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How are Rome and Egypt presented in Shakespere's "Antony and Cleopatra"

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Introduction

HOW ARE ROME AND EGYPT PRESENTED WITHIN THE PLAY? The play is set in the decade between 40 and 30 B.C., when Rome is securing its hold on the entire known world. What is at stake, the play reminds us over and over, is not just Rome, and not just the Roman Empire, but the world itself. Antony and Cleopatra details the conflict between Rome and Egypt, giving us an ides of the Elizabethan perceptions of the difference between Western and Eastern cultures, it does not however, make a conclusive statement about which culture ultimately triumphs. In the play, the Western and Eastern poles of the world are characterised by those who inhabit them: Caesar, for example, expresses the emotionless duty of the West, while Cleopatra, in all her theatrical grandeur, represents the free-flowing emotions of the East. Caesar's concerns throughout the play are imperial: he means to invade foreign lands in order to invest them with traditions and sensibilities of his own. The Roman understanding of Cleopatra and her kingdom seems very superficial, to Caesar the queen of Egypt is little more than a whore with flair for drama. ...read more.

Middle

There is a willingness to accept and live in harmony with the natural forces of the universe (here symbolised by the fertilising floods of the Nile); an awareness that the emotions and the imagination are just as essential to humanity as the mental discipline so important to Roman self-control. Furthermore there is a healthy appetite for life's pleasures, including the pleasures of the flesh; and a refusal to acknowledge that the claims of the state are ever so all encompassing as to cancel out all claims for personal fulfillment. Pompey hopes that 'our stirring' (his challenge to the triumvirate) 'can from the lap of Egypts widow pluck/ The ne'er lust-wearied Antony' (Act 2:1:38-9). It is the side of Cleopatra as a 'whore' as described by Enobarbus, that Pompey hopes will prevent the 'ne'er lust-wearied Antony' form rejoining the two other Triumvirs. His chances of success in the confrontation will be greatly assisted by Antony not being a participant. Agrippa's 'Royal wench', with the first word referring to the status of Queen of Egypt and the Second pointing to that of women of the lowest social status, is an oxymoron that prompts recollection of the story of Cleopatra's meeting with Julius Caesar: 'she made great Caesar lay his sword to bed./ He plough'd her, and she cropp'd (Act 2:2 :236-7). ...read more.

Conclusion

The distinctions between Rome and Egypt begin to blur and dissolve as Antony takes to Egyptian life, for this reason Pompey hopefully tries to put on an "Alexandrian feast"(Act 2:7:95). In the play Rome is presented as a masculine world. Shakespeare's East is best understood as a world larger and more complex than reductive Roman thought allows. It is difficult to sustain the view of Rome as representative of stability and order, as it becomes difficult to go along with the view abroad in Rome and Egypt, especially in the figure of Cleopatra, as a threat to that Roman stability and order. Through the differences between Rome and Egypt, Shakespeare presents us with conflicting value systems. Egypt offers a world of emotional intensity and sensual enjoyment. This world is judged harshly by the Romans, who are sternly critical of what they see as self-indulgence and lack of discipline. Discipline is seen in military terms, Antony's decline being demonstrated by his neglect of his military obligations and his duty to Rome. In the play 'Antony and Cleopatra', the West meets the East, but it does not, regardless of Caesar's triumph over the land of Egypt, conquer it. ...read more.

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