Comparing Antony & Cleopatra to Antigone
10 December 2012 Tension in Tragedy Tragedy is a form of dramatic expression based on human suffering, which causes an audience to have catharsis or to feel strong emotional relief. The Greeks and the Elizabethans are notorious for writing many tragedies. Two prime examples from these eras are Sophocles’ Antigone and William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Antigone is the tragedy of a brave sister who tries to honor her brother, while Antony and Cleopatra is a tragedy based on love and being loyal to others.
In both plays there is tension between private and public, which can be illustrated by comparing Kreon and Caesar’s fear of public opinion, the betrayal between characters, and concept of hamartia. In both Antony and Cleopatra and Antigone tension between private and public is illustrated from Caesar and Kreon’s fear of public opinion. In the fourth act of Antony and Cleopatra Mark Antony commits suicide, forcing the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra to surrender herself and her kingdom to the sole ruler of the Roman Empire, Octavius Caesar.
Caesar, who does not think highly of Cleopatra, wishes to exhibit her as a trophy of war “in Rome, as […] mechanic slaves with greasy aprons, rules, and hammers” (Shakespeare V. ii. 210). However in order to avoid public misery, Cleopatra decides to commit suicide. On the other hand in Antigone, the ruler of Thebes, Kreon becomes insecure of public opinion when his son Haimon questions his authority and how to rule the city. Tension builds between father and son, causing an angered Kreon to respond by asking whether “the city [should] tell me what commands to give? (Sophocles 794). Here Kreon is explaining that he is the only person in control and therefore making his opinion the only one that counts. Kreon’s insecurity blinds him, leading to an unfortunate series of events. All in all, in both cases insecurity has proven to be a grave cause of dramatic tension between private and public. Shakespeare’s Domitius Enobarbus and Sophocles’ Ismene are two distinct yet comparable characters who both betray those loyal to them. Enobarbus is Antony’s most loyal supporter.
He stays with Antony even through Antony’s worst decisions. Eventually however, Enobarbus leaves his master and gives his support to Caesar. This builds an unbearable private tension for Enobarbus, causing him to regret his decision in supporting Caesar. When he receives gifts from Antony thanking him for his once loyal service, it “blows [his] heart” (Shakespeare IV. vi. 35). The sadness that Enobarbus feels causes him to seek a “ditch wherein to die” (Shakespeare IV. vi. 39). In Antigone however, Antigone’s sister is faced with a tough decision.
At the very beginning of the play, Antigone wants to bury her brother “Polyneikes, who died so miserably” (Sophocles 32) and go against her uncle’s decree. She asks Ismene, her closest living family member for help. Ismene fears her uncle and refuses to commit to a deed that “has been forbidden to the city” (Sophocles 59). This form of betrayal is a cause of private tension between the two sisters. It also reveals to Antigone that Ismene has no interest in honoring their brother. In both cases betrayal is a source of dramatic tension.
The concept of hamartia presents tension in both Antony and Cleopatra and Antigone. From its Greek origin, hamartia translates to missing the mark, which signifies tragic flaw or lack of insight that blinds one from his or her own strengths and abilities. Antony’s passion for Cleopatra causes extreme political tension. Antony’s fatal flaw is first revealed in the third scene of act one. This is where Antony must briefly return to Rome. However before leaving Egypt, Antony claims his “full heart / remains in use with” (Shakespeare I. iii. 3 – 44) Cleopatra. In Rome tension builds from Antony’s political marriage with Octavia, whom he abandons to return to Cleopatra. Once back in Egypt, Cleopatra convinces Antony to engage in a naval battle. Mid – battle Cleopatra leaves the battle scene, returning home. Succumbing to his passions, Antony makes a complete fool of himself and follows Cleopatra. Ultimately, Antony’s hamartia leads to a shameful defeat by Caesar and unnecessary suicide. In Antigone however, Antigone’s fatal flaw causes immense tension within her own family.
Her decision to bury her Polyneikes and her obsession with the dead places her in a tragic position. Even though she knows it is against her uncle’s decree to bury her brother she believes “it’s noble to do this / thing, then die” (Sophocles 51 – 52). Misjudging the powers of her uncle, she would rather “commit a holy crime” (Sophocles 54) because she believes it is more important to please the dead than those who are still alive. Evidently, Antigone buries Polyneikes and sacrifices her life in order to honor her brother.
To conclude, it is evident that tension between private and public is present in both Antigone and Antony and Cleopatra. However, there are many causes to these tensions that build up throughout the play creating drama. In both plays the outcomes of these tensions is tragic. All in all, had tension not been the main source of drama, would these plays have the same outcome? 855 words. Works Cited No Fear Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra. (New York: Spark Notes, 2006). Print. Sophocles, Antigone. Trans: Reginald Gibbons & Charles Segal. (New York: Oxford UP, 2007). Print.