Antony and Cleopatra - How has Shakespeare presented the three main characters to us by the end of Act 2?
Antony and Cleopatra essay:
How has Shakespeare presented the three main characters to us by the end of Act 2?
When we look at Antony, Cleopatra and Caesar, we immediately see that they are completely different characters. Our first impressions of Antony are a laid-back, relaxed man, who is obsessed with Cleopatra, as any man would be. We see Cleopatra as a queen, who has power over anyone she wants to. She is also very flamboyant. Caesar, meanwhile, seems not the type of person to rule a third of the Roman Empire, as he is too young, but as the play progresses, we see a different side to him, as a more ruling and powerful man. To understand these characters more, I will study the text in more detail.
When we first see Antony, in Act 1: Scene1, we get the impression that he is devoted to Cleopatra and he is a loyal lover to her, but not to his wife: Fulvia:
“There’s beggary in the love that can be reckon’d.” (line15)
Shakespeare has presented him to us in this way because then later on in the play, when we see him as a politician, the audience will see that Antony can be more than the tranquil, carefree leader he is supposed to be. Philo tells us that Antony is a great soldier, but because of Cleopatra, he is not interested in the Roman world anymore. He used to be like the military hero: Mars. We also hear that he does not respect Caesar as greatly as he should. All this is used by Shakespeare to present Antony as a useless warrior, but we are soon to be shown differently.
At the end of Act 1: Scene 3, we see Antony in a different light. He is forceful with Cleopatra, in a verbal way, because she is being very sarcastic and will not let him speak, he must tell her that he has to be in Rome for the cause of his duty as a triumvirate:
“ I go from hence
Thy soldier, servant, making peace or war..” (line 70)
Before this Antony had become quite frustrated with Cleopatra because she would not let him speak, showing us her domination. By doing this Shakespeare has given us an insight into the future personality of Antony: a leader, who will accept nothing but what he wants. We have learnt in this scene that Antony can have power over Cleopatra.
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When we move onto Act 1: Scene 4, we do not come across Antony, but Caesar and Lepidus, who are conversing about the third member of the triumvirate. We learn elements of Antony’s personality from this conversation. Caesar refers to him as a competitor, an insight into the tension that lies ahead for the two leaders:
“ It is not Caesar’s natural vice to hate
Our great competitor.” (line 2)
Shakespeare is presenting Antony as a good competitor, as Caesar, one of the rulers, is afraid of him. We are seeing Antony as more of a soldier than before, as in Egypt he is indolent, but in Rome, he is strong and able. Caesar’s view then changes and he presents Antony to us as a brave soldier, who is likened to a stag: a symbol of male virility. This is a side we have not yet seen of Antony and it was important for Shakespeare to praise him here because we have only seen him as a lover before.
Even though Shakespeare wants Antony to be seen as a fighter, we are given reminders of his state in Egypt, so that we do not forget about Cleopatra and we do not forget what he used to be like. Such this thing happens in Act 2: Scene 1, when, for the first time, we meet Pompey, an enemy of the triumvirate. Pompey refers to Antony as a man who lives for pleasure and has no morals. He is disparaging towards him:
“Tie up the libertine in a field of feasts;
Keep his brain fuming.” (line 22)
He wants Antony to eat and sleep until death. Pompey feels that Antony is not a threat while he is with Cleopatra. Shakespeare presents Antony, through Pompey, as a soldier who does not fight. He has done this to show a non-biased view of Antony, this is important as wee need to see this side of him.
As the play progresses we are seeing Antony as more of a leader and a fighter. In Act 2: scene 2, Shakespeare supports this and presents him as stronger than Caesar, to explain his fear. We see Antony as a very calm man, while Caesar gets agitated. Caesar makes long speeches, while Antony’s are very short:
“How intends you, ‘practis’d?” (line 46)
Shakespeare presents Antony as a ‘cool’ and ‘calm’ character, but not in the same sense as in Egypt, where he is a relaxed calm. In this scene we see a confident calm. He is conciliatory, while Caesar is not so convinced. Eventually the two leaders become friends, the cause being Agrippa’s idea about marriage to Caesar’s sister. This scene comes to an end and Antony had been presented to us as a confident leader, but when Cleopatra is mentioned he dismisses her:
“I am not married, Caesar. Let me hear
Agrippa further speak.” (line 130)
This shows that he wants the Roman Empire to be the best empire in the world, portraying a man we have not seen yet, whom is concerned about his political duties. If Antony did not marry Caesar’s wife, then the dispute between him and Caesar would carry on and the Roman Empire would be in ruins.
Throughout the rest of the play we see Antony as a good politician, who manages to settle arguments with Pompey as he did Caesar. In Act 2: scene 7, Antony, along with Lepidus and other Roman soldiers, becomes very drunk. Shakespeare presents Antony as a drunken man to us, to show us he can still be relaxed and joyful without Cleopatra. Shakespeare has shown many characteristics in Antony, but we are to see more as the play progresses.
When we move onto Cleopatra, we can immediately see how different she is to Antony. Shakespeare presents her this way to show the audience the difference between Egypt and Rome. Egypt is very feminine and relaxed, whereas Rome is masculine and stern. The contrast of personalities between the two lovers portrays this.
In her beginning scene Act 1: scene 1, we see that she dominates Antony portraying her as a confident, powerful woman. Shakespeare uses this to represent a beautiful woman, who will get what she wants:
“ your dismission
Is come from Caesar; therefore hear it, Antony.” (line 26)
Antony obeys this command from Cleopatra showing he is under her influence. Cleopatra is dominant throughout most of Act 1. Shakespeare has perhaps done this, so that when we see her distraught and upset, it will be a shock.
In Act 1: scene 3 she is very melodramatic: she feigns illness when she hears that Antony is in high spirits:
“Help me away, dear Charmian! I shall fall!” (line 16)
She is very deceptive and cunning and Shakespeare has presented with this personality, so that we enjoy her character. We must like her because she is a type of heroine in the play and so when she dies at the end, we will feel saddened. Cleopatra dominates this scene, but this time in a different way. She is both powerful and cunning, as fools Antony into thinking she is ill. We also see a vain side to her; Charmian offers her advice about keeping a man, but she dismisses this as she has been with many men: she knows that she is clever and good with men. We also see her as a very confident woman in this scene, as she wishes she were bigger, so she could beat up Antony:
“I would I had thy inches! Thou shouldst know
There were a heart in Egypt!” (line 42)
This would be quite comical, which is another device of Shakespeare’s to make the audience enjoy her character. At the end of this scene we receive a shock, because even though she has done a lot of pleading, she cannot make Antony stay. This shows that she does not have as much power as she shows and Shakespeare has presented her like this to show that she does have weaknesses. She also wishes Antony on his way that shows a kind woman. Shakespeare has presented a lot of aspects to her personality in this scene, showing how different and capricious Cleopatra can be.
In Act 2: scene 1 we meet with Pompey who is talking with Menacretes about Antony and Cleopatra. Pompey thinks that Antony is not a threat while he is with Cleopatra, showing that he also thinks she is very domineering. He also thinks that Cleopatra has put a spell on Antony to make him love her. This may change the view of the audience and make them think that she is a witch, but Pompey is an enemy of Antony, so the audience would not agree with him.
After this scene Antony and Caesar are part of a conflict, Enobarbus is present. At the end of this scene, when Antony has agreed to marry Caesar’s sister, Octavia, Enobarbus tells Maecenas and Agrippa of how Cleopatra wooed Antony. We hear a wonderful speech from Antony’s soldier, about how wonderful she is, he compares her to the love goddess, Venus:
“The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,
Burn’d on the water; the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were love-sick with them;” (line 200)
Shakespeare has given this speech to Enobarbus at this point in this play because we have to be reminded of how wonderful and beautiful Cleopatra is, and how Octavia will never compare to her. Shakespeare is presenting her as a goddess who is of a supernatural level so we get more of an impression to how wonderful she is. Shakespeare uses the next scene, Act 2: scene 3, to show us how boring and mundane Octavia is compared to Cleopatra. Shakespeare is presenting Cleopatra in a different way, by not showing her, but using someone else to her advantage.
Act 2: scene 5 is a long scene, in which we see another side to Cleopatra. At the beginning of this scene, we immediately see how different it is to Rome, which is very male and harsh, compared to Egypt, which is relaxed and feminine. The situation has changed: Cleopatra is now besotted with Antony:
“Antonio’s dead! If thou say so, villain,
Thou kill’st thy mistress;” (line 27)
As we have seen before, she is melodramatic. Shakespeare has to present her in this way, as her personality cannot change completely when Antony is not in Egypt with her. In this scene, we learn that she is a ‘chatterbox’. The messenger is trying to tell her that Antony is married, but Cleopatra will not let him, as she will not stop moaning about missing Antony, showing how much she misses him. This would be very suspenseful, as the audience would be very keen to learn how she will react when she learns of this news. Shakespeare portrays her character like this for dramatic suspense. When she does learn of his marriage, we see a different side to her: she is violent. It is not a great shock to us that she is violent, but she carried a knife in her robes, which portrays her as a woman with infinite variety:
“Rogue, thou hast lived too long!
Draws a knife “ (line 73)
This violence that Shakespeare has put into Cleopatra’s personality, makes us wonder how she treats Antony, and whether she is violent with him. She eventually calms down which shows her capricious nature. She is also melodramatic again. In this scene, Shakespeare has presented her as a different character. We have seen her in a different light, as she has been violent. She now desperately needs Antony, where as before Antony was besotted with her. Cleopatra has a type of weakness, which is unexpected.