Impressions of Egypt and Rome in First Two Scenes of Antony and Cleopatra
In the first two scenes of Antony and Cleopatra, we are introduced to
Egypt and Rome through the images and language used by the characters
in the play. Although the contrast between the two countries is
emphasised, we are also shown the way in which the two cultures are
often merged by the presence of the Romans in the Egyptian
environment. Egypt is predominantly presented to us as a liberal,
hedonistic society, where precedence is given to banquets and
pleasure-seeking, and it is full of female characteristics. On the
other hand, Rome is an extremely masculine, military-based society.
Importance is placed on discipline and physical strength, as opposed
to the self-interest which they see so much of in the Egyptian court.
Egypt is ruled by a Queen, which in itself is very significant as it
demonstrates the female-domination of Egyptian society. Cleopatra
occasionally mentions her dislike of the Roman ways, "A Roman thought
hath struck him," which shows the distance between the two cultures,
and suggest the Roman thoughts are violent and harsh. In fact, all the
Egyptians we have so far been introduced to are female, with the
exception of the Alexas, who is taunted by his female counterparts.
"O, let him/marry a woman that cannot go," Charmian playfully prays
that he will unable to consummate his marriage. We are also told of
the eunuchs, who have been castrated, and so had their male identity
removed. This suggests the sexual ambiguity in the court, and implies
that masculinity is not important.
The Egyptians are very sexually motivated and aware; they are not
restrained in their conversation about any subject. In the second
scene, Cleopatra's attendants talk openly about various sexual
matters, which demonstrates the sexually liberal society. The
Soothsayer in the scene implies that Charmian is extremely amorous,
"If every of your wishes had a womb/And fertile every wish, a
million," this shows the importance of physical pleasure to the
Egyptians. They also use sexual imagery in order to assert their
independence of males, Iras and Charmian predict that Alexas with
become, "Fiftyfold a cuckold." Charmian declares that she, "Loves long
life better than figs," and the implications here show that she would
rather enjoy her own life than waste it on a man. Iras also suggests
that, if she were to have an inch of better fortune, she would choose
it, "Not in my husband's nose," but rather in a more intimate region.
These extremely open discussions of sexuality add to the impression of
the laid-back hedonism that is displayed to us in Egypt.
Although Cleopatra speaks to Antony in verse, her attendants in scene
two speak wholly in prose. This allows them to have much greater
freedom in their language, and...