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Published: 03-12-2019

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Rome Vs. Egypt in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra

How and why does Shakespeare generate two distinct worlds of Rome and Egypt in the 1st two acts of the play?

Antony and Cleopatra is set predominantly in Egypt and Rome and Shakespeare organises the plot about the conflict between East and West. Even so, it is not only plot that contrasts the two locations but also language and structure. Rome is portrayed as masculine, rational and political, and Roman characters’ lines are measured and calculated. Egypt is depicted in a far more feminine light, primarily based around emotion, passion and physical sensation. The lines of Egyptians flow and are more poetic in content. It is these two distinct worlds among which Antony crosses, and in forming a lot more Egyptian ideals and neglecting his Roman values he brings about his downfall. This essay aims to examine how Shakespeare creates two separate worlds and his reasons for doing so.

The major technique Shakespeare utilizes to distinguish amongst the two worlds is his crafting of language, with stark variations in the speech of Romans and Egyptians. As Philo and Demitrius talk of their captain’s decline they instantly establish the opposition in between the two worlds. They speak of Antony serving as “the bellows and the fan/ To cool a gipsy’s lust,” indicating a divide between a globe that is governed by cause, discipline, and militaristic ideals, and yet another ruled by passion, pleasure, and enjoy. They see lust and passion as a damaging attribute and feel of Antony as weak to have succumbed to the allure of Cleopatra. The measure of a man is primarily based on his “soldiership” and Antony is viewed as weaker due to his neglect of political matters in favor of sex.

Militarism and honor are of utmost significance to the Romans. They frequently use military and cosmic imagery in their speech, such as “musters of the war” and “like plated Mars.” Pompey’s comments that his “powers are crescent” and “will come to th’ full” reveal the typical fixation on energy and control. His resistance to Menas’ need to kill the inebriated Triumvirs demonstrates the Romans’ higher esteem for honor and moral duty.

The Egyptian globe is much more concerned with leisure and sex than war and may. Lines such as “Give me some music” and “Let’s to billiards” show how the Egyptian ladies indulge themselves. They dine luxuriously on “moody food” and “Egyptian dish” brought on demand, as with “Give me to drink mandragora,” exactly where as the Roman males in no way demanded food and did not dine lavishly while at war.

The Egyptian ladies seek sexual gratification and take pleasure in holding energy over men. Charmian and Iras joke about an “inch of fortune” “not on my husband’s nose.” Their phrase “Must charge his horns with garlands” references a man who has been betrayed by his wife and stripped of his masculinity. Cleopatra makes use of the image of fishing to speak of her power over males: “My bended hook shall pierce their slimy jaws.” She teases the highly masculine Antony when she talks of wearing his “sword Philippan,” a phallic symbol of his strength, and mocks the Eunuchs by saying she “take(s) no pleasure in aught a eunuch has.” Also, whereas Romans use cosmic imagery to depict military power, Egyptians use it to connote sex and passion in lines such as “What Venus did with Mars.”

A passage that exemplifies Shakespeare’s use of language to distinguish Rome from Egypt happens in Act 1, Scene 4. Caesar talks of Antony mixing militaristic language such as, “judgement”, “noble”, “strong”, “fear’d”, “flag”, “serve” and “blood” with language connected with Egypt such as “too indulgent”, “voluptuousness”, “pleasure”, “daintily”, “patience” and “idleness.” These words demonstrate the contrast in between Rome and Egypt, males and females, and how the two diverse views can't comfortably coexist.

One more way in which Shakespeare creates the two worlds is via line structure. Lines spoken in Egypt or by Egyptians are frequently lengthy, drawn out and flowing, such as: “Lord Alexas, sweet Alexas, most something Alexas, nearly most absolute Alexas”. This repetition is needless and indulgent. By contrast, Antony talks rapidly and in a strict tone: “Against my brother Lucius?”, “Ay.” The Romans’ lines are sharp and to the point, primarily based on relevant data and not glorified in any way. Their lines generate tension, whilst the relaxed Egyptians’ words develop a very distinct feel.

The worlds are also symbolised by the characters within them. Caesar embodies the militaristic duty of the West, even though Cleopatra, in all her theatrical grandeur, represents the free-flowing passions of the East. Caesar is strict and practical, as when he realises the drunken state of his soldiers on the barge: “Let me request you off. Our graver enterprise frowns at this levity.” Making use of strong, direct language he chooses duty over pleasure. Cleopatra, on the other hand, is dramatic, extravagant and passionate, as in: “Help me away, dear Charmian! I shall fall!” In contrast to Caesar, she gains her energy and controls the situation through drama, grandeur, and sexual allure.

Throughout the play Antony tries to strike a balance among the two worlds, but the effort leads to his downfall. Shakespeare needed to generate the distinct worlds in order to conclude the play in this way. We clearly see Antony becoming a lot more Egyptian in his approaches as time goes on. He is seduced by the Egyptian lifestyle and queen, which leads him to start changing his language and ideals. “I’th’ East my pleasure lies” shows that he has lost the key Roman value of handle. With “The beds i’th’ East are soft” he reveals that Egyptian sexuality has begun to tear him away from his duties, although he reverts to his Roman self when Ventidius enters with a sharp, “O come Ventidius.” He had not but completely neglected his Roman ideals or duties. When Antony is speaking with Cleopatra he is much more Egyptian, making use of grand gestures and hyperbole to declare his adore: “Let Rome in Tiber melt.” He mirrors Cleopatra’s drama and moves further away from Caesar’s judgment, neglecting martial duties in favor of self-indulgence.

In conclusion, Shakespeare creates two distinct worlds by way of his use of language, line structure, and character. The differences in between Rome and Egypt are very clear to the reader and audience. Shakespeare needed to polarize the worlds both to highlight the conflict of opinions amongst the two and to show how Antony declines from one particular clear set of beliefs to another.
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