Duty and Passion: Antony and Cleopatra

Discuss the methods used by Shakespeare to present the conflict between duty and passion in “Antony and Cleopatra”.

In your answer you should consider:

    • The interaction between the characters who best express the conflict
    • Language and imagery which express the nature of the conflict
    • The staging of episodes which dramatise the conflict between duty and passion
    • Contextual influence on Shakespeare in his presentation of the conflict

Antony and Cleopatra is renowned to be one of the greatest Tragedies written in the English language and was believed to be written between 1606 to 1607 though some sources do state that it could have been written earlier. However the play itself was not published into the “first folio” until 1623. The play itself is based on true events of Antony and Cleopatra and the war between Rome and Egypt. One of the reasons Shakespeare may have been inspired to write Antony and Cleopatra may have been because it would give him the chance to explore the theme of Empire. “English colonial holdings were expanding. A big part of that colonial endeavour was making sure other cultures accepted yours as superior. Shakespeare calls this practice into question by pointing out that different cultures had been living successfully before the British arrived.” Around the time which Shakespeare wrote this great tragedy Queen Elizabeth’s rein was coming to an end. During her rein she had turned England from a wreck into one of the mightiest nations in the world. Its financial artistic and intellectual worlds were becoming more and more important and apparent.

Shakespeare explores many different themes in “Antony and Cleopatra”, one of the major ones being the conflict between duty and passion. This conflict does not just affect the characters of Antony and Cleopatra but Rome and Egypt and the people who inhabit them.   Passion is an extremely powerful force throughout the play and contributes to the devastation and destruction...