"In 'Antony and Cleopatra', Shakespeare is particularly interested in the psychological burdens that those in positions of power must endure". Examine the different representations of leadership in the play.

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“In ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, Shakespeare is particularly interested in the psychological burdens that those in positions of power must endure”. Examine the different representations of leadership in the play.

As is often true of the study of history in general, the people who dominate Shakespeare’s historical plays are those in positions of power and authority. This is simply because such people will be the ones to effect history in the most significant way. In ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ we see several different leadership figures, who show all of the range of burdens, strains and qualities that those in positions of power can have (such as Antony himself, Cleopatra, Caesar, Lepidus and Pompey). In terms of leadership, Classical Renaissance ideas can be very helpful when trying to approach Antony and Cleopatra for the first time. The traditional idea of heroism and leadership was summed up in the quality known as ‘virtus’, which describes the characteristics of a virile nature, military strength, and old ideas of chivalry and honour. Renaissance artists such as Machiavelli in ‘The Prince’, modified this to emphasise calm ruthlessness and intellectual power. As we shall see, these two opposing views of what a leader should be (the traditional and renaissance ideals) are reflected in the struggle between Antony and Caesar. Antony, representing the old ‘virus’ values, is defeated and replaced by Caesar, representing the Machiavellian hero. Thus I shall begin with these two characters, whose conflict is vitally central to the play.

Antony is represented as an old-fashioned hero, whose moral blemishes are excused because of his heroic nature. Maecenas tells us that his “taints and honours waged equal with him” (Act 5, scene 1). These taints become apparent in the first act when we discover that Antony in fact has a wife (Fulvia), even though we have just watched the obvious love affair that he is having with Cleopatra. When he returns to Rome (having heard of the death of his wife), he soon marries Caesar’s sister thus betraying Cleopatra. However, we do also see that Antony has an obvious preoccupation with honour, reputation and ancestry. His past military glory is very important to him, and it is for these ideas of honour and ancestry that he eventually will return away from Egypt and back to war. These are all characteristics of the traditional hero, whose titanic anger would have won him favour in the eyes of the Shakespearean audience, but perhaps not as much, in a modern audience. This is because he is more likely to be seen in modern times as an impulsive reckless leader who leads with his heart and not his head. In Act 3 scene 10, Antony’s declaration that he will fight by sea has the ring of bluster and bravado, and is an emotional response to Caesar’s challenge. His decision alarms even the most humble soldier who pleads:

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“O noble emperor, do not fight by sea/Trust not to rotten planks”

Sweeping, flamboyant gestures, such as his challenge to single combat and his declarations of the love he feels for Cleopatra (which he sees as liberating and life enhancing – “The nobleness of life is to do thus” Act 1 scene1) provide a stark contrast to the behaviour of Caesar. Another element that is central to Antony as a leader, is the constant conflict between duty and desire. This conflict results in a felling of guilt, a sense that he has neglected his duty to his people. It ...

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