Explore the ways Shakespeare presents the concept of authority in Antony and Cleopatra

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Explore the ways Shakespeare presents the concept of authority in Antony and Cleopatra

The play’s main characters are two of the most powerful people in the world, Antony being a member of the triumvirate, a coalition controlling the majority of the globe, and Cleopatra the Queen of Egypt, a feisty lady with a strong will who in the past has been linked with many other world leaders, a point which is often referred to throughout the play; “Cleopatra: Did I, Charmian, / Ever love Caesar so?”. Due to their status, the authority they hold and the power they have over people is clearly going to be a main theme as it affects many of their actions, decisions and feelings as the play progresses, to great consequence.

There are a number of strong characters all trying to gain the upper hand at every opportunity. This is shown even in petty matters such as who gives in and sits down first in the falsely courteous power exchange between Antony and Caesar on Antony’s visit to Rome in Act 2, Scene 2.


  Caesar: Welcome to Rome.

  Antony: Thank you.

  Caesar: Sit.

  Antony: Sit, sir.

  Caesar: Nay then.                [Caesar sits, then Antony]

This is comic moment from Shakespeare, but it does also outline the ongoing power struggle within the triumvirate. The scene can be looked at from two angles: it could be argued that, as it is Antony who wins this small exchange, the event aims to highlight the strength he possesses at the height of his career in order to provide a contrast for his lack of authority at the closing stages of the play; on the other hand it could also perhaps be seen as an early sign of his decline, as he is so desperate to gain authority he has reduced himself to pettiness, contrasting with the behaviour of Caesar who acts the bigger man without the need to win this small battle as he believes he can win the real thing, an inner confidence not present within Antony. The contrast between the characters’ behaviour is shown again more clearly in Act 3, Scene 13 where in a desperate struggle to maintain some authority Antony has Caesar’s messenger, Thidias, whipped for no good reason other than to prove he does still have some control. “Antony: I am / Antony yet. Take hence the jack and whip him!” This is an interesting juxtaposition to the previous scene where Caesar has received Antony’s ambassador most courteously, even ensuring he returns safely back to his master, “Caesar: Bring him through the bands.” The difference in approach is most probably because Antony realises whilst his life and leadership is on a steady decline, the younger “boy Caesar” is gaining experience, power and control with each day that passes. Shakespeare has shown Antony’s frustration at this through his actions and poor decision making, both on a personal and professional level.

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The power relationship between the lovers is also a main focus of the play and is a very interesting one displayed by Shakespeare in many ways. Enobarbus’s description of the pair’s first meeting at the river Cydnus, Act 2, Scene 2 is not only a beautiful story with wonderful language and imagery, it also gives an interesting insight into the direction the relationship will take. Antony invites the Queen to dine with him, but instead of complying she decides the night will be on her terms and changes the arrangements so “he became her guest”. This is a shocking ...

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Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

The essay has many strengths. It is generally well-expressed and offers insights which are well-grounded in textual detail. The writer is also willing to reflect on different ways in which scenes could be interpreted. A weakness of the essay is its heavy focus on Antony. Caesar, Lepidus, Pompey and Cleopatra are also relevant to the concept of authority in the play.

Here's what a star student thought of this essay

The student's spelling, grammar and punctuation are largely correct, which is good because it means that the examiner can focus on the student's analytical skills rather than have to spend time working out what they mean. The paragraphing is excellent: by starting a new paragraph when they introduce a new concept, such as "This is not the only example of...", the student is showing they can organise their ideas and understand that there are different themes in a text. However, the student could improve their quality of writing by not using informal language, such as "feisty lady" or "Enobarbus is being a bit cheeky". This kind of language is inappropriate for an A Level essay, which is supposed to sound academic, but it is also missing an opportunity for analysis - instead of saying "a bit cheeky", the student could have analysed Enobarbus' characterisation and linked it to the question by saying something like "Enobarbus displays a slight disrespect for authority figures".

The student uses good analytical skills, and by saying things like "This...works well dramatically" the student is not only evaluating the text, they are linking it to the audience and commenting on how it works as a play, which is good as it shows they are aware of the form of the text and that it would primarily be watched, not read. The student reaches a conclusion in the final paragraph, but it is not as clear as it could be. The final sentence answers the question directly, which is good as it shows that the student is on task and focused on what they have been asked. The judgment in this sentence is excellent because it brings together the different techniques the student has considered. However, it would be better to start the paragraph with "In conclusion..." because it would leave the examiner in no doubt that the student understands the need to summarise their ideas and relate it back to the question. The student also supports their analysis with a high level of evidence from the text - for example, they appropriately quote "I take no pleasure/ In aught a eunuch has" when analysing Cleopatra's cruelty. This is good because some students make comments about a text without understanding it, and hope they can get away with it - this student, however, can back up what they are saying with evidence from the text.

The student responds well to the demands of the question by considering more than one point of view. For example, by using language such as "The scene can be looked at from two angles: it could be argued that...", they are showing that they can think widely about the character and are not just giving a one-sided viewpoint. (When analysing, it's always good to use words such as "could", "possibly" and "maybe" because it shows that you realise there are several interpretations of a character or a text). I was always told there are marks available for thinking about the question as well as the answer, something this student does: instead of just interpreting "authority" as Anthony's political power, they also look at more subtle ways authority is displayed, such as Cleopatra's possible authority in the relationship ("The power relationship between the lovers is also a main focus"). The student could build on this by making sure they consider other characters in positions of authority, such as Caesar, to show balance and the ability to range around the text.