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Tragic Heroism In Shakespeare's Antony And Cleopatra

1719 words - 7 pages

In the tragedy “Antony and Cleopatra”, Shakespeare presents our protagonist Mark Antony as a tragic hero. He does this by using a number of dramatically effective methods, including language, staging techniques and structure. Aristotle defines a tragic hero as a character of noble stature who has a tragic flaw (usually hubris which is over confidence/arrogance) and suffers a downfall that is partially their fault but also due to factors beyond their control. The downfall they suffer exceeds the “crime” but the tragic hero gains some sort of self-awareness.

Before the audience meets Antony, Shakespeare presents us with two soldiers discussing Antony’s current debauched life. This is dramatically effective staging because they are acting as a Greek chorus; relaying to the audience the general feeling in Rome and making us privy to feelings of irritation that Antony is unaware of. Philo tells us scathingly that “this dotage of our general’s/O’erflows the measure.” The use of the word “general” in the first line immediately tells us that Antony is a man of great rank. Quickly following this, he tells us that Antony “glowed like plated Mars” on the battlefield. This immediately raises his status to that of a god of war. This allows the audience to recognise Antony as a man who has gone into decline; he was not always a pleasure seeking man. Rank and stature are important aspects of the tragic hero; Aristotle believed that a tragic hero has to be a man of noble stature because it will emphasise the extent of his downfall, making it much more tragic.

Shakespeare presents the audience with a number of character interactions between the Roman soldiers to show Antony’s former greatness, rank and stature. They regularly use imagery of war and gods. They say his name was a “magical word of war” that struck fear into the hearts of their enemies. Another soldier calls him “the god of Jupiter” which elevates Antony’s status to that of a great leader, because Jupiter was the leader amongst all the other gods. Philo compares him to Mars, the god of war, which shows elevates his stature to be one of equal rank with a god. Caesar recalls Antony’s excellent soldiership and “virtus” qualities. “Virtus” was the Roman ideal of male force and energy: military prowess coupled with devotion to one’s honour and fame. Antony had to “drink/the stale of horses” and eat “strange flesh” and “the bark of trees” in order to stay alive and he was “borne so like a soldier that thy cheek…lanked not.” These striking images paint an unfathomable scene of heroic endurance which the audience respects and admires.

The audience is privy to a private conversation in Caesar’s home between Caesar and Lepidus, who were the other two thirds of the “triple pillar of the world” – the triumvirate. The triumvirate were a powerful political and military force; they ruled the Roman Empire after the murder of Julius Caesar. During this conversation, they discuss Antony’s debauched life...

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