivation in the entire play is her love of Antony, and
through this love she defies stereotypical expectations for women. (Turner: “Cleopatra does not
fit neatly into this pattern of submission”) (John Knox) (Real-life Cleopatra)
 Shakespeare explores love through the presentation of the relationship between Antony and
Cleopatra. Their love is both something immensely private and intimate, but also something very
public and performative. This paradox reflects something of Cleopatra as a whole.
 By the end, it would appear duty has won over love, creating a sense of pathos for the loss of
two extraordinary and almost otherworldly lovers (Tragedy). But, the implication that the two
are reunited in death gives the sense of love achieving a transcendent victory, creating much
more than just “uncompensated suffering”. (Kastan)

Power:
 Power as a continually fluctuating force, constantly changing allegiances. Reflected by the
structure of the play which “heaves ripplingly like the sea in a quiet mood” (Emrys Jones)
 Relationship between love and power, Cleopatra’s power over Antony and the subversion of
gender expectations. (Turner) (Donald) (John Knox)
 Cleopatra, however, is not the only one with power and influence over Antony. Antony is
conflicted between two powerful contrasting forces which each hold power over him, leads to
his internal conflict for entirety of the play. (Donald) (Shakespeare’s age) (Tanner)
 Idea that the tragedy of the play is inevitable, and that Antony doesn’t even have power over his
own destiny. (“Powerlessness of man”- A.C Bradley and “arbitrary destiny”- Kastan)
 In the end, it seems that Caesar has gained ultimate power as the sole triumvir, and history tells
us that he goes on to become Augustus. But there is the sense that the lovers, and their lasting
legacy, hold the true power that no political victory could ever rival.

Change:
 The play is driven by change, and nowhere is this more evident than the structure and setting of
the play. Gives sense of scale, importance and the continually fluctuating forces of politics and
alliances. (Tanner: “the events of the play are, indeed, of ‘world importance’” and Jones: “the
setting of the play is the entire world”) (Defies unities of place, time and action- 9 years)
 Antony’s shifting alliances between the ideals of Duty and Love. (Donald) (Shapiro and Muir) On
the other hand, whilst Cleopatra is defined by her surface changeability, her “infinite variety”,
she does not suffer the same conflict of interest. (Donald) (John Knox) (Turner)
 Idea of Egypt being a “timeless present” whilst Rome is in a “continual hurry”. From the very first
scene the lovers try to escape the world of change but are constantly harassed by it. (Tanner)
 In the end, Cleopatra stills this oscillation (Donald) and becomes “marble constant”.

CRITICS:
KASTAN “Tragedy, for Shakespeare, is the genre of uncompensated
suffering”
A.C. BRADLEY (Shakespearean “It is only in the love tragedies […] that the heroine is as much at
Tragic Hero) the centre of the action as the hero.”

“A tale of suffering and calamity conducting to death”

“scene of woe”

“A total reverse of fortune, coming unawares upon a man who


once ‘stood in high degree’”
JACOBSON (Antony’s Suicide) “the price he pays for having made himself too much a man, too
much a thing of emotion”

“He makes himself […] supremely unkillable.”


EMRYS JONES (The play’s structure) “Antony and Cleopatra heaves ripplingly like the sea in a quiet
mood.”

“Most of its scenes are short and circumscribed; they have no


room for the grander movements of feeling.”

“The setting of the play is the entIre world”

“Everyone moves in a mist of passion, driven by obscure


pressures”

“discontinuity and multiplicity, volatility and impulsiveness”


DONALD Refers to “oscillation” throughout the play. “It is only in death
that the movement can be stilled.”

“Antony is torn between two irreconcilable yet equally


fundamental aspects of his own personality”

“all her powers of fascination are directed to keeping him beside


her”
TANNER (Time and Timelessness) “The events of the play are of world importance”

“Egypt, in this play, is a timeless present”

Messengers “are interruptions, irruptions, precipitants of change”

“the whole world seems in a ‘hurry’ and in a state of flux”

“For Rome, Egypt represents a great waste of time while the


‘business of history is going on”
BELSEY “Cleopatra personifies the elusiveness and mystery that generate
desire”
MILES “This is a romance with global implications”
TURNER “Cleopatra does not fit neatly into this pattern of submission”

CONTEXT
 Shapiro’s 1606- “For Horace in his odes, Antony was subdued by a femme fatale.” “If
anything, the pendulum had swung even further against the lovers by the time
Shakespeare finished Julius Caesar.”

 Protestant leader John Knox in 1588, stated that "woman in her greatest perfection was
made to serve and obey man." Cleopatra clearly defies these stereotypes for women.

 The snake- historically a symbol of rebirth and immortality. It is very apt that the snake is
Cleopatra’s method of suicide, as she has “immortal longings” in her.

 The scenes of comedy within the play, of course, have a practical element too as they
serve to lighten the tone. This would be especially important in Elizabethan England,
where the audience would be far more vocal and even physical about their disapproval.

 Main source for the play was North’s translation of Plutarch’s Life of Marcus Antonius.

 “In The Faerie Queen (1590) Spenser condemned the lovers for their wasteful pride and
wanton riotise.” -Kenneth Muir

 The phrase “the victors write history” is crucial, as in Elizabethan times most of the
historical accounts of Cleopatra would have been very negative as Caesar is the one who
is victorious in the end. This play seems to go against these negative accounts, and
presents Cleopatra as much more than a simple seductress.

 James I very much admired and saw parallels between himself and Augustus Caesar,
even having a coronation medal minted depicting James dresses as Caesar and with a
Latin inscription below proclaiming him Caesar Augustus of Britain. Caesar’s “word[ing]”
of Cleopatra could be paralleled with how James gave Thomas Percy assurances that
Catholic recusants would be free to worship openly without fear a penalty, whilst also
giving public reassurance to Protestants.

 As Shakespeare’s players were the ‘King’s Men’ (the official theatrical company of the
King) they would have been keen to not offend him in anyway.
 Forces of Rome (personified by Caesar) and forces of Egypt (personified by Cleopatra) fight for ownership
over Antony.
 Parallel between outer conflict, battles and wars and inner conflict of Antony- just as turbulent, precarious
and dangerous.
 Antony and Cleopatra’s relationship defies all stereotypes- she is not subservient to him, and it is made
clear by Shakespeare that they are equals in their relationship.
 The imagery of Hercules, Mars, Venus and Isis serve as reminders of the high status of the titular
characters, and hyperbole used throughout heightens this idea of greatness. The characters are portrayed
as being very aware of their grand self-images, evidenced when Cleopatra says “But since my lord/ Is
Antony again/ I will be Cleopatra.”
 Several allusions to the theatre seek to highlight the element of performance in Cleopatra and Antony-
“play one scene/ Of excellent dissembling” and “Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness.” Also
breaks down the fourth wall.
 Comedic moments in the play seek to lighten tone but also to heighten the eventual tragedy by contrast.
 No character ever truly says what they are thinking all the time, the lack of soliloquies mean that motives
are largely unclear.
 Role of women in the play is very interesting. Octavia is sister to perhaps the most powerful man in Rome,
yet she is used as a mere political pawn in order to secure a friendship between Antony and Caesar.
 Cleopatrastyle
Pompey’s is almost a counterpoint
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His honour seems false and hollow when he tells Menas after he offers to kill the triumvirs that “this thou
shouldst have done,/ And not spoke on’t.”
 Caesar is very straight-forward, blunt and realistic. He knows what he thinks is right and has a very rigid moral
code.
 Antony is a leader who appeals to the people. He is charismatic and a good soldier, but his lack of
commitment to Rome make him a less effective ruler.
 Lepidus is hardly a leader at all, and his weak personality makes him constantly get left out and treated as if
he were below the other triumveres.