Friday, 23 November 2012

Antony and Cleopatra, Act II: Two Types of Women

Now let's continue our journey to the second act of Antony and Cleopatra. There are many interesting things in this act, including the conversation between Antony and Octavius and his marriage with Octavia. This act also features the pact between Pompey and Octavius and reveals the personality of Pompey a little bit more. 

But those things are not my focus here. I'd like to focus only to the two women that surround Antony's life: Cleopatra and Octavia. Let's see the Roman lady first.

Octavia's name first comes into the conversation when Agrippa, with all political skill that he has, proposes a way to “tie” Antony with Caesar, in order for both to be brothers by way of marriage link. Octavia is Caesar's sister, praised highly by all for her 'grace and beauty'. Octavius seems to love his sister greatly. Here's what he says himself:

“There is my hand.
A sister I bequeath you, whom no brother
Did ever love so dearly: let her live
To join our kingdoms and our hearts; and never
Fly off our loves again!”

But what kind of woman is Octavia? Here's what Enobarbus says about her:

PS: The analysis done in this article is based solely on Shakespeare's work, regardless of its historical accuracy.
“Octavia is of a holy, cold, and still conversation.”

Aha! So in Enobarbus eyes, which try to look at her from Antony's eyes, Octavia is far too 'ladylike' for such a great general as Antony. She has the grace of the goddess and also a beautiful appearance, perhaps, but she is not capable of exciting conversation.

Such consideration will bring us now to the Queen of Egypt: Cleopatra.

Cleopatra is a strong-willed woman. That's enough to describe the difference between her and Octavia. She is not the type that wants to be 'governed' by men. She does what she can to get what she wants.

Another difference worth noting is the way she expresses her emotions. She expresses rage, love, happiness and other emotions in tempestuous way. If Octavia is pure, gentle water in a pond, Cleopatra is the stormy sea. She has more spirit in her, and that attracts people around her. She might not be as ladylike as a Roman women of high lineage, but she has fighting spirit inside her. It must be exciting to converse with her, to see her changes in mood, to guess what she would do next.

Again, let's look at what Enobarbus says about her:

“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety: other women cloy
The appetites they feed: but she makes hungry
Where most she satisfies; for vilest things
Become themselves in her: that the holy priests
Bless her when she is riggish.”

I'd like to note the phrase “infinite variety” that she has, that makes other women seem boring compared to her.

In Mark Antony's case, in my opinion, Cleopatra stands higher than Octavia in his heart. Again, Enobarbus shows us why that is so.

Who would not have his wife so?
Domitius Enobarbus
Not he that himself is not so; which is Mark Antony.”

Enobarbus states that Antony would love better someone who is more like him. Octavia then, is not a logical choice. On the other hand, Cleopatra, with all her riddle seems more interesting, especially with a general who loves to travel and to experience new things. Cleopatra would be a challenge equal to his taste, while Octavia would be tedious.

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


  1. Yeah...harsh perhaps this Eno guy, but he can see things clearly and honestly.

    Octavia was a kind-hearted lady, later on she treated Antony's children from Cleopatra as her own children (at least from I read from 'Cleopatra's Daughter). She often defended them from the wicked Livia (Octavius' wife). But yeah...women like Cleopatra are much more interesting for men...

    1. Definitely! I mean, perhaps Antony doesn't really like typical ladylike Roman women. Cleopatra is exciting, unpredictable, and therefore, challenging.

      But it doesn't mean that I approve their relationship or that I like Cleopatra. :p