William Shakespeare’s tragedy Antony and Cleopatra – Theatre Essay
William Shakespeare’s tragedy Antony and Cleopatra tells a story of a scandalous affair between the Roman General Antony and the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, and encompasses the battles between western and eastern cultures and between reason and passion that eventually leads to the characters death.
We can see several of the plays important themes, character revelations, and plot developments within a single scene.
The scene that I will be examining is Act II Sc v, in which Cleopatra, who has been separated from Antony while he travels back to Rome, is amusing herself with her servants Charmian and Mardian. As she thinks about Antony, likening him to a fish that has been caught, a messenger arrives from Italy. Cleopatra assumes, because of the messenger’s unhappy expression, that Antony is dead. She threatens the messenger with his life if he brings such bad news. Before the messenger can fulfill his duties, Cleopatra allows her passion to reach a frenzied pace. She threatens him several more times until he tells her that Antony has been married to Octavia. At this news, Cleopatra strikes the messenger several times, each time asking him to repent what he has said. The messenger, however, insists that he must tell her the truth, and she admits that it is below her station to treat a menial servant so viciously. The scene ends with Cleopatra sending the messenger back to Italy to find out certain information about Octavia including how old she is, her disposition, and the color of her hair.
Throughout Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra different themes are woven through the play. Several of these themes are displayed in Act II sc. v. Before we can adequately examine this scene we must first understand these themes. These themes are the clash between East and West, the war of the sexes and Reason vs. Passion.
The clash between East and West is a theme that is essential in the development of the plot. Throughout the play we are given perceptions concerning the difference between Western and Eastern cultures. These two cultures are characterized by those who inhabit them and their actions. For example, the West holds Caesar and the other triumvirs, Antony excluded. They represent the rigidity of Roman law and order and the sense of honor that moves their actions. The East is inhabited by Cleopatra, who, through her theatrics, represents the passionate flow of the east.
Even though we are given both positive and negative characteristics of the East and West, Shakespeare does not choose one in triumph over the other. Caesar’s West does in the end dominate Cleopatra’s east. Yet, although the land is conquered, the passion is not, as Cleopatra takes it with her after her suicide.
Another theme present in this scene is the war of the sexes which serves as an example of the differences between East and West and the degradation of Antony’s sense of duty, honor and manhood.
Throughout the play we see Cleopatra vie for dominance over Antony. Cleopatra uses her beauty and sexuality as a tool to win Antony for herself, and in turn destroy his reasoning. As Philo and Demetrius remark in Act I, sc i, the Romans view her as “gipsy” or a “wrangling queen.” But we must be reminded that she is not a whore, but a powerful woman who has already captured one powerful Roman and now sets to hold another. Just as an actress would, she elevates her passion, grief and outrage to captivate her audience.