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Antony and Cleopatra: Shakespeare’s criticism of the XVIIth century’s anti-feminism

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Cleopatra: The puritan stereotype of femininity as subversion.
    1. The puritan anti-theatrical and antifeminist critics.
    2. The patriarchal gender distinction.
    3. Cleopatra as a subversive woman.
    4. An unstable and lying woman.
  3. Shakespeare's feminist thoughts in Antony and Cleopatra.
    1. An analysis of women's place in society.
    2. Cleopatra's search for nobility through love.
    3. Cleopatra's death: The post-mortem reunion of the lovers.
  4. Conclusion.
  5. Bibliography.

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.[24] 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? [...]

[...] II.v.20-23 This image reminds the myth of armed Venus defeating Mars, and thus represents a danger for the Romans, who fear a mutation of Antony into an ?effeminized? person loosing his male values. The ?true Roman? must on the contrary be an ideal of masculinity and must reject the femininity.[9] Therefore, Cleopatra challenges in this scene the Roman conception of the gender relations. Octavius Caesar also mentions Antony's ?effeminization? since he went to Egypt in the following lines: [ ] is not more manlike Than Cleopatra I.iv.5-6 The ?effeminization? of Antony is compared to his former masculine glory. [...]

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