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Shakespeare's Plays: A Tale Of Betrayal

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2116 words Published: 3rd May 2017

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Literary works; be they plays, short stories, or novels, usually describe events with a view to presenting various themes to audiences. Such works build on their respective themes based on the individual characters’ actions, experiences, dispositions, or utterances. Like a typical literary work, William Shakespeare’s 17th century Antony and Cleopatra play presents audiences with a number of significant themes. For instance, through the play, Shakespeare builds on the themes of betrayal as well as the clash between emotion and reason. To begin with, the playwright describes different characters’ actions to construct a theme of betrayal that pervades the entire play. Notably, Mark Antony’s act of abandoning his motherland of Rome depicts betrayal on the part of this character against both Antony’s wife as well as his country. Moreover, Antony betrays his commitment to Cleopatra by marrying Octavia. Conversely, Menas betrays Antony, Lepidus, and Caesar by suggesting that Pompey kill the trio. Further, Lepidus and Caesar betray Antony by going to war against Pompey in contravention of an earlier pact made with Antony. Conversely, Cleopatra betrays Antony by leaving him exposed to Caesar’s troops in two separate instances. Further, by entertaining the message that Caesar has sent through a messenger, Cleopatra betrays her affection for Antony. In another instance, Cleopatra pretends to be dead, thus eventually hurting Antony. This apparent death, though well intentioned, amounts to betrayal of Antony by Cleopatra. On the other hand, Ahenobarbus betrays Antony by deserting Antony when the latter is at his most vulnerable point in life. As if to literally turn tables, Cleopatra herself endures betrayal from both Caesar as well as her own treasurer. For instance, the treasurer lies to Caesar that Cleopatra has hidden some of Cleopatra’s riches, thus inviting Caesar to mistreat Cleopatra. This deception, coming from among one’s closet servants, constitutes great betrayal. On his part, Caesar betrays the pact he has entered into with Cleopatra by intending to use her as a demonstration of his war prowess. Such a malicious and shameful act eventually pushes Cleopatra to take her own life, thus escaping the potential shame that would result from Caesar’s mean act (Fawkner 79). Regarding the clash between emotion and reason, this theme plays out in various instances. For example, the remarks that Philo, one of Antony’s friends, makes delineates Antony as someone who has permitted emotion to suppress his power of reason. For instance, Philo remarks ‘but this dotage of our general’s/ O’erflows the measure’ in reference to Antony (Shakespeare 127). All in all, through the Antony and Cleopatra play, Shakespeare builds upon the themes of the conflict between emotions and reason as well as betrayal through various characters’ actions, experiences, and utterances.

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For example, the theme of betrayal is evident via Antony’s shameful act of neglecting his duties as a co-ruler of Rome to illicitly spend time with Egypt’s beautiful Queen Cleopatra. It is notable that despite being among the three Triumvirs who rule over Rome, Antony controversially finds time to enjoy time with Cleopatra. Such an act amounts to Antony’s disloyalty to Fulvia, one of his wives, as well as to his Roman government of which he is an integral part. In addition, Antony’s act of marrying Octavia, who is Caesar’s sister, constitutes disloyalty to Cleopatra to whom Antony is already intimate. To illustrate Antony’s offense against Cleopatra, after she learns of Antony’s marriage, Cleopatra becomes very furious. For example, she cries out ‘Some monstrous malefactor. Prithee, friend,/Pour out the pack of matter to mine ear,/ The good and bad together’ (Shakespeare 183).Conversely, Menas’ act of urging Pompey, his military boss, to murder Antony, Caesar, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus; the three Roman generals, constitutes betrayal. This is because the three Roman co-rulers have entered into a truce with Pompey, thus allowing him (Pompey) to rule over Sardinia and Sicily. Menas’ suggestion thus grossly violates this amicable gentleman’s agreement. In addition, Lepidus and Caesar’s decision of trashing the peace pact that they have entered into with Pompey by fighting against Pompey illustrates betrayal. This is because by engaging Pompey in battle, the two men demonstrate disloyalty to not only Antony, but also to Pompey himself. Antony and Pompey are thus shortchanged by the two men’s unilateral decision. Antony’s fury at his co-rulers’ action clearly illustrates this betrayal. For example, while addressing Caesar, Antony says ‘Nay, nay, Octavia, not only that,–,–but he hath waged/ New wars ‘gainst Pompey’ (Shakespeare 173). On the other hand, Cleopatra’s decision to flee from the battle of Actium, thus leaving Antony’s forces vulnerable to Caesar’s attacks, illustrates betrayal. This is because Cleopatra is well aware of the inherent deficiency in Antony’s troops while fighting at sea but instead abandons Antony at the hour of need. Further, Cleopatra had willingly pledged support for Antony and his troops only to later expose him to Caesar’s troops. To illustrate, Antony’s ‘Give me a kiss; even this repays me’ phrase demonstrates his disappointment with Cleopatra’s disloyal behavior (Shakespeare 194). Further, Cleopatra’s behavior of engaging in petty talk with Caesar’s messenger, who seeks to win over Cleopatra to Octavian’s side, demonstrates her betrayal of her love for Antony. To demonstrate his dissatisfaction with this apparent betrayal, Antony orders that Caesar’s messenger be flogged. Further, Antony at some time laments that ‘This foul Egyptian hath betrayed me’ while referring to Cleopatra (Shakespeare 197). Apart from Cleopatra, Ahenobarbus, who has been Antony’s staunchest supporter, also betrays Antony. This disloyalty becomes evident when Ahenobarbus has the idea that Antony’s political career is coming to a close after Caesar’s almost successful attempts to woo Cleopatra to his side. Ahenobarbus thus defects to Caesar’s political divide, leaving his former boss. Ahenobarbus thus demonstrates great disloyalty and betrayal to his ideological boss (Deats 168). On the other hand, Cleopatra again betrays Antony by hatching a scheme that she has taken her own life in a bid to rouse Antony’s faded emotions towards her. Although somewhat not ill-intentioned, Cleopatra’s trick proves fatal when, after learning of Cleopatra’s supposed death, Antony attempts to kill himself. Cleopatra’s ploy thus amounts to betrayal for her lover because it makes him to unnecessarily harm himself, eventually dying (Bains 298). On her part, Cleopatra endures betrayal after she falls under Caesar’s authority. This is because Caesar misleads her that he does not intend to take over her wealth while in the real sense he yearns to own Cleopatra’s riches. This deception, which succeeds an otherwise cordial pact between Caesar and Cleopatra that he, will not harm her, amounts to betrayal of Cleopatra’s trust in Caesar’s word. In addition, Cleopatra’s treasurer’s malicious allegation that Cleopatra has hidden some of her riches from Octavian constitutes betrayal on the part of the treasurer. Such betrayal, coupled with the one that Cleopatra faces due to Caesar’s malice, pushes her to ultimately kill herself. Shakespeare thus effectively builds the theme of betray through the conduct of various characters in the Antony and Cleopatra play.

On the other hand, through the play, Shakespeare presents his audiences with the theme of the clash between emotion and reason in a number of occasions. For example, Philo, Antony’s friend, regrettably comments that the military general has neglected his duties, instead choosing to spend time with Egypt’s Cleopatra. Further, Philo mentions that Antony has trashed responsibilities which make his (Antony’s) reputation. To demonstrate his ire at Antony’s insensitivity, Philo terms the former’s actions as amounting to stupid ‘dotage’ (Shakespeare 204).

In addition, the pointed discourse that Cleopatra and Antony have points to the clash between emotion and reason. For example, the 2 lovers wonder whether their mutual affection can be comprehended and logically explained or if its description remains elusive to mental faculties. To illustrate his destabilized mental physique, Antony remarks ‘Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch / Of the ranged empire fall’ (Shakespeare 216). This overly unbalanced statement shows that emotion and reason are at conflict. Antony thus feels the urge to resume his duties as a military officer but is at he same time pulled towards Cleopatra on account of her exquisite charm (Eggert 138). For example, Ahenobarbus testifies to Cleopatra’s excellence by asserting that ‘Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety: other women cloy / The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry / Where most she satisfies’ (Shakespeare 71). To demonstrate his conscious, but ineffective, desire to return to Rome and take on his duties as a military leader, after nonchalantly dismissing Caesar’s messenger, Antony appears to change tact. For example, he reprimands himself on account of his shameful neglect of his motherland (Cahn 299). Further, to demonstrate his apparent resolve to go back to Rome, Antony remarks that he wishes to go back to avoid ‘lose(ing) (him) self in dotage’ (Shakespeare 226). Through the play, Shakespeare thus effectively constructs the theme of the conflict between emotion and reason.

In conclusion, as is the custom of most literary works, Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra play constructs a number of significant themes, the most notable being betrayal as well as the class between emotion and reason. Regarding betrayal, the characters of Antony, Cleopatra, Menas, Caesar, Lepidus, Cleopatra’s treasurer, Ahenobarbus, as well as Pompey demonstrate betrayal through the respective actions as well as experiences. For example, Cleopatra betrays Antony by, first, engaging in petty talk with Caesar’s messenger, and secondly, by later abandoning Antony to join Caesar. Further, she betrays Antony by leaving him vulnerable in battle. Cleopatra’s pretentions ploy that she is dead also eventually serves to betray Antony’s love for her. Conversely, Caesar and Lepidus betray both Pompey as well as Antony by warring against Pompey. On the other hand, Menas suggestion that Pompey should murder Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus amounts to a betrayal of the 3 men’s trust in Pompey. Conversely, Antony betrays his wife by marrying Cleopatra. Further, Cleopatra is betrayed by Antony when he becomes intimate with Cleopatra. On her part, Cleopatra herself is betrayed by both Caesar and her treasurer. Concerning the clash between emotion and reason, Cleopatra and Antony’s actions as well as utterances demonstrate this conflict. For example, at one point, Antony seems to value his role as a Roman military official through his words. At other times, Antony seems to have completely permitted his emotions and passions to guide his activities. At the latter times, Antony even seems to have verbally relinquished his position as a high-ranking Roman government official, instead preferring company with Cleopatra.

Works Cited

Bains, Y. S. Antony and Cleopatra: An Annotated Bibliography. Mortimer Street, London : Taylor & Francis, 1998.

Cahn, Victor L. The Plays of Shakespeare: A Thematic Guide. Santa Barbara, CA : Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001.

Deats, Sara Munson. Antony and Cleopatra: New Critical Essays. London: Routledge, 2005.

Eggert, Katherine. Showing like A Queen: Female Authority and Literary Experiment in Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000.

Fawkner, Harald William. Shakespeare’s Hyperontology: Antony and Cleopatra. Madison, New Jersey : Fairleigh Dickinson Unit Press, 1990.

Shakespeare. William. Antony and Cleopatra, Volume 24 by William Shakespeare. Washington, D.C : Plain Label Books, 1950.


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