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"Rare Egyptian" or "Foul Egyptian"? Discuss how Cleopatra is presented to us. What is the audience's final judgement on her? - Antony and Cleopatra

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Alice Fodor "Rare Egyptian" or "Foul Egyptian"? Discuss how Cleopatra is presented to us. What is the audience's final judgement on her? Antony and Cleopatra is a very unusual play for a number of reasons. It deals with many different issues and themes, for example the struggle to balance political and personal life, the unconventionality of a female ruler, the different worlds and values of Egypt and Rome, and the sense of identity and public reputation. Because of this, Cleopatra is forced into playing many different roles, such as queen, lover, woman and public icon. One main aspect of Cleopatra's presentation throughout the play is her charm, and powers of seduction. Even in Act 1 Scene 1 she is displaying this, when she first comes onto the stage, laughing and flirting with Antony. Her first line of the play is, "if it be love indeed, tell me how much". This conveys her as a happy, hedonistic, frivolous woman, with nothing to worry about except her love. We are endeared to this image, as it sets a positive tone for the beginning of the play, and most women either can or want to identify with Cleopatra's seemingly successful relationship. It appears successful because we see them giggling together and there is no suggestion of any tension between them; however, very soon after this we see Cleopatra ordering Antony to "hear the ambassadors" and we get the feeling of an underlying power struggle between them. Enobarbus seems to have a lot of respect for Cleopatra; more than once he makes very flattering remarks about her - calling her "a wonderful piece of work" and an "Egyptian dish", both of which are, of course, complimentary references to her powers of seduction. The Barge Speech, made by Enobarbus in Act 2 Scene 2, is the only continuous description we have of her, and it is very complimentary. ...read more.


There is also much evidence regarding Cleopatra's immaturity and girlishness. At the beginning of the play she is very frivolous and flighty, giggling with Antony about love. She very soon afterwards shows herself to be quite intelligent and politically astute when a messenger enters and announces that he has news from Rome. Antony dismisses him, but Cleopatra insists that he must hear the message. She begins gently and jokingly, with "nay, hear them, Antony" but quickly gets more forceful, ordering him to "hear the ambassadors". It is strange that this scene, which shows many complimentary images of Cleopatra, is in the middle of two scenes containing Roman, pejorative images of her. The scene begins with the comments about "gipsy" and "strumpet", and ends with a very small section that criticises Antony for staying in Egypt with her, rather than attending to his Roman duties. There seems to be a common opinion that Cleopatra is very unpredictable and changeable, and melodramatic. Enobarbus suggests this when he says, "I have seen her die twenty times upon far poorer moment". (1:2:137). We, as the audience, see this many times throughout the play. Her distress at Fulvia's death, when she says, "turn aside and weep for her, then bid adieu to me, and say the tears belong to Egypt", her anger as she hears of Antony's impending departure to Rome in Act 1 Scene 3, her exaggerated boredom when he is away in Act 1 Scene 5, when she asks Charmian for mandragora to help her sleep until Antony returns, and her rage when the messenger tells her of Antony's marriage all contribute to the truth in Enobarbus's claim. The silly games she uses to manipulate people seem quite immature. When she is looking for Antony, she says to Alexas, "if you find him sad, say I am dancing; if in mirth, report that I am sudden sick". ...read more.


She is less eloquent, her only lines being "O, my pardon!" and "pardon, pardon". This gives the impression that their relationship is unbalanced and he cares about her more than she about him. There are, of course, many scenes that show the unattractive aspects of their relationship as well. Act 1 Scene 3 is an example of this: Cleopatra is angry with Antony, and childishly sulks and refuses to speak to him. It happens very frequently that they have a minor fight and Cleopatra gets very upset and melodramatic. Antony is usually more rational and reserved, but when he gets angry he practically loses all reason. In Act 3 Scene 13, Antony enters as Thidias is kissing Cleopatra's hand. He gets very angry and afraid that she is being unfaithful to him. He begins to insult her about her sexual reputation. As mentioned earlier, he does this to emphasise his Roman side, and to make the point that he is 'not hers'. He also compares her to Octavia; a sure way to annoy her as she knows he did not marry Octavia for love, but he makes her sound perfect when he speaks of her. We, as the audience, sympathise with Cleopatra, as it appears that she was kissing his hand in irony, when he talked of her 'loyalty to Caesar'. Also, we feel that Antony is rather histrionic in his references to Octavia. He should not do this, as he knows exactly how and why it will annoy Cleopatra so much. Cleopatra goes up in our admiration, because of our reproach for Antony. Later in the scene, this is all reconciled. He asks, "to flatter Caesar would you mingle eyes with one that ties his points?" and she reassures him that she is faithful to him, with means of a question: "not know me yet?" Act 4 Scene 12 is when Antony is told of the sudden surrender of the Egyptian fleet. He is furious that Cleopatra has betrayed him. She, of course, has not done this, and has no idea what he is shouting at her for. ...read more.

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