Notes on Antony and Cleopatra Themes

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Antony and Cleopatra Topic Tracking: East/West

Act 1

East/West 1: Antony makes a strong contrast between the outside, Western world, and the world he cares about, in the East. Though he technically rules Rome with Caesar, he openly admits that he does not care what happens to it: that is the world of politics, wars, and men, whereas the East is the home of love and women (or more particularly, Cleopatra). He and Cleopatra, ruling their own world together, could easily take on the rest of the world for the simple reason that their love makes them the strongest pair ever to rule.

East/West 2: Caesar insults both Antony and Cleopatra to Lepidus, saying that they have essentially switched gender roles: Antony, who should be masculine and powerful, has now become womanly and lovesick, and Cleopatra, who should be a woman, has taken over the man's role and is ruling Antony by making him stay. Metaphorically, Antony has crossed over not only into the East, but into the woman's role, symbolized by Egypt.

Act 2

East/West 3: Enobarbus's description of Cleopatra paints her as a creature from another world entirely, thus lengthening the distance between the West and East. In the West, things are in order: men rule, women obey, and wars are fought, whereas in the East, Cleopatra rules and her attendants have an element of the supernatural (he describes her gentlewomen as sea nymphs).

East/West 4: Here we see another reference to Antony and Cleopatra switching roles; Cleopatra recalls a time when she and Antony were very happy, and one night they got very drunk, went to bed, and in the morning she put her clothes on him and she wore his sword. This is more than merely to show a playfulness between them; it is important that Cleopatra was the one who did the dressing, and took the sword as well. Her influence causes Antony to be more womanly, and she is at times the more powerful of the couple, symbolized by wearing his sword (which is also a phallic symbol, showing that she has a masculine quality).

Act 3

East/West 5: The split between Antony and Caesar has now been increased: Caesar is now in complete control of the West, having defeated Pompey and gotten rid of Lepidus, and Antony and Cleopatra are in complete control of the East, having spread their empire to Syria, Cyprus, and Lydia, and given Cleopatra's sons control of several other countries.

East/West 6: Antony blames Cleopatra, in part, for his loss in the battle: she should have known her power was such that he would follow her anywhere. His line, "My sword, made weak by my affection, would / Obey it on all cause" brings to attention the fact that he has been undone by his lust. His sword, again, is a phallic symbol in addition to being a symbol for his power; both have been weakened by his lust for Cleopatra and he has no will of his own.

Act 4

East/West 7: The order of the universe has been greatly changed by Antony's death; the power struggle between East and West has been won by the West, and because there is no longer the kind of conflict there used to be between Antony and Caesar, East and West, or Antony and Cleopatra (their lovers' quarrels), there might as well be no distinction between anything anymore.

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