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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Explore the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra and why it leads to tragedy.

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The relationship between Antony and Cleopatra is one of great complexity. Both Antony and Cleopatra have personal faults, which contribute both to the downfall of their relationship and eventually the true tragedy, of their deaths. Many events are called tragedies but few deserve this title. A tragedy occurs when a noble character falls from a position of grace due to faults inherent in his/her own character or that of the society in which he/she live. Unfortunately once the events are put in motion nothing can stop the inevitable consequences. There is no question about the extent of their love towards each other as it is clearly evident that they adore and crave the other, it is just their inability to commit that creates the ultimate problem. Their love is apparent from the very first occasion on which Cleopatra initially attracted Antony. Her true beauty could be no better displayed than on that night as Enobarbus describes.


The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne


Burned on the water. The poop was beaten gold;


Enobarbus describes it as though it was a magical, charming event and is complimentary towards Cleopatra. Agrippa, however, views the queen as some what different to that


Cheap Custom Essays on Explore the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra and why it leads to tragedy.




He ploughed her, and she cropped.


These two contrasting views truly reflect the conflicting personalities of Cleopatra which eventually eradicate their relationship. One description being of a charming nature, the other of Cleopatra being nothing more than a sexual object. Agrippa is commenting on Cleopatra’s relationship with Julius Caesar, and is well aware of her seductive nature and has little true respect for her


Royal Wench!


Antony is a figure of great importance to the entire Roman Empire as well as Cleopatra and therefore has many commitments, all of which are demanding on his time. Antony won his position as one of the three rulers of the world by conquering the deceitful Brutus and Cassius. One aspect of Antony’s appeal is that of his reputation. Just as Caesar portrays, Antony as a great man at war, Cleopatra views Antony as a hero and a superior man in comparison to others


… Thou didst drink


The stale of horses and the gilded puddle


Which beasts would cough at.


.Throughout “Antony and Cleopatra” Antony prioritises his time inappropriately, devoting more time to that of pursuing his love, Cleopatra. Even when Antony is concentrating on matters such as war, Cleopatra interferes with his judgement and distracts him. Such concerns are echoed by Enobarbus


“Your presence needs must puzzle Antony”


Enobarbus is proven correct when Antony decides to fight at sea instead of at land which he is strongest at. Cleopatra of course supports this because the Egyptians are strongest at sea and Cleopatra, although with her inexperience of tactical ability at war wishes to be a part of Antony’s cause. The result of this was to have Cleopatra sail away from war knowing all too well that Antony shall follow. When Antony confronts her she behaves in an innocent manner. Cleopatra, one of many different aspects of her character which are to be displayed throughout


O my lord, my lord, forgive my fearful sails!


I little thought that you would have followed


Antony has an uncontrollable passion for Cleopatra, and he uses the language of affection when talking about her and to her


Now, my dearest queen...


Most sweet queen…


It is this passion which clouds his reasoning, resulting in him deserting his duties to his people. Antony is throughout most of the tragedy dividing his time between being in Rome and then in Egypt. This is true to such an extent that sometimes even within one scene Antony has made the trip from Rome to Egypt and vice versa. Whenever he demonstrates such passion towards Cleopatra he degenerates into a love struck fool. It isn’t that Antony is incapable of balancing both duties, it is because such a task would require super natural powers, and however great Antony is perceived he is only human. Cleopatra has such a demanding nature that it would take all of Antony’s efforts to please her. Controlling an empire is equally as demanding. Instead of focusing his efforts on one of the two tasks Antony attempted to juggle them both, this is a key factor in the breakdown of their relationship. Antony complicates his mind as he is unable to decide who to devote himself to. Consequently he is torn between a world of love and passion with the queen of Egypt and his role as a Triumvir.





Cleopatra is a very glamorous and regal queen; she has a sincere obligation to “her” Egypt so much so that she is at times unable to even recognise the intentions and needs of Antony. Externally it appears that Cleopatra is not concerned about the love interest of Antony, but she is of course infatuated with him from the very start as in Act 5 Scene 1. Cleopatra is missing Antony madly and talks of her love for him


“Note him, good Charmian, ‘tis the man but note him!”


Cleopatra is aware of the power that she holds over Antony and the whole tragedy consists of Cleopatra domineering Antonys emotions. Always over dramatising events, but this is of course, what entices Antony


Antony Now my dear queen


Cleopatra Pray you stand further from me


This is Cleopatra’s skill, at times she has Antony at the edge of anger and then at the tip of love itself, but Cleopatra is only content if she is in charge, she does not wish for the relationships control to be out of her reach. It is not just Antony who Cleopatra has as an admirer, many who meet her are captivated by the extent of her regal personality and majestic ways. As conveyed by Enobarbus


…… Other women cloy


The appetites they feed


But she makes hungry


Where most she satisfies


This is the first introduction of the imagery of food being used in connection with Cleopatra. As though once introduced to the queen your appetite for her is endless, this is so for Antony. Cleopatra talks of herself


My Salad days,


When I was green in judgement, cold in blood


Salad being used to represent her fresh and healthy personality, whilst “cold in blood” suggests she is unconsciously talking of her temperament of going from hot to cold so quickly on Antony. Cleopatra’s appearance is mentioned by the talk of food, her attractiveness being obvious as reference of Cleopatra being a “yummy” food.


He will to his Egyptian dish again


Antony and Cleopatra both have the same problem in terms of their relationship, neither one of them is willing to sacrifice their commitments and allow them to devote their attentions to the other. Their love was continuously flawed by responsibilities elsewhere. This is due to Antony having the Empire to govern and Cleopatra having Egypt to care for. For the love of two such important figures to be successful, there can be no interference. Throughout the tragedy there are such enormous gestures of love from Antony to Cleopatra and vice versa. An example is when at sea during the war Antony follows Cleopatra away from the battle despite being well aware he should not. Theses gestures, however are never carried over and used as a solid platform to allow their love to develop, instead they squander the opportunity for eternal happiness and continue with the on going “cat and mouse” saga which is their relationship. They willingly talk of their love, as being on scale to the rest of the world if not bigger, seeing nothing as important enough to interfere with their love. This can be no truer than when Antony is married to Octavia for the sake of peace, yet it is clear where he longs to be. This is ironic, seeing how their love seems stronger when they are apart.


And though I make this marriage for my peace, I’th’ East my pleasure lies


In Act I scene 1 Antony talks to Cleopatra about their love and dismisses the duties he has neglected for her sake.


“Let Rome in Tiber melt and the wide arch


Of the ranged empire fall; here is my space”


This use of cosmic imagery is popular with both Antony and Cleopatra, with it being an ideal way to express their feelings towards each other. It is most commonly when apart that they express their true feelings, with a slight suggestion that when together all is not what they anticipated. This could be a result of two such dominant characters not always being able say the words of love with the presence of the other placing a block on their hearts freedom of speech.


It would appear that he places Cleopatra above his duties to Rome. But it is evident that Antony is unable to prioritise and instead attempts to manage both commitments. If blame was to be found anywhere then it would fall at the feet of Cleopatra, with her unpredictable mood swings and such a diverse range of characteristics. This can be demonstrated through the different titles used by people when regarding her. In Act 1 Scene 1 (I.i.10) Philo and Demetrius refer to Cleopatra as a lustful “gipsy”. (I.i.50) Cleopatra is labelled a “wrangling queen”, (I.iv.1) an “Egyptian dish”, ( II.vi.1) all of these labels are part of the problem. Antony doesn’t know who he loves let alone who doesn’t love him. Cleopatra’s sometimes heartless attitude towards Antony is destructive to them both. Instead of welcoming such attention from one of the rulers of the world, Cleopatra attempts to play a game, a game where there can be no victor.


If you find him sad, say I am dancing; if in mirth, report That I am sudden sick.


Whilst Antony unwillingly participates, he is tormented throughout, with his death perhaps being an escape from the anguish of being unable to have Cleopatra to himself.


Commitment is a big issue for both Antony and Cleopatra, neither one was able or maybe willing to make a definite decision on what they want from the relationship, it was also the fear of the unknown. Although they were both figures of great importance, they still had the human emotions that everybody else had to deal with. This is the cause of the tragedy. Neither Antony nor Cleopatra was able to satisfy both their personal and work needs. Nobody could predict the outcome of them coming together although it was strongly believed that it would be a great triumph for love. Evidently, it could be claimed, that they were unable to overcome such uncertainties


Both Antony and Cleopatra had reputations, it is evident that neither was willing to risk damaging this. By allowing their true emotions to be displayed to one another. This was of course a tragedy in itself, if either one of them had of gone that step further and sacrificed their other commitments then maybe their love could have flourished instead of their life’s ending. However I don’t believe their love would have flourished the initial appeal was that of Antony having his empire and Cleopatra her Egypt and the consequential power and respect. Take these away and both wouldn’t have appeared so attractive to the other. One cannot claim that their love would have been strong enough to succeed in different circumstances because if their love really was that strong then why didn’t it work. Although they loved each other, their love was based on adversity and conflict, and this is always a dangerous platform for any relationship.





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