Discuss the importance of the opening scenes
Shakespeare uses the opening scenes of the play to: establish characters and their roles; show how characters change in their surroundings; and to throw the reader straight into the middle of the action.
The opening scene begins with Philo and Demetrius, but also involves Cleopatra and Antony – it is rare for the eponymous characters to be introduced in the opening scene of a Shakespeare play. This gives the sense that the reader is already thrown into the middle of the action. Philo and Demetrius immediately give us a negative impression of Cleopatra, describing her as a “gypsy”, and saying that she is a negative influence on Antony – who, according to them, is the “pillar” of the Roman Empire.
Our first impression of Cleopatra is shown to be true as she asks Antony how much he loves her, which seems juvenile and perhaps self-conscious. However, she suggests for Antony to go back to Rome to take care of the situation – showing ambiguity to her – to which he replies “Let Rome in Tiber melt”, showing his disregard for the Empire – the term “melt” has vivid destructive connotations.
Scene two continues to develop the characters and shows a different side to characters – mainly Antony and Cleopatra – when the other isn’t around. When Cleopatra is absent, Antony becomes more like the soldier he is meant to be, giving long speeches and appearing heartless at his wife’s death – although when alone he seems to wish her alive again, “Thus I did desire it / what our contempts doth hurl from us, / we wish it ours again.” He returns to Rome due to Sextus Pompeius and to take a break from Cleopatra, which shows a certain patriotism and maturity in him. So far the reader likes Antony, and these are very important scenes in establishing him as a character.
Scene three shows Antony and Cleopatra discuss events, and accentuates their odd love hate relationship. Antony begins quite calm and purposeful and allows...