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Examine the contrast between Cleopatra and Octavia. How do they embody different aspects of womanhood and how is this opposition useful in developing the themes and actions of the play?

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Introduction

Examine the contrast between Cleopatra and Octavia. How do they embody different aspects of womanhood and how is this opposition useful in developing the themes and actions of the play? How might the distinction be given different emphases in performance? Antony and Cleopatra is one of Shakespeare's most dramatic plays; however it has not been staged nearly as many as plays such as Hamlet or Macbeth because it is such a hard play to produce due to its enormous variety of content. However the mere strength of the characters within the play creates intense tragic possibilities, despite the difficulties that may be faced in production. Cleopatra and Octavia are contrasting characters in the play Antony and Cleopatra. Each embodies different aspects of womanhood; each is a model of the qualities that should be seen from the country and culture they belong to. The play centres around the contrast between the lavishness of Egypt with the lineal qualities of the Roman Empire. Egypt is a country of luxurious feasts where eight wild boars are roasted for a breakfast for twelve people (2.2.189-90) and parties; it is a very sexualised place whereas Rome is a country characterised by politics, scenes of intellectuals and battles, thus the lives and loves of a Roman stand in opposition to the lives and loves of an Egyptian. ...read more.

Middle

(Hughes-Hallet, 165) Cleopatra is portrayed as a strong leader of Egypt and in this respect has similarities with Elizabeth I who was on the throne of England through Shakespeare's early life. She like Cleopatra was a dominant figure and felt she embodied Britain as Cleopatra embodied Egypt. How unlike Cleopatra, Elizabeth I was prepared to listen and take advice from others who were experts in the field in question; this resulted in her defeating the Spanish Armada. Unlike Cleopatra who although demanded to be treated as a general upon the war field refused to listen to advice which resulted in awful consequences and subsequently the lose of life for her and Antony. Rome is a place where the need for order and discipline is the norm; there isn't room amongst the Politics and duties for sensuality and pleasure like in Egypt. It is this that causes Antony to be torn 'between the military honour and familial duty of Rome and the sensuality and luxurious life-style of Egypt.' Rome is a predominantly male society which women have no say; it is associated with action, mainly military and political action. Charney describes it as ' a place of conference tables, armour, political decisions and hard materials objects ' (102) ...read more.

Conclusion

Hughes-Hallet observes: Cleopatra chose her own lovers. No Father or Brother gave her to her partners, as Octavius gave his sister to Antony (Hughes-Hallet, 74) In different performances these differences between the two women from opposite cultures can be emphasised in a variety of ways including the uses of costume. Cleopatra's would be more revealing and sexual whereas Octavia's would be long, covering all areas, as a traditional Roman Woman's would be. More subdued lighting could be used on Cleopatra to show her dark and more mysterious manner than Octavia. A strong, predominant actress would portray the role of Cleopatra well just as a more quiet and natural looking actress would perform well in the role of Octavia and thus the two would together would enable the audience to understand the difference between the two women, the two worlds and the two lifestyles. In conclusion I would say Ocatavia and Cleopatra each embody different aspects of womanhood that can be seen in the time of Egyptian dominance of the east and Roman dominance of the west, in Shakespeare's time through Cavaliers and Puritans and nowadays in Eastern and Western countries. They both represent different worlds with different views and help by the end of the play to show that their worlds need to be kept separate because together results in heartache, pain and destruction. Approx. 1828 words ...read more.

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