The politics in Antony and Cleopatra are motivated by both personal motivations and political play. Each protagonist has a distinctive personality which acts as a catalyst to political turmoil which will inevitably surface, motivated by historically accurate issues existing between the characters.
The issues caused by Antony and Cleopatra’s relationship are the most significant contributor to the politics within the play. Based on an issue and not on a personality, the destructive relationship which puts the stability of Rome into a state of jeopardy poses an alternative view to that of the question- however Antony’s personality acts as a catalyst to these issues, and in that sense, supports the question. Critic Papio claims Cleopatra ‘possessed and ensnared Antony with her charms’- whether or not this was a genuine move or one politically motivated is debateable, but the undeniable response was absolute infatuation- with Antony, now being described as: ‘The triple pillar of the world transformed / Into a strumpet’s fool’ within the antithesis voiced by Philo. The use of the word ‘strumpet’ consolidates the discontent felt between Antony’s peers towards this newfound player in the game of power politics. Additionally, the use of the phrase ‘triple pillar’ highlights Antony’s presence in the triumvirate; elevating his status and high birth, acting as a tragic convention. Antony soon breaks the equilibrium between relationship and ‘business’, by neglecting his prior sole commitment to Rome, to focus on Cleopatra. The antithesis spoken by Antony, ‘I will to Egypt. / And though I make this marriage for my peace, / I’ th’ East my pleasure lies.’ demonstrates this. The clear parallel between ‘peace’ and ‘pleasure’ portrays the decision he’s making to abandon his duties, and emphasizes his hamartia, which culminates itself as Cleopatra. His clear infatuation with Cleopatra alongside his self indulgent attitude causes him to make brash, self destructive decisions which contribute to and fuel the politics in Antony and Cleopatra. His decision to return to Egypt over remaining in Rome, to abandon his peace motivated marriage to Octavia to be with Cleopatra, and his choice to fight Caesar at sea to prevent his declination from bruising his ego are examples of events which contribute to the politics in the play. Antony confidently claims ‘We will fight with him by sea’. Upon Candidius asking: ‘Why will my Lord do so?’ Antony confirms it is indeed his inability to lose face which is the motivation for this political advancement, as he states: ‘for that he dares us to’. This tragic convention conveys the flaw in Antony’s personality- a technique which is common in Shakespeare’s work, as paralleled by Macbeth’s anxiety which leads to his demise. Antony and Cleopatra’s marriage causes politically motivated feuds, and acts as the most significant contributor to the main tension within the play. However, as proved, Antony’s personality and actions are also a key factor in the politics which arise.
Cleopatra’s personality is a key motivation behind the politics in Antony and Cleopatra. The way in which she sporadically chooses to both entertain and drop Antony causes friction and turmoil which contributes highly to the political problems which arise. Cleopatra flaunts the power she holds over Antony, asking him ‘if it indeed be love, tell me how much…’, a question which ironically, she knows the answer to. Upon his declaration of his love knowing no bounds, Cleopatra hastily shuts him down, sending a message to the bystanders- and Antony himself- that she’s in charge; stating, ‘I’ll set a born how far to be beloved’. This idea of Cleopatra adopting the more masculine role is continued throughout the play. In a myth told by Lucretius, Mars is vanquished by love, and lies unarmed in Venus’ lap and is wooed to peace. This tale of Gods is paralleled in Cleopatra’s description of her night with Antony: ‘I drunk him to his bed; / Then put my tires and mantles on him, whilst / I wore his sword Philippan’. The imagery of role switching illustrates an idea of Cleopatra being the more dominant figure- demonstrated further by the phallic imagery of ‘sword Philippan’. Antony’s submissiveness to this show of masculinity portrays his content with the relationship, unphased by this demotion. On the other hand, his subjects are growing increasingly irate at the demotion, referring to him as a ‘strumpet’s fool’ and stating ‘Antony only, that would make his will / Lord of his reason’ [Only Antony was at fault. / He put his desire in charge of his reason]- and even causing a minority of his supporters to turn against him. The parallel phrasing of desire and reason draws close comparison to the motivations behind Antony’s actions. It’s clear Cleopatra’s charms have ‘driven Antony mad, and distracted him from his duties and responsibilities’ (Sarah M. Deats) creating turmoil and consequent politics.
Creating characters whose personalities are hard to predict and whose actions are sporadic, Shakespeare keeps a thin line between politics being created by both actual issues, and by personalities. The delicate equilibrium is consequently shifting, creating controversy and suspension within the audience. This tension is supported through Bains critical idea, which states that, ‘Cleopatra is a dedicated contriver and performer of shows- so much so that we are never sure how to take her’.
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