How, in your opinion, does Shakespeare use language throughout the play to present Cleopatra's

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                            ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA

How, in your opinion, does Shakespeare use language throughout the play to present Cleopatra’s “Infinite variety” to the audience?

Enobarbus uses the phrase “infinite variety” to describe the beauty and wonder of Cleopatra to Agrippa and Maecenas in Act 2 Scene 2. In the context of the whole play I believe it is a perfect description of how Cleopatra uses the different aspects of her character. Shakespeare uses language, imagery and structure to show the different sides of her personality. This allows Cleopatra to be interpreted in many ways by the actress and the audience. 

One of the ways Shakespeare presents Cleopatra throughout the play is as a queen. Cleopatra’s language emphasises her royal status in Act 3 Scene 7 when she says “as the president of my kingdom” to Enobarbus before the battle of Actium. Using the phrase “my kingdom” to refer to Egypt highlights her power and authority, which is used to win the argument with Enobarbus over her involvement in the battle. This shows how Cleopatra changes her character to best suit the situation. In both Antony and Cleopatra’s final scenes Cleopatra is shown by Shakespeare to be a queen rather than a woman or lover. In Act 4 Scene 14 the character of Antony says to Cleopatra “I’m dying, Egypt, dying”, this presents her as primarily a queen and a ruler. I believe this is of further importance to Cleopatra’s presentation because Antony’s death is of great significance and what is said will have more of an impact on the audience. Shakespeare also shows Cleopatra as a queen in her own death scene.  Cleopatra desires to die in royal clothing when in Act 5 Scene 2 she commands “Give me my robe; put on my crown”. Without any action on stage the language alone is enough to create an image of Cleopatra looking very regal. The language involves two short precise sentences, which suggests that Cleopatra has a clear intention to die like a queen. The structure of the play encourages the audience to compare the two death scenes. This emphasises Cleopatra’s royalty as the royal aspects of her death are accentuated in contrast with Antony’s farcical death scene. However Cleopatra is not always content to fill her role as queen and this continues the theme of identity that runs throughout the play.

In contrast to her death scene there are times in the play where Shakespeare presents Cleopatra as being no different to any other woman. As Antony prepares for his second battle with Caesar in Act 4 Scene 4 he refers to Cleopatra as “my chuck” and “Dame” which are colloquial terms of address. This makes Cleopatra and her relationship with Antony seem very typical as he is using the same everyday language as normal people. The way Antony leaves her with a “soldier’s kiss” increases the sense of normality in the scene. This is because the language suggests he is leaving her as a simple soldier would leave his wife or lover. Shakespeare does not give Cleopatra a special farewell from Antony and as I read the scene I could imagine a similar goodbye happening across Egypt from Antony and Caesar’s men. Cleopatra’s persona is hard to define as Shakespeare changes the audience’s perception of her as the play develops. In Act 4 Scene 15, after Antony’s death, Iras calls Cleopatra “Royal Egypt! Empress!”, which clearly shows that Iras always sees Cleopatra as the sovereign she is. However Cleopatra’s response rejects this title when she states “No more than e’en a woman”. The use of the word “woman”, not queen, implies that she is not only going against her royal role but also her image as a beautiful temptress that elevated her above other women. It can be argued that Cleopatra says this because she realises that she has no hope of the life she wants under Caesar’s rule and is contemplating suicide. However, I believe it is because she viewed her and Antony’s love for each other as the basis of their lives, with the responsibilities and politics of their power being only incidental elements. Cleopatra’s appreciation of normal lives can be seen in Act 1 Scene 1 when, to appease Cleopatra, Antony suggests they “wander through the streets and note/the qualities of people”. I feel that although Cleopatra could not live without her privileged royal life she still desires aspects of ordinary life in her time with Antony. But during the play Cleopatra is not considered ordinary and Agrippa feels she is a “Rare Egyptian!” in Act 2 Scene 2.

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Unlike most ordinary women of her time Cleopatra would have to have been extremely domineering and self-confident to survive as a powerful woman in a male dominated society. Shakespeare includes this in his interpretation of the Egyptian queen. This is shown before the battle of Actium, when with little military knowledge, Cleopatra argues for a role in the battle. As Act 3 Scene 7 begins Cleopatra and Enobarbus are in the middle of the argument, it is clear that Cleopatra is not willing to back down as her first line is “I will be even with thee, doubt it ...

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