The Love Story of Antony and Cleopatra
The tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra can be said to have an overall effect of comical lightness. In this way, it is altogether different from the preceding tragedies, although the tragedy that leads to the death and destruction of Antony and Cleopatra is definitely a matter of choice rather than of circumstances that engulf the hero. Yet, ultimately their tragic ending differs greatly from the ominous feeling of those that preceded it. Antony and Cleopatra concerns itself with typically distressing and grave imagery, most importantly the theme of permanent loss.
Although circumstance plays a part, the tragic hero is damned by what he himself does and is an active participant in his own downfall. In this sense, Antony is a tragic hero, although Shakespeare also presents him as a man torn between the tragedy of a powerful Rome and comedy in the pleasurable Egypt. In due course Antony could not sustain his duty to Rome, confused by his unwillingness and incapability to disregard his passion for Cleopatra. He most flippantly wed Octavia knowing fully that he could not give up his prior love. He relayed "I will to Egypt: And though I make this marriage for my peace, I’ th’ East my pleasure lies" (2.3.39-41). His underestimation of consequence at this time directly led to his tragic ending. In a conversation about Cleopatra, even Antony’s attendant Enobarbus showed understanding of Antony’s character flaws and the depth of his passions:
MAECENAS. Now Antony must leave her utterly.
ENOBARBUS. Never; he will not. (2.2.239-240)
The virtue of irremediable loss was also explored by Antony. His deficiency of true Roman character during the Battle of Actium resulted in his withdrawal from the war to follow after his love. Antony was fully aware of the losses such an action would incur. As a result, he not only experienced a reversal of fortune in his pride and political power, but this event led to his further downfall and eventually to his suicide in Act 5. Ironically, Antony indirectly prophesized the outcome of the play when he declared his wish that Rome not disturb his time with Cleopatra, he said "Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch of the ranged empire fall" (1.1.33-34)! Rome did melt for Antony as his political power arch was destroyed. Sadly, Antony did not possess the careful practicality of Octavius Caesar, which would have enabled him to avoid his tendency towards tragic folly. So, in the case of tragedy, both Antony and Cleopatra led themselves toward their sustained losses of power and pride and as with all tragedy, the death of the protagonists loomed imminently.
Although Antony and Cleopatra is formally defined as a tragedy, it stands out from Shakespeare’s earlier tragic works. The structure of paradox within the play produces a different effect to usual tragic intensity. The characters display moods and impulse rather than progressing through a process of...