Antony and Cleopatra

Paradox and Similarity in Antony and Cleopatra 12th Grade

To its original audience, experiencing political change as the new rule of James led to the expansion of the British Empire, Antony and Cleopatra resonates with the “infinite variety” they were experiencing and the vast changeability of the modern world. While the water imagery that courses through the play illustrates the concept of paradox, Shakespeare then subverts his own assertion that wild contradictions are innate by lending a shared humanity to all of the play’s characters.

Cleopatra’s constantly fluctuating personality, along with the antithetical imagery associated with her, create a character of exceptional complexity. Her mood swings wildly, as in Act One when she has a moment of introspective regret when speaking wistfully of her “salad days.” Moments later, thinking of Antony and her longing for him, she hyperbolically declares she will “unpeople Egypt,” rapidly moving from self-reflection to irrational threats and displaying her capacity to present a myriad of greatly differing emotions. Later in the play, the audience discovers that the paradox within her is not restricted to merely her emotion when she expresses her view that Antony is “painted one way a gorgon/The other way’s a Mars.” She views others in...

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