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Tragedy In "Antony And Cleopatra". Essay

3525 words - 14 pages

"Antony and Cleopatra" seems to have a special place in Shakespeare's works because it is at a crossroad between two types of play. It clearly belongs to what are generally called the 'Roman' plays, along with Coriolanus and Julius Caesar. But it is also considered a tragedy. The importance of history in the play cannot be denied, especially where it is compared to Shakespeare's 'great' tragedies such as Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. But one might wonder what is specifically tragic in Antony and Cleopatra, and what can be said about the tragic in a play which is so different from the other tragedies. It is clear that the notion of 'tragic' in the everyday sense is not necessarily the same as the notion of 'tragedy', which is a philosophical notion whose definition depends on which philosophic system one takes into account. In this article I shall take the term tragic in its literary and dramatic sense and try to define its main characteristics.Taking into account a wide corpus of plays, from Antiquity as well as from France and England, we can detect several constant features that can define the tragic. A tragedy usually shows a character that is outstanding by his rank or/and inner abilities, falling into misfortune as a result of fate, and because of an error or a weakness for which he is not really responsible. Several tragic elements can be detected in Antony and Cleopatra. First, we find characters that have high rank because they are outstanding figures; we also see a tragic situation because from the beginning of the play we see no hope of a happy ending. In the end, even if it is hard to see a transcendence in action, the play shows a failure of human freedom, a determinism in the character's fate that can be considered as the essence of tragic.The heroes of "Antony and Cleopatra" have high rank and ability because they are above the level of common people. This is a general characteristic in tragedies. Tragic heroes are extraordinary specimens of mankind. They can be remarkable for their intelligence (as is Oedipus, the main character of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles), their cruelty (like Medea, in the eponymous tragedy by Seneca), or their nobleness in mind, (like Caesar in Cinna by Corneille). Very often the tragic hero is from royal blood. Antony, in Shakespeare's play as well as in Roman history, is a military leader of incredible power, intelligence and courage. Caesar himself shows his esteem for him when he reproaches him for his present moral decay:"When thou onceWas beaten from Modena, where thou slew'stHirtius and Pansa, consuls, at thy heelDid famine follow, whom thou fought'st against(Though daintily brought up) with patience moreThan savages could suffer."(...)..................................................And all this(It wounds thine honour that I speak it now)Was borne so like a soldier, that thy cheekSo much as lank'd not. (Act I, scene IV)If Cleopatra does not have such a strong moral sense, she is remarkable for her royal...

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