Thursday, October 27, 2016

Love or Duty?

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Were I to write a paper on Antony and Cleopatra, I would write it on the clear juxtaposition of passion vs. discipline. Shakespeare sets up Antony and Caesar as clear foils for one another, and Antony's love for Cleopatra and resulting irrational behavior ultimately falls to Caesar’s clear vision and careful plans.
What Shakespeare doesn’t do is set up one person to be more virtuous than one another. Caesar is the antagonist of the play, but he isn’t shown to be vicious or hateful. In fact, he both likes and admires Antony, and mourns often that they are in opposition to one another.
When he hears of Antony’s death, he says, “But yet let me lament / With tears as sovereign as the blood of hearts / That thou my brother, my competitor / In top of all design, my mate in empire, / Friend and companion in the front of war, / The arm of mine own body, and he heart / Where mine his thoughts did kindle – that our stars / Unreconcilable should divide / Our equalness to this.” (5.1 49-57). This doesn’t sound like someone untouchable or angry. Caesar merely doesn’t let his emotions cloud his judgment. After this monologue, he immediately proceeds to deal with more state business.
Leah and I discussed on Slack how Caesar doesn’t show a whole lot of emotion. He’s not a robot, but he definitely isn’t given to the outrageous displays of passion we see from Antony and Cleopatra. When he hears of Antony’s betrayal, Caesar is upset, but mostly pities Antony. However, unlike his fellow triumvirate, Caesar does not put emotion over ambition, so he proceeds to crush him in battle anyway.Image result for love and dutyShakespeare juxtaposes this situation with another between Antony and Cleopatra. When Antony discovers that Cleopatra has betrayed him, he is furious, calls her a number of hurtful names, and orders her out of his sight. We see none of Caesar’s control and distance. This ultimately leads to both their deaths, for Cleopatra decides to pretend to kill herself to win Antony’s love back, but Antony believes the ploy and commits suicide for real.
Yet the audience’s sympathy is with Antony and Cleopatra, for their love is hard to resist. They are easy to be attached to and easy to love, and even easier to shake your head at. They are the dynamic center of the play, and you root for them even when you know the end is coming.
To write an actual paper on this, I’d want to research more about the real Antony and Cleopatra. The play starts in the middle of their relationship and leaves out key scenes (like Antony coming back to Egypt and reconciling with Cleopatra after his marriage), so I’d be curious to find out more about what they were really like. Plus, the battles and constantly changing alliances could be confusing so it wouldn’t hurt to get more background on Caesar’s war for dictatorship either.


  1. It's interesting how Shakespeare doesn't make Antony or Caesar vicious. Its the same in Julius Caesar with Caesar and Brutus, neither is truly evil and I wonder why Shakespeare does that. I am interested in comparing the personalities of these characters in this play to the play that I read, Julius Caesar. In my play I don't see Antony and Caesar as foils but then again you really don't have much character development when it comes to Caesar.

  2. I've been using this website and found it really helpful, but also found a character sketch of Antony that could be useful to you:
    I really like the ideas that you've come up with here, since passion and discipline are so different but play off each other all the time.

  3. This would be a really interesting topic. It's interesting that they've received so much attention through Shakespeare. I found an NPR article attached to an exerpt from a book about them that I think would really help you know what is already out there about this famous couple ( Maybe you could use this writer's view and a starting off point.

  4. I think that this article might be useful to you ( There are a bunch of examples from the text embedded in the article that you could look at. It takes the view of Cleopatra as a pretty nasty girl though (as evidenced by this excerpt): "Anthony attempts to straddle the worlds of duty and love but is unmanned and feminized by the wiles of Cleopatra, who is depicted unflatteringly as a whore with ravenous sexual appetite and barely any consideration of Anthony and his obligations to Rome and empire," so it doesn't really fit your idea of it being more equal and hard to resist, which is what I think you were saying when you said "the audience’s sympathy is with Antony and Cleopatra, for their love is hard to resist. They are easy to be attached to and easy to love."

  5. Passion vs. discipline is broad but sturdy as a topic, and is evident in other plays (especially Measure for Measure). These are excellent suggestions in the comments and worthwhile resources. I like the idea of bringing in a comparison to another Roman play, Julius Caesar, as McKay mentions. You might also compare this tragedy to some younger lovers, Romeo and Juliet.