Love vs Honor
Although Antony and Cleopatra is about their love for one another, the other side of the story for many of the characters lays not in love, but in honor.
The play takes place in both Egypt and Rome. Both powerful dominions, but starkly diﬀerent from one another. Rome prides itself on its military strength, its power and its command. Where as Egypt is enchanting. Instead of brute force, it seems more to entice with its luxury.
The Romans, in result of these drastic diﬀerences in Egypt, hold much disdain for them. They openly condemn Egyptian lifestyle in a multitude of ways, all the while still being fascinated by it and by the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. None are so enchanted by her, however, than Marc Antony.
Marc Antony is highly respected for his military success; defeating, in the battle of Fillipy, the assassins of Julius Caesar, and for also being a member of the triumvirate. He is the general on whom Rome relies upon. But as his love for Cleopatra seems to only grow stronger throughout the play, his honor seems to grow weaker among the ones who once held him in such esteem.
Beginning at the opening of the play, the apprehension of the Roman soldiers is already expressed.
‘Take but good note, and you shall see in him the triple pillar of the world transform’d into a strumpet’s fool,’ Act 1, Scene 1.
Despite these harsh words, Antony’s honor is still withholding in what many consider disgrace. This however, does not remain the case. In attempt to retain a strong alliance within a feuding triumvirate, Antony is married to Caesars sister, Octavia. Although, many are skeptical there is still hope in many soldiers that this may keep Antony from returning to Cleopatra.
‘If beauty, Wisdom, modesty, can settle the heart of Antony, Octavia is a blessed lottery to him,’ Act 2 scene 2.
But honor vowed is not honor kept, and just as Antony was unfaithful to his previous wife, Fulvia, so he is to Octavia. He returns to Cleopatra as soon as he is able and this is only a another spark to add to the fire of Caesar’s anger that is already fueled by the giving away of providences and the whipping of his messenger by Antony.
Here we are in the story on the verge of war between two powerful men and how is it that the people surrounding them see the events unfolded?
Although Antony is a known as a great military hero, the honor many hold for him isn’t strong enough to last through all of his choices in the play. Even his faithful companion Enobarbus leaves him for Caesar.
Caesar throughout the story, however, maintains his honor throughout the play. He holds to his word and although he is less charismatic than Antony is, he is clever and wins over many of Antony’s military forces outside of battle.
Perhaps, however, on Caesar’s side, it is his honor that was his downfall compared to Antony’s love. Caesar agrees out of honor to have his sister Octavia marry Antony, despite well knowing that Antony was unfaithful to his late wife Fulvia and that that he would most likely return to Cleopatra.
While Antony’s prizing his love over his honor caused his problems, Caesar’s problems were caused by him prizing honor over love.
Cleopatra on the other hand has moments of both winning and losing with her love. She wins the heart of Antony only to lose him because of the love. She loses control of Egypt because of that same love, but ends up enchanting one of the soldiers enough with the retelling of that love to reveal what Caesar really intends. Which in the end she makes a choice to prevent her honor from being tarnished and to return to her love.
In the end, Antony and Cleopatra, is full of parallels in the love and honor of the characters, but to the soldiers of the play, they follow the one with the most honor…
The rest is just a tragedy.