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Explain How Shakespeare Uses Language In ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ To Depict the Two Main Protagonists.

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Introduction

Explain how Shakespeare uses language in 'Antony and Cleopatra' to depict the two main protagonists. The epic love affair of Antony and Cleopatra is a great and powerful love shared by two people at the height of their fame and glory. Plutarch's 'Life of Antonius' is the principal source, and Shakespeare has blended this factual evidence together with fiction and drama to create a play that is strikingly different from many of his other works, especially in terms of theme, structure and the impressive and most descriptive language used. Plutarch wrote in the first century AD, probably not more than a hundred years after the death of Antony, but soon enough to hear personal experiences from his great grandfather about the battle of Actium, and from even his grandfather about Antony's generous entertaining in Alexandria. He was a Greek philosopher, and so his sympathies ran more towards his fellow countrymen than the Roman subjects of his detailed studies. Shakespeare, distilling North's version at the time when his creative skills were at their height, was able to use both the language and the stories exactly to suit his intentions. In many cases he remains remarkably faithful to the original, for example in the famous speech by Enobarbus praising Cleopatra (II.2.193), but he sometimes left out unfavourable comments and expanded the material, adding his own events in order to create his plays and to evoke the special atmosphere for his verse translation from the prose of the biographer. ...read more.

Middle

Then comes another move, to kings and princes and servants wearing his livery, and finally a cosmic image of liberality, "realms and islands" carelessly dropped, like coins from his pocket. This is probably a reference to Antony's carelessness about his empire, as Cleopatra was so much more important to him. (Idea from Shakespeare's Language, Frank Kermode, Penguin 2000) Images of dissolution can also be found in the play. These are usually images of melting and fading. For example, Antony says, "Authority melts from me." - III, xiii, 92. Also, "Let Rome in Tiber melt," (I, i, 35) says Antony, putting before us the antithetical relation between the two significant parts of the world; Rome and Egypt, almost immediately. He then says, "Here is my space." (I, i, 36). He is choosing to be where Egypt melts into the fertilising Nile, and the point about the flooding of Egypt is made mentioned again in later passages: "Melt Egypt into Nile, and kindly creatures Turn all to serpents! ..." II, v, 79-80 This is Cleopatra's angry response to the news that Antony has married Octavia. All of these images of dissolution reflect the main theme of the play; the fall of a great leader, as do the bathetic images in Philo's speech which I mentioned earlier. ...read more.

Conclusion

"Her infinite variety" refers to her ever-changing mood, and "...she makes hungry where most she satisfies" implies that men get easily bored of other women but never of her. She is the epitome of the female, and everyone adores her. Several of Shakespeare's tragic heroes appear to lose their grip on reality. Macbeth's imagination intoxicates him; in Antony's case, Cleopatra's poison has a similar effect, as have the effects of alcohol, which are mentioned throughout the play; drinking being one of Antony's delights. He cries "Fill our bowls once more," and promises to "drink carouses to the next day's fate" III, xiii, 188; IV, viii, 34. (Idea from Myriad-Minded Shakespeare: E.A.J Honigmann, Macmillan Press Ltd. London 1998.) In conclusion Shakespeare depicts the two main protagonists using sometimes rich, luxurious language and sometimes frugal, meagre language to create bathos. His work is greatly influenced by Plutarch's 'Life of Antonius.' He uses images of dissolution - usually melting and fading, and physicality and sensuousness that are found wherever Egypt is described. Transcendental images of the world and universe add to the epic feel of the play, along with the comparison of the protagonists with the Gods, which are frequent in the play. Cleopatra is a 'rainbow spectrum of humanity' (York Notes, Antony and Cleopatra, Page 56, Oxford University Press, 1980) and Antony is a great and powerful leader who dies a noble death ...read more.

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