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Antony And Cleopatra Essay

5856 words - 23 pages

In this essay I will explore the transformations of two signs that structure Antony and Cleopatra: performance and writing. As each circulates in the diverse dramatic contexts of the play, they articulate its thematic elements into a series of varying relations which operate at different levels of abstraction; from interactions between principles of flow and constraint, through the construction of characters' honour, virtue, or reputation, to what might be the perceived meaning of the physical gestures, actions, and visual appearances and arrangements when presented on-stage. By tracing some of those circulations, I hope to elucidate some of the effects that they produce in terms of a relation between subjects and their dramatised world, and the operation of the play's dramatised world in the theatrical event.In the opening scene of Antony and Cleopatra, the first sentence describes Antony's identity as being in a state of flux: "this dotage of our general's / O'erflows the measure" (1.1.1-2). An image system is constructed throughout the text along chains of association extending from this sentence; they assign different subject positions for the characters to speak from or to be viewed from. "Measure," firstly, appears to refer to a limit that describes the proper standard of Roman identity. It is the spectacle of Antony deviating from this standard that alarms its Roman audience (Demetrius and Philo). Deviation from Roman measure is figured as flow. The description goes on to elaborate this principle of overflowing in physical terms; Antony's heart refuses all self-restraint. His desire is excessive, producing a transformation of his identity from a "pillar of the world"--a firm bearer of the Roman state, likened to Mars, the god of war, clad in armour--"Into a strumpet's fool" (12-3). Even before he appears on-stage, therefore, Antony is in some sense constituted by the ideological structure of the Roman world; "that great property / Which still should go with Antony" (58-9) is a quality that Demetrius and Philo understand to define Antony's proper appearance, in conformity with his proper identity as a pillar of the world, and is measured by a Roman standard. That property is his honour--the accounting of his virtue--which circulates in the form of reputation. Later in the play, the pretext for Antony's break from Caesar is the latter's denigration of his reputation:. . . [Caesar] To the public ear:Spoke scantly of me: when perforce he could notBut pay me terms of honour, cold and sicklyHe vented them; most narrow measure lent me (3.4.5-8).Antony insists to Octavia that the measure of his reputation defines his very identity; "if I lose mine honour, / I lose myself" (22-3).The medium of reputation is language; it is principally something one hears about or tells of. If the constitution of Antony's Roman identity is measured by language, perhaps his deviation from it may be said to be by means of the extra-linguistic? In terms of the chains...

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