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What we learn about the characters of Cleopatra, Enobarbus and Antony

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Introduction

Prepare a critical analysis of this section of the play (the description of the barge), focusing on: The language use What we learn about the characters of Cleopatra, Enobarbus and Antony How this section relates to the play as a whole In this extract Enobarbus is relishing the attention of his fellow Roman soldiers as he recounts the spectacular first meeting between Cleopatra and Antony. He chooses a highly poetic, descriptive vocabulary to paint a picture of the extravagant sight of Cleopatra's barge on its stately voyage down the river, bringing the sights, sounds and colours vividly to life for his spellbound audience. The opening lines of the extract show the dominant position Cleopatra holds in his memory: "she pursued up his heart". The verb suggests that Cleopatra was the active participant in the love affair with Antony, revealing her predatory sexuality and supreme confidence in her own power and attractions. Agrippa's interjections take the form of awestruck exclamations, revealing the extent of curiosity about the exotic lifestyle in Egypt that the Roman soldiers can usually only speculate about. ...read more.

Middle

Enobarbus makes it clear that Antony was slighted by Cleopatra's highly theatrical entrance, and the triumvir actually comes across as a pathetic figure, sitting alone in the market place during the celebrations when even the air itself "had gone to gaze on Cleopatra". She took the dominant role in their relationship by refusing Antony's invitation to dine, and the fact that Enobarbus makes no effort to hide this from Caesar's loyal followers, suggests both his respectful attitude to the power Cleopatra exerts over all men and his pained contempt for Antony's weakness which eventually leads to his defection. The variety of emotions which Cleopatra evokes is also evident in Agrippa's interjection: "She made great Caesar lay his sword to bed. He ploughed her, and she cropp'd" The adjective "great" signifies the power of her sexuality, which has now enthralled two leaders of the Roman Empire, yet there is also an implicit criticism of her emasculating effect as her partners turn from their duty and tarnish their great military reputations. ...read more.

Conclusion

The thing that comes through most strongly from this passage is the cunning and artifice of Cleopatra's carefully staged meeting with Antony. She has gone to extreme measures to flaunt her wealth and beauty in front of her people and the entourage from Rome. Enobarbus refers to her: "O'erpicturing that Venus where we see The fancy outwork nature" Here Shakespeare reveals Cleopatra's vanity and implies the elaborate costume and make up she affected for her role. The artificial is said to outshine the work of nature, which is intended as a compliment but reveals Cleopatra's reliance on her sexual allure and beauty to keep her in her powerful position, straddling the domains of Egypt and Rome. Her reliance on her sexuality, which will clearly wane with age, perhaps explains the strength of her jealousy against the younger Octavia, and even her test of Antony's loyalty during the battle with Octavius, which has such tragic consequences for his own honour and pride. Self-doubt and the ageing process could be seen at the heart of the tragic downfall of both protagonists, and in the excessively sumptuous river journey the audience see how hard Cleopatra has worked for her status. ...read more.

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