Antony And Cleopatra

  • Category: English
  • Words: 1852
  • Grade: 100
Compare the presentation of love in Antony and Cleopatra and the poetry of Thomas Hardy.

        "˜If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing' (1 Corinthians 13). Evolutionary psychologists, Hatfield and Sprecher describe "˜love' to be a mixture of sexual attraction, physiological arousal, the desire to be physically close, an intense need to be loved as much as one loves, and a constant fear the relationship might end. Antony and Cleopatra was once dubbed a "˜tragedy of disillusion' where love is an all-consuming force that leads, ultimately to the death of the two protagonists, namely, Antony and Cleopatra. Antony and Cleopatra are both deluded by a love strictly condemned by the moral code of the time. Antonys morality condemns the lust that ruins him, yet he proclaims his love "˜great beyond earth and heaven'. Thomas Hardy's poetry addresses many different aspects of love, be it unrequited, lost or the consequences love can befall.
        Antony and Cleopatra differs from Shakespeares other tragedies. It has no villain, no mob, no scrupulous aspirant to royal power and no duelling or fighting on stage, yet Shakespeare accordingly rouses emotions and defines attitudes with great economy. An overwhelming sense of desperation is portrayed between the lovers Antony and Cleopatra, who unlike renowned lovers in other Shakespeare plays are both strong, successful political figures in their own right. Older too, than the traditional romantic image, it is perhaps their age that heightens their need for security and thus their desperation to be together even though they are both aware of the potential dangers their relationship could befall. Cleopatra refers to her youth as her "˜salad days', when she was young, fresh and in her prime. Cleopatra's desperate need to be near Antony could stem from a fear of growing old and thus becoming less attractive to the opposite sex. Many unpleasant things can be said of Cleopatra, and although it is apparent she is somewhat possessive over Antony, her love is profound and sincere. Names frequently heaped upon her; whore, trull, strumpet, ribrauded rag, are probably unfair. Her sincerity is shown through her reaction to Antony's apparent insincerity. Cleopatra feels hurt and bitterly deceived by him when he attempts to end their affair. She describes a life without his presence as an "˜abode in a still world'. This suggests that it is Antony's love that animates Cleopatra and that a life without is thus devoid of colour or purpose. Opinion contempory with Shakespeare saw her as both a symbol of lust and a martyr of love, her death a consummation of her love for Antony.
        Antony and Cleopatra's love affair was both tempestuous and passionate. Each had clearly become the main focus of the others life. Cleopatra's world revolved around Antony and although she would persistently deceive him it was only in an attempt to gain still more of his affections. The way in which Cleopatra affects Antony is reflected in his behaviour. In the presence of Cleopatra Antony is ostentatious, given to inflated speech and reckless gestures, neglectful of his duties and almost petulant if they hinder his pleasures. The contrast with his sober, controlled attitude in Rome is most illuminating. Antony's downfall both literally and metaphorically is frequently blamed on Cleopatra's influence. Antony is aware of the effect Cleopatra has upon his life but yet is afraid of the strength of his own emotions. In the hope to restore order to his kingdom Antony decides to end his affair with Cleopatra, "˜I must from this enchanting Queen break off, ten thousand harms more than the ills I know my idleness doth hatch'.
Their relationship, though passionate, is not without flaws. It could be said their "˜love' in its entirety is in itself, a flaw, an error of judgement that leads to their ultimate downfall. Yet, one must remember that their love was only "˜flawed' in the eyes of society, and would otherwise have brought great joy and contentment. As opposed to Cleopatra's previous, utilitarian marriage to Octavius Caeser, which, solely based upon politics and financial reward lacked any real love or passion. The irony is that finally when Antony and Cleopatra have found "˜true love' it is condemned by the rigid, unwritten, yet time-honoured codes of their society.
        "˜Eternity was in our lips and eyes', Antony and Cleopatra tends to suggest that love is able to transcend death. Antony describes love to be "˜great beyond earth and heaven' and Cleopatra takes her own life in the hope to once again be reunited with Antony in death. Antony goes to death a "˜bridegroom to a lovers bed' and Cleopatra as a "˜bride adorned'. It is through death that Cleopatra is able to "˜hold and possess the whole fullness of life in one moment, here and now, past and present and to come'. (Boethius' definition of eternity). Cosmic and spiritual imagery is used frequently throughout Antony and Cleopatra. Cleopatra likens Antony to the sun and the world, the crown and the moon and uses mortal imagery to represent an existence without him as "˜an abode in a still world'. Antony likens his relationship with Cleopatra to "˜heaven', yet the consequences it could befall to "˜hell', "˜"¦ yet none knows well, to shun the heaven that leads men to hell'.
        The poetry of Thomas Hardy addresses many of the themes raised in Antony and Cleopatra. The contrast between the mortal and spiritual world and how love appears to transcend these two dimensions, the vices and virtues of human nature and the mixture of both positive and negative emotions one experiences when in love. "˜The Phantom Horsewoman' provides a good example of Hardy's preoccupation with love as a transcendental force. The poem describes the thoughts of a man gazing out to sea. "˜A ghost-girl rider"¦who is a phantom of his own figuring' is described to be drawn "˜rose bright' upon the air. A lost love is the subject of his rapt thought, and although dead, and in a place whereupon "˜time touches her not', she still "˜rides gaily' within his thoughts. Hardy attempts to challenge our perceived ideals of reality, of "˜what is real or existent within the present' (The Oxford Dictionary) and replace this with a transcendental reality that surpasses limitations of material, universe and time. Love becomes a reality that it is in no way subject to order, but "˜out screens the noon and eve and morn' (A hurried meeting). Hardy also attempts to challenge our perceived ideal of death as "˜a lack of spiritual life', and replace this with an existence within which one can still experience emotion, "˜And does she regret, if regret dust can?' (The Sunshade). Antony and Cleopatra takes this idea one stage further until "˜death' becomes an independent existence, where one is able to live and function as in life. Hardy's theory that reality is only a state that is perceived to be, is again discussed in "˜The Voice', where he describes the presence of a woman being "˜dissolved to existlessness', which in itself is a physical impossibility. Yet, Hardy presents the theory that if an image ceases to exist either physically or within ones thoughts then it no longer exists. It could be that Cleopatra is eager not to "˜fade into existlessness' for Antony and thus craves his constant attention.
        Cleopatra is often accused of possessing aspects of vice, in her taunting deceitfulness and lascivious grace, "˜in whom all ill-well shows'. She is often portrayed as an evil temptress, a "˜typical wanton in whose arms men perish'. Antony's literal and metaphorical downfall is brought about by debauchery and his foolish behaviour whilst under the influence of lust. Yet if love was as the bible describes, neither proud, nor envious, nor self-seeking and always protected and persevered, Antony and Cleopatra need never have been written. The feeling of "˜love' rouses many emotional responses that are not all positive. "˜ A Hurried Meeting' warns of the consequences of lust, "˜Love is a terrible thing, witching when first begun, to end in grieving, grieving'. It is of course, the consequences of their love that lead first Antony and then Cleopatra to grieve, and thus to their ultimate death. However it is our weaknesses that distinguish us as mortal, no one is without fault, and it is Antonys metaphorical fall from grace that acts as a humanising force. "˜A Trampwomans Tragedy' outlines the dramatic way in which love can produce irrational, out-of-character behaviour, "˜Then up he sprung, and with his knife he let out jeering Johnny's life"¦' a deed that stains his otherwise clear conscience. Thomas Hardy also examines the extraordinary lengths one will go to find happiness in love. "˜The Contretemps' tells of a failed and miserable marriage of which the wife is eager to escape from. She has a lover with whom she has been meeting regularly and plans to run away with. As is Antony and Cleopatra's relationship such an affair would be seen as taboo in the eyes of society, and the lovers hearts are described as being "˜caught in one catastrophe'.
        Antony and Cleopatra was once quoted as being "˜beyond good and evil' and that "˜conventional morality' is "˜too paltry a measure by which to judge the great and terrible passion of the two imperial lovers'. It is through Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and the poetry of Thomas Hardy that we are introduced to the way in which love can produce totally irrational behaviour in otherwise rational individuals. Love is also shown to be an all-consuming force that knows no limitations be it time or universe. "˜Love' provides one with an alternative reality in which all conventional laws are forgotten. "˜Love' is portrayed as an emotion over which we have little or no control, and although it can bring great joy it can also cause great distress. It would appear that even the most perfect partnerships are flawed, maybe we simply have to learn to accept the fact, that in love, "˜happiness comes in full to none' (The Contretemps).

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