Antony in William Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra": A Man with Magnificient Rhetoric



Antony: That which is now a horse, even with a thought
The rack dislimns, and makes it indistinct,
As water is in water.

In the very extensive, various and fluid text, the imagery cosmic magnitude, Antony is a man with magnificent rhetoric. He is the observed of all observers. While Antony journeys to Rome, three separate groups – Caesar and Lepidus, Cleopatra and her servants, Pompey and his followers – about little else but Antony. He is judged from a variety view points. We entertain a complex image of Antony or perhaps a series of different complementary images of him, in a way that we scarcely do of Hamlet, Othello, Lear or Macbeth. In this respect the play has much more in common with Coriolanus and Timon of Athens, the question being not the tragic action but what sort of men Antony, Coriolanus and Timon are in these three Plutarchan tragedies, where the heroes are subjected to prolonged ethical scrutiny in which praise and blame are mixed. Antonym has surrendered to passion, to a life dominated by will and impulse and is consequently at the mercy of fortune. When he insists on fighting the crucial battle on sea he is making yet another symbolic choice of throwing away his absolute soldership and committing himself to instability. He struggles for life in an amorphous  ways and becomes hollow, watery, void and unreal, a victim of the moment. To him life has become a succession of phantasmagorical moments in which mere phenomenal experience is all he has.



            Many modern readers hold that Shakespeare’s play departs from the moralistic tradition in that Antony's’ love for Cleopatra is justified by its transcendence whereas the value of the world, embraced by Caesar and his success-pursuing followers, are mean, paltry, asinine. This argument about the value of the love relation ship has been debated. Elizabethans knew the pair to be depraved. But Shakespeare aroused some sympathy, and even admiration for this doomed pair the love relationship is presented as both a destructive and a creative force. The robustly masculine Antony has been feminized by Cleopatra. His ruinous infatuation as well as his devotion to her is his strength, transubstantiating his character. The conflict between love and duty dogs him till the end. The love exalts and also wrecks him and this love marks the development of his character. This paramountcy of love is at once his forte and hamartia resulting in his loss of reason and balance. He flights shamefully from the battle at Actium and the Egyptian army gives in to Caesar. This is the cost of his being too much emotional and his inability to fashion anything consummately and discerningly. Tet the sense of spiritual enlargement experienced by the pair, particularly by him, creates a new heaven. A final kiss of Cleopatra is, to Antony, worth more than an empire. This great man is certainly ruined by his sensual passion and possibly exalted by it too. This is the ultimate growth of Antony. Read More about Drama   
            Half the play shares between Antony and Cleopatra. Out of Plutarch’s rather negative, unpromising material, Shakespeare creates a sympathetic hero. Shakespeare employs poetry to glorify Antony’s stature. He is compared god like, to Mars and Hercules – “a rarer spirit never did steer humanity” (Agrippa). Antony’s frailties are equally great. Taints and honours are waged equal in him. His inner conflict vis-à-vis Cleopatra makes him dwindle to and fro. He talks about breaking with Cleopatra and he also knows her too well to be taken in. Pompey says, “Be a child o’th time” and Caesar says, “possess it”. Like a child Antony lives in and for the moment taking the easiest route. Antony’s frailties are intertwined with his merits and his weaknesses are part of his strengths. Read More about Drama   
            Antony’s faults, according to Lepidus, are “hereditary………… what are chooses” (1/4/13) “Here I am Antony” (4/4/13) “Fall not a tear… lost” (3/11/69). When denuded of regal splendour, Antony is the most splendid. He is all melt but Caesar is eclipsed.
            Antony dominates in life and death. He carries the moral predicament, torn by the choice between duty and beauty (pleasure) and as the protagonist he bears the tragic burden.
            Both the hero and the heroine are tragic because both chose imagination and spirituality. But finally they go beyond this “world” (42 times, counted Spurgeon), and what is unique, go beyond tragedy.
 Ardhendu De

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