How is Cleopatra’s infinite variety’ reflected in the language that she uses? In your answer, you should include detailed references to at least two passages from the play.
In my essay I will take ‘infinite variety’ and use it to describe Cleopatra’s changing personality. From the outskirts of the play she is seen as being an unstable character, but emphasises various different characteristics, which I will explore, using the language she uses. The passages I will cover will be the messengers bad news, the messengers return and Cleopatra’s conversation with her ladies in waiting. Her ‘infinite variety’ can be reflected well in these three passages.
Cleopatra is initially portrayed to us as being deeply in love with Antony as she is constantly worrying over him. ‘Antony’ dead’ Cleopatra says this to the messenger in Act two Scene five, this shows her anticipation and love for Antony as she jumps to the conclusion that he is dead. This brings a sense of dramatic irony to the play, as the audience is aware of Cleopatra’ love for Antony may be too intense.
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Cleopatra waits to hear the news about Antony from the messenger; she uses metaphorical language to make it clear to the messenger that he should not bring bad news. ‘Thou shoulds’t come like a fury crown’d with snakes, not like a formal man’. This is a sign that she can be easily angered, the metaphor she uses illustrates that she may be ready for bad news as she knows Antony has been away in Rome away on business. Cleopatra’s use of hyperbole emphasises her obsession with Antony and all that surrounds him, words such as ‘fury crown’d with snakes’ is also an example of this but Shakespeare intertwines personification and hyperbole together to imply Cleopatra’s frustrated temper. In parallel to her anger she quickly says ‘I’ll set thee in a shower of gold and hail rich pearls upon thee’ implying that she doesn’t want to hear any bad news or else he may face punishment, this gives the messenger the option to either make Cleopatra upset by telling her the truth or to lie to her and please her as everyone always does.
The stage directions in Act two Scene five, show that Cleopatra can be very aggressive at time which sometimes outlines her masculine side. ‘Strikes him down’, for Cleopatra to strike the messenger down it shows her strength and power and illustrates her unpredictable nature when it comes to news concerning Antony. Cleopatra often can be seen as the arrogant partner in her and Antony’ relationship, the reversal of gender roles is evident when Cleopatra verbally abuses the messenger and says ‘ The most infectious pestilence upon thee’, her aggressive tone and nature is something that the audience would expect to see in Rome where there is actual conflict between Pompey and Antony whereas Antony in adopting the feminine role by drinking and enjoying himself.
Cleopatra uses a list of interrogative sentences to convey her curiosity regarding what Antony is up to in Rome. ‘Is she tall as me?’ .The short abrupt sentences show that she is excited about hearing about the competition she faces in Rome and she wants to know as quick as possible as she has been kept waiting already by the messenger. This portrays her impatient personality and one side to her multi-faced nature.
Cleopatra finds it amusing that Octavia does not add up to her standards and turns her anger around into humor by saying: ‘ I think so Charmian, dull of tongue and dwarfish. What majesty is in her guit remember o’er thou looks’d on majesty’ Cleopatra creates a mocking sinister tone when she is aware that everything is ok, she often relies on her ladies in waiting such as Charmian to agree with her comments on Octavia as she seems insecure about herself. The type of lexis used by Cleopatra often reflects her mood, ‘dull’, ‘tongue’ and ‘dwarfish’ are effective because they are negative words which Cleopatra wants to portray Octavia as.
A lot of what Cleopatra says contains many sexual undertones which is conveyed through her speech .In Act 1 Scene 5, we see her talking to Charmian about her love for Antony. ‘Oh does he walk? Or is he on his horse? Oh happy horse to bear the weight of Antony!’ This line can mean that she would rather have Antony on top of her than a horse that would gain no pleasure out of him, this makes Antony look like a sexual object to the audience and it shows the way Cleopatra gets sexually frustrated when she is without Antony. The use of the ‘Oh’ is an example of exclamation, which is often used by Cleopatra lovesick side to her, which is used by Shakespeare to create empathy for Cleopatra, but is challenged by her mixed emotions.
To conclude, I have looked at three scenes which show Cleopatra’ ‘infinite variety’ In different perspectives. It is clear to say that although she is seen to the audience as melodramatic, she is a crucial character who brings humor and diversity to the play. Shakespeare uses her as a device, which creates anticipation and suspense towards the end of the play.