Antony and Cleopatra - Critical Approaches

  1. structure of the plot
  2. characterisation
  3. language
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  • Created by: Tom
  • Created on: 22-04-14 16:26

Structure of the plot

  • act divisions provided by Shakespeare's first editors. This has been accepted, but it is not the original
  • 42 scenes = much more than in any other Shakespeare play. Clearly used as a technique
  • play marked by a clear antithetical structure:
    • in first half before move to Actium, there is clear contrast between scenes in Egypt and political scenes in Rome
    • Act 1 set mostly in Egypt with 1 contrasting scene in Caesar's house(4) in which he expressed dissaproval of Antony's decisions in Egypt
    • Act 2 which covers Roman business with pompey, is interrupted by 1 scene in Egypt(5) in which Cleo beats the messenger
    • Act 3 opens with Ventidius on plains of Syria, returns to Rome for parting of Triumvirs, switches to Egypt to see Cleo asking about Octavius, then gos to Antony's house in Athens for 2 scenes of political business, returns to Rome for political business as Triumvirs break up before moving to Actium for scene 7
    • At halfway point the scene setting begins to follow the action - moving between Actium and Cleo's palace
    • Where the antithesis before Actium had been between Rome and Egypt, it becomes between Antony's camp and Caesar's camp.
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structure of the plot(cont.)

  • Samuel Johnson -"this juxtaposition is a highly effective way of dramatising the split in Antony's public and personal life and the consequences this has in his conflict with Caesar. Thus the dramatic form Shakespeare has chosen reflects the major concerns of the play"
  • This form is somewhat of a chronical play - follows series of events over a period of time in a chronological order.
    • not entirely true as Shakespeare starts in the middle of events - Antony is already in political difficulties at the start of the play as a result of Cleo. The point Shakespeare chooses to begin at indiciates the main theme.
  • Samuel Johnson - "The events, of which the principles are described according to history, are produced without any act of connection or care of disposition"
  • There are many issues with the chronical appraoch. So much history has to be crammed in to a short compass that there are gaps and ommissions that we will likely want to know:
    • we often do not know much about the motivations of the characters
    • play has few soliloquys, the place on the Rennaissance stage where we may find motives explored and expressed
  • broad sweeps of chronicles often skip depth
    • the fast moving juxtaposition of scenes involving vast number of characters compensates for lack of depth by letting us see events from a number of perspectives which gives us an active stance of history being made.
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  • The characterisation of Ant, Cleo, Caes, follow quite closely with Plutarch except Shakepseare presented the lovers more attractively, while opposite for Caesar
  • Shakespeare's Antony is far more noble than Plutarch's corrupt one
  • Plutarch's Cleo = Enchanting, exotic, intelligient
  • Plutarch's O.Caesar had weakness for women, Shakespeare's didn't.
  • Enobarbus's sympathy to Antony from start, his loyalty anf fellowship help to establish the humanity of Antony
  • Enobarbus does not share the traits of the other Roman soldiers, he seems to enjoy Egypt and adds to the humour.
  • It is as if Enobarbus represents a reflect of something within Antony - mirror?
  • (II.2) -"that truth should be silent I had almost/forgot" - honest figure who is not afraid to speak his mind
  • his appreciation of Egypt + his wit and humour make him the perfect vehicle to deliver the exotic description of Cleo
  • Enobarbus's role is to be a kind of shadow attached to Antony. His fate is therefore linked to his master. The death of Enobarbus is a prelude to what is to come - foreshadowing
  • Enobarbus's role is to clarify - what it clarifies at the end is the tragic betrayal of honour in the world that is disitegrating around Antony
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  • Samuel Johnson - "a quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the world and was content to lose it"
  • wordplay in Shakespeare is a great leveller - even Caesar is not above a pun as he complains in Antony's absence "we do bear/ so great weight in his lightness" - lightness referring to neglect of duty and levity.
  • the grand vision of the play is created and sustained by its grand language:
    • use of hyperbole particularly pronounced in speeched made by Antony and Cleo and in speeches made about them. Hyperbole present in 1st speech of the play
    • 'his goodly eyes' were said to have 'glowed like plated mars' - like the wargod in shining armor, the grand simile has a heightening effect
  • in equally grand comparison Cleo is likened to Venus
    • mythological references put the characters in an exalted light
    • references to moon, sun, and stars give comsic style to the hyperbolic style
  • grand note is sustained in allusion to the elements - Cleo - "I am fire and air; my other elements/I give to baser life"
    • all the hyperbole etc led Coleridge to comment on the "happy valiancy" of the play
  • The language of the play is also marked by various figures of with - paradox, oxymoron, and conceit. Many associated with Cleo to express her 'infinite varity'
    • figures of wit often used for comic purposes - also found at serious moments - when Antony tells Eros "with a wound I must be cured"
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  • reccurent patterns of imagery - food and drink predominantly with Egypt: "Now no more/ the juice of Egypt's grape shall moist this lip"
  • Egypt is a place of pleasure, but also of mystery and danger, encapsulated in the Nile imagery focusing around the Serpent. Cleo reports Antony addressing her as his 'Serpent of old Nile'
  • Antony's sword is a material object but also a reccuring symbol of his military and masculine identity
  • There is a complex of ideas associated with the word 'fortune' - can mean luck, success, fate
    • root of its use is medieval image of the goddess fortuna
  • Antony asks the soothsayer whose fortunes shall rise higher, response = Caesar. As a result Antony leaves Rome.
    • after first battle - "Fortune and Antony part here"
    • Caesar is "full-fortuned", though, as far as Cleo is concerned "Not being fortune, he's but Fortune's knave", and she mocks Antony with "the luck of Caesar"
    • this chain of imagery gives unity to the plot - also hints at inevitable destiny underlying surface of play's action
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