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Discuss the 'variety' of Cleopatra, and how successfully Shakespeare presents the contribution, which this makes to the dramatic impact of the play.

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"Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety". Discuss the 'variety' of Cleopatra, and how successfully Shakespeare presents the contribution, which this makes to the dramatic impact of the play. In this play, Shakespeare has created a uniquely fascinating character in the Egyptian Queen. Cleopatra is a very sensuously attractive woman whose past relationships with Julius Caesar and Pompey indicate that even before meeting Antony she is sexually experienced. Her 'variety', as Enobarbus indicates, has much to do with her theatrical temperament, her mood swings and highly sensual nature. She is capable of participating in vulgar jokes, feigning illness, outbursts of temper and physical violence, as well as tender expressions of love and nobility in the face of tragedy. The audience also see her behave in a cowardly way and play the diplomat. It is also not always easy to understand Cleopatra's motives or gauge her level of self-interest. Cleopatra is overall an awe-inspiring queen who leaves all audiences breathless. She may be called a "wrangling queen" and an "Egyptian dish", but such epithets alone do not do full justice to her character. In the opening scene of the play, the audiences' introduction to Cleopatra is as a "gypsy" and "strumpet". This is expressed by Philo, as very much the Roman view and Caesar agrees that: "Let's grant it is not Amiss to tumble on the bed of Ptolemy," Shakespeare invites the audience to observe Cleopatra's behaviour later in Act one, Scene one. ...read more.


Enobarbus says: "O'erpicturing that Venus where we see The fancy outwork nature" He means here that her beauty surpasses the painting of Venus of which the artist has created a beauty greater than that found in nature. He describes her youthfulness and emphasizes that no matter how old she is, Cleopatra will always remain beautiful and youthful. No attempted description of the sight they saw, would never match to the reality as "it beggar'd all description". Enobarbus also uses appetite imagery in Act two, scene two, when he says: "Other women cloy The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry Where she most satisfies" It underlines the fact that Cleopatra is a powerfully sexual woman, which again helps to explain Antony's infatuation with her. In Act One, Scene Two, Antony hears of Fulvia's death and the pressing matters regarding the Empire from Rome. At this point he feels that Cleopatra is bewitching him and distracting him from his duties. What is interesting in relation to Cleopatra here is that Enobarbus firmly states that Cleopatra's behaviour especially her mood swings, are a sign of the strength of her love for Antony. He says, "Her passions are made of nothing but the finest part of pure love." At times in the play, we can see how Cleopatra infuriates Antony or causes him anguish. ...read more.


Her solution to this is to commit suicide - "Let's do't after the high Roman fashion". However, in Act five Scene two, we see her play the diplomat with Caesar and the audience wonder if her resolve to join Antony in death is weakening. However, any doubts about her commitment to "do it after the high fashion / And make death proud to take [her]" are soon banished as Cleopatra praises Antony to Dolabella as a triumphant man. She describes how "his legs bestrid the ocean; his rear'd arm Crested the world;" Cleopatra presents herself in death in her "best attires" with full dignity and refers to Antony as "husband". This shows the audience how much she has cared for Antony and how she wishes to continue that in the after-life. Cleopatra says she is now "fire and air" and gives her other elements to "baser life". Death she compares to a "lover's pinch" and we see that her nobility and devotion to Antony is also emphasized by the loyalty of her handmaidens. Their suicides heighten the dramatic impact of Cleopatra's death. Significantly, before killing herself, Charmian calls Cleopatra the "eastern star", a reminder of Cleopatra's association with great beauty and her goddess-like status. I believe that Cleopatra is one of Shakespeare's strongest female characters with her self-absorption, her charisma, her voluptuousness and her strength and unpredictable moods. This Egyptian Queen certainly proves that "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety." Ashleigh Carleton - Yr 13 1 ...read more.

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