Discuss the Ways Shakespeare Presents the Differences Between Rome and Egypt in ‘Antony and Cleopatra’.
Rome and Egypt are the two main locations where ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ are set, these two countries are represented very differently within the play. Shakespeare uses characters, language, mood and themes to represent the differences of the countries. The contrast of these two countries is what drives the main plot of the play. Rome is the west and is portrayed as political, strict and masculine where as Egypt, the east, is portrayed as feminine, mysterious and passionate.
Egypt is the country which Shakespeare makes his audience warm to. Egypt is an ancient civilisation which is colourful, warm and exotic. Egyptians live life to the full and enjoy socialising, partying, sex and wining and dining.
‘Bring in the banquet quickly; wine enough Cleopatra’s health to drink.’
This is shown through the character of Cleopatra who is the queen of Egypt and one of the few female characters in the play. As she is the queen of Egypt, her seductive, warm personality reflects on her positive country and citizens.
‘I’th’East my pleasures lies.’
Throughout the play the word Egypt, is regularly referred to the queen showing they are one and depend on each other.
‘Then bid adieu to me, and say the tears belong to Egypt.’
Rome is presented as strict, hierarchical and hostile. Romans are ordered,
and political. It is a very masculine country which is ruled by males. The harsh characteristics of Rome are shown through one of its three triumvirs- Caesar. Caesar is the youngest triumvir and is the most powerful as he will soon be the future of Rome.
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‘The scarce –bearded Caesar’
There is no gender equality in Rome, they do not value females, they are seen as inferior to males which adds to the negative image we are given on Rome. An example of this is when Caesar willingly offers his sister, Octavia, up for marriage to a fellow triumvir for his own political reasons. He disregards her say on the matter and she has no choice but to follow his orders.
‘A sister I bequeath you whom no brother did ever love her so dearly.’
‘Sister prove such a wife…’
As all the laws and decisions of Rome are made by males it reflects on the masculinity of the country and the characteristics of the citizens who don’t know how to enjoy themselves.
Romans strive on honour, duty and loyalty and it is Antony, one of the roman generals who betrays his duties. He is the character who proves to use that Egypt is a healthier country to live in. Antony originates from Rome and it is where his livelihood is, but for a while he has been living in Egypt. Since spending time in Egypt and with Cleopatra he has put his duties aside and begun to enjoy himself. He has changed from a formal, political, warrior man to a relaxed, loving, intimate character.
‘The triple pillar of the world transformed….’
‘Since I saw you last, there’s a change upon you.’
Shakespeare’s use of characters is one of the many ways in which he defines the differences between Rome and Egypt. Characters’ personalities reflect on the country which they originate from. Even the minor characters seem to symbolise their countries. For example, the soothsayer, who is an Egyptian, is mysterious and persuasive. Even his occupation (a fortune-teller) represents aspects of Egypt. When sent to Rome by Cleopatra to persuade Antony to return to Egypt the soothsayer succeeds to do so in less than forty lines.
‘I will to Egypt…. I’th’East my pleasure lies.’
This occurs just minutes after Antony has promised his new wife that he will remain committed to her and his country.
‘I have not kept my square, but that to come shall all be done by th’rule.’
The soothsayer also highlights the sensibility of Rome when he offers Enobarbus to have his fortune told. Enobarbus kindly refuses
‘Most of our fortunes tonight, shall be drunk to bed’.
He does not trust the mysteriousness of Egypt yet is willing to wine and dine in the country.
Enobarbus represents the honour and loyalty of Rome. Enobarbus can see that Antony’s pleasure lies in Egypt and he makes him see that he has not made a mistake in spending time there. When Antony has doubts about whether he should have spent time with Cleopatra
‘Would I have never seen her?’
Enobarbus convinces him that he did the right thing other wise he would have missed out.
‘you had then left unseen a wonderful piece of work…’
Enobarbus himself is also beginning to enjoy the luxurious life of the Egyptians. Unlike Caesar he does not speak bad of Egypt or its queen.
‘Her gentlewoman, like the Nereides’.
Enobarbus is the main character who Shakespeare uses language through to show the differences of the two countries. Shakespeare has used imagery to make his audience get a warm feeling of Egypt and Cleopatra.
‘The poop was beaten gold; purple the sails…’
‘so many mermaids, tended her I’th’eyes’.
He also appeals to our senses.
‘…so perfumed that the winds were lovesick with them….which to the tune of flutes….’
‘with the touches of those flower-soft hands’….
This is in comparison to the objects which represent Rome’s masculinity such as Antony’s sword.
‘The triple pillar of the world’
The scenery of the countries also reflects their differences as Rome is made up of cold grey stony buildings and pillars. Where as Egypt is famous for it’s hot desserts, pyramids and mysterious river Nile.
‘serpent of old Nile’.
Although as we know today Rome is also a very exotic warm city but Shakespeare had not been to either locations. Yet this has would not change the audiences interpretation of the play as he has differed the countries so well. Also at the time the play was written (1606-7) none of his audience would have been to either locations so they wouldn’t have known any better.
The structure of the play also emphasises the differences between Rome and Egypt. What, when and how the characters say their speech is relevant to the plot. Although this is not clear when reading the play we have to remember that it was written to be watched with action, not read. When Antony arrives in Rome there is tension between him and Caesar.
‘Welcome to Rome.’
This short, blunt, cold language shows tension and conflict and the mood of the situation reflects on the country they are in. Where as when Enobarbus arrives in Egypt it is a pleasure as his friend Agrippa is delighted to see him. They are in a positive situation and country and even there speech speaks positive of Egypt.
‘Welcome from Egypt, sir.’
‘My honourable friend Agrippa!’
There is a political theme that runs through the play and drives the plot. The outcome of the play in political terms is that Rome wins and Egypt loses. As the leaders of Rome and Egypt represent their countries their political issues reflects on their lives. At the end of the play Cleopatra, Antony and Enobarbus all die in Egypt. Leaving only one triumvir, Caesar, alive in Rome. For the first time in the play Rome is seen as superior country yet this is the outcome of its harsh characteristics. Rome thrives on loyalty and honour and as Antony and Enobarbus have betrayed their duties and fallen in love with the seductive land of Egypt, they had to pay by death. Unlike Caesar who stuck by his duties, remained loyal and is still alive and rules Rome alone.
Shakespeare has left his audience thinking about the play and the message which he is trying to get across. The audience can see the themes of the play in their lives and tells them that to be successful in life they have to be honourable to there duties and those around them. Yet also to live life to its fullest and enjoy it so they do not turn bitter and formal.