Shakespeare’s Presentation of Rome and Egypt in Antony and Cleopatra
As the title clearly suggests, Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra is
based around the extraordinary relationship among two distinctive
individuals, one a Roman general and the other an Egyptian queen.
Along with Caesar who is also a Roman general, these entities dominate
the play’s tragic storyline progression. However whilst Antony and
Cleopatra centres around a provocative love affair, Shakespeare makes
it evident that there is a good deal larger tensions involved, a
collision course between two worlds. Antony and Cleopatra details the
conflict between Rome and Egypt, it demonstrates the differences
between Eastern and Western cultures, however it does not make a clear
statement over which culture ultimately triumphs.
In the play the Western and Eastern cultures of the world are
symbolised by those who reside in them. Caesar for example,
personifies the strict and unbending duty of the West. While
Cleopatra, in all her pretentious magnificence, embodies the graceful
passions of the East. Caesar’s anxieties right through the play are
undoubtedly imposing: he means to occupy foreign lands in order to
endow them with traditions of his own. But the play opposes siding
with this imposing impulse.
The Roman perceptiveness of Cleopatra and her kingdom seems very
shallow. To Caesar Cleopatra is a whore with a flair for drama.
Caesars narrow-mindedness allows little room for the real influence of
Cleopatra’s sexuality, she can after all convince the most highlighted
of generals to trail her into shameful retreat. Likewise, it permits
little room for the unconquerable strength of her resolve, which she
displays so vehemently at the closing stages of the play as she
refuses to allow herself to be turned into an “Egyptian puppet” for
the amusement of the Romans.
In Antony and Cleopatra, West and East collide, but it does not in
spite of Caesar’s conquest over the land of Egypt, defeat it.
Cleopatra’s suicide implies that a touch of the East’s character, the
freedoms and fervour that are not signified in the play’s notion of
the West, cannot be listed by Caesar’s victory. The play proposes that
the East will survive on as a perceptible and invincible counterpart
to the West, bound as inseparably and everlastingly as Antony and
Cleopatra are in their mausoleum.
As the play develops, Antony continues to occupy contradictory
characteristics that play out the struggle between motive and feeling.
In one instance, he is the rancorous war hero whom Caesar eulogizes
and fears. Almost immediately after that, he surrenders his military
designation by foolishly allowing Cleopatra to establish his course of
action. As his Roman friends, even the faithful Enobarbus desert him,
Antony feels that he has, without a doubt,...