Triumph Over Tragedy in Antony and Cleopatra
A plot summary of Antony and Cleopatra would suggest that it is a tragedy. The play focuses on the downfall of Antony as a Roman warrior due to his love affair with Cleopatra, as well as the suicides of both the protagonists. However, despite these incidents, the play lacks the somber note of Shakespeare's other tragedies. Cleopatra, who represents the merriment of Egyptian society, lends a sense of humor to the play that contrasts with the seriousness of Rome. Antony's preference for Cleopatra over Rome is validated within the play, and his failure as a warrior is a Roman loss that is counterbalanced by his consequent success as a lover to Cleopatra. Furthermore, the ending of the play itself has a sense of triumph that does not suggest a tragedy. Although Caesar achieves victory over Antony and gains world power, he is not able to destroy the more valuable love between Antony and Cleopatra. Antony and Cleopatra's suicides are not dismal and desperate ends, but an escape from imminent Roman imposition and a means to further their love in a freer and happier life together in heaven. Therefore, although the plot suggests tragedy, the greater value of Antony's love for Cleopatra over Roman success, and the perpetuation of this love allows for a sense of comedy.
The play is marked by the tension that Antony feels as a result of the conflict between his love for Cleopatra and the pleasures of Egyptian life, with his sense of duty as a Roman warrior and a member of the triumvirate. Although he returns to Rome to carry out his duties, Antony places superior value on the love that he and Cleopatra have for one another. Cleopatra is worth the world to him and he declares to her, "Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch/ Of the ranged empire fall!…I bind, / On the pain of punishment, the world to weet / We stand up peerless" (1.1.33-39). However, as he attempts to live separate existences as a warrior and lover, his duties conflict with his Egyptian life. This tension is revealed by the political, unemotional marriage that he makes to Caesar's sister, Octavia, to strengthen the triumvirate. Caesar's willingness to marry his sister to a man who is in love with someone else reflects poorly on his character and exemplifies the cold, insincere politics that govern Roman life. Furthermore, Antony's loveless marriage contrasts with his passionate relationship with Cleopatra and emphasizes the inferiority of his Roman life to his Egyptian life.
Cleopatra has a playful personality, and her gentle teasing of Antony and his good-natured acceptance of this treatment provides entertainment as well as evidence of their love for one another. Antony nicknames Cleopatra the "serpent of the old Nile," and the humorous description that he gives the intoxicated Lepidus of this creature reveals the comedy that Egypt and Cleopatra represent (1.5.25). Antony words his explanation so as to reveal nothing about...