Explore the ways in which Shakespeare presents Rome and Egypt. How are the contrasts between them reflected in the characters of ‘Antony and Cleopatra?’

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Deepak Singh Drubhra          01 May 2007

“Antony and Cleopatra” is the tragic story of one of the triumvirs, Antony, who is deeply in love with the pharaoh of Egypt, Cleopatra, but their love seems doomed. This is due to problems in their relationship that are caused not only by these two lovers, but also by others in the two countries. In “Antony and Cleopatra,” there are a number of contrasting impressions of the Egyptian and Roman cultures and society.

The major differences are in the environments and the societies of both Egypt and Rome. This can be seen through the many characters in both Rome and Egypt. In Rome, the main characters consist of the triumvirs, which include Mark Antony, Octavius Caesar, and Lepidus. There are also both Antony’s and Caesar’s friends and followers, the other major character being Enobarbus, a close friend of Mark Antony. Egypt is ruled by the pharaoh, Cleopatra, who has had many known relationships with powerful men. Then there are her attendants, including Charmian, Iras, and Alexus.

In Rome, the general society is full of military expenditures and strategy, and this leads to a great deal of tension and many problems arise from early on in the play, and this can frustrate Antony as they intrude into his life with Cleopatra. This is evident when he says, “let Rome in Tiber melt.” This proves that Antony is frustrated with his responsibilities in Rome, and is one of the causes in his downfall – his irresponsibility of handling his duties. He gives the impression by saying this that he is conscious of the happenings in Rome, but he is not concerned – this could be due to the presence of Cleopatra.

An important factor when looking at the play is the fact that in Rome, there are two main powerful figures that have control, Antony and Caesar. Even though Lepidus is among the triumvirs, he does not show great involvements with matters involving the Senate. There are many differences between the two characters throughout the play, even after the marriage of Octavia, Caesar’s sister to Antony. This is different from the Egyptian courts, where single-handedly, only Cleopatra is the ruler. This leads to different atmosphere in both settings, and this can be seen through the attitude and behaviour of Antony, who travels to and from both settings.

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With Antony in Rome, he is seen as a great person and a hero, and also respected by many, including Caesar, and this is due to the historical warfare that Antony took part in, such as the Battle of Philippi. For his actions as a soldier, he was respected, but the Roman commoners and Caesar knew what he was doing in Egypt and referred to Cleopatra as “whore” and a “trull” (prostitute).

Even being the man that Antony has made himself into, highly respected and an important figure in the empire, he is never in control in either land. In ...

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