like in his other Roman plays like Julius Caesar, Shakespeare used in Antony and Cleopatra the description of the Roman society to describe his own society. But in this play the main point of analysis was not politics but the place of women in the society. During the XVIth and XVIIth centuries, the anti-theatrical and anti-feminist critics developed. The Puritans made virulent attacks against theatre, accusing it of destabilizing the social order, in particular because theatre gave too much importance to women, who were commonly considered as fiends. In his plays, Shakespeare usually showed no prejudice against women. Worried by the criticisms against theatre and women, he analysed with his play Antony and Cleopatra at the beginning of the XVIIth century the alienation of women in his society and their relations to men. In Rome like in Shakespeare's England of the XVIIth century, women had no political or social role, except for procreation. Their sexuality was seen as demonic. Cleopatra's character in this play is the contrary of the obedient and unassuming woman wanted by the patriarchal society.
[...] At Shakespeare's time the character of Cleopatra was certainly played as a stereotype and this weakened the courageous feminist ideas of Antony and Cleopatra. Bibliography BONNEFOY Yves, Preface to Antoine et Cléopâtre, Gallimard BEVINGTON David, Introduction to Antony and Cleopatra, Cambridge University Press, 1990/2005. GEARIN-TOSH Michael, “Love in Antony and Cleopatra”, in Critical essays on Antony and Cleopatra, Longman Literature Guides pp.53-59. HOLLINDALE Peter, “Music under the earth: the suicide marriage in Antony and Cleopatra”, in Critical essays on Antony and Cleopatra, Longman Literature Guides pp.28-40. [...]
[...] The idea that by ending his own life Antony deprives Octavius Caesar and regains victory for himself is a central point of the Roman suicide. By committing suicide, Antony regains his identity as a courageous Roman. Antony indeed describes his fear of public humiliation: Wouldst thou be windowed in great Rome and see Thy master thus: with pleached arms, bending down His corrigible neck, his face subdued To penetrative charms, whilst the weeled seat Of fortunate Caesar, drawn before him, branded His baseness that ensued? [...]
[...] In the post-mortem union of Antony and her, the sexual differences advocated by the Romans are beaten, as Cleopatra says: [ ] Husband, I come Now to that name my courage prove my title. I am fire and air; my other elements I give to baser life. V.ii.286-289 Moreover, while Antony's suicide gives credibility to his love, Cleopatra commits suicide by showing qualities which are considered as masculine ones. This can be observed when she says: My resolution's plac'd, and I have nothing Of woman in me. [...]
[...] Shakespeare wanted to show at length the criticism of Cleopatra, since even the main male character Antony gives many hard descriptions of her. He sees her as a “wrangling queen” (I.i.50) and says for instance “This foul Egyptian hath betrayed (IV.xii.10). When he sees Cleopatra with Thidias, who was sent by Octavius Caesar, Antony believes that she cheated him and accuses her: have been a boggler (III.xiii.113). Cleopatra is also depreciated as a stranger, since she represents Egyptian luxury and hedonism, which are in opposition with the Roman male values such as loyalty and virtue. [...]
[...] Shakespeare thus wanted to show nobility as a result of vitality and sexuality. In order to demonstrate this idea, it is necessary to show that Antony and Cleopatra's love is more than just a physical attraction, as it might have been just at the beginning of their relationship. In the first act, when Antony tells her that he will leave her, Cleopatra has an interesting reaction: Courteous lord, one word: Sir, you and I must part, but that's not it; Sir, you and I lov'd, but there's not it; That you know well. [...]
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