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The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra

The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra


by William Shakespeare

Phallic and Yonic imagery (Or, Everything You Ever Wanted to Interpret Sexually Without Seeming Perverted

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Swords feature prominently in the play as stand-ins for manhood, and they’re often linked to the sexual self. When Antony refers to Caesar being a wimp, he talks about how his sword was sheathed at Philippi (when they defeated Brutus and Cassius). He challenges Caesar to meet him sword-to-sword, and Caesar backs down; this may be affirming Antony’s greater manhood. There’s more swordplay when Cleopatra mentions that once, she and Antony wore each other’s outfits in bed. She, taking on his strength, wore the sword he wore at Philippi. Swords are shaped rather suggestively, but they also represent the murderous conquering that was considered part of the male sphere.

Cleopatra is the basis of a lot of female imagery that concerns the lush and natural. Enobarbus talks about how Antony "ploughed" and Cleopatra "cropped," meaning she brought forth the life of his seed, in the way of the natural world. Further, when she chooses to die, she goes to the monument, which some have interpreted as a stand-in for a vagina. It’s a good reference though, as it’s a place that nothing leaves alive—imagine it as the opposite of the fertile womb. As a tomb, it doesn’t give birth to anything; it just houses the dead and dying. When Cleopatra dies, she suckles the asp like a baby at her breast (which a lot of artists have depicting on the canvas), but it’s a wonderful representation of the perversion of the natural world. Just as the lushness of Egypt dies, the natural world is turned on its head. The Queen nurses death at her breast like she would a baby. Her empire is dying, and so dies her maternal power as its matriarch.

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