Examine the ways in which tragedy is presented in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.

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Examine the ways in which tragedy is presented in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra.

Shakespeare's presentation of tragedy in this play is very clear, in that he adheres to the accepted formula of what tragedy entails. However, to analyse thoroughly the means by which Shakespeare evokes the tragic elements of the plot, we must first understand what makes a tragedy.

Aristotle's Poetics presents a precise definition of what tragedy is. Tragedy involves a person having a negative change of fortune, often leading to their demise. However, this change does not occur because of some moral defect or depravity, rather due to an internal error within the person, which is also intrinsic to their personality. Antony's weakness seems to be his love for Cleopatra and his inability to decide whether he should pursue duty or personal pleasures, a fault made visible by Shakespeare's presentation of Rome and Egypt, and the rapid alternation of scenes between the two. Rome is quickly established as a metaphor for Antony's responsibilities, and of Egypt, represented by Cleopatra, we are told that the "beds ... are soft".

The differences between Rome and Egypt are made so apparent not only by the constant shift in scenery between the two, but also by the characters chosen by Shakespeare to represent the two places. The fact that Cleopatra is often called "Egypt", not only in reference to her political position, but also because of her love for revelling, immediately suggests that the people of Egypt must be of a similar nature to their queen.

Chosen to symbolize Rome is Caesar, the inevitable opposite of Cleopatra and near equal to Antony in terms of national importance. The first time that Octavius Caesar appears in the play, he condemns Antony for his extended stay in Alexandria. He even questions his character, saying that Antony is less "manlike than Cleopatra", thus providing a direct correlation between frivolity, and the present public opinion of Antony, highlighted at the beginning of the play by Philo, a "triple pillar of the world transformed into a strumpet's fool". Also, through this censure he presents himself in total opposition to everything denoted by Cleopatra, and by extension Egypt.
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Therefore it can be seen vividly from the opening scenes that there is conflict between the two aspects that constitute the character of Mark Antony. These scenes are used by Shakespeare to prepare the audience for oncoming tragic events, as to provoke them into thought about why these events will take place - an element of didactic theatre. This also establishes Antony's position within the play, as a man caught between two contradictory aims

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Aristotle suggests that tragedy follows, or is an imitation of an admirable person; someone who is held in high ...

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