Shakespeare's Anthony & Cleopatra: Theme of Love
by Mohamed Zayed, a Linguist
Theme of love is the major and dominant theme in the play. The story of love between Anthony and Cleopatra is an epic one. Antony and Cleopatra opens with a scene in which Antony confesses his unfathomable love for Cleopatra. Antony tells Cleopatra that his love has no bounds, and certainly seems excessive. It keeps him from important business in Rome, clouds his judgment, and is a contributing factor to his downfall. This is not to say that Antony’s love is wholly negative or that all love in the play is bad. One can view Antony’s love for Cleopatra as powerful, genuine devotion to another person. Moreover, the close bond between Octavius and his sister Octavia suggests the positive nature of familial love. Antony’s love is so destructive to himself perhaps because it is mostly a matter of lust and reckless passion.
Anthony has to choose between the world of power and dominion over men in which he is already recognized as the greatest soldier alive and that which is newer to him, the world of love and imagination. He chooses the more intimate role as Cleopatra's lover. From the beginning of the play, we can see the great influence of Cleopatra upon Antony. He falls in love with her although he was married to Fulvia. During his stay in Egypt, he neglects his affairs in Rome because he was between Cleopatra's hands. When he is told that there are messengers from Rome, he tells her "Let Rome in Tiber melt". This situation suggests that the love relationship between Antony and Cleopatra is a kind of physical love which changes Antony's character completely from being a strong soldier to just a man who wants to satisfy a woman's lust. We see Cleopatra's influence in Antony when she wants him to tell her about his love every moment.
She wants to set a limit for his love saying: "If it be love indeed, tell me how much". In his reply, Antony shows that his love is boundless. This situation reflects the change that has taken place in Antony's character. He is acting as a tool in a woman's hand after being a great man of war. Cleopatra asks Antony about his marriage to Fulvia saying why did he marry Fulvia and not love her? We come that there is a big difference between love and marriage. When the messenger brings the news that Fulvia is dead, Antony has two contrary feelings which are satisfaction for her death and sorrow that "there's a great spirit gone". He is very sad for her death although he once wished to get rid of her. At this time, Antony takes a decision to leave Egypt, and to get rid of the influence of Cleopatra. He criticizes himself for falling into this 'dotage' which means that it is a lustful love.
Cleopatra loves Antony so much. In her imagination, Antony is the sun and the moon. Through her love for him, the world becomes beautiful. She cannot bear his leaving. That is why Enobarbus warns Antony that his departure will kill Cleopatra as she is made only of love and cannot bear the loss of it. Antony comes to say farewell to Cleopatra before leaving Egypt , and his words to her show that their love is spiritual as he says: " Our services a while; but my full heart remains in use with you".
He also adds:
Our separation so abides and fliesThat thou residing here, goes yet with me'And I, hence fleeting here, remain with thee away!
Cleopatra is tormented by Antony's absence as she cannot help thinking about him. She says: "Antony is away". She takes him a measure for everything. Antony also thinks about her and sends her a gift which is a pearl which he kissed. Alexas tells her:
He kissed – the last many doubled kissesThis orient pearl. His speech sticks in my heart.
These words show us how much Antony loves Cleopatra. For him, she is a source of pain and happiness. There is an inner conflict within Antony between his love for Cleopatra and his responsibilities towards his country. Cleopatra has lost all kinds of happiness when Antony left her to Rome. Her anger comes out when she is told that Antony is married to Octavia. Cleopatra does not care about Egypt, but she only cares about Antony. She says: "melt Egypt into Nile".
Cleopatra's love for Antony pushed her to help him in the battle sea. However, Antony was defeated because of the withdrawal of the Egyptian fleet. Instead of turning against her as the cause of his defeat, he says to her:
Fall not a tear, I say , one of them rates, All that is won and lost, give me a kiss. Even this repays me.
There is something very terrifying in the fact that the only way for her to possess him totally was through his ruin as a soldier. At this point, we see Cleopatra's love for Antony as a possessive love.
We come to realize how much Cleopatra loves Antony when Caesar asks her to get rid of him, but she refuses because she really loves him . Finally we find the real love between Antony and Cleopatra at the end of the play when Cleopatra sends Antony a word that she is dead. Antony is faithful to her as he cannot live without her. He falls on his sword. At the last breath, another messenger comes to tell him that Cleopatra is still alive. Thus he asks them to carry him to her, and he soon died saying:
I am dying, Egypt, dying onlyI here importune death a while untilOf many thousand kisses, the poor lastI lay upon thy lips.
These words show that their love is sexual, while in other situations, their love is spiritual. After his death, Cleopatra cannot bear living without him. So, she brings a snake , and let it to bite her , and she soon died to join Antony in the world of love. Finally, we can say that the love of Antony and Cleopatra is a combination of both spiritual and physical relationship.