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How does Anthony and Cleopatra present the contrast between the conquering west and the decadent east?

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Introduction

Antony and Cleopatra Q: Shakespeare used as his source for this play north's translation of Plutarch's "Lives of the noble Grecians and Romans". Plutarch, along with other Greek and Roman authors saw an opposition between the conquering West, standing for moral and political virtue, and the conquering East representing luxury and decadence. How does Shakespeare's play present these oppositions? Shakespeare was deeply concerned with the meanings of the classical past. His play Antony and Cleopatra concerns itself with a major theme from Renaissance culture: The importance and continued thriving of Europe's Graeco-Roman culture. Yet in one sense, Shakespeare rebelled against the traditional portrayal of Rome by the narrator of his source Plutarch and his contempories. Whilst imperial historians and medieval poets like Chaucer shared Plutarch's view that glorified Rome, both as a virtuous political power and as a morally legitimate empire, Shakespeare refused to see Rome's motives as wholly honourable. He emphasised the themes of the decline of virtue and the pursuit of honour, which represent satirical work of the highest degree. Therefore this play cannot really be read as a propaganda piece for Western domination. On the other hand, Plutarch and his contempories saw the East as the manifestation of all that was extravagant and ostentatious; a place of desire and decadence infinitely inferior to the Roman empire and it's adherents, morally and even racially. However Plutarch, in his portrait of Cleopatra, stresses the East's ability to attract and does not underestimate it's witty skill to enchant. ...read more.

Middle

For example, when Plutarch documented that Octavius Caesar enjoyed sports and fishing as well having a weakness for women, Shakespeare probably found that his presentation of Rome as a rigid, stoic and disciplined culture would be faulty. Thus he conveniently leaves out this detail to enhance Caesar's image of a censorious, cold and abstemious character, whose primary aim is to serve Rome. Another extract from Plutarch that Shakespeare decided to do without is the one where Cleopatra is claimed to have demanded that of Antony not to send Enobarbarus' treasure after him. Shakespeare seems to want us to sympathise with the Queen and her culture and probably knew that this act would cause his Cleopatra to lose any admiration or appreciation she had aroused so far in the play. It might also have affected our interpretation of her oncoming suicide negatively. Including this detail would be allowing Roman virtues to triumph over Egyptian ones, something Shakespeare seemed to have vowed not to do before writing the play. In Antony and Cleopatra we find ourselves in the presence of grandiose personalities whose behaviour dismays or distresses us. Yet it is this characterisation that provides a vivid representation of the two antithetical cultures. Those who inhabit them characterize Western and Eastern poles. Octavius Caesar embodies the stoic duty of the west and is sometimes seen as the equivalent of James I of Shakespeare's own time. ...read more.

Conclusion

Shakespeare uses language to highlight the differences between Rome and Egypt. Act two scene five accurately reflects life in Egypt; one that is concerned with play " let's to Billiards" "put my Tires and Mantles on him, whilst I wore his Sword Philippan", pranks: "Did hang a salt Fish on his Hook, which he With fervency drew up", and Passion "Music, moody Food Of us that trade in Love" Shakespeare uses dramatic irony to cause the audience to anticipate Cleopatra's reaction to Antony's marriage with Octavia. Her theatrically manifests itself in her use of hyperbole and phrases that are rife with strong passionate imagery "Ram thou thy Fruitful Tidings in my Ears, That long time have been Barren" she says to the messenger, then "I'll set thee in a Shower of Gold, and hail Rich Pearls upon thee" If he tells her Antony is well, concluding with " The most infectious Pestilence upon thee" "...horrible Villain, or I'll spurn thine Eyes Like Balls before me; I'll unhair thy Head. Thou shalt be whipp'd with Wire, and stew'd in Brine, Smarting in ling'ring Pickle." When she discovers the truth of his mission. To conclude, Shakespeare organises the plot of Antony and Cleopatra around the struggle between East and West, which is not only between two geographically distinct empires but also between two diametrically opposed worldviews, by using all his literary tools to transform this historic story to a "divine comedy". ...read more.

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