“Listening in Silence”: The Roles of Captain Wentworth and Cleopatra in Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra

Placing Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion and William Shakespeare’s play Antony and Cleopatra side by side, one observes an interesting parallelism in the manner in which the protagonists are portrayed. Though the views and opinions of Austen’s Anne Elliot and Shakespeare’s Antony are expressed directly and repeatedly, these steadfast expressions of feeling in their romantic counterparts appear vacant. Readers are left to characterize Austen’s Captain Wentworth and Shakespeare’s Cleopatra in an indirect way. Purposely left without a lens into these characters’ internal thoughts and feelings, readers reserve character judgment until the conclusion of both works. This method that Austen and Shakespeare utilize by withholding a definitive view of a character until the end of a work ultimately creates an immense amount of success—it allows for varied interpretations amongst readers and simultaneously builds a sense of suspense as well, allowing for intense feelings of anticipation until an eventual catharsis in which these inner feelings of Captain Wentworth and Cleopatra, originally hidden, “burst” open, solving character discrepancies and providing readers a shared experience in this cathartic feeling as well.

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