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An examination of Shakespeare's treatment towards suicide between Antony, Cleopatra and Enobarbus

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Introduction

An examination of Shakespeare's treatment towards suicide between Antony, Cleopatra and Enobarbus Shakespeare has created three strong characters within the play Antony and Cleopatra. Their attitudes to death and mortality in the play have little similarities as Antony, Cleopatra and Enobarbus all approach the issue differently. Enobarbus, for example, acquires a broken heart after regrettably leaving the side of Antony to join forces with Caesar. He is ashamed at what he has done and feels he has acted wrongly. When the messenger sent by Antony gives Enobarbus his treasure, it makes him feel guiltier for his disloyalty to his close friend. At this point, the option of suicide becomes apparent as Enobarbus speaks of his death which would be a way of ending his broken heart. At the end of Act IV, Enobarbus feels not worthy and exits by saying; 'go seek / some ditch wherein to die...' It isn't until Scene 9 that Enobarbus carries out his suicide. He looks up to the moon and addresses it, as this is associated with mental instability and asks the moon to witness his repentance and for the forgiveness of Antony, and in line 23 he stabs himself uttering Antony's name. Enobarbus' death showed his weakness to carry on with the guilt of leaving Antony. He felt so ashamed of his actions and saw the only way to fix the wrong doing was to end his life as he was the one at fault. Antony however feared death. ...read more.

Middle

But none of the suicides are planned with great thought except Cleopatra's who felt she must die in dignity by dressing up and using snakes as a symbolic reference to dispatch its venom rather than stabbing herself. Smaller characters in the play do not have much focus on their deaths unlike Antony, Cleopatra and Enobarbus who are able to conduct powerful, meaningful speeches before their deaths. Characters such as Eros and Charmian, who are close friends to Antony and Cleopatra exit with little recognition. For example, Eros is shown to be honourable in refusing to kill Antony when he asks him to. He ends his life by turning the sword on himself with his back to Antony before trying to kill Antony himself. Eros speaks of his death by saying; 'Thus I do escape the sorrow / Of Antony's death'. This character shows his loyalty to Antony until the end of his time in the play. Charmian too shows her commitment to the queen as her maidservant by killing herself after the death of Cleopatra. She speaks of the world as 'vile' and sees no hope for the future now Cleopatra has killed herself, so she applies an asp to herself also. Her last words resort back to showing her admiration to the queen and suggests she is most royal by stating; 'It is well done, and fitting for a princess / Descended of so many royal kings...' These few words show how Shakespeare is acknowledging her reign and her powerful impact on peoples' lives, and used Charmian as an example to show this in her death even though the focus did not remain on her afterwards. ...read more.

Conclusion

There is not one main factor that can be used to explain the suicides of each character, especially for Antony, Cleopatra and Enobarbus as they saw dying as achieving different things. The message of this tragedy has many definitions such as escapism, pain, suffering, gloom and death itself. But perhaps the main is the fall of a great man which is Antony himself. He was a great leader and was admired for his achievements. He had to be high up for it to be a tragic fall in the play. Each three main death scenes had their own purposely built moments, and Shakespeare must have deliberately chosen to do this. The death parts are built up, which starts with Enobarbus who is the first to die, and his reason for doing so was because he was heart broken, downbeat and felt guilty. The second is taken one step higher with Antony's death having two parts. The tension rises however when he dies in the middle of a line. But these two suicides are the climatic build up to Cleopatra's death which is planned with props for the stage and a long death speech. It can be said that her suicide was the dramatic finale with the two suicides of the other main characters being looked upon as not as important because of how her death was prepared and ended the play. This love-tragedy by Shakespeare sees the heroine as centre of attention like many other of his plays, so this is why she deserves to die with the dignity that Antony and Enobarbus did not. ...read more.

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