A quick and fun study guide that recaps the interesting points of this epic play by Shakespeare.
So why should anyone today care about Shakespeare’s tragedy Antony and Cleopatra? One reason you should care about this play because it truly is entertaining in an addicting, guilty pleasure sort of way. Really, no joke, get into the play and after a few pages it becomes a guilty pleasure in the same way of celebrity gossip news, reality TV stars or shocking soap operas with endless twists. How can this be? Shakespeare really knew how to keep people on the edge of their seats with dramatics and this quality is timeless and in this play, embodied by the Character of Cleopatra. Cleopatra can easily and accurately be compared to several of the most indulging and notorious celebrity antics like those of Angelina Jolie, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton.
Cleopatra is one of the first ever femme fatal personas in English Literature. She is the bad ass Queen of Egypt and her beauty is unmatched. But instead of her beauty equating to awe inspiring purity and innocence that need be defended and honored like most other young, gorgeous women of the time period, like the beloved Juliette from Romeo and Juliette, Cleopatra is a whole other sack of potatoes. Cleopatra uses her beauty to procure and keep power, to manipulate and to do as she pleases with little regard to anyone else. She is vain and controlling, yet everyone is drawn to her, captivated by her essence, even if they hate her. Sound familiar?
Cleopatra is an awful like certain celebrities that are always in the headlines, that we can’t stand, but cant stop watching either. Remember when Angelina Jolie, who admittedly likes the dark side a little bit (come on she walked around for the longest time with a small vile of Billy Bob’s blood around her neck) stole Brad Pitt from much more seemingly “nice” yet arguably homelier Jennifer Aniston? Well, Queen Cleo goes into a fit of rage when she learns that her lover Antony marries Octavia out of honorable allegiance to Rome. When Cleo learns that Octavia is low-browed, short and round faced, she is much happier knowing that she is hotter and easily steals Antony for herself later on.
After she steals Antony for herself is Cleo any good to him? Big no – she promises resources for battle and fleets of ships to him twice and abandons him twice, leaving entire Roman armies for dead. She later gets very hot and heavy with a messenger. Then when she angers Antony for the last time she reconciles that the only way to win him back for the nth time is through manipulation; she pretends she killed herself, which results in Antony actually killing himself out of sorrow for his lost love. To which Cleo finally feels remorse at this point and kills herself after Antony dies in her arms.
Cleopatra is the ultimate undoing of a very powerful man who controlled about one third of the Roman Empire. You can see the tiniest, albeit eschewed seeds of the modern feminist movement in her power and character. Yet, the story of Cleo and Antony is also a grand love story, they have a real and great love for one another, although it’s highly dysfunctional. They kind of have a Big and Carrie thing from Sex in the City going on, although their ending is tragic unlike the ending of the Sex in the City Movies.
Shakespeare knew how to write to his early 17th century audience. The play’s implications about Christianity and society and comparisons of English and Roman conquests catered to his audience’s worldview. While our worldview has probably changed significantly, our love for a hot mess of drama has obviously not – so go have at Antony and Cleopatra and enjoy.
Jessica Drew is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys creative fiction and blogging about money, personal finance and homes for sale by owner.
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