Tutor: Mr Orviss (MAO)
EGYPT IN ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA: A BRIEF OVERVIEW
In Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare we are allowed fleeting glimpses of what Egypt was like during this period mainly through the speech and actions of characters in the play. From the outset it is apparent that there is a barely restrained indulgent aspect to Egyptian society, or at the very least, court society.
“Reneges all temper/and is become the bellows and the fan/To cool a gipsy’s lust.” 1.1.7
This illustrates how even the great Marcus Antonius was not immune to these rotten tendencies; it describes his unbridled lust for someone who is apparently nothing more than a whore, and serves only to render Antony little more than subservient. The latter aspect perhaps makes this scene all the more scandalous and embarrassing even for modern day standards. Later in Act 1 Scene two on Line 131, we see more of Antony’s sexual promiscuity in his sudden resurfacing of emotion and feeling for Fulvia, “we wish it ours again” when she dies. This indicates an emotionally temperamental streak to Antony’s personality. On the part of Cleopatra, she too seems quite the sybarite. At the beginning of Act 1 Scene 2, there is a lazy reference to “eunuchs” in the stage directions. This is simply amazing; it infers that Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, employs her time in dance and gay with castrated men. This is one of the first suggestions revealing her sexual ambiguity and reckless debauchery.
In the knowledge of this, it is easy to make judgement that Egypt is a place possessing corruptive powers, which can idly seduce the souls of even the greatest of leaders. However, it was not only the leaders who behaved in such a way: in Act 1 Scene 2, Charmian thinks nothing of including “oily palm” in light conversation, clearly referring to sexual activity of some sort. Again in Act 1 Scene 2, when Enobarbus announces with amusingly unashamed frankness that he shall be...