Antony and Cleopatra

Rome and Egypt in Antony and Cleopatra

How and why does Shakespeare create two distinct worlds of Rome and Egypt in the first two acts of the play?

Antony and Cleopatra is set predominantly in Egypt and Rome and Shakespeare organises the plot around the conflict between East and West. However, it is not only plot that contrasts the two places but also language and structure. Rome is portrayed as masculine, rational and political, and Roman characters’ lines are measured and calculated. Egypt is depicted in a more feminine light, based around emotion, passion and physical sensation. The lines of Egyptians flow and are more poetic in content. It is these two distinct worlds between which Antony crosses, and in forming more Egyptian ideals and neglecting his Roman values he brings about his downfall. This essay aims to examine how Shakespeare creates two separate worlds and his reasons for doing so.

The primary method Shakespeare uses to distinguish between the two worlds is his crafting of language, with stark differences in the speech of Romans and Egyptians. As Philo and Demitrius talk of their captain’s decline they immediately establish the opposition between the two worlds. They talk of Antony serving as “the bellows and the fan/ To cool a gipsy’s lust,”...

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