Antony and Cleopatra Themes



•The contrasting, fast-moving scenes create an element of flux and highlight the division and struggle that Antony must face in order to establish and maintain his sense of identity.

•In the figure of Antony, Shakespeare explores the tragically conflicting sides of a multi-faceted man who finds himself unable to “hold this visible shape” in a constantly shifting world. 

•Antony is near constantly defined and redefined by himself and other characters over the course of the play; their views are presented from a variety of differing perspectives which are closely juxtaposed to highlight their contrasts.

•When characters are forced to question or redefine key aspects of their identity, the painful shift in their world-view results in emotional turmoil or even death.

•Through the widely different and often conflicting settings of Rome and Egypt, Shakespeare illustrates the difficulty and potential narrowness of maintaining a stable sense of identity in the face of a world which is constantly fluctuating.

•At the end of the play, even Caesar is able to recognise the greatness of the two lovers: the near-triumphant death of Cleopatra almost defies tragedy as the lovers are enthroned, even in death, as the greatest lover of all time.

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•Through the character of Enobarbus, Shakespeare presents the potentially fatal consequences of all-consuming loyalty and devotion.

•In Antony and Cleopatra, loyalty is seen to be a shifting concept which is constantly questioned and is defined differently by characters throughout.

•In the military world of Rome, loyalty is most encompassed on the battlefield, and rewards for loyalty and punishments for disloyalty are meted out throughout the play.

•Antony is a character who at once most strongly creates and divides the loyalty of others.

•Throughout much of the play, loyalty is seen to be subjective and more of a performance than a stable fact through the juxtaposition of word and action from scene to scene.

•Poised at the cusp of a fundamentally important moment of Classical history, the play explores love as a force at once transcendent of and subject to the pressures of time and history. 

•Contrast is apparent between the pure, romantic love which exists between Antony and Cleopatra and the arranged relationship of Antony and Octavia, perhaps to illustrate the underlying cruel nature of politics

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•Eros’ pretence of killing Antony adds an element of bathos to his death; it shows the “price he pays for having made himself too much of a man”.

•The fatality of Cleopatra’s deceptive nature is tragically revealed in the final scenes of the play, wherein her lies succeed in making the “whole scene a scene of woe”.

•The geographical scale of the play means that characters are often deceived in other’s movements and whereabouts. 

•Cleopatra’s superficial deceit in relation to Antony is often see as an expression of the constancy of their love.

•At the end of the play, Caesar’s attempts to deceive Cleopatra are ultimately futile, allowing her own triumph at the expense of Caesar’s.

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Flux and Change

•Cleopatra’s central fascination is her ability to change; she is constantly fascinating because she is constantly changing, although not in fundamentals.

•Antony’s return to Rome is an attempt to still the movement and to cement the relationships, but it is tragically doomed to failure.

•After hearing about Antony’s engagement to Octavia, a sense of insecurity previously unseen in the Egyptian queen is revealed, and a momentary power dynamic shift takes place between Antony and Cleopatra.

•Antony’s sense of identity is in a constant state of flux; he cannot keep together the differing elements of himself in a relentlessly changing world. 

•In Antony and Cleopatra’s deaths, the audience sees how the constant oscillation of characters and movement is ultimately stilled, particularly in Cleopatra who becomes “marble constant”.

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•The contrast between the East and West is presented through the “timeless present” of Egypt, and the way in which the actions of the Romans seemed tied by the chronology that Egypt lacks.

•At the end of the play, as well as in the history of the Roman Empire, whilst there is a sense of triumph in Cleopatra’s suicide, it appears that Rome’s values have surpassed Egypt’s through Caesar’s victory.

•In the figure of Antony himself, Shakespeare explores the tragically conflicting sides of a multi-faceted man who finds himself unable to “hold this visible shape” in a constantly shifting world. 

•It is not only Antony who finds himself at war with himself; Bradley stated that those around the tragic hero will be brought down by his fall, and perhaps the most notable example of this comes from Enobarbus.

•At times, it appears as though Antony and Cleopatra is fundamentally in conflict with notions of classical tragedy.

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