Shakespeare has presented Cleopatra as a very alluring character, who seems to be able to charm and enchant any man or woman. Her ladies seem to be under a spell. They love her so much and are so loyal towards her. She has a great sex appeal and is able to use it to her advantage, although some characters see her as a ‘strumpet’, they believe she has used her enchantment to control Antony. This can be seen by the way he is so in love with her he leaves wives just to be with her. Some may argue he is not truly in love with her, that it is lust, but it doesn’t explain the consequences he suffers to be with her. Maybe Shakespeare is trying to show how one person can have such an impact on a person’s life through love. This would be valid as the play is a great love story.
Shakespeare presents Cleopatra as a very controlling and overpowering woman. This can be seen as even the cynical Enobarbus admits to the power of Cleopatra’s appearance. He describing her as ‘beggared all description’ shows that to describe the barge exhausts the power of language. She is of course a queen and all queens have a very regal presence, this is seen in the famous barge speech by Enobarbus, where he describes this wonderful barge with ‘purple sails’, purple is associated as very regal colour and he talks of the gold on the barge which represent her wealth. These images are used to show her status and importance. Enobarbus also describes a scent surrounding her ‘a strange invisible perfume hits the sense’. This sensual imagery for her presence as perfume is associated with a sweet smell. The movement of the oars of the barge are described in a powerful image ‘ tunes of flutes kept stroke,’ This means that the music kept the oars at a rhythmic pace. He also says she ‘o’erpicturing that Venus’ this is saying how she is almost better than Venus, the goddess of love. By comparing her to a Goddess this shows her influence upon people. Shakespeare’s barge speech gives the impression of her charm and attraction, to enhance her enticement and sex appeal towards men.
In the last scene where Cleopatra kills herself she want to die wearing all her jewels and fine cloths and crown. This is to show how proud she is of herself and for people to remember her as a queen. Even when she is dead Charmian straightens up her crown. This shows the loyalty of Cleopatra’s woman and their love for her such that they want Cleopatra to look her best even in death.
In this play suicide is perceived as a very honourable act. Therefore this must mean Cleopatra is also honourable as in the last act she poisons her self with asps rather than be paraded in front of the Romans by Caesar. This is an example of how proud she is. Cleopatra realises that her childish games have resulted in the loss of Antony; this is what drives her to suicide. This scene shows many things; it shows us how she is so in love with Antony she cannot bear to live without him. Although she is still seen as a jealous woman in this as one of her women, Iras kills herself before Cleopatra. She can’t stand that Iras may be the first to kiss Antony ‘she first met the curléd Antony’ by describing Antony with curly hair is a feature which stands out the most and may be another reference to mythology of Samson and his strength. When Cleopatra says ‘Spend that kiss which is my heaven to have,’ this Cleopatra wanting to be the first to kiss him. By describing it as heaven shows her longing to be with him, with heaven as a connotation for the highest place a person can be. Before Cleopatra dies there is imagery of mothering ‘thou not see my baby at my breast’, this is in reference to the asp. This shows her as being a maternal figure. The audience knows she has children; although they are not particularly mentioned in the play, but this imagery shows her almost cradling this asp. I think this is to show another side to her. That she may not be as selfish as she seems.
Antony’s death shows a devastated Cleopatra, using poetic language to express her feelings. The beautiful poetry is used when Antony dies, this romanticises the moment. It makes the moment more prominent. When Antony is dead Cleopatra describes it as ‘Our lamp is spent, it’s out’ this poetic line tells the audience that the light of her life is out. This is usually associated with the love of someone’s life. Cleopatra also uses cosmic imagery to describe the consequence of Antony’s death, ‘Burn the great sphere thou mov’st; darking stand’. This is to say that the planets with burns out and cover the world in darkness with his death. Love is a main theme throughout and Cleopatra’s love is directed towards Antony. She is clearly besotted with him, and he with her. At the battle of Actium he turned all his fleet away to follow her out of battle, this shows how much he loves her he will follow her everywhere. This may also show her controlling over him. Antony’s’ men however believe that she ruined the battle as their side lost. Comments made by the men throughout the play show their disapproval of Cleopatra. This can be seen in Philo’s speech in act one scene one. Philo says ‘have glowed like the planet, now bend, now turn the office and devotion of their view upon tawny front’. Philo is saying that he was once a great soldier, he compared Antony to the God Mars, God of war, but now that he is with Cleopatra he is no longer a great soldier. This implies the hold she has over Antony has affected his dedication as a soldier.
In contrast to Cleopatra being a caring loving woman there is a darker side to her. When a messenger comes to giver news of Antony’s marriage to Octavia she beats the messenger in a rage. ‘The most infectious pestilence upon thee!’ this is an example of the verbal abuse the messenger receives from Cleopatra. Her behaviour here is a contrast to that of Octavia, Cleopatra is presented as sometimes irrational seen by the incident with the messenger, and living the life of luxury in comparison, Octavia seems dull within her behaviour. Although once Cleopatra had beaten the messenger she recognises her behaviour was wrong, and that she has demeaned her position as queen, that her behaviour is unacceptable. ‘These hands do lack nobility,’ this is the closes to an apology from Cleopatra. This scene leads to Cleopatra wanting to know more about Octavia and her appearance. We see her as a very jealous character but who could blame her? This jealous characteristic brings realism to the situation, which real people can relate to. The messenger describes Octavia in a way, which pleases Cleopatra. Despite her feelings or rage and jealousy the audience have an insight to what I believe are her true feelings for Antony.
Octavia is used for many reasons; to show that Caesar has the capability to love and to form an alliance between Antony and Cleopatra. In my opinion Octavia used to show Cleopatra’s feelings for Antony, and to show a contrast between her and Cleopatra. She is everything Cleopatra isn’t. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it shows the contrasting worlds of Rome and Egypt. It may be to show how Cleopatra is and how she is unique and there is no one like her. Shakespeare obviously wants to show how Cleopatra stands out from everyone else.
In my opinion ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ is a play of one woman’s love and all the emotions and actions involved with this emotion. The presentation of Cleopatra shows her struggle to overcome her jealousy, selfishness and childish qualities to be with Antony, even though she has to commit suicide to achieve this. Shakespeare uses Cleopatra to show the desperate lengths people will go to.
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The essay makes a range of valid points, but these are undermined by weaknesses in expression and punctuation. Candidates who find expressing their ideas difficult may be helped by reading their essay aloud, either to themselves or to a sympathetic listener, who will stop them at any point where meaning is not clear. In addition careful thought should be given to how to structure an essay logically. ***