Study Guide

The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra Love

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If it be love indeed, tell me how much.
There's beggary in the love that can be reckoned.
I'll set a born how far to be beloved.
Then must thou needs find out new heaven, new
Earth. (1.1.15-19)

Our introduction to Antony and Cleopatra sets the stage for the theme of love in the play: he is earnest in trying to prove his love for her; she is slightly cruel and flippant with him. Their positions will flip often, but likely one will be in love while the other is feeling murderous, and vice versa. They constantly need each other’s affirmation (to be sure they love) and scorn (to be sure no one gets too comfortable).

Madam, methinks, if you did love him dearly,
You do not hold the method to enforce
The like from him.
What should I do I do not?
In each thing give him way; cross him in nothing.
Thou teachest like a fool: the way to lose him. (1.3.7-12)

Charmian advises Cleopatra not to play hard-to-get. Cleopatra sees that in her version of love, the most important thing is to never seem willing to give in. Playing powerful and hard-to-get is the best way to ensure Antony will still love herit seems it’s her power and tempestuousness that keep him interested in her.

Courteous lord, one word.
Sir, you and I must part, but that's not it;
Sir, you and I have loved, but there's not it;
That you know well. Something it is I would—
O, my oblivion is a very Antony,
And I am all forgotten. (1.3.105-110)

Sometimes love steals our words from us. It seems the nature of being in love is to be driven to distraction, even for the best of us.

Not now to hear thee sing. I take no pleasure
In aught an eunuch has. 'Tis well for thee
That, being unseminared, thy freer thoughts
May not fly forth of Egypt. Hast thou affections? (1.5.12-15)

Cleopatra quizzes her eunuch (a man who’s been castrated) about whether he has sexual desires, or affections, as he is clearly unschooled in the way of love. She can’t imagine that a person could feel love without sexit’s a powerful connection for her. This may negate the argument that she focuses solely on the act of sex, and not love.

O, Charmian,
Where think'st thou he is now? Stands he, or sits he?
Or does he walk? Or is he on his horse?
O happy horse, to bear the weight of Antony!
Do bravely, horse; for wot'st thou whom thou
The demi-Atlas of this Earth, the arm
And burgonet of men. (1.5.22-29)

Cleopatra is clearly a lovesick puppy, but in her swooning over Antony, she calls him a demi-Atlas. Remember that Atlas bears the world on his shoulders, which Hercules did in a myth for at least a few minutes. Antony claims Hercules as his ancestor, and it seems Cleopatra is conscious of that power he holds and is enchanted by it as much as any other part of him.

To hold you in perpetual amity,
To make you brothers, and to knit your hearts
With an unslipping knot, take Antony
Octavia to his wife; whose beauty claims
No worse a husband than the best of men;
Whose virtue and whose general graces speak
That which none else can utter. By this marriage
All little jealousies, which now seem great,
And all great fears, which now import their dangers,
Would then be nothing. Truths would be tales,
Where now half tales be truths. Her love to both
Would each to other and all loves to both
Draw after her. (2.2.150-162)

Agrippa seizes on the notion that the love of a woman can hold everyone together. He hopes Octavia might be the bond that keeps her brother and her husband attached to each other, as she would love them both dearly. Sadly, we know that love does not conquer all in this play, as it is too often confounded by questions of power and politics.

Upon her landing, Antony sent to her,
Invited her to supper. She replied
It should be better he became her guest,
Which she entreated. Our courteous Antony,
Whom ne'er the word of "No" woman heard speak,
Being barber'd ten times o'er, goes to the feast,
And for his ordinary pays his heart
For what his eyes eat only. (2.2.258-265)

Enobarbus confirms the trope about love that keeps popping upAntony is accustomed to hearing "yes" from women, so he’s intrigued by the woman who's haughty enough to say "no" to him. This validates Cleopatra’s earlier strategy of playing hard-to-get.

Egypt, thou knew'st too well
My heart was to thy rudder tied by th' strings,
And thou shouldst tow me after. O'er my spirit
Thy full supremacy thou knew'st, and that
Thy beck might from the bidding of the gods
Command me. (3.11.60-65)

Love and power are inextricably tied. Antony’s love for Cleopatra forces him to follow her. She is the commander of his actions, even in the political and military arenas of his life, because of his overpowering love for her.

His legs bestrid the ocean, his reared arm
Crested the world. His voice was propertied
As all the tuned spheres, and that to friends;
But when he meant to quail and shake the orb,
He was as rattling thunder. For his bounty,
There was no winter in 't; an autumn 'twas
That grew the more by reaping. His delights
Were dolphin-like: they show'd his back above
The element they lived in. In his livery
Walk'd crowns and crownets; realms and islands
As plates dropped from his pocket. (5.2.102-113)

Now that Antony is finally gone for good, Cleopatra can heap all the praise on him that she didn’t dare while he lived. She was once afraid that being honest about her feelings would push him away.

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