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How does Shakespeare's play present these oppositions? In Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans.

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Introduction

Michelle Chandel 13J English - Mr Thorpe Shakespeare used as his source for his 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 conquered East representing luxury and decadence. How does Shakespeare's play present these oppositions? In Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, it is obvious to see the distinction between the decadent and luxurious East, and the West which stands for its moral and political virtue. This opposition between the East and the West is also apparent in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. We see this in the opening scene with a technique used by Shakespeare, where the opening is framed, so that the audience is caught in the middle of the conversation. The conversation is between Philo and Demetrius - fellow Roman officers, who are strongly disapproving of Antony's love for Cleopatra. They discuss how Antony's 'love' for Cleopatra is only a mere infatuation for a 'harlot'. There is further debate that this obsession for the Queen of Egypt is steering a powerful leader away from his greatness and concentration. Shakespeare has carefully chosen this framing device as the opening of his play, because it is structured so that the love affair is seem from a Roman perspective and framed by Roman disapproval. Their conversation about the current situation between the plush Egypt and the honourable Rome can be seen as a microcosm of the whole situation. ...read more.

Middle

On other occasions, Enobarbus changes from prose to poetry, as when he describes Cleopatra's barge on the river Cyndus. Enobarbus is given a significant amount of freedom in what he can say. At the start of this scene, Enobarbus makes it clear to Lepidus that he has not the slightest intention of trying to restrict what Antony might say and that he, like his master, will 'answer like himself.' Therefore, Enobarbus interrupts the triumvirs' conversation with home truths at so many times, that Antony requests that he 'speak no more'. Enobarbus responds fearfully with this quotation: 'Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale Her infinite variety...' As well as learning from the main characters of the play, Shakespeare also offers a substantial amount of importance to the minor characters. For example, the Roman soldiers, Philo and Demetrius are 'caught' gossiping about the conflicts and issues between Rome and Egypt, at the beginning of the play. This powerful technique allows the audience to understand that the Antony-Cleopatra affair is the 'talk of the town' and that even the men, who are expected to be on Antony's side, are gossiping about their leader. It is structured so that the love affair is seen from a Roman perspective and framed by Roman disapproval. Also, the lesser characters play their part at the time of Cleopatra's death. The clown, adds a comic note with his verbal errors and coarse innuendo, while Cleopatra's maidservants, with their loyalty and affection, help to give a human touch and to acclaim Cleopatra in Charmian's moving tribute as a 'lass unparalleled' (Act4.2.3) ...read more.

Conclusion

Enobarbus tries and fails to persuade Cleopatra not to be present in Antony's camp because he thinks she will be a distraction, but she does not listen. Shakespeare shows large differences between the virtuous Rome and decadent East. Act 2, Scene 2 is able to show these differences clearly; when the triumvirs call a truce and Antony agrees to marry Octavia. In the same scene, Enobarbus describes Antony's first meeting with Cleopatra. The contrasting worlds of Egypt and Rome are very much dramatically juxtaposed. There is an immense sense of life and art during the description of Cleopatra, which Shakespeare has cleverly placed after the tense political decisions, which had just taken place. By exploring Antony and Cleopatra, we are able to see the differences that Shakespeare makes between the East and the West. However, most of the people are affected due to influences from both countries. An audience at that time may not be able to have distinguished the influences of both countries as easily as a modern day audience because of prejudices within the play, such as racism and sexism. A Jacobean audience may have appreciated Rome more because of their moral values, whereas the occurrences of Rome would be viewed as offensive for a modern audience. Therefore, we can come to a conclusion that Shakespeare does not fully present Plutarch's differences because Shakespeare is also concerned about the fact that both countries are not totally hostile to one another. Opposition lies between the two countries, however it lies more so within the characters of the play and we could understand that an audience of Shakespeare's time and a modern day audience would be aware of this. ...read more.

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