Antony and Cleopatra By William Shakespeare

Antony and Cleopatra as Symbols Lawrence-Alma-Tadema-Antony-and-Cleopatra

The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra, by William Shakespeare is usually portrayed as a “lover’s suicide.” Cleopatra is often pinpointed as a seducer, and her political savvy is unaccounted for.  In Act V, Scene ii a speech recited by Cleopatra lends itself to question whether her life begotten was a suicide, or a sacrifice. After Proculeius, one of Caesars officers attempts to stab Cleopatra in order to gain control of the Empire she is infuriated and uses every ounce of her language to get her point across that she will die by her own will.

The metaphorical comparisons and heightened language make Cleopatra mirror the death of Jesus Christ. The key words and phrases symbolizing her martyrdom occur in almost every thought. Cleopatra begins by referring to herself as “This Mortal House.”  Shakespeare could have chosen to use the word “flesh” and made it perfectly clear she was speaking of herself, but Cleopatra, The Queen of Egypt was a loyal ruler of her citizens, and therefore housed in her body, an Empire. The death of Cleopatra is equivocal to a house swept away by a tornado: Invaluable history will be lost.  Cleopatra’s place in history went back three hundred years to Greece where she was a direct descendent of the first Ptolemy, one of Alexander the Greats generals.


Her burden was as heavy as a house, because after Ptolemy XIII the King of Egypt was thrown off the thrown; Cleopatra replaced him at age nineteen.  Though she was young, Cleopatra was self-righteous before she was a seductress. Elaborating her defiance, Cleopatra uses the word pinioned in pronouncing her resistance.  Pinioned means “clipped wings.”  The usage of this word symbolizes her immortal view of herself.  Without wings, she is an injured bird, useless and dependent.  To insult Octavia with the phrase “sober eye” not only shows her age, but shows the distaste for people of prudish personalities and coins her as someone who follows rules.

Cleopatra known for her lavish liquids and charms was the exact opposite of a “sober eye.”  She continues to embellish her insults as she calls all of Rome “shouting varletry, “they are the traitors, the Judas’.  As she lists her vows to die a natural death, she symbolizes her pride in her people and the importance of her emblematic character.  “Nilus mud,” was the Egyptian’s River-God, and is brought up frequently throughout the play.  The serpent bite in which she dies from is named Nilus, and symbolizes the Nails which draw her blood. “Gibbet” is a post where criminals were hung and shown to the public as an example of what happened to rebels.  The “Gibbet” is Cleopatra’s cross.