Rome and Egypt

Compare the states of Rome and Egypt. How are the two states reflected in the characters of Antony and Cleopatra? How does a modern audience respond to this?

Through out the play Shakespeare has the two states of Rome and Egypt juxtaposed, these seem to be a well-selected pair for dramatic effect considering their huge contrast to one and other. The love of the two lead characters amongst such a contrast of their cultures and, at times personalities can often be overwhelming for the audience. With this being the case, the dissimilarities and responses of each character to their situation makes for an interesting and dramatic play that captivates the audience and absorbs them into the play.

Antony’s closest companion Enobarbus beautifully describes the mythical encounter of The Great Mark Antony, Triumvir of the Roman Empire and the Elegant Temptress Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt.

“Purple sails, and so perfumed that

The winds were lovesick with them. The oars were


Which the tune of the flutes kept stroke and made

The water they beat on follow faster” (II.2 pg 90)

This beautiful description of the “wonderful piece of work”, Cleopatra is a microcosm for the sensuality and overwhelming power of the state of Egypt. From this moment forward Antony had been taken by this pure elegance and could not be set free. He was in the situation of pure love, “a deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person”[1] something that was going to captivate him and be his undoing. An emotion such as this does not fit in with the regular strict Roman values, which are, Military power, Strong Leadership, Self Restraint and Stability of purpose. These four standards were essential for any Roman to live by, if lost or forgotten that person would no longer be accepted by society and would be weak.

While in Egypt, Antony disregards his Roman values, everything his hereon stature is supposed to represent and example for the rest of Rome.

“The behaviour of the lovers toward each other, however is hardly ideal. The play of Shakespeare’s that most exalts love is also the play that least idealises it”[2]

Antony and Cleopatra\'s love is a paradox to their home lands and what each one represents in its culture and society. This contrast seems not to hold either of the lovers from their goal to be with one and other.

[1], definition of love

[2] Marilyn French, ‘Antony and Cleopatra’