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Bhumika Gupta B.A. (honours) English II year Roll No.

- 2991

Assignment on Antony and Cleopatra

Question: Comment on the Romans construct of Cleopatra as a cultural stereotype.

Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare is one of the best known tragedies of William Shakespeare. The tragedy is a portrayal of the actual events and persons from the Roman history and it also embodies the love story of the title characters. The plot, historical background and the intimate details of the affair between the title characters, the Egyptian queen Cleopatra and the Roman General Antony has been borrowed from the Roman historian Plutarchs Lives. In the characters of Antony, Cleopatra and Augustus Caesar; Shakespeare displays larger than life characters. The play is a very involved play that operates with rapid shifts between the homeland of Antony, Rome and the palace of Cleopatra in Alexandria, Egypt. The assortment of perspectives from which we see Cleopatra illustrates the varying understandings of her as a decadent foreign woman and a noble ruler. As Philo and Demetrius take the stage in Act I, scene i, their complaints about Antonys neglected duties frame the audiences understanding of Cleopatra, the queen for whom Antony risks his reputation. Within the first ten lines of the play, the men declare Cleopatra to be a lustful gipsy, a description that is repeated throughout the play as though by a chorus (Act I, Scene i). Cleopatra is labeled a wrangling queen (Act I, Scene i), a slave (Act I, Scene iv), an Egyptian dish (Act II, Scene vi), and a whore (Act III, Scene vi); she is called Salt Cleopatra (Act II, Scene i) and an enchantress who has made Antony the noble ruin of her magic (Act III, Scene x). But to view Cleopatra as such is to reduce her character to the rather narrow perspective of the Romans, who, standing to lose their honor or kingdoms through her agency, are most threatened by her. Certainly this threat has much to do with Cleopatras beauty and open sexuality, which, as Enobarbus points out in his famous description of her in Act II, scene ii, is awe-inspiring. But it is also a performance. Indeed, when Cleopatra takes the stage, she does so as an actress, elevating her passion, grief, and outrage to the most dramatic and captivating level. As Enobarbus says, the queen did not walk through the street, but rather Hop[ped] forty paces . . . And having lost her breath, she spoke and panted, That she did make defect perfection,

And breathless, pour breath forth. (Act II, Scene ii) Whether whispering sweet words of love to Antony or railing at a supposedly disloyal servant, Cleopatra leaves her onlookers breathless. As Antony notes, she is a woman [w]hom everything becomesto chide, to laugh / To weep (Act I, Scene i). It is this ability to be the perfect embodiment of all thingsbeauty and ugliness, virtue and vicethat Cleopatra stands to lose after her defeat by Caesar. By parading her through the streets of Rome as his trophy, he intends to reduce her character to a single, base elementto immortalize her as a whore. Cleopatra often behaves childishly and with relentless self-absorption; nevertheless, her charisma, strength, and indomitable will make her one of Shakespeares strongest, most awe inspiring female characters. The Romans construe the character of Cleopatra due to her love affairs with the two powerful and noble men of Rome. She became well known due to her affair with the two roman rulers, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. On the death of her father Cleopatra became the ruler of Egypt along with her elder brother. But her brothers friends drew her out of Egypt. She was helped by Julius Caesar who came to her country and helped her regain the throne. This time she ruled along with her younger brother. Bot Caesar and Cleopatra fell in love with each other, and also said to have had a son together called Caesarian. The romans could also have a good idea about Cleopatra when she stayed in Caesars villa for some time. Cleopatra returned to Egypt when Caesar was murdered in 44 B.C. After Caesar's death two men struggled for power in Rome: Mark Antony and Octavious. Mark Antony felt attracted to Cleopatra and the Egyptian queen helped him in his battle against Octavious. Their relationship deepened and she bore him three children. Octavious went to war against Antony, who united his navy with Cleopatra's. After they had been defeated at the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C. the couple fled to Alexandria. Antony committed suicide by stabbing himself with a sword. A short time later Cleopatra let a snake bite her and she also died. With Cleopatras death Greek rule came to an end and the country became a Roman province. These two love affairs gave Romans a chance to have a close look at the character of Cleopatra. Many men would view her rise to power as a threat, like the romans, because she presented a danger to the Roman Empire. She was a powerful leader of her time. The romans did not like her rise to power, viewing it as audacious. She was seen as a threat to all romans, not just the senate. In Cleopatra's time there was a deep divide, geographically and politically. There was the stern and moral Roman Empire and Western Empire, and the chaotic east exemplified in Cleopatra. The romans were noble, and despised her dirty tricks and clever ways. The Romans thought that Marc Anthony should put his state first and his passion second; this was the Roman view. Cleopatra's seductive power horrified moralistic romans. Greeks were decadent and

effeminacy prevailed in them as compared to the Romans. The Romans did not even view Caesars affair with her as adultery, as marriage was only between two romans. At best, the Romans viewed Cleopatra with suspicion. At worst, they hated her. Traditions tell that Cleopatra wooed Caesar, by getting her slaves to deliver her as a gift to Caesar's camp. She was wrapped in a carpet. These are the actions of a person who enjoys the flair of drama. Not surprisingly, the Romans saw Cleopatra as a rival for Caesar's attention. He no longer served Rome while being beguiled by Cleopatra. The ultimate insult was when Caesar dared to bring Cleopatra to Rome. This seemed quite incongruous. A pharaoh wanders away from her own kingdom, to set up house in another? But why? Just for love? The Romans wondered much the same. What could she gain? Rome itself? All too quickly the hatred was brewing. Only a short time after Cleopatra set up house in Rome, Caesar was murdered. Was this far more than some vendetta against Caesar alone? Was this a means of getting rid of Cleopatra? History shows that Cleopatra subsequently left Rome in quite a hurry; she returned to Egypt. It was well known she wanted to build a solid, Egyptian kingdom. The Romans knew her connections with Mark Antony had political possibilities in Cleopatra's favors. The Romans saw this bond as a threat to Rome. And so Romans flocked to a new rising star who was not smitten by Cleopatra. This was Octavious, who was to become the Emperor Augustus. Inevitably, there would be a clash of a Roman against a Roman, Mark Antony against Octavious; and this was the Battle of Actium. In short, Cleopatra had undone the careers of two mighty Roman men and had split Rome against Rome. Critics still wonder if Cleopatra did not have relations with these two great Roman leaders, would the Romans still think of her as they did now. The answer could be yes, as Cleopatra as a ruler was murderous and a plunderer.