Discuss Shakespeare's presentation of Mark Antony in Act1 of Antony and Cleopatra

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English                Rachel Groeneveld

Discuss Shakespeare’s presentation of Mark Antony in Act 1 of Antony and Cleopatra

The setting of the play Antony and Cleopatra is introduced with a world that is ruled by the Romans due to their final break-through of conquering Egypt. Rome is a place where order is the main factor of importance whilst Egypt is a country of culture, art and riches. The difference between these two cultures is an exact parallel between Elizabethan and modern time where Shakespeare portrays the nostalgia for the old conventions of the Elizabethan times. The earth is supported by three pillars also known as the triumvirate. The triumvirate is a group of three male leaders that rule the earth consisting of Mark Antony, Lepidus and Octavius Caesar. Antony, through recognition of his history, has already been established as a character of power and intelligence. Antony, being classified as an orator, used his skills in speech to receive the crowd’s support ‘friends, countrymen, lend me your ears’ and successfully succeeded in persuading the crowd to conspire against Brutus. Antony is therefore also seen as a hero because he was able to kill Brutus, the murderer of Julius Caesar. Although Shakespeare portrays Antony as a powerful man, it can be argued that Shakespeare also establishes Antony’s flaw in character which is his love for Cleopatra. Shakespeare presents Antony through the use of dialogue, symbolism and context.

First of all, Shakespeare directly portrays Antony as masculine character through the simple convention of the meaning of the name ‘Antony’, which means battles. The word battles is linked in with war that is related to, due to old-fashioned tradition, masculinity  because it is seen as the male’s duty and honour to fight for their country whilst their wives’ role would be to take care of the household and the husband when he returned. To further establish this point of power and masculinity, Shakespeare associates Antony with gods of physical strength ‘Mars’, the god of war, ‘Hercules’, a demi-god where the word Herculean is a synonym for superhuman strength, and Atlas, the god with an immense strength who held up the earth. Shakespeare’s use of symbolism emphasizes Antony’s physical strength yet he chooses not to use any symbols to portray emotional strength. Can it therefore be suggested that Antony lacks this emotional strength? Moreover, it is also known that these gods had flaws, Mars was violent and had an unrestrained sexual passion, Hercules was driven mad by Hera and Atlas was arrogant, which may be Shakespeare’s method of pre-echoing the fact that Antony will be confronted by a personal flaw. Further use of symbolism suggests that Antony is precious and opulent. This image of opulence is presented in the subtext that even something horrible like horse’s urine, because of its connection to Antony, is tinted with gold. Alexas’ face, merely a messenger, is gilded solely for the reason that he came with news from Antony. Through the use of this symbolism Shakespeare creates the image that Antony has an effect on people and objects that causes them to shine as well as confirming the notion of his opulence. Shakespeare immediately establishes Antony as the main character or a character of importance through the use of syntax. Because Antony speaks in blank verse, it can be established that he is an important person with power and status.

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Shakespeare creates a conflict upon Antony, which is already established early in Act 1. Because Antony is part of the triumvirate, it is his duty to help rule the world with Lepidus and Caesar. However, because he is in a relationship with Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, he fails to meet his obligations by choosing to remain in Alexandria to spend time with Cleopatra. This act causes the dissatisfaction of two other characters: Philo and Octavius Caesar. Shakespeare uses these characters in order to provide the audience with a different point of view on Antony’s behaviour. Both ...

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