Antony and Cleopatra.

Essay by spacebabe77University, Bachelor's November 2003

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The depiction of constant change and instability in Shakespeare`s Antony and Cleopatra


Constant change and instability are themes that are found throughout the play and that are applied by Shakespeare on many different levels. The play differs from his other tragedies in many ways. `McBeth´ for instance -his previous play- has a more stringent, linear plot with logically increasing tension and a fixed Machiavellian motive of the protagonist. The motives of Antony are more complex and later in the play mostly subject to Cleopatra`s art of seduction. The importance of the topic becomes evident in the very beginning of the play.

Philo`s monologue sums up the various changes that Mark Antony has gone through. He is compared to the god of war, Mars, and is described as being one of Rome`s most valiant fighters. Philo`s speech anticipates Antony`s metamorphosis from a well-tempered roman military leader into an emotional lover negligent of his duties and commitments.

Although it is short Philo`s opening monologue reveals much about the habitus in which the play is assembled.

The ironical tone `the dotage of our general´ and the sexual ambiguities `the bellows and the fan...´ give Antony`s passion for Cleopatra a negative touch and make his character look inferior. The play is therefore criticised by A.C. Bradley for dealing with a subject of such a historical impact in a rather light and almost comedian manner - i.e. if we recall Enobarus` smart remarks during the triumvirs` negotiation or Cleopatra`s childish intimidation of her messenger.

In this play Shakespeare tries to create something different. He limits the tragic seriousness known from `McBeth´ in favour of rather comic elements. Antony`s metamorphosis is being mocked. Charmian and Iras call him `the triple pillar of the world transformed into a strumpet`s fool.´ His degradation continues as Cleopatra grumbles...