Saturday, 17 November 2012

Antony and Cleopatra, Act I: Introducing the Two Lovers

Following the fine example set by other members of LRP Event, I try to make my review more elaborate by doing it per act. After reading Julius Caesar, I decided to read Antony and Cleopatra. Those who know me well must be aware that I love Antony dearly, for his cleverness, military skill and also loyalty. Will Antony and Cleopatra change my opinion (and dotage) on him? Let's see.

Is Antony still Antony?

Reading the first few lines of Antony and Cleopatra brings out this huge question: What happened to my Antony?

“Nay, but this dotage of our general's
O'erflows the measure. Those his goodly eyes,
That o'er the files and musters of the war
Have glow'd like plated Mars, now bend, now turn,
The office and devotion of their view
Upon a tawny front. His captain's heart,
Which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst
The buckles on his breast, reneges all temper,
And is become the bellows and the fan
To cool a gipsy's lust.”

I love how Philo says that Antony's eyes once “glowed like plated Mars”, thus praising him for his military glory. But he also says that his “dotage” – unreasonable affection towards Cleopatra – is now greater than his wonderful qualities of a general and has made him no more than a “strumpet's fool.” Oh, no!

Wait, that's not all. Octavius himself says this when he has meeting with Lepidus:

“From Alexandria
This is the news: he fishes, drinks, and wastes
The lamps of night in revel; is not more manlike
Than Cleopatra, nor the queen of Ptolemy
More womanly than he;”

Another proof of this unexpected degradation of Antony's personality comes from his own mouth. That same noble Antony, who offered himself to die with Caesar, in “Caesar's death hour”, with the same dagger, that same noble Antony who stirred people of Rome to rise against Brutus and Cassius, who fought them in Philippi and conquered them, the patriot of his country, he now says these lines to the so-called beautiful Queen of Egypt:

“Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch
Of the rang'd empire fall!”

Anyway, Antony sometimes regains his sobriety, when he is alone, without Cleopatra nearby. He admits that Cleopatra is cunning and that he shouldn't even have met her. Also he finally realises that he needs to go back to Rome and take care of it instead of sitting idly in Egypt having fun with its queen.

“I must from this enchanting queen break off.
Ten thousand harms, more than the ills I know,
My idleness doth hatch.”

So he doesn't really mean it, eh, when he says he'd rather have Rome melt in Tiber than leaving Cleopatra?

Another thing worth noting is Antony's reaction when the messenger sent to him almost says something that will probably offend him. Instead of being angry he says:

“Speak to me home; mince not the general tongue;
Name Cleopatra as she is call'd in Rome.
Rail thou in Fulvia's phrase, and taunt my faults
With such full licence as both truth and malice
Have power to utter. O, then we bring forth weeds
When our quick minds lie still, and our ills told us
Is as our earing.”

He says that it's actually fine to scold him for being idle, to show him his faults, to give him advice and correction. He compares himself as an uncultivated land that is full of weeds and needs to be ploughed in order to cleanse it. Such humility is quite rare among generals, isn't it? I respect him for such fine attitude.

Her Majesty the Queen of Egypt – Cleopatra 

Painting Cleopatra and Caesar by Jean-Leon-Gerome

Introducing the Queen of Egypt with her legendary beauty – Cleopatra. I've written much about Antony, so make this one brief. I don't like the way Cleopatra deals with Antony.

“See where he is, who's with him, what he does.
I did not send you. If you find him sad,
Say I am dancing; if in mirth, report
That I am sudden sick.”

The next lines show how she sulks and whines to Antony, asking him to stay. Since this is the first time I read this play, and since I'm not so well-acquainted with Roman history, I have no idea whether Cleopatra's persistence is based on amorous passion or political reason. If the latter proves to be correct, I would view it as a smart stratagem, and nothing more. But if it's 'love', let me assure you, Your Majesty, your obsession is foolish.

Another thing that I dislike from her methods in enticing Antony is that she pays little attention to Antony's interest and welfare, as if “the matter of Roman state” is not important at all. It sounds so selfish. Were I Antony, I would find her messengers coming once a day disturbing enough, but she sends even more messengers to Antony.

“He shall have every day a several greeting,
Or I'll unpeople Egypt.”

I can't wait to read how things will develop in later Acts, especaially with Octavius and Pompeius. I also want to know more about the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra. One more thing. Is it cruel to wish for Enobarbus' death at the end of the play? Haha, just thinking.

PS: The analysis done in this article is based solely on Shakespeare's work, regardless of its historical accuracy.


  1. Looking at Antony's beautiful speech at Julius Caesar's funeral (yes, I call it beautiful), I think it's not really surprising that he was also a great lover.

    As for Cleopatra, I still feel that it's more a political love than a passionate one. Maybe I'm wrong, but at least I have that impression.

    1. Oh, sure that speech is beautiful. I can't have too much of it. It's tactful and clever.

      Cleopatra seems to hold the steer in their relationship, doesn't she?