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OPPOSITIONAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.

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Introduction

OPPOSITIONAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra is aptly named, not just because the play centers around these two characters, but also because it encompasses the play's fixation on the lovers' oppositional relationship. On the surface level, Antony embodies the Roman ideals of a good, noble man, while Cleopatra represents the hyper-sexualized, dangerous Eastern woman. However, upon further examination both Antony and Cleopatra display complicated internal conflicts that effectively reverse these polar positions repeatedly throughout the play. In this way, the opposition between Antony and Cleopatra that exists on a simple, interpersonal level is echoed by more complicated, internal conflicts within each of these characters on a deeper, more individual level. The tension between the title characters creates the love that draws them together at the same time as it drives them further apart, thus establishing yet another layer of antagonistic relationships within the play. The importance of these oppositional relationships is underlined most starkly in Act II.2. In particular Enobarbus' speech describing Cleopatra's beauty functions as one of the greatest statements of the play's conflicting themes. This speech reflects the antagonistic nature of the play's central relationships through the invocation of equivalent antagonistic relationships between the violent descriptors used to depict Cleopatra. ...read more.

Middle

This mysticism reaches higher levels when the oars complete an anthropomorphosis, dancing to the tune of flutes. However, these fanciful descriptions are quickly countered by the violent word "beat" and the juxtaposition of the word "amorous" soon after. Here again love, even between inanimate objects, is associated with pain and gratuitous violence. This oppositional and violent theme continues with descriptions of Cleopatra. Enobarbus claims, "For her own person,/ It beggared all description" (Antony and Cleopatra, II, 2, lines CCVII-CCVIII). In the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "beggared" is defined as being "reduced to destitution or impoverished" (OED). This gives the word a violent and dramatic feel. Enobarbus could easily use a more generic term of praise and say something to the degree of, "Cleopatra's beauty was beyond words", yet instead he chooses a distinctly charged word. Cleopatra's domineering mystique seems to strip description of its power, rather than simply deny it. However, the violence of her beauty is counteracted by the sheer divine power of her surroundings. She lies "In her pavilion, cloth-of-gold of tissue/ O'erpicturing that Venus where we see/ The fancy outwork nature" (Antony and Cleopatra, II, 2, lines CCVIII-CCXI). Importantly, Enobarbus references Venus, the Roman goddess of beauty and sensual love. ...read more.

Conclusion

These battles continue even as Enobarbus closes his speech by describing Cleopatra's acting skills. He claims that "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale/ Her infinite variety. Other women cloy/ The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry/ Where she most satisfies" (Antony and Cleopatra, II, 2, lines CCXLVI-CCXLIX). These final lines encompass the underlying and understated sentiment of the entire speech. Cleopatra's beauty and the passions it sparks only satisfy as much hunger as they create. Just like the fanning cupids that surround her, she "undoes" what she does. Throughout his speech, Enobarbus describes Cleopatra in similar oppositional terms. Where she is beautiful she is violently ugly; where she satisfies she creates hunger; where she does she undoes. Cleopatra's conflicting nature becomes the basis for defining Antony and Cleopatra's equally oppositional relationship. The battles within her reflect Antony's personal struggles, as well as the greater wars within their relationship. Thus, the dualities within Enobarbus' speech reflect the oppositional relationships both within the play as a whole and within the greater context of Act II.ii. Antony and Cleopatra struggle to define themselves on intra- and inter-personal levels as well as within the greater societal sphere. Ultimately, they can never fully resolve the polar oppositions that exist both within and between them. This results in the physical and emotional violence that is both reflected and predicted in Enobarbus' speech. ...read more.

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