Antony and Cleopatra

Tension in Antony and Cleopatra 12th Grade

In his play Antony and Cleopatra, William Shakespeare develops a constant theme of clashing duty and desire that can be seen throughout the entirety of the work; this theme is most potently exemplified through the actions of the main characters, and the overall characterization of said characters. Shakespeare wastes no time establishing this theme, as it is seen in the very first line of the play. The play opens on a monologue from Philo, a character who is critical of the actions of Mark Antony, referring to him as “a strumpet's fool.” Through this monologue, Shakespeare introduces to the audience that Antony’s “heart which in the scuffles of great fights hath burst” has now “ become the bellows and the fan to cool a gypsy’s lust.” With this statement, Shakespeare reveals to the audience that Antony used to be fond of war, but is now more fond of Cleopatra. Philo’s criticism of Mark Antony establishes a precedent that is seen throughout the entirety of the play and through this, the audience is made aware that the clash between duty and desire is most prevalent in the character of Mark Antony. Shakespeare’s presentation of this feud is more concerned with the tension itself, rather than one aspect winning over another.


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