EN4366, Prof Curet
Antony and Cleopatra Response
I received your most welcomed letter. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about William Shakespeare’s play, Antony and Cleopatra. I assume by your comments that you were disappointed with Shakespeare’s portrayal of Cleopatra as a woman without substance. I was too.
The reason I get the feeling that Cleopatra is not “heroic or honorable”, as you say in your letter, is that she doesn’t do anything regal to speak of. Aside from being referred to as the “Queen of Egypt”, the only other clue that she has “station” is that she is always being attended to by her “ladies in waiting.” She may be the Queen of Egypt, but there has to be more for a queen to do, other than spend her time having sex with Roman leaders.
In my opinion, Shakespeare allows Cleopatra to be a “strumpet” so that the audience can have pity on Antony. I believe the audience obliges by blaming Cleopatra for having seduced Antony. Had Shakespeare allowed Fulvia to speak in the play, then Antony would have come off as a scoundrel, and the setting for a great romance would be lost.
Shakespeare uses Cleopatra’s “royal” lack of substance to emphasize the decadence of the Roman Empire—leaders getting drunk, rampant promiscuity, and constant human turmoil.
Antony gets love-struck when he sees Cleopatra for the first time. Enobarbus tells Agrippa about what Antony saw as Cleopatra’s boat sails in on the Cydnus river:
“The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne
Burned on the water. The poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were lovesick with them. The oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes” (II, ii, 201-207)
Beatriz, Antony didn’t have a chance. Enobarbus’s description of this scene helps me to agree with your assessment of calling Cleopatra, Antony’s greatest weakness. Antony took one look at Cleopatra, and he let his loins do the thinking.
Have things changed that much since Antony and Cleopatra’s time? How many men or women do you know who choose their lover based on what he or she looks like?
Thank God that all of us in Dr. Curet’s class are intelligent enough to have better standards.