Antony and Cleopatra is based upon a dualistic vision of experience, the world of Rome pitted against the world of Egypt

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Antony and Cleopatra is based upon a dualistic vision of experience, the world of Rome pitted against the world of Egypt. Rome is associated with military glory, honor, and moral duty and this is clearly depicted by the imagery used throughout the play.  Through Cleopatra’s words in Act 1 Scene1, the audience gets some insight into the Roman way even before Shakespeare introduces it on stage. “If the scarce bearded Caesar have not sent his powerful mandate to you, ‘Do this, or this; Take in that kingdom and enfranchise that.” As she tries to predict the message form Rome, she creates an image of a powerful and commanding Caesar whose sole concern is to ensure the political superiority of the Triumvirate. Shakespeare uses the character of Caesar to represent Rome and therefore creates the idea of a politically-motivated nation. The news from the messenger in Act 1 Scene 2 also supports the political urgency of Rome as it creates images of war and conquest that is occurring back in Rome. He speaks of Fulvia coming into “the field” and the “conquering banner” of Labenius, who is an enemy of the Trimuvirate. However, the battle of Actium which occurs after the separation of the Triumvirate is where imagery truly serves to illustrate the military urgency that is associated with Rome as images of ships, sails, swords and battle give the audience a greater understanding of the emphasis they place on war and the preservation of power. This is obvious in Caesar’s words as delivers commands for war; “Strike not by land; keep whole. Provoke not battle till we have done at sea.” Caesar’s words help to define the Roman vision of experience: militaristic and male, marked by heroic restraint in difficult circumstances, a willed ability to combat one's deepest feelings, a sustained composure when everyone else is falling apart.

        Egypt, on the other hand, presents a stark contrast to the political world of the Romans. Egypt represents instinctive passion, extravagant love, fertility, and magnanimity. Just as Caesar represents Rome, Cleopatra’s character is used to represent Egypt as a whole. The extravagance of Egypt becomes immediately obvious as Cleopatra enters in Act 1 Scene 1. She enters with a flourish of fanfare, a train of female servants and eunuchs fanning her which evokes an image of absolute comfort and relaxation. There is no hint of political concern as she and Antony profess their love to each other in extravagant words which highlight their instinctive passion. This is reflected in Antony’s response to Cleopatra’s question of the extent of his love; “Then must thou needs find out new heaven, new earth.” There are also various references to food and drink in Cleopatra’s words and these images serve to create a sense of pleasure which is associated with eating. She refers to her ‘salad days’ as she speaks of her youth. She also requests “music and moody food” to quell her anxiety about Antony’s return to her. The atmosphere of pleasure in Egypt is emphasized by Antony in Act 1Scene 1 as he expresses his wishes to indulge in the gay abandon and revelry of Cleopatra’s kingdom; “There’s not a moment of our lives that should stretch without some pleasure now.”

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        Another important illustration of the contrast between Rome and Egypt is the imagery that depicts the change in Antony’s character.  Through the observations of other characters in the play, Shakespeare makes obvious the deterioration of Antony’s political prowess and power. The description of this decline usually consists of a juxtaposition of imagery of strength and fortitude with that of weakness and submission. The strength of character is associated with the Antony in Rome who held his political duties in high regard. He deteriorates into a “doting mallard” of Cleopatra in Egypt where it appears that the atmosphere of abandon and ...

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