According to Yves Bonnefoy Shakespeare wanted to do with Antony and Cleopatra more than a political analysis of Rome. Indeed, Shakespeare analysed in this play the place of women in the Roman society, in order to make a comparison with their role in his own society. At the beginning of the XVIIth century, Puritans made virulent attacks against theatre, accusing it of destabilizing the social order, in particular because the theatre gave too much importance to women, who were considered as fiends. Shakespeare usually showed in his plays no prejudice against women. Worried by the criticisms towards theatre, he analysed the alienation of women in his society and their relations to men. Moreover, the fact that women's roles were played on stage by male actors who were forced to caricature them strengthened the subordination of women to men and perpetuated the contempt for women.
[...] He says for instance “This foul Egyptian hath betrayed (IV.xii.10) and have been a boggler (III.xiii.113) An analysis of the place of women in society To Yves Bonnefoy's mind, these descriptions of Cleopatra as a person full of vice do not affirm the values of Puritanism but they enable Shakespeare to do an analysis of the social structures and the place of women. The role of Octavia compared with Cleopatra is interesting for an examination of women's role in Shakespeare's society as well as in the Roman patriarchal society. [...]
[...] Therefore she has to dominate her tantrums and her hysteria (the stereotype of feminine weaknesses) and she must die without hesitation. Cleopatra's objective is to destruct the social structures and to accede to a higher truth. She wants to find the nobility in the acceptation of death and to reach in this way the supreme freedom. To Antony, Cleopatra is just a “triple-turn'd whore” (IV.xii.13) who betrayed him. Cleopatra wants him to regain consciousness by thinking about her suicide. She wants him to recognize the love he repressed and to die for it. [...]
[...] But Cleopatra lets him think that because of her femininity she could not kill herself. She uses Octavius' prejudices and pretends for instance to be attached to her finery in order that he thinks she can not think seriously about death. Then she takes advantage of Octavius' inattention and commits suicide. To Yves Bonnefoy's mind Cleopatra's death is described with poetry because Shakespeare wanted to honour her nobility. The lines am again for Cydnus / To meet Mark Anthony” (V.ii.227-228) are very interesting. [...]
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