Study Guide

The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra Gender

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You may see, Lepidus, and henceforth know,
It is not Caesar's natural vice to hate
Our great competitor. From Alexandria
This is the news: he fishes, drinks, and wastes
The lamps of night in revel, is not more manlike
Than Cleopatra, nor the queen of Ptolemy
More womanly than he; (1.4.1-7)

Caesar suggests that Antony is no better than his woman, and that Cleopatra is perhaps a little more manly than she should be. The gender ideals of Rome are all turned upside-down in Egypt.

Now Antony must leave her utterly.
Never. He will not.
Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety. Other women cloy
The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry
Where most she satisfies. For vilest things
Become themselves in her, that the holy priests
Bless her when she is riggish.
If beauty, wisdom, modesty, can settle
The heart of Antony, Octavia is
A blessèd lottery to him. (2.2.274-284)

Maecenas and Enobarbus’s conversation highlights the contrast between Octavia and Cleopatra. They represent two different types, as linked to the ideals of their home cultures, and those cultures’ expectations and judgments of women’s gender identities. In Egypt, Cleopatra’s "riggishness," or her propensity for sex, is a thing to be blessed by the priests. Her sexual desire isn’t foul, but rather fits her nature (which isn’t foul either). Octavia, by contrast, is wise and modest, which is a comparison to Cleopatra’s rashness and flashiness. Still, the play doesn’t set these personal characteristics up in a hierarchy with one as better than the other.

[aside to Agrippa] Will Caesar weep?
He has a cloud in's face.
He were the worse for that, were he a horse;
So is he, being a man.
Why, Enobarbus,
When Antony found Julius Caesar dead,
He cried almost to roaring; and he wept
When at Philippi he found Brutus slain.
That year, indeed, he was troubled with a rheum.
What willingly he did confound he wailed,
Believe 't, till I weep too. (3.2.61-71)

Enobarbus and Agrippa argue over the old question of whether "boys don’t cry" is part of their masculine identity. Caesar seems like he would weep as his dear sister leaves him, but Agrippa points out that Antony wept over Brutus’s dead body. Since these feelings don’t compromise strength, it seems that men are allowed to have feelings in Antony and Cleopatra.

By Hercules, I think I am i' th' right.
Soldier, thou art, but his whole action grows
Not in the power on 't. So our leader's led,
And we are women's men. (3.7.84-87)

One of Antony’s soldiers confers with Canidius about the fact that fighting at sea is foolish, because they are weaker there. Canidius regrets that Antony’s actions don’t stem from the source of his own power, but the power of the woman that leads him. To be led by another’s power is a weakness. Further, as they are led by a woman’s power (which was thought of as weaker than a man’s) they are weaker than they would be if Antony were exercising his own power.

Fare thee well, dame.        
[he kisses her]
Whate'er becomes of me,
And worthy shameful check it were, to stand
On more mechanic compliment. I'll leave thee
Now like a man of steel. (4.4.38-43)

Antony doesn’t dote, but leaves Cleopatra in an austere and honorable fashion, as a gallant man going to face his fate, armed with his confidence, not pride. The call of the battle has reaffirmed his manhood that had previously been called into question.

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